“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.

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

This is a summary of the historical events and sites mentioned in the April 26th “Paths of the Lost Kingdom” tour, the first English-language tour of Jeju International Culture Exchange Association’s (JICEA) Wŏndosim Yet’gil T’amhŏm (Jeju City Old Town Survey Excursion). “Paths of the Lost Kingdom” was a tour of Cheju Island under the ancient T’amna civilization and encompassed history – with a few digressions – from the 3rd century to 1404. This course focuses on Jeju’s mythological and historical past of the T’amna civilization in the space of modern Cheju City. Participants will be invited to envision ancient Cheju’s past while they explore the legacy of its millennia-old history. A chronological presentation is impossible as sites are scattered all around the city. The purpose is instead to show the continued presence of Cheju tradition. For this course, the “T’amna Kingdom” and “T’amna civilization” are differentiated – the former refers to the autonomous T’amna state, which lasted from sometime in the 3rd century until it’s official 1105 annexation, while the latter refers to Cheju’s native culture, which was not fully absorbed until the first few decades of the Chosŏn Dynasty (1392-1910).

Each section below is divided in accord to the April 26 itinerary noted in parentheses next to the associated theme. As the content is as long as the course (the entire course took 3 hours!), the itinerary and the information will be posted in three parts. Following standard American academic conventions, all Korean names are Romanized in the McCune-Reischauer system. I include the Korean script beside names.

What was the Tamna civilization?

Due to the absence and loss of historical records, Tamna’s past remains shrouded in mystery. There is no definite agreement on when T’amna began. In the Korean Samguksagi, “T’amnaguk” appears in the year 476 in the records of King Munju of the Paekche kingdom. While the earliest possible references to Tamna appear in the Chinese Sanguozhi, which was compiled sometime after 280, and the legend of Qin Shi Huang’s (r.220-210 BCE) emissary Xu Fu, little is certain. T’amna’s annexation to the Korean mainland kingdom is also a topic of debate as there are three main suggested possibilities: at the beginning of the Koryŏ Dynasty (918-1392), in the year 1105 when it was officially designated a Koryŏ prefecture, or even in the 4th year of King T’aejong (1404) of Chosŏn when Cheju’s native titles were abolished. In any case, when we speak of “civilization” we also have to take into account that contrary to the recent tendency to exaggerate T’amna’s clout in Northeast Asia as an alleged “maritime” kingdom or excessively grandiose presentations of its pantheon, Cheju Island’s T’amna culture was never a major regional power and frequently found itself at the mercy of the peninsular kingdoms. On the other hand, Cheju truly does have unique traditions and historical experiences that are worth examining. As local folklorist Mun Mubyŏng (2012) observed, Cheju historically was at the intersection between cultural flows from the northern Altaic regions via continental Northeast Asia and the southern Southeast Asian and Buddhist regions via the oceanic southwest-to-northeast Kuroshio Current. Despite its semi-colonial relationship with the Korean mainland, Cheju managed to maintain a distinctive culture and worldview that still remains relevant to the present.

Although Cheju was considered a desolate island of exile during the Chosŏn Dynasty, many followers of the island’s native spiritual practices saw themselves as being an indelible part of a vast universe of some thousands of deities. Cheju possesses a complete epic myth of creation, connecting the human world as experienced in Cheju with the universe beyond. What we call “shamanism” is deeply embedded in Cheju’s culture and worldviews even to the present. Though Cheju City’s urbanization has been drastically transforming the landscape and lifestyles of the island, some traditions continue to survive and have become representative of Cheju Island’s heritage. Narratives are inscribed into Cheju’s landscapes and cityscapes. What has now become “Cheju shamanism” perhaps served as the guiding principles for people of the ancient indigenous T’amna civilization. Given the lack or loss of historical records, however, the “beginning” of T’amna is told only in mythology.

1. Cheju Cosmology (Chilmeoridang 칠머리당 / Sarabong 사라봉)

Understanding Cheju’s traditional cosmology is a first step in attempting to acquire an understanding of the island’s ancient civilization. Cheju mythology begins with Ch’ŏnjiwang Ponp’uri 천지왕 본풀이(the “Origin Epic of the King of Heaven and Earth”), which is the creation myth recited at the opening Ch’ogamje rite in all shrines across Cheju Island including Ch’ilmŏridang. Connecting the human world with that of the celestial, shamans begin the genealogy of the local gods with the beginning of time itself. “Ponp’uri” literally means “unravelling the origins.” It brings together the other world of the gods and this world so that people can situate themselves as part of a greater universe.

