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Sunday, 2 March 2014

Confucian Confusions in Korea, Part XVI: Dobong Seowon, Seoul Dobong-gu


The Dobong Seowon (Hanja: 道峰書院) is located in the Dobong Valley in Dobong-dong, Seoul Dobong-gu. The Joseon-era scholar Jeongam Jo Gwangjo came here often because he enjoyed the scenery so much. He'd come here after dealing with government affairs and push a wheelbarrow around for fun. The Joseon literati considered it the most beautiful place in all of Gyeonggi Province (Sudogwon-Gijeon Region).

Monk Yangju and Nam Eon-kyeong (남언경) came to this place loved so much by Jo Gwangjo and praised his virtues and his works. It was decided to build the Dobong Seowon at the site, and it was completed six years later.

At the time of its founding, the king himself bestowed the name "Dobong" upon the temple. In 1696, the latter Joseon-era scholar Woo-am Song Si-yeol was enshrined here. It developed into Daeyuwon in the eastern outskirts of Seoul, becoming the second biggest place for scholars to gather and study after Sungkyungwan.

The temple's ancestral tablets were later buried in the ground after the Daewongun abolished seowons in the 8th year of the reign of Emperor Gojong-Gwangmu (1871). According to Confucian scholars, rituals were performed every spring and fall until the Korean War broke out in 1950. After that, in 1972, a committee to restore the Dobong Seowon rebuilt the Confucian school. The other three-room buildings in the capital include Sawoo, Yudomun, Sinmun, Donghyeopmun and Seohyeopmun.

Also, starting from the entrance to Dobong Park, there are eleven large rocks, or "gakseoks," engraved with poetry and prose about the beauty of the scenery and the ideals of the scholar. They were written by Tang Dynasty-era masters. One of them, by Song Si-yeol, is called the Dobong Dongmun, or "Dobong Script." Another, called "Jeil Dongcheon," or "First Eastern Sky," described the area as having the most beautiful scenery under heaven.

These rocks are the namesake of Gakseong County and are not only beautiful, but carry the historical significance of the Dobong Seowon. In 2009, Seoul Metropolitan Government designated the Dobong Seowon and the surrounding Gakseong County as Seoul's 28th Monument. It is accessible either by using KORAIL-Seoul Metro Line 1 or SMRT Line 7 to Station 113/710: Dobongsan Station