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Posted by on Jun 6, 2010

Wongoksa Pagoda (원각사지십층석탑) in Seoul, an early description

I love this description of Wongoksa Pagoda (원각사지십층석탑) in Tapkol Kangwon (탑골 공원) (Pagoda Park) from The Korean Repository by F. Ohlinger, H. G. Appenzeller, George Heber Jones (1895).
I used to work across the street from this park for years and years and from my office window, I could see this pagoda, under glass, with thousands of old retired Korean men mulling around. Occasionally I would eat my lunch at the base of the pagoda, but mostly I stared at it from my office window. Either way, I love the thought of Seoul in the midst of the Koryo Dynasty (912-1392) as a well-wooded valley with a stream meandering out to the Han River. Not quite as bucolic now, but a pleasant thought.

Near the center of Seoul one may see projecting above the low house tops a remarkable piece of stone work in the shape of a pagoda. As this is the most ancient as well as the most notable architectural work in this city of wood and clay something regarding its history and description may not be amiss. One native written account states that a monarch of the middle period of the Korai dynasty Chung Soo Yang was married to the daughter an only child of Sai Cho one of the rulers of the Mongolian Yuen or Won Dynasty which overthrew the Sung Dynasty about 1269 AD and ruled over China till 1363 AD. This Sai Cho is said to have sent this pagoda as a present to his daughter. It is however distinctly state that the Ohinesa monarch who sent the pagoda was a devout Buddhist. Certainly the work is Buddhistic entirely and that he sent it by sea from his capital at Nanking. This would 828 11 to indicate that it was during the Sung rather than the Won Dynasty that the incident occurred. For the southern Sungs had their capital at Nanking; they were notable for their patronage of arts and letters and such a work of art would more likely be produced during their reign than during that of the wild Mongols.

However the pagoda earns by water from Nanking during the middle of the Korai Dynasty which lasted from 912 AD to 1392 AD with the capital at Songdo. The pagoda may therefore he considered to be 700 years old. At that time the valley now occupied by the city of Seoul was well wooded and watered by the stream which finding its source amid the barren peaks to the northwest flows through the center of the valley to join ths Han River above the ridges of Nam San.

This book was published by the Trilingual Press of Seoul, which was basically a function of the Methodist missionaries present in Seoul at the time with Appenzeller himself being one of the most famous. Appenzeller used the press to print books for educational and religious purposes.

Appenzeller developed his school, named Paichai Hakdang (Hall for the Rearing of Useful Men) by King Kojong in 1887, into a vehicle to oppose Chinese imperialism in Korea during the 1885-1894 period of Chinese domination. He developed a liberal arts curriculum and evangelical atmosphere, modeled upon his alma mater, Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In his mission school, Appenzeller fostered equality, industry, patriotism, and Christianity. Students attended from all eight provinces and all social classes. They either paid cash for school fees or worked in the school’s industrial department, which included the Trilingual Press. The faculty used han’gul, the native script scorned by the Korean aristocracy, and English instead of Chinese, and students learned Korean history.

If you are looking for the connection between these series of quotes, I wouldn’t look too hard as it is flimsy at best. I just enjoyed what I had found and wanted to share. If you go there now, you will still find both of these objects and the park still looks the same. I suppose that stands to reason as it has been standing for quite a long time.

Davies, D. (1992). Building a City on a Hill in Korea: The Work of Henry G. Appenzeller. Church History, 61 (4): 422-435. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3167795

Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 6, Part 2, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Korea Branch, Seoul.

Posted via email from michaelgallagher’s posterous

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