Seowon, the submitting property, refers to private Confucian academies in Korea established during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) to serve memorial rites for noted Confucian sages as well as to educate the youth of the dominant ideology. Seowon, the local footholds of Joseon’s neo-Confucian literati class, also served as the venue for discussion on state affairs and social management of the era. Seowon embodies the quintessence of the literari class, who governed Joseon society based on Confucianism, containing the key to understanding the Confucian culture of Joseon and the ruling class with the ideology.
Korea saw its first Confucian academy in 1543 (the 38th year of King Jungjong) when the then Magistrate of Punggi County, Ju Se-bung, built Baegungdongseowon in Sunheung. In 1550, Baegundongseowon was recognized by King Myeongjong and was awarded the nameplate of Sosuseowon, becoming the first of many seowons to be recognized by the King. Currently, 637 academies remain in the Republic of Korea, and the nine properties among them, now submitting for nomination, are those in best condition with good management system, having high significant value as important historic sites.
The nine academies included in this nomination are these: Sosuseowon (in Yeongju); Namgyeseowon (in Hamyang); Oksanseowon (in Gyeongju); Dosanseowon (in Andong); Piramseowon (in Jangseong); Dodongseowon (in Dalseong); Byeongsanseowon (in Andong); Donamseowon (in Nonsan); and Museongseowon (in Jeongeup).
Each of the nine seowons has the following characteristics.
Sosuseowon, built in 1543, was the first seowon to be established in the Joseon Dynasty. It was established to revere An Hyang, the first person to import Confucianism into Korea from China in the late Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The surrounding landscape of Sosuseowon shows the typical seowon location, and is representative of the code of rituals and formalities of ancestral rituals.
Namgyeseowon was established in 1552. It is the first seowon to apply the typical Joseon Dynasty seowon spatial arrangement of placing the teaching area in front and the ritual area in the rear. It is representative of a seowon’s function as a core venue for social education of its locals.
Oksanseowon built in 1573 is known for its unique building arrangement. The entire layout conforms to the strict formality of Confucian decorum, taking the geometric style, but its main buildings stand facing the west instead of the south, the direction usually favored by Koreans, considering the harmony with its surrounding area. Along with its original purpose for education, the academy still functions as a major venue for clan activities of the descendents of the sage revered here.
Dosanseowon was built in 1574 to honor Yi Hwang, the foremost Korean Confucianist philosopher of the age. It was constructed on the hill behind Dosanseodang, a community school where Yi studied and taught disciples. The academy had its strength in the lecture of Neo-Confucianism.
Piramseowon, which exemplifies the architecture of Confucian academies constructed on the flat ground, was built in 1590. The academy functioned as a stronghold of the local politics that was connected to the central political arena, as well as a place for serving deceased scholars.
Byeongsanseowon was established in 1613. It is noted for a picturesque landscape formed by the Nakdong River flowing in front and Mt. Byeongsan lying beyond the river. It displays the most typical architectural style of Korean Confucian academies, which seeks the “unity of heaven and human beings (天人合一)” ideology.
Donamseowon was built in 1634. Kim Jang-saeng enshrined in this academy was one of Joseon’s great scholars in the study of ritual. Seowon served as the cradle for discussion of the study of ritual in the Joseon Dynasty.
Museongseowon was established at the center of a village in 1696 by a magistrate who wished to promote learning among the locals. It was known for its social education programs that emphasized rituals and music, the key elements which Confucianists should keep in mind by themselves at all times.