Ch’ŏnjiwang Ponp’uri narrates the creation of the universe as we know it. Several variations of the same myth exists all across Jeju and so the version used here is a summary provided in Hyŏn Yongjun’s Cheju Sinhwa (1996). In the beginning, there was pure Chaos. The cosmos opened its head at the direction of the Ox and Time began. From this Chaos emerged Ch’ŏnjiwang, the King of Heaven and Earth.  Ch’ŏnjiwang sought to bring Order out of Chaos and so he went down to Earth to propose a marriage with the Lady of the Earth, Ch’ongmaeng Puin 총맹부인. Ch’ongmaeng Puin was unfortunately so impoverished that she had nothing proper to offer and so she went to her neighbor Sumyŏngjangja 수명장자 for a loan of rice. Sumyŏngjangja was notoriously greedy and cheated Ch’ongmaeng Puin by secretly mixing the rice with sand. When Ch’ŏnjiwang discovered Sumyŏngjangja’s deed, he became furious and unleashed the wrath of all the heavens upon Sumyŏngjangja’s household. But because Ch’ŏnjiwang unleashed such furious power, he had to bring some semblance of peace by performing the universe’s first kut 굿, a shamanic ritual. Ch’ŏnjiwang and Ch’ongmaeng Puin consummated their marriage and had two sons, Taebyŏl 대별 (“Great Star”) and Sobyŏl 소별 (“Little Star”). His part of the story done, Ch’ŏnjiwang returned to heaven while Ch’ongmaeng Puin raised their sons.

While Ch’ŏnjiwang Ponp’uri shares much with Abrahamic traditions, a particular feature of Cheju’s story of creation is that it gives a humanistic view of cosmology in which the universe is not only imperfect from the beginning but the gods themselves are also flawed characters. The universe in the beginning was truly chaos – there were two suns and two moons, there was no real distinction between the living and the dead, and animals could speak. Even though Ch’ŏnjiwang fulfilled his cosmic obligation to join Ch’ongmaeng Puin in marriage, the universe did not achieve a perfect order. This task was left to Taebyŏl and Sobyŏl. Taebyŏl was tasked with managing this world 이승 while Sobyŏl was tasked with managing the underworld 저승. Sobyŏl, however, was jealous of his older brother and so challenged him to a flower-raising contest. Sobyŏl cheated but Taebyŏl nonetheless accepted the result and took up stewardship of the underworld. But Sobyŏl was unable to manage this world and so he called his older brother to help. Taebyŏl shot down one of the suns and one of the moons, hardened the tongues of animals so that they would not speak, and firmly separated the worlds of the living and the underworld. But because Taebyŏl had to return to the underworld and because Sobyŏl was incompetent, the underworld became a paradise while this world experiences suffering. As people of an island that was historically plagued with extreme hardship, mythology appears to reflect Cheju inhabitants’ traditional attitude of perseverance with uncertainty.

Cosmology is also reflected in the name of Cheju’s most important geological feature – Hallasan. The three Classical Chinese characters that comprise “Hallasan” translate to “the peak (山) that pulls (拏) the Milky Way galaxy (漢).” In many cultures and civilizations around the world, the Milky Way galaxy is the central axis from around which the universe turns. Astral symbolism repeats also in deity names such as Taebyŏl and Sobyŏl, Ch’ilsŏng (Seven Stars) worship in household ritual, and even the form of ancient Cheju City around the Ch’ilsŏngdae complex of seven altars.

Sarabong 沙羅, too, figures into the narrative of T’amna’s history. In “Tamna Yŏlchŏn” section of the late 18th century Tongsa written by Yi Chonghwi (1731-1797), Sarabong is mentioned to be the hill from which Ko, Yang, and Pu shot their arrows to determine their respective domains. Sarabong’s name refers to the glow of the sunset over its ridge, which appears like yellow silk (sa 沙 – sand, light silk) wrapped (ra 羅) over the hill (pong 峰).

One should be aware that the original site of Ch’ilmŏridang was actually closer to the harbor. Due to development, the shrine was twice moved. The present shrine is the third site. In 2009 at the Abu Dhabi convention, Ch’ilmŏridang Yŏngdŭng-kut was awarded UNESCO World Heritage designation. Though originally a rural tradition, Ch’ilmŏridang Yŏngdŭng-kut has become a part of Cheju City’s urban heritage and remains relevant as a crucial part of the city’s cultural identity.

2. Yŏngdŭng-kut 영등굿 (former Ch’ilmŏridang site 옛 칠머리당 터)

The original Ch’ilmŏridang was at a position much closer to the sea since the shrine rituals here were important to fishermen and women divers. Ch’ilmŏridang being moved more than once is not an unusual event as coastal development has either demolished shrines or forced their relocation. The construction of the coastal roads that people now take for granted was particularly devastating for heritage sites. Yet Yŏngdŭng-kut has managed to persist to the present. How long this will remain an actual practice of spiritual significance rather than simply preserved “heritage,” however, is the question.

