[Cultural Policy Bulletin Vol.4] Why GyeongGi Millennium?

GyeongGi Administration System in East Asian Empires


In East Asian history, the countries that ran the GyeongGi administration system include Korea, China, Japan and Vietnam. GyeongGi literally means an area directly ruled by the king and it is also called WangGi (wang meaning “king” in Korean). In China, the principles and ideas of the GyeongGi administration system is found in Zhou’s feudalism. The capital region was regarded as the foundation of the entire world. China stabilized its GyeongGi administration system in the Tang dynasty after the Qin and Han periods. To summarize, the GyeongGi administration system reflects that era’s world view focused on the emperor or king. Tang divided the capital region into the capital and its suburban area. The dynasty actually had three capital regions that were ruled as special zones. Consequently, the separation of the capital, the region surrounding the capital and other local regions constituted the Chinese kingdom’s order characterized by etiquette and grades.


Japan adopted the Chinese GyeongGi administration system. However, the zone inside the capital region particularly referred to the cradle of Japan’s Yamato dynasty in the 8th century. The capital region wasn’t directly rule by the emperor. Instead, Japan’s capital, capital region and local regions meant separate central and local areas. The two capitals, five capital regions and seven provinces were just the country’s administrative units. In short, the capital region as a special administrative zone didn’t exist in Japan.



Founding of Goryeo and Unification of the Three Kingdoms


In June 918, Taejo of Goryeo was enthroned at Pojeongjeon Palace in Cheolwon. Taejo also came to be called the emperor from heaven. It was the founding of Goryeo. It was the beginning of the 475-year history of Goryeo, a kingdom of the emperor. The year 918 was the first year of King Taejo. In his imperial statement declaring his enthronement, King Taejo made clear his policy direction and stated: “I will improve old customs to create something new out of them, reform the kingdom’s laws and regulations and enjoy world peace with all citizens.” The palace’s name pojeong literally means “politics for citizens.” The king also expressed his ambition to realize what he stated. July 27, 2018 marks the 1,100th anniversary of the king’s statement.


In January 919, King Taejo transferred the kingdom’s capital from Cheolwon to Songak which was called Gaegyeong later on. In 901, Gung Ye founded Later Goguryeo and designated Songak as his kingdom’s capital. However, the city was dominated by Taejo’s family so it was difficult for Gung Ye to realize his ideal from the beginning. Later on, Gung Ye changed the kingdom’s name from Later Goguryeo to Taebong and transferred the capital to Cheolwon. Nevertheless, his tyranny led him to lose popular sentiment and gave way to Taejo. After Taejo founded Goryeo, Gung Ye tried to escape from the palace but it was killed by citizens in Pyeonggang, Gangwon-do Province. It was thus natural for Taejo, who founded a new kingdom of Goryeo, to return to his base camp Songak.


The founding of Goryeo was focused on unifying the existing three kingdoms in the Korean Peninsula. To be more specific, Goryeo was wiling to become a kingdom encompassing a larger territory and more diverse cultures from Gojoseon, Sukshin and Byeonhan. The unification of the three Korean kingdoms actually constituted Goryeo’s main goal and 500-year principle. To attain this goal, Taejo first sought the improvement of relationships with Silla and Later Baekje. Moreover, the king also acted humbly and expressed his willingness of reconciliation with powerful local clans who maintained their independent military power and administrative authority. Meanwhile, King Taejo also ran another capital in Pyeongyang in order to protect the kingdom from Northern states and made efforts to win over the Northern Mohe.


Gaining confidence after stabilizing the relationships with Northern states, King Taejo fought a duel with Later Baekje’s Gyeon Hwon who also dreamed of the unification of the Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile, King Taejo actively saved King Gyeongsun of Silla, who wanted to surrender, from Later Baekje’s attacks. In this way, King Taejo was realizing his dream of unifying the Korean Peninsula step by step. Under these circumstances, Migrants from Balhae came to Goryeo after being attacked by the Khitan. In July 934, Dae Gwang-hyeon, the last Crown Prince of Balhae, was exiled to Goryeo with tens of thousands of migrants. Years of efforts made by Goryeo were gradually paying off. In summer 935, Gyeon Hwon, who had fallen out with his son Shin Geom, finally surrendered. In winter of the same year, Silla’s King Gyeongsun also surrendered. However, it was not the complete unification of the three Korean kingdoms. In September 936, Goryeo had to face the last duel with Shin Geom of Later Baekje. It was in this process that Goryeo unified the Korean Peninsula. Such unification went beyond the Later Three Kingdoms of Korea to reach Northern Balhae.


