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Daily lives in palace reenacted

If anybody has been captivated by the magnificence of Korea’s royal palaces, but felt a need for something more lively and fantastic, Changgyeonggung offers a great chance. The daily life of the royal palaces, having been hidden in a veil of mystery, is being revealed to the public for the first time.

Changgyeonggung unveiled old stories about the Joseon-era palace through reenactments featuring the daily lives of kings, queens, vassals, and courtesans on December 1 and 2. “The idea of the event evolved from a question: ‘What is living in a palace like?’” said Cho Song-rae, director of the Changgyeonggung Palace office in the Cultural Heritage Administration, which worked together with the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation to organize this event. “Visitors would hopefully have a deeper understanding of Korea’s royal customs since we designed the event to reveal everyday life rather than concentrating on a special occasion or ritual ceremony.”

In this program, carried out like a type of guided tour, participant groups travel around and stop at five major spots starting from the main entrance Honghwamun. When passing through the main gate, visitors are required to present hopae (a little rectangular-shaped piece of wood used for identification during the Joseon period) given upon purchase of the admission ticket to a gate guard (sumunjang). Walking past Honghwamun, the tour group encounters Myeongjeongjeon, the central building of the palace. The guide explains that Myeongjeongjeon was mainly used as a site for official ceremonies such as coronations, official examinations, and special banquets. Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung also have this type of pavilion functioning as an event hall but Myeongjeongjeon has the oldest tradition with a lot more to show.

The relationship between the king and vassals is showcased in Munjeongjeon (photo by Jeon Han).

The next site on the tour is Munjeongjeon, the office of the king. In 1762, the front yard was the scene of a big tragedy. When a newly crowned prince started to exercise his political power, the governing group who opposed the new prince began to conspire against him. The prince’s father, King Yeongjo (1694-1776), was coerced to order the prince to kill himself in the end. After over a week of being locked up and starved in a wooden rice chest (dwiju) in the sweltering summer heat, the prince died at the age of only 28. At this building, visitors watch a reenactment of Jeongjo (King Yeongjo’s grandson, 1752-1800), getting angry after discovering his grandfather’s secret diary entry about the prince’s death.

Thirdly, the group is led to Hwangyeongjeon which used to be a living space for the king and crown prince and also a key location for the first female physician Daejanggeum, who provided inspiration for the historic drama titled Daejanggeum, or Jewel in the Palace 500 years later. Daejanggeum became the head physician and the first woman physician in history to serve the king. Despite the general stereotypes and discrimination against female physicians, Jungjong’s (1488-1544) trust towards Daejanggeum was solid that he persisted in receiving treatment from Daejanggeum until he died. In Hwangyeongjeon, tourists get a chance to watch a physician and a court lady giving the king a medical exam.

A physician and a court lady check a participant’s pulse during the reenactment performance (photo by Jeon Han).

The fourth spot, located in the innermost part of the palace, is Tongmyeongjeon, the queen’s bedroom. But not only used as a bedroom, Tongmyeongjeon was sometimes used by the king for conducting state affairs. In this multi-purpose space, visitors get a glimpse into the lives of court ladies who care for the king and queen 24 hours a day.

The tour concludes at a weather observation spot where actors observe the change of wind and forecast the weather for an important date.

A reenactment of observing wind changes and the sundial to predict the weather is showcased during the event (photo by Jeon Han).

“I liked the performances and it was easy to understand Korea’s royal culture,” said ten-year-old Kim Su-bin who participated in the event. “It was very fun to take a look at the lives of people in the palace in the olden days.”

This weekend, Changgyeonggung offers a second chance to take the tour on December 8 and 9 at 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Those who want to participate should arrive at the main gate of Changgyeonggung on time. No reservations needed.

By Lee Seung-ah Staff Writer

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