Seoul - 1.2 Seoul as the Capital and a Local City
|Understanding Korea Series No.4|
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|1) Introduction||2) Seoul as the Capital and a Local City||1) Seoul Before It Became the Capital|
In general a capital city refers to a political center where the central government is located and thus possesses a distinguished status unequalled by other local cities. Under a powerful central government system of the Joseon Dynasty, ‘Hanseongbu (Seoul, currently the area north of the Han River)’ was also called ‘Gyeongdo (Capital)’ to stress its politically, economically and socially distinguished status that set it apart from other cities. The king resided there, and the core governmental departments were also situated there. In the early Joseon Dynasty Hanseong forged its superior status inside and outside the country as the country’s moral center where the king resided and from where his benevolent rule, based on the system of Joseon’s ruling philosophy, emanated. From the late Joseon Dynasty in the 18th century, in addition to its title as the political, social and cultural center, Seoul obtained another superior title as the economic center that had control of the national market. Since the establishment of Joseon in 1394 for more than 600 years, or 900 years if we trace back further to ‘Namgyeong’ of Goryeo Dynasty, Seoul has maintained its superior status as the center of the Korean Peninsula, and after the separation of the North and South it remained the capital of the Republic of Korea.
Seoul possesses a dual identity as the nation’s capital and a unique geographic location. Its other identity is as a local city in the administrative system that used to be called Hanseongbu and Gyeongseongbu in the past that has now taken the form of the metropolis of Seoul. The status of Seoul as a local city and the capital had been synonymous for a long time, yet in 2004 the status of Seoul as ‘the capital’ became embroiled in controversy. The central government carried forward its plan to establish a new administrative capital that would result in relocation of Seoul’s governmental function as the nation’s capital to a different location. This plan to establish a new administrative capital aimed to build a new capital that hosts main constitutional institutions and administrative departments performing main political and administrative functions. It was meant to relieve the pressure of overpopulation in the capital and the surrounding areas and to provide a balanced development of the country. The Special Act on New Administrative Capital Relocation was passed in 2003. However, the voice of opposition against the division of Seoul’s function as the capital escalated resulting in a constitutional appeal for the Special Act on New Administrative Capital Relocation. The Constitutional Court ruled in 2004 that, “it is a violation of the constitution to relocate the capital without a constitutional revision since the fact that Seoul is the capital falls under the customary constitutional rule.” The plan for a new administrative capital had been put on hold in accordance to this ruling. The Sejong Metropolis Development Plan, a multifunctional administrative city plan that included some administrative departments of the government and public institutions together with educational and scientific functions, was prepared as a follow-up measure (Refer to <Figure 2>). Though some of the government’s administrative functions were relocated, as long as the core of the government such as the Blue House, the National Assembly and the Judiciary Branch and the headquarters of the major corporations, mass media organizations and schools remain, Seoul would be able to maintain its status as ‘the Capital Seoul’, the actual center of Korea’s politics, culture, economics and administration.