For the first 18 years after the founding of Goryeo, King Taejo continued his policy of integration including Northern Balhae. His friendship leadership thus consisted in a humble and favorable attitude. It is true that the kingdom sometimes needed powerful military strategies but its overall philosophy was to embrace the entire Korean Peninsula. In the process of founding Goryeo, Taejo naturally became its first king due to his emphasis of Confucian virtues.



Dragon Head at the Manwoldae Palace, The Manwoldae Palace archaeological site of the Goryeo Imperial Palace, Inter-Korea Historian Association, p.82


Goryeo’s Implementation of the GyeongGi administration System


Five years after the unification of the three Korean kingdoms (940: 23rd year of kIng Taejo), Goryeo sought the reform of its administrative system. First of all, the kingdom renamed its diverse administrative units in an attempt to transform the past three kingdoms’ local administration system into the one in the style of Goryeo. In this context, Goryeo came to have its capital focused on the king. However, it doesn’t mean that Goryeo had a metropolitan area in that era.


Goryeo’s plan to actually implement the GyeongGi administration system became concrete in 995 (14th year of King Seonjong). At that time, the kingdom renamed its capital Gaeseong-bu and formed a capital region composed of six prefectures: Songak, Gaeseong, Jeongju, Deoksu, Songnim and Imjin. There were also seven prefectures surrounding the capital area: Gangeum, Jangdan, Tosan, Imgang, Jeokseong, Papyeong and Majeon. The special area surrounding the royal capital Gaeseong-bu served as a zone that managed and controlled local citizens living in the capital and that supplied necessary products.


In February 1018 (9th year of King Hyeonjong), the GyeongGi administration system was finally born in the kingdom. Unfortunately, the exact date of this is unknown. While removing the royal capital Gaeseong-bu, the kingdom put Gaeseong Prefecture whose head managed three small prefectures (Jeongju, Deoksu and Gangeum). Meanwhile, the head of Jandan Prefecture managed seven prefectures (Songnim, Imjin, Tosan, Imgang, Jeoksong, Papyeong and Majeon). This whole area came to be called GyeongGi. They were under the control of Sangseodoseong, Goryeo’s highest government office. A hundred years had passed after the founding of Goryeo.


The GyeongGi administration system purpose is to realize the empire’s ruling system. Goryeo has a pluralist world view that recognizes multiple spheres. In this cotext, the kingdom regarded powerful local clans, who contributed to the unification of the three kingdoms, as feudal lords. In short, Goryeo is characterized by adopting the centralized system and feudal lord system at the same time. In that sense, what is notable is the management of supplementary capitals (Seogyoeng (today’s Pyeongyang), Donggyeong (today’s Gyeongj) and Namgyeong (Joseon’s Hanyang) in addition to the main capital Gaegyeong. It doesn’t mean that Goryeo ran a strict system of three capitals as in the case of China. Nevertheless, it is true that Goryeo attempted to run a proper system of an empire by having Seogyeong in addition to the capital Gaegyeong, running another capital of Namgyeong and managing Gaegyeong, Seogyeong and Namgyeong (during the reign of King Munjong and King Sukjong). In other words, while Goryeo had its main capital area around Gaegyeong, the kingdom ran additional capital areas in its south and west along with several subordinate counties and prefectures.



GyeongGi administration System and GyeongGi’s Culture


In the era of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, a kingdom’s capital naturally served as a center of culture. The capital of Goguryeo was located in today’s Pyeongyang, Pyeongan-do Province, that of Baekje, in today’s Gongju and Buyeo in South Chungcheong-do Province and that of Silla, in today’s Gyeongju, Gyeongsang-do Province. After Silla unified three kingdoms, it partially absorbed the culutres of Goguryeo and Baekje but Silla’s capital Gyeongju continued to serve as the center of culture.


