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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Signboard of the times

I do have a vague memory that someone once told me that the signboard above Kwanghwamun, the gate in central Seoul leading into the main palace (Kyôngbokkung), had calligraphy by the great dictator Park Chung-hee himself. I'm not sure I ever really believed them, but it is in fact true. Of course the symbolism does make sense because it was customary in times past for the Korean king, Chinese emperor or other suitably eminent people to have their calligraphy adorn the outside of important buildings. President Park may not have acheived a personality cult on anything like the scale of his pal up North, but he obviously wasn't averse to a little self-aggrandisement either.

But now this vestige of South Korea's erstwhile autocrat is to be removed and replaced with something a bit more in-keeping with the grand gate. Apparently the new sign board calligraphy will be based on a rubbing from a stone inscription of King Chôngjo's (1776-1800) writing. The former sign, dating from the gate's reconstruction in 1865 was unfortunately lost when the building burnt down during the Korean war.

The most obviously difference between the two signs is the fact that while Park Chung-hee's is written in han'gûl the new one will be in Chinese characters. It is also worth noting that while the han'gûl version was written in the modern (Western influenced) style from left to right, the new sign will be written authentically from right to left.

It sort of amazes me that Park's calligraphy has stayed up there in such a prominent position for so long, especially when so much effort seems to have gone into the authentic reconstruction and refurbishment of Kyôngbokkung palace in the last few years. Even so, I wonder if the surviving members of the Park Chung-hee fan club will be complaining about this one?

I forgot to mention that Park Chung-hee apparently left millions of dollars in a special account which can be yours if you are lucky enough to receive this e-mail.


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