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Friday, 21 February 2014

Inside Changdeokgung, Part V: Nakseonjae Residence


Nakseonjae Residence (Hanja: 樂善齋; Mansion of Joy and Goodness) was first constructed in 1847 by order of King Heonjong, the 24th king of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) for his fourteen-year-old concubine Kim Gyeongbin. At the time, King Heonjong, who died at twenty-two in 1849, was married to his second wife, Queen Hyojeong of Namyang Hong Clan. Apparently he was not infatuated with her, since Nakseonjae was built for the concubine Kim.

The elegantly stark buildings of Nakseonjae, Seokbokheon and Sugangjae are arranged from west to east, and long servants' quarters acts as a wall, collectively forming the Nakseonjae area. Silent echoes and historical remains are the only remaining links between modern progressive Korea and the impressive Joseon Dynasty. Legend-laden, they introduce visitors to prominent royal personalities whose lives were filled with romance, tragedy and nostalgia.Nakseonjae continued to be used by the later queens of the Joseon Dynasty. Empress Sunjeonghyo of Haepyeong Yoon Clan, wife of Emperor Sunjong-Yunghui, the last king of the Joseon Dynasty, lived in Seokbokhyeon until her death in 1966. Edward B. Adams describes Queen Yun as "intellectual and poised" in Palaces of Seoul: Yi Dynasty Palaces in Korea's Capital City. As future queen, she took only twenty days to learn about court protocol and the feminine art of how to woo a king. The story of the heroic hardships she bore during the Korean War and the lonely battle she fought with Korea's 1947 government to keep Nakseonjae when the monarchy was abolished portrays her brave and courageous spirit.

Princess Deokhye, the youngest daughter of Emperor Gojong-Gwangmu, the 26th king of the Joseon Dynasty, also resided at Sugangjae. She was taken away to Japan in 1925 at the age of twelve, and forced to marry a Japanese aristocrat in 1928. In 1962 Princess Deokhye was given permission to return to Korea. After suffering from depression, she found peace at Nakseonjae, where she spent her remaining years until 1989.

In her autobiography, "The World is One," Princess Lee Bang-ja (Masako Nashimoto) relates how, as a Japanese princess, she woke up one morning to read in the papers that she was to marry the last crown prince of Korea, Prince Lee Eun, younger half-brother of Emperor Sunjong-Yunghui. Prince Lee's greatest desire was to return to his homeland and in 1963 he settled in at Nakseonjae with his family.

Tragically, Prince Lee's return to Korea was too late. He was an invalid and spent the next seven years in hospital. A few hours before his death on May 1, 1970 the Crown Prince was taken to Nakseonjae. At the age of eighty-two, Princess Bang-ja was still promoting vocational education among the physically handicapped of her adopted country. She passed away in 1989 at Nakseonjae, the building last used in Chandeokgung.

In the garden to the rear of Nakseonjae, the pavilions Chwiunjeong and Sangnyangjeong, and the annex Hanjeongdang are arranged in harmony with the topography. Terraced flowerbeds stabilize the environment and the spaces between the terraces and buildings are filled with stone pots, oddly shaped stones and chimneys. Many books were discovered in 1969 at Nakseonjae's northern quarters, behind Sangnyangjeong. This place is presumably where the residents were allowed to read books and draw paintings, which were kept here.