Friday, September 23, 2011

Ojukheon, Birth-place of Yulgok Yi Yi

Ojukheon is the birthplace of Lady Shin Saimdong (1504-1551) and her son Yulgok Yi Yi (alternatively, Yi I - pictured). Lady Shin was the eldest of five girls and her father very open-mindedly gave her the private education normally given to a son, which was very usually for the gender-segregated strict Confucian era in which she was raised. Even after marriage, her husband allowed her to pursue educational interests and she was not limited to the confines of feminine household operations. On the Ojuheon grounds, according to the huge placard informing the public, Lady Shin Saimdong was "a woman of kind, gentle disposition and deep filial piety. Saimdong excelled in scholarly achievements from her childhood and became the most outstanding woman artist in Korea with her brilliant paintings and poetry as well as sewing and embroidery. She was, at the same time, a most devoted wife and mother."

In June 2009, South Korea finally approved the making of a ₩50,000 bill. There was much debate about it but finally it was decided that Lady Shin Saimdong would be the representative figure on it. There was a long debate between her and a male scientist, but common opinion was that Lady Shin was ultimately chosen for political reasons -- one reason being that Korea only had men on its monetary units and to be considered up-to-date and post-modern, putting a woman on the bill would create a good impression of equality. A lot of criticism flared regarding the "political" choice of Lady Shin and feminist were among the loudest. They felt that chosing a woman was great, but not a woman that affirmed stereotypical opinions of the female who was a good homemaker, known for her piety and filial dedication, and was renowned for her paintings (good) and embroidery (!). All of these point except the excelling in painting and calligraphy were too much reinforcement on beliefs that women should stay within the home as home-makers and care-takers and be represented and protected by man.

Yulgok Yi Yi is on the ₩5,000 bill, and he has been a strong representative figure for Korean education, politics and military affairs. As a child, he studied the classics from his mother (a rare instance of a capable female educator) and was able to pass the junior civil examination at age 13, also winning first prize in the state examination in 1564, the 19th reigning year of King Myeongjong (1545-1567). "He served various government posts such as the governor of Hwanghae-do Province, inspector general, minister of personnel, punishment and military affairs. He devoted himself to coordinating feuds between the political factions and advised the kind on the need to raise a 100,000-man army to prepare for a possible invasion by Japan. He also worked for tax reforms and introduced a system of community grain storage. He was a renowned Confucian scholar whose fame was matched only by his contemporary Yi Hwang. He led the Koho school of Confucian studies. He was an excellent calligrapher and painter."

"Memorial tablets for Yi are enshrined in and memorial services are held for him at the shrine of King Seonjo, some 20 Confucian academics including Chaun-seowon in Paju, Songdam-seowon in Kangnung and numerous Confucian shrines throughout the country." Ojukheon has its own memorial tablet, hall and shrine for remembering Yi. In the right side of this room, Lady Shin gave birth to Yi in 1536 after dreaming of a dragon standing at the upper frame of the gate on the left side. The room is also called Mongrongsil which means a room of dragon dreams. Birth dreams were very important as they were considered portentous of the character and destiny of the child to be born, and a dream about a dragon was considered highly portentous for success.

Yulgok Yi Yi was famed during his time and has remained highly commemorated in school children's textbooks to ensure a "model" for behavior and aspiration as well as a form of creating collective national pride in an exemplary historical person generally regarded as one of the great nation shapers for Korea. Here in Ojukheon, the birthplace of Yi, it is of course expected that a shrine would be built for such a great personage. This shrine is called Munseongsa Shrine, Munseong being the posthumous name of Yi Yi which was conferred on him by King Injo in the Choseon Dynasty in 1624. Note the dragon at the apex of the shrine. I'm not clear on why a turtle is almost always used to support a memorial tablet other than the turtle is one of the 싶장생 or longevity symbols and thus possibly represents eternity for Yi's spirit. But with that said, within various parts of Asia the turtle is used as a beast of spiritual burden--e.g. Thailand's old belief that the world was carried on the back of a great turtle.

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