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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Confucian Confusions in Korea, Part XX: Pochungsa Shrine, Gwangju Nam-gu


Looking into the thoughts and fighting character of Honam-Jeolla Region during the 500 years of the Joseon dynasty period, we can see one outstanding man. Go Gyeongmyeong, a poet, decided that he would defeat the Japanese army as soon as news of the invasion first came to his ears in the Year of Imjin (1592). The 60 year old scholar, who was recognized for his beautiful poetry and great literary style, rose up against the Japanese invaders with an army of farmers, beating a drum and maintaining a spirit of patriotism. After that, young local volunteer troops gathered to him from everywhere. Pochungsa Shrine (Hanja: 褒忠祠) was built to honor him. The shrine is located in 767 Pochung Avenue/Pochungno, Wonsan-dong 775-beonji, Gwangju Nam-gu and was built by King Seonjo in 1606 after giving him the name 'Pochung'.

In 1978, with the support of the government, which wanted to develop the shrine into the representative holy place in Honam (Jeolla provinces), a shrine, relics hall, Naesammun (inside three gates), Woesammun (outside three gates) and the Jeonghwa monument were added to the shrine. Pochungsa was the shrine attended to by the King. Go Jong-hoo and Go In-hoo, the sons of Go Gyeongmyeong, as well as Yu Paeng-ro, Ahn Young and Go Gyeongmyeong himself were enshrined there. The birthplace of Go Gyeongmyeong is Apbo Village, Gwangsan-gu, Gwangju City. He passed through Governor of Yeongam-gun, Fifth Rank Senior Officer of Special Counselors, and Governor of Seosan-gun after passing the official examinations at age 20. 

He returned to his hometown at age 59 after serving as magistrate of Dongnae which was his last government office. He wrote poetry and prose, while studying the older form of Korean verse at places such as Soswaewon and Sigyeongjeong, where the outstanding scholars used to study. Sir Go Gyeongmyeong died for his country saying, "It is the time that I should write the final stroke." They discussed the changes occurring across the country while resting at Sikyeongjeong. 

In those days, Korea was in crisis from the Japanese invasion, which had already taken Busan, was rapidly descending on Seoul (formerly called Hanyang). Setting his two sons at the head, he mustered 6000 volunteer army for 30 days. After that, he set the troops into formation, starting from Damyang and marched for Jeonju. He sent out a written appeal to the local governors and people in every region. 
"Because of the weakness of our country, Sitting on the brink of destruction, These Japanese have brought up their armies against us. Where have our leaders and their armies fled to? Should we forsake our King? Governors and people of every region! It is time for us to rise up, bringing weapons and supplies."

Responding to the earnest appeal, local volunteer troops gathered at Geumsan in Damyang, and passed through to Jeonju and Taein. When Go Gyeongmyeong's main army advanced on Eunjin, rumors spread that the enemy would defeat Jeonju and Guemsan. Go Gyeongmyeong fought the enemy, setting the line of defense in Guemsan. He was victorious at the very first battle. However, on the next day, his troops were destroyed under an aggressive attack by the Japanese. Yu Paengro asked him to remain out of the battle, but he would not and was slain along with his second son, Go In-hoo. After his death, his first son, Go Jong-hoo formed an army. He was joined by Choi Gyeonghoe who gathered the troops from Neungju, Lim Gye-young who gathered the troops from Boseong, and Byeon Sa-jeong who formed a Red Flag Army in Namwon. These were leader of local volunteer troops under Go Gyeongmyeong. 

His death and blood defended Honam (Jeolla provinces) and the Joseon dynasty by causing the troops to be gathering together. This is why Admiral Yi Sunshin said, "If there is no Honam (Jeolla provinces), nor will there be our country." After hearing the story, the uniform and war relics of General Jaebong Go Gyeongmyeong hung over Pochungsa shrine touches people’s hearts. What a tragic end for an old scholar at the age of 60, who should have been writing poetry and debating philosophy in Soswaewon and Sigyeongjeong, rather than to fight against an enemy with horse and blade. 

Go Gyeongmyeong's faithfulness is a symbol of the ancient scholars who were not just well spoken in politics, administration and learning, but sacrificed themselves to practice those things sincerely. To know about Go Gyeongmyeong according to the high spirit of Honam (Jeolla provinces) thought, is the essence of understanding the spirit of Namdo (the south-western part of Korea), a spirit which embodies the practice and behavior of brilliant people. Thus it is not common to see a shrine with such and atmosphere of righteousness as Pochungsa shrine. Even now, the clearly heard, upright voice of a righteous scholar Go Gyeongmyeong brings us into such a consciousness.