“Yŏngdŭng” is the deity of the wind. Yŏngdŭng in the Ch’ilmŏridang tradition is female, but Yŏngdŭng is also sometimes considered male in parts of eastern Cheju (particularly Chongdal 종달, Sinch’ang 신창, Sinyang 신양, and Sinch’ŏn 신천). This deity is said to reside far beyond Cheju across the seas and comes in the second lunar month of every year to be entertained by inhabitants of seaside villages all across the island for two weeks. During this festival-like period, women divers and fishermen traditionally abstained from work. Weather conditions on the day of Yŏngdŭng Maji 영등 맞이, which is the first day of the second lunar month when Yŏngdŭng arrives, also have a particular interpretation – should the day of Yŏngdŭng Maji be foggy or rainy it means that Yŏngdŭng came with his or her daughter-in-law and that the two are quarrelling but should the weather be fine it means that his or her daughter has come on a pleasure visit. Yŏngdŭng departs from Cheju after making a full clockwise circuit and stops by the island of Udo 우도 before returning to the land beyond on the fourteenth day of the second lunar month.

Cheju people are all too aware of the potential dangers of the sea, even as they had traditionally depended upon it. While often regarded as “superstition,” traditional practices such as the two-week Yŏngdŭng-kut cycle reflects actual natural phenomena that Cheju islanders have noticed for centuries. In interviews with women divers regarding this cycle, which is tied to both the lunar and seasonal phases in the second lunar month, waters around Cheju tend to become rough and weather makes aquatic activity difficult. The Yŏngdŭng-kut period is also observed in rural Cheju Buddhist tradition in the form of the Dragon King Rite 용왕제. Though Cheju Buddhists emphasize the Dragon King, the sovereign god of the sea and another deity celebrated in Yŏngdŭng-kut, in some cases Yŏngdŭng is acknowledged.

3. T’amna Buddhism (Tongjabok 동자복 / Mansusa temple site 만수사)

Tongjabok’s precise age is unknown, but scholars generally agree that it is a product of the Koryŏ Dynasty 고려왕조 (918-1392) period of medieval Korea. Tongjabok presided at a temple at the eastern side of ancient Cheju City, serving as the counterpart of Sŏjabok 서자복, was situated in the west. Chosŏn Dynasty 조선왕조 governor Yi Wŏnjin’s 이원진 T’amnaji 탐라지 composed in 1653 noted the existence of a temple at Tongjabok’s site. Tongjabok is a representation of Mirŭk 미륵, the Maitreya Buddha. Conceptions of Maitreya Buddha as a quasi-deity of abundance and protection is widespread across East Asia in the form of the Chinese and Japanese “laughing Buddhas” that adorn shops and practices of Mirŭk worship in rural Korea. While its purpose is contrary to scholastic Buddhism even for the Koryŏ Dynasty, Tongjabok nonetheless is a clear indicator of Buddhism’s presence on Cheju Island during medieval times.

Most scholarship agree that Buddhism entered Cheju during the Koryŏ Dynasty. This is attested in archeological findings of known temple sites. Some insist, however, that Buddhism may have been introduced as early as seventh and eighth centuries via T’amna’s contacts with Tang China, Asuka Japan, and the Korean Three Kingdoms; even though T’amna was a tiny country (its population was possibly somewhere around 30,000 during the Koryŏ period) both the Japanese Nihon Shoki and the Chinese Jiu Tangshu nonetheless attest to T’amna representatives’ visit to their respective courts. One legend in the south side of the island even claims that one of Gautama Buddha’s disciples, the Arhat Bhadra 발타라 나한, came to T’amna with a host of followers some 2,500 years ago! If one were to visit Bŏphwasa, one would also find a statue representing the Silla 신라 mariner Chang Pogo 장보고 (787-846) as some also posit that he may have also brought the religion over to T’amna during his maritime exploits. In any case, there are no extant records or artifacts to prove a significant Buddhist presence on the island before the Koryŏ Dynasty period. As the Koryŏ Dynasty declined, since Cheju lacked significant natural resources, monastic Buddhism’s fortunes on the island depended on the Koryŏ kingdom and so once Koryŏ court support diminished, so did Cheju’s major monasteries.

A brief description of the Koryŏ kingdom is necessary. While our understanding of Korean culture today is shaped largely by our perceptions of Chosŏn Dynasty (1392-1910) Korea, Koryŏ Dynasty Korea was significantly different. Koryŏ was an aristocratic dynasty, but it also was far less centralized than the succeeding Chosŏn. Koryŏ tolerated a greater degree of autonomy among local officials known as “hyangni” 향리 and appeared to have regarded other peoples in its sphere of influence as vassals or dependencies. Historian John Duncan (2000) suggested that because Koryŏ was established via an allied coalition in which its founder Wang Kŏn was at best a first among equals, Koryŏ had to carefully balance power among the various local chieftains and warlords within the Korean peninsula. Koryŏ also tended to favor Buddhism to the point that it sponsored exchanges and cultural activities to promote Buddhist propagation such as its elaborate P’algwanhoe 팔관회 state rituals, to which foreign dignitaries including T’amna representatives were invited.

