“Paths of the Lost Kingdom” Walking Tour: Part 2

5. Old city light tower replica 옛 등대 복원지

The two replica light towers that sit atop the hill overlooking the lowland river valley where the old city is situated are based on those that existed at Hallim’s Kosan 한림 고산 and Sŏgwip’o’s Taep’o 서귀포 대포 harbors. Light towers of the like were built at other harbors around Cheju and they were all of varied forms. One existed at the harbor of Yongdam-dong 용담동 where a village emerged around a coastal spring some 400 years ago. During the medieval and Chosŏn Dynasty periods, a small harbor existed at the mouth of Sanjich’ŏn 산지천, but the more important harbor that served the old city was actually at Hwabuk 화북. Cheju lacks significant major natural harbors and it actually was not until the twentieth century that any truly major port existed here. Even when the Chosŏn Dynasty, during its last-ditch attempt at self-strengthening, commissioned its first steamship to sail to Cheju at the end of the 19th century, the ship had no suitable place to anchor at Cheju. Cheju was likely never a major maritime power as some might imagine (with exaggeration), and yet at the same time Cheju was not completely isolated.

Cheju depended much on the sea and hence major ancient settlements such as Samyang 삼양 and Yongdam 용담 tended to be close to the coast. Although historical records on ancient T’amna activities are very scarce, the “Accounts of the Eastern Barbarians” 東夷傳 section of the Chinese Sanguozhi 三國志 completed sometime after 280, notes the existence of an island south of Mahan 마한 called “Zhouhu” 洲胡 (Kr: Chuho 주호). Mahan refers to the precursor of the Korean Paekche 백제 kingdom, which was concentrated in the Ch’ungch’ŏng 충청 and Chŏlla 전라 regions, and so Chuho theoretically refers to ancient Cheju. From this record, one can conclude that as early as the Han Dynasty, Cheju islanders had engaged in trade with mainland Korea as well as Han Dynasty China. These early contacts have also further been confirmed with the 1928 discovery of Han coins at the old port of Sanjich’ŏn. From the Japanese Nihon Shoki 日本書紀 and the Chinese Jiu Tangshu 舊唐書, we also know that T’amna dispatched representatives to the Japanese Asuka 飛鳥 and Chinese Tang 唐朝 courts in 645 and 662. American geographer David J. Nemeth, who wrote his dissertation on Cheju’s geomancy culture in 1984, also noted that Cheju Island’s geographical features make it a strong candidate for the mythical island of immortality in ancient Chinese folklore and indeed one of Cheju’s many names include “Yingzhou” 瀛洲 (Yŏngju 영주), the blessed land. While many historical records have been lost to us, the numerous instances of castaways, historical attestations of T’amna’s visits to other lands, and archeological evidence of a relatively active ancient maritime trade suggest that there Cheju’s myths and legends may reflect more about Cheju’s history than at first glance.

The theme of deities coming from beyond the seas recurs in Cheju’s complex mythology. Two major myths featuring this theme are the Three Clans Myth (Samsŏng Sinhwa 삼성신화) and the epic narrative of Paekchu Halmang 백주 할망. In both myths, goddesses represent agriculture, sophistication, and civilization in contrast to their hunter-gatherer male counterparts. In Samsŏng Sinhwa, the king of Pyŏngnang 병랑, which is often interpreted to be Japan, sent his three daughters along with livestock and grain seeds westward over to the land of T’amna after seeing shafts of light flash over the horizon. The story of a foreign-origin agricultural goddess is more defined in the epic myth of Paekchu Halmang, the high patron goddess of Songdang’s 송당 main shrine and ancestress to many of Cheju’s deities. Paekchu Halmang is known to her worshipers as a great goddess of purity and prosperity. She married the hunter-gather Soch’ŏn’guk, but divorced him after he ate not only their oxen but also the oxen of neighbors. The story of Paekchu Halmang’s and Soch’ŏn’guk’s son Songgoksŏng, which literary scholar Cho Tong’il (1997) suggests may actually be the myth of T’amna’s first king, relates a grand epic adventure in which he becomes a conquering hero while in exile abroad. T’amna in prehistoric times likely consisted of different groups that entered the island in different waves of migration via the sea or via a land bridge that once connected Cheju to continental Asia. In the Ch’ilsŏng Ponp’uri, the seven snake spirits born from the foreign goddess Ch’ilsŏng’agi can bring disaster if not attended to but can also bring great wealth. Common features in all these narratives are that foreign deities, often goddesses, not only bestow prosperity but also bring the means to make it possible. Considering the difficulties that Cheju people had to endure in order to successfully farm, the matter that agricultural goddesses are given such high esteem comes as no surprise. Another feature of these myths are the similarities they share with the spread of beliefs via maritime trade in East Asia – the goddess Ma Tsu 媽祖 in Taiwan, for example, is worshipped as a deity of protection for seafarers but appears to have been a popularization of Guan Yin 觀音菩薩 (Kwan Ŭm; Sanskrit: Avalokitesvara – bodhisattva of compassion and protection) worship carried by sailors. That many of Cheju’s deities have a backstory of being from abroad seems to follow this pattern.

