The Great Korean Road Trip – Day 14 – Confucian Seowon

After being a bit disappointed with Sosu Seowon, I decided to give these Confucian academies a second chance. After all, a whopping 9 of them are registered UNESCO sites, so it wouldn’t be fair to judge them all on an hr visit so 1 of them.

Dosan Seowon has long been considered one of the “Big 5” things to do in Andong. Given I visit Andong every year, it is quite a shame I had never come before. Better late than never. Upon reaching the gates, I saw a sign that said that they offered free tours or audio guides in English. I was just going to get the audio guide when a very friendly lady assured me that the guided tour would be more fulfilling. She was right.

Studying is the most fun thing (or something like that). Toegye put these motivational thingies all over the academy.

Confucian Seowon were established as some of the first private schools in Korea, teaching the philosophies of Korea’s version of the philosophy. This is what we now call Neo-Confucianism. The great philosopher Lee Hwang, also known as Toegye established this school in the late 16th century. Toegye is immortalized in the Korean 1000 won note, so you have probably seen him without knowing it. The back of the 1000 note actually has some of Dosan Seowon’s buildings that were hand-crafted by Toegye himself.

Having previously visited the house of Yi I (5000 won note) and his mother (50,000 won note), along with Sejong’s tomb (10,000 note), I guess I have now completed the Korean money trail. 

The school was humble, as would be expected for something build 500 years ago. Nevertheless, it was impressive how much Korea valued merit on top of just birthright to be appointed to positions. To earn a position with the king, you had to prove your wits.

Interesting fact: Only Buddhist temples and royal palaces were allowed to have dyes to paint their buildings, regardless of how rich and powerful you are. The king, however, made an exception for Dosan Seowon since he revered Toegye. The king even let him slide when he refused to present himself in Seoul.

Equally as impressive was the guide. She has been volunteering on her weekends to show foreigners this academy. She lives in Seoul, so she makes the 3 hr commute (1 way) every weekend for the last 3 years.

Julio Moreno
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