Sunday, September 28, 2014

Confucian Liquor-drinking Ceremony at Sungkyunkwan Seowon

Today is the 2565th birthday of Confucius. Typically a jesa ceremony is held on Confucius' birthday at Sungkyunkwan also known as Mumnyo (shrine). However, to commemorate such a special birthday the jesa date was moved up to earlier in the month. Yet on this day a Confucian liquor-drinking ceremony was held, probably to pay highest respects to Confucius, ten of his disciples, and 18 of Korea's most venerated Confucian scholars including (in the chronological order of enshrinement at Daeseongjeon located within the temple grounds) Choe ChiwonSeol Chong, An Yu (An Hyang), Jeong Mong-ju, Kim Gwoeng-pil, Jeong Yeo-chang, Jo Gwang-joYi EonjeokYi HwangYi ISeong HonKim Jang-saengSong SiyeolSong Jun-gil, Pak Se-chae, Kim Inhu, Jo Hun, and Kim Jip.

Attendance was respectable!
Note the massive gingko tree in the fenced-in area just beyond the seated audience.
This is the famous 500-yr-old gingko tree (National Monument No. 59).
The ceremony takes place on the receiving platform of Myeongryundang,
the most famous of the halls and open daily to the public.

Like many Confucian ceremonies, the liquor-drinking ceremony too was highly ritualized, with many of the participants learning the ceremony as they performed it ... I was amused. The group frequently did not bow collectively, got confused over who would go first and in which direction, and when they got on the prepared platform, sat on incorrect cushions. One of the academians from Sungkyunkwan University officiated at the ceremony and dressed in yellow, the color denoting the highest position, grabbed a microphone and directed the marching mechanics from his place in the front row of the audience (look in above picture).

A respectable audience did gather to see the ceremony and purchase tea (or liquor?) at the opposite end of the madang, underneath the massive and much-celebrated 500-year-old gingko tree (National Monument No. 59).

Confucian principles are based on hierarchies, and therefore, serving one's elders or superiors first is adamant.
Hands show respect, and here the left hand holds back the sleeve of the right arm in keen deference ... much like the Westerner holds out the right hand when meeting someone, to give them regards of sorts.
Serving is done by carrying a fully laden table and transferring the food and/or drink to the respected person's private table.

Sungkyunkwan is Korea's oldest institute of higher learning, established in 1398 and therefore having an educational history of more than 600 years. Sungkyunkwan, the Confucian school, was started as an elitist place of education, a royal academy offering education in Confucian philosophy and literature to would-be civil servants. Of course enrollment was only open to inheriting males (not adoptees or sons of concubines) of the yangban class. However, one of the biggest scandals of the school is a female dressing as a male and enrolling as she felt desperate to learn. Such untoward behavior in a male-dominated society in which women were esteemed for their meekness, being self-sacrificing and most importantly "virtuousness", which has loaded connotations, was indeed a SCANDAL! The university, Sungkyunkwan, was not I believe established as a center of higher learning until 1895, in which it was built as a modern-day college on a large property adjacent to the shrine and applying the name "Sungkyunkwan". Therefore, people can and have argued that Sungkyunkwan University is not the six-century-old place of higher education that it claims, and that the two Sungkyunkwans are in fact separate centers of education. One can certainly argue.

The name Munmyo is also used when referring to the shrine. Munmyo is a general term for a Confucian shrine, and Munmyo Bae-hyang is a title and is considered the highest honor a scholar could achieve during the Joseon dynasty. (Only 18 scholars were accorded this honor - the 18 Sages of Korea or the 18 Confucian Scholars of the East.)

The Munmyo origins come from China where scholars starting with Confucius and his successors of his teachings were honored and venerated. During the Tang dynasty, Confucianism spread through China and was transported to Korea (in the United Shilla period). However, Munmyo wasn't fully developed until 1398 under King Taejo of Choseon; hence, the point of origin for Sungkyunkwan or Munmyo shrine is 1398. The shrine is not just a stone tablet but a whole complex of buildings, the two most famous being the Meongryundang (which is featured on the 1,000 won bill) and where many ceremonies including the liquor-drinking ceremony today are held) and the Daeseongjeon, a building with two stairs and paths leading up to it, the stairs and path (on the right) for the living, and the other (on the left) for Confucius and his venerated Munmyo Bae-hyang. The paved walk is the spirit gate. For anyone needing to cross the madang and therefore needing to pass over the spirit walk, one must bow deeply to pay honorable respect to the spirits, and then humbly and quietly pass over the spirit gate. One is never ever to walk on the spirit walk!

Daeryundang - members of the RAS are sitting on the stairs for the living. Note the  stairs behind and the alternative path leading to them ... this is the spirit gate or gated path and only to be used by Confucius and his venerated scholars.
This is only a small portion of the entire Munmyo. Daeseungdang is the largest building and is centralized. It is also facing south and this direction in which it faces is based on pungsujiri, fengshui, principles. This is also the hall with the spirit gate, mapped into the scaled picture. On either side of the compound is a long dormitory for the housing of Confucian scholars. Originally the number of enrollment was small, and therefore highly competitive. The number of enrollees eventually capped off at about 200.
Relaxing on the maru of one of the dormitories for Confucian scholars.


No comments:

Post a Comment