Korea's Religious Places - 2.4.1 Imgo Seowon (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
|Understanding Korea Series No.6|
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|4) Seowon (Private Confucian Academies)||* Imgo Seowon (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)||* Oksan Seowon (Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)|
Imgo Seowon (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
In Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do, one of the first seowon, dedicated in 1553, was built to honor Jeong Mong-ju, the great Goryeo scholar-official who gave his life rather than be disloyal to the Goryeo king, as his colleagues were all getting on board with Yi Seong-gye for the founding of the new Joseon Dynasty in 1392. He was forgiven by the Yi royalty and given posthumous honor as early as 1401. Eventually, he was enshrined in the Seonggyungwan National Academy and this seowon, the Imgo Seowon, was built in his honor.
His loyalty came at the price of his life. He was assassinated because he refused to join the cabal that was setting up to take over power, end the Goryeo Dynasty, and establish what came to be called the Joseon Dynasty. The place of his assassination was a bridge near his home in Gaeseong, the capital of the Goryeo Dynasty. He was killed riding his horse home from a meeting with Yi Bang-won, the son of the founder of the new dynasty, Yi Seong-gye. Legend has it that his blood has permanently stained the bridge, and that when it rains, the bloodstains shine as if they were fresh. Today in Gaeseong, the bridge is one of the most visited sites there. Yeongcheon was the hometown of Jeong Mong-ju and it is there, not far from Gyeongju, that the seowon dedicated to him was built. Interestingly, in front of the seowon, they have built a replica of the bridge in Gaeseong.
In addition, the Imgo Seowon carries one more unique cultural tribute to Jeong Mong-ju. When he was invited to participate in the coup to set up the new dynasty, he rejected the offer, knowing that to do so meant he would die. He allegedly wrote a poem in the classic Korean poetic format called a sijo. It said:
Though I die, and die again;
Though I die one hundred deaths,
After my bones have turned to dust;
Whether my soul lives on or not,
My red heart, forever loyal to my Lord,
Will never fade away.
This poem, memorized by every Korean schoolchild, is written in stone in front of the Imgo Seowon. The poem tells the truth. Though Jeong has been dead for over 600 years, his loyalty lives on in this poem known to all Koreans and appropriately inscribed in stone at the entrance to his seowon.