6. Sanjich’ŏn 산지천

Sanjich’ŏn was once a stream that flowed from Hallasan. It brought water to ancient Jeju City and served as a communal laundry place. It was mostly dry and little more than a creek for much of the year as water often seeped through quickly in Cheju’s rocky and volcanic earth. Like Seoul’s Ch’ŏnggyech’ŏn 청계천, Sanjich’ŏn became heavily polluted as Cheju City grew and was actually covered up for development some decades ago. It was restored recently and now again is subject to redevelopment, which could become a flood hazard as the stream is now perpetually full of water. Though this stream is hardly impressive, its importance to early Cheju City cannot be overstated. The mouth of Sanjich’ŏn served as a port and, along with Pyŏngmunch’ŏn 병문천 on the west side of the old walls, a water source.

Until as late as the twentieth century, fresh water was a scare resource and so Cheju people depended heavily on what they could get from freshwater creeks and springs. Though Cheju is infamous for its fickle weather and its frequent rains, its soil does not retain water very well – most of the rainwater is lost as runoff. Dry half for half of the year, Cheju’s streams tend to be natural flood control channels rather than actual rivers. Though freshwater springs can be found in inland areas such as Hoech’ŏn 회천, the Goldilocks zone for early settlements had to fit three requirements: 1) a freshwater source; 2) land suitable for basic horticulture; and 3) access to the sea. For these reasons, from the 6th century to the Chosŏn Dynasty, settlement patterns in Cheju were consistent. Because of Cheju’s geographical constraints, even today’s Cheju City had remained consistent throughout much of its history. The district names of Ildo 일도, Ido 이도, and Samdo 삼도 all refer to three domains of the Tamna’s three founders and these three domains were noted in Chosŏn Dynasty records.

In 1211, T’amna had two counties – T’amna-hyŏn 탐라현 and Kwidŏk-hyŏn 귀덕현. These were further subdivided as subordinate counties (sokhyŏn 속현) into the many of the village and town names we now recognize in Cheju – Kwiil 귀일 (today’s Hagwi 하귀 and Sanggwi 상귀), Gonae 고내, Aewol 애월, Kwakji 곽지, Myŏngwŏl 명월, Sinchon 신촌, Hamdŏk 함덕, Kimnyŏng 김녕, Ch’agwi 차귀 (today’s Kosan 고산), Hoch’on 호촌 (today’s Sillye 신례 and Harye 하례), Hongno 홍로 (today’s Tonghong-tong 동홍동), T’osan 토산, Yerae 예래, and Sanbang 산방 (Kim 2004:12). Depending on size, each village had one to four managing officials. Aside from T’amnasŏng and Kwidŏk, T’amna’s residents – roughly up to 30,000 during medieval times – were largely concentrated within these villages. Some of these villages, however, had their beginnings far earlier than medieval times as archeological remains can attest. By the 6th to 10th century, Cheju’s settlements tended to concentrate closer to the coastal lowlands and by estuaries where streams open into the sea. Until agriculture was better developed in the Chosŏn Dynasty, medieval Cheju settlements were typically concentrated in the north and in the vicinity of today’s Cheju City, facing the peninsular mainland and the Northeast Asian trade routes.

While Cheju is nowadays known for its abundant mandarin orange orchards and barley fields, in antiquity and during the medieval period, most of the island was unsuitable for farming. To get an idea of how rocky and difficult Cheju’s terrain was (and still is), one can take into consideration that it literally took centuries for walled fields to appear across the island – the earliest detailed accounts of what we take for granted as Cheju-style farming comes only from the Chosŏn Dynasty and yet from as early as the Koryŏ period Cheju Island is noted for its oceanic products. Even today, rice only grows in specific parts of the island such as Hanon 하논 Crater. For most of its history, Cheju was a very tough environment and hence we see this reflected in Cheju’s traditionally strong shamanistic culture and recurrent themes of struggle and abject poverty in its oral literature.

7. Ko Family House 고 씨 가옥

This house was a residence of a branch of the larger Ko clan. Though this particular house actually dates from the twentieth century, it is nonetheless an important part of old Cheju City’s history. This house, first constructed in 1922, perfectly fuses both Japanese and Korean architectural elements. While the layout of the house follows that of a typical Korean home – absent of a central corridor more typical in Japanese homes – it used shoji-style sliding doors and once had tatami mat coverings over its Korean ondol flooring. The building material was all imported from Japan and thus the house is made of hinoki 檜 (Japanese cypress) rather than wood native to Cheju or the Korean peninsula. Thanks to JICEA’s (Jeju International Culture Exchange Association 제주국제교류협회) grassroots citizen activism, this house, as well as four other structures significant to modern historical memory in the immediate area, was spared destruction in the current “T’amna Culture Plaza” project. While one explores old Cheju City and sees the ceaseless content-less redevelopment in the area, it is pertinent to ask what exactly “T’amna” and “Culture” means.

