(Seoul)—Changgyeonggung, the palace to the east of yet another royal abode with a similar-sounding name (Changdeokgung), seems to be the least popular one among all the Korean palaces I’ve seen. On this cold winter’s day, the few people I encountered were mostly locals. However, this is one of my favorite palaces because of all the fascinating stories it harbors behind its silent walls.
The First Female Royal Physician
Hwangyeongjeon may look like most of the pavilions I’ve seen, but its story of being a “feminist pavilion” deserves to be told. Dae Jang Geum was the only female royal physician to attend to the king, delivering Queen Janggyeong’s baby and curing Queen Dowager’s Jasun of her illness. Her skills won the confidence of the king, who appointed her the top royal physician, a move that traditional Confucian ministers objected to. Dae Janggeum was the most trusted physician of the king, and attended to him until his death. Her story is the subject of an eponymous Korean historical TV series.
The Puppet Curse
At the site of Tongmyeongjeon, the queen’s bed chamber, is a scandal that trumps all tabloid stories. King Sukjong had an affair with a maid named Jang Ok-jeong, who gave birth to their son, Prince Gyun. While trying to make Gyun as the crown prince, King Sukjong removed those who opposed this move and deposed Queen Inhyeon, installing Jang as the queen. Followers of Queen Inhyeon restored her to power, demoting Jang as consort. Jang cursed Queen Inhyeon by burying a puppet of the queen together with dead animals near Tongmyeongjeon. Upon discovery, Jang was forced to commit suicide at 43 years old by ingesting poison. Nearby is a garden with a round well and a square pond.
Surprise, surprise, this year her story will make it as a TV series, which itself is based on a chick-lit novel.
The Playboy Mansion
Yeongchunheon and Jipbokheon are believed to be residences for concubines. Seeing that these buildings are now empty and seems to be a place where these old guys hang out to gossip made me laugh.
I’m positive there are Korean TV series on something like this.
The King’s Placenta
This is the site of King Seongjong’s taesil and taesilbi (placenta chamber monument). According to the Korean age system, a baby is one year old at the moment of birth because life is considered to begin at conception. The placenta is stored in a porcelain jar a few days after being born. The jaris sealed several times and enshired in a stone chamber after a few months. I’ve seen other placenta jars in the National Palace Museum of Korea.
The Glass House
A year before Japan formally annexed Korea, Changgyeonggung was turned into a botanical garden and a zoo, demoting a palace into a public park. Daeonsil, the glass house, was built as Korea’s first Victorian-style greenhouse. The zoo was removed in 1983, but the glass house exists and contains a many indigenous plants.
Lessons learned: Beware the quiet ones, for they hold the juiciest stories. And the more scandalous or noteworthy it is, the better the chances of making it big on TV posthumously, centuries later.
(1) Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (2011). Changgyeonggung. Pamphlet.
(2) Discovering Korea blog