Buddhism was officially suppressed in Cheju during the mid-Chosŏn Dynasty from 1701 until the end of the 19th century. Mansusa temple was one of the many shrines and temples deliberately destroyed by Governor Yi Hyŏngsang 이형상 as he described to his satisfaction in his account Namhwan Pangmul 남환박물. Aspects of Buddhism merged with local Cheju shamanic practices such as the worship of Mirŭk, the Maitreya Buddha, for protection and fertility.

4. The Story of Kim Mandŏk (Kim Mandŏk’s tavern 김만덕 객주터)

Kim Mandŏk’s was reconstructed earlier this year and is still in the process of being finished though the project had been proposed for some years. As part of the so-called “T’amna Culture Plaza” 탐라문화관장 project, the reconstructed tavern of Kim Mandŏk is probably the only thing vaguely “cultural” in the redevelopment scheme. On the other hand, while Kim Mandŏk is no doubt a figure worthy of remembrance and top honors, there are many problems with the current reconstruction and the hideously pretentious “Kim Mandŏk Memorial Hall” 만덕기념관 built at the side of Sanjich’ŏn 산지천. The architecture used for the reconstructed tavern is reminiscent of an exaggerated folk village style – and hence is not true to a Cheju-style ch’ogajip 초가집 – and the actual location of Kim Mandŏk’s tavern is a matter of debate as she may have based herself at the historically larger port of Hwabuk 화북. The “Tamna Culture Plaza” utterly fails to do appropriate honors to the memory of Kim Mandŏk and so it is important for people not only to have a critical perspective of things now done in her name but also to know the value of her story.

Kim Mandŏk (1739-1812) actually lived some centuries after the scope of this excursion, but her story is worth contemplating, especially as she remains a relevant figure. In official state record, merchant-philanthropist Kim Mandŏk appears only in a single statement during the history of King Chŏngjo. Yet even this one statement demonstrates how remarkable a character she was to have merited the reward she was given. For Kim Mandŏk’s virtuous work in spending her fortune to save Cheju people from famine, the Chosŏn court granted her an official title as well as her wish of bypassing official travel restrictions to visit the Diamond Mountains 금강산.

In a semi-caste and rigidly stratified society where women were seldom expected (and often discouraged) to act outside their proscribed social roles, Kim Mandŏk was in every way an exceptional figure in the Chosŏn Dynasty. Kim Mandŏk was born in 1739 and is a descendant of the Kimhae Kim clan. Her parents died when she and her siblings were young. Her brothers became livestock herders while Mandŏk became a kisaeng 기생. As a kisaeng, Kim Mandŏk was known for her exceptional artistic talent. She sought to regain her yangban 양반 status, but was initially rebuffed by the governor. She ultimately did persuade the governor by insisting that she would use her status to help people. Kim Mandŏk was approached by many suitors, but she refused all offers. She instead set up her own business based in her tavern, performing a variety of functions from dealing in goods brought in via mainland mercantile activity, warehousing products, providing finance services, as well as lodging merchants. Although she acquired significant wealth, she lived a very simple life and avoided luxury. Cheju was hit with terribly lean years from 1790 to 1794 and during 1794, the worst of those years, Kim Mandŏk expended her life’s fortune to purchase rice to save Cheju from starvation. Out of recognition for her philanthropy, King Chŏngjo granted her the title of Ŭnyŏbansu (醫女班首), the Head Lady Doctor, in 1796 and she was granted special permission to tour the Chosŏn capital of Hanyang (Seoul) as well as the fabled Diamond Mountains 금강산.

Kim Mandŏk’s story also reflects certain aspects about women in Cheju society. Historically Cheju women were expected to have a greater degree of economic independence, even though this did not necessarily translate to social clout. Due the particular geographic conditions on Cheju, all community members were expected to contribute to the shared survival of not only the family but also the village as a whole. Even during the eighteenth century, because of the high mortality rate of men and the greater economic value of women, it was commonly known in Cheju that to have a daughter was a treasured thing while having a son was simply to have “food for the whales.” Cheju having such a harsh environment curiously also meant that community security depended as much upon women as it did upon the labors of its men. As one can notice in women diver households, because of the volatile nature of Cheju’s geography towards agriculture, a family can manage to survive and eke out a living with a woman diver’s catch. Kim Mandŏk as an economically independent woman was exceptional for a masculine-centered Chosŏn Korea, but she also was very much a Cheju woman.