Cheju “culture” has to be explained in the legacy of “T’amna” and that legacy is still present with us today so long as there are people seeking to keep it alive. It also has to be considered in terms of contemporary memory and how people have experienced the island’s tumultuous history. In the flesh, the Ko clan exists here and now but their story is also an indelible part of the greater story of T’amna. Descendants of the Ko clan have maintained prominence not only from the colonial period but from as far back as the T’amna period. The surnames Ko 고, Yang 양, and Pu 부 are particularly important to ancient Cheju Island. As noted in the “Samsŏng Sinhwa,” these three clans were the island’s traditional elites.

During the Koryŏ dynasty, two figures of the Ko clan earned their place in the official royal histories: Ko Yu 고유 and his son Ko Chogi 고조기. The stories of Ko Yu 高維 and Ko Chogi 高兆基 are examples of T’amna’s ambiguous relationship with the Koryŏ kingdom. Ko Yu was the first T’amna person to take the Koryŏ civil service examination and receive an official court position, but his ascent into the inner circles of Kaegyŏng was via an exam specifically for foreigners and it took some time before he managed to attain a high rank (Ko 2007: 58). Ko Chogi, following his father’s success, however, took an exam that was reserved for Koryŏ subjects. Ko Chogi’s story in the 98th volume of the Koryŏsa 고려사 is as follows:

“Ko Chogi, whose first name was “Tang’yu,” was a person of T’amna. His father was (Ko) Yu, a man of Ubok rank in the Sangsŏsŏng, (Department of State Affairs 尙書省).[1] Chogi had a generous nature, was widely read in literature and histories, and he especially labored over five-character style verse poetry. At the beginning of the time of King Yejong, he succeeded in the examinations, and went out as the magistrate (守) of Namju to serve with integrity. During King Injong’s reign, he was appointed as Censor (侍御史). While Yi Chagyŏm 李資謙 repaired Honggyŏngwŏn temple 弘慶院, Chief Rectifier of Monks 僧正 Cha Pu and the Chisujusa 知水州事 Pong U were entrusted with the task and had able-bodied young men of the provinces and prefectures forcibly conscripted for the task, causing much disruption. After Yi Chagyŏm was defeated following his failed insurrection[2], Cha Pu was found complicit in the conspiracy and exiled to an island. But Pong U, thanks to his collusion with common palace eunuchs, was spared and able to be reinstated. Chogi thrice spoke up. Having aroused the anger of the king for acting insubordinate, he was demoted to the office of Wŏnwirang (Supernumerary Senior Recorder) but afterwards again became a Censor official. At the time of Yi Chagyŏm’s rebellion, all officials were threatened with danger and while in pursuit they lost their integrity and there were many, even the prime minister, of those who depended upon their connections to avoid punishment. Chogi, intending to defeat them, again and again raised his pen in protest, saying, ‘Even if their faults are covered over because of the generosity of those higher up, with what face do they stand in court when they look upon the sun and moon ?” Though the king considered Chogi’s words correct, he could not bear to do away with the great ministers. Chogi was appointed and selected as the Yebunangjung (Director of the Bureau of Rites), but in reality the high offices were usurped. As soon as King Ŭijong 毅宗 ascended the throne, he was appointed a Chŏngdangmunhak of the Chancellery 拜政堂文學 and as he was moved up to the rank of Chamjijŏngsa he achieved the rank of the Chungsŏsirang Pyeongjangsa 中書侍郞平章事 (Manager of Affairs with the Secretariat and Chancellery). When Kim Chonjung abused his authority, Chogi was criticized for bending over to him. He was impeached by the Kan’gwan (Remonstrance Official) and then was demoted to a Sangsŏjwabogya 降爲尙書左僕射. He turned to Kim Chonjung’s help and not many months later he again returned to office. He served for some time and finally died in the 11th year (1157) without heirs. Meetings at the court were suspended for three days and the concerned authorities ordered mourning rites and the granting of a posthumous title.”

Ko Chogi’s tomb today is located near Jeju Girls’ Middle School in Ara-dong.

[1] “Ubokya” was not an actual office position even while it was a title of second rank, but seemed to be reserved for those who earned their merit but could not find an appropriate office.

[2] Yi Chagyŏm is notorious in Koryŏ history for his excesses and having led an insurrection to usurp Koryŏ court power in 1126.

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