After the founding of Goryeo, the kingdom designated Gaeseong as its capital. Actually, the Korean Peninsula’s cultural axis moved from the southeast to the midwest. Goryeo’s own culture was then formed around Gaeseong. That culture embraced the entire kingdom of Goryeo while also adopting the cultures of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla. It also went beyond East Asia to adopt Arabian culture. In order to combine all these cultures to make something new, Goryeo had to be open-minded and dynamic. That was Goryeo’s capital area culture. Today’s culture in GyeongGi, Korean culture and the Korean Wave all originate from such dynamic culture in Goryeo.


The framework of Goryeo’s diverse identities is “pluralist society.” When Goryeo recruited civil servants regardless of their nationalities and clans. For example, many of Goryeo’s primeministers were foreigners. Furthermore, those from low social classes were able to raise their status and actively engage in political activities. In other words, the kingdom believed in the power and effects of open-mindedness in a dynamic society. As a result, the kingdom was able to let its name (Corea and Korea) known even in Central Asia. Meanwhile, Goryeo organized an annual religious ceremony called Palgwanhwe, a nationwide festival encomassing the country’s customs, in Gaegyeong and Seogyeong. Such a festival helped different beliefs (e.g. Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and feng shui) coexist in the kingdom peacefully. In this way, the kingdom was willing to overcome the individuality and dispersion of different ideas in the context of diversity. Through the port Byeokrando in Gaegyeong, those from Song, the Khitan, the Jurchen and even Arabian merchants participated in international trade and the festival, thus exchanging their different cultures. All of this was enabled by Goryeo’s strong cultural identity. It was GyeongGi’s culture itself.



Meaningfulness of GyeongGi Millennium


The year 2018 marks the Millennium of Goryeo’s launch of its GyeongGi administration system. The year is all the more meaningful in that it also marks the 1,100th anniversary of the founding of Goryeo which unified the Korean Peninsula for the first time. Under these circumstances, Korea’s nationwide new millennium project is gathering momentum. Meanwhile, each of Jeolla-do Province, Naju and Honseong also celebrates its Millennium. GyeongGi-do Province also has several Millennium cities including Yangju, Gwangju and Suwon. Some people regard GyeongGi Millennium as the Millennium of naming the province GyeongGi while others interpret the occasion by linking it to the local administrative system of GyeongGi-do Province. Since each of the two sides celebrates their own meaning of the millennium so they don’t look very different. However, the two sides are different. The anniversary of naming the province GyeongGi consists in a very passive understanding of the occasion which is confined to the name GyeongGi. On the other hand, the perspective focusde on the local administrative system isn’t in line with historical facts. During the late Goryeo period, the kingdom temporarily had left GyeongGi and right GyeongGi, but the launch of GyeongGi-do Province as part of the country’s local administrative system took place in 1896, with the implementation of the 13-province system. In other words, such an administrative system has only a 120-year history. Such interpretation is thus out of the historical context of the Millennium.


With the reform of Joseon’s local administrative system in 1414 (14th year of King Taejo), the kingdom provide the large area surrounding the capital Hanseong with the name GyeongGi, thus implementing the kingdom’s GyeongGi administration system. However, it doesn’t mean that the GyeongGi area was under the direct influence of the capital Hanseong. Furthermore, GyeongGi was different from the other seven provinces including Chungcheong-do, Gyeongsang-do and Pyeongan-do. GyeongGi wasn’t the metropolitan area of Hanseong while it didn’t belogned to the kingdom’s local administrative system. Consequently, some people would say that GyeongGi had an ambiguous position and that the area found it difficult to form its own identity because it lacked uniqueness and differentiation compared to other local areas. However, this is superficial interpretation because it lacks understanding of the kingdom’s overall system linking all of its different areas.


In the past or today, people are at the heart of all fields including politics, economy, society, culture and industry. Society is a concept of both time and space where people live. It is where people network with each other to engage in political activities, move around products to form economy and industry. Culture consists in the tangible and intangible results of maintaining and developing their network of communication. In short, culture is not something comlicated.


Therefore, it is necessary to realize the fact that GyeongGi Millennium doesn’t mean the celebration of naming the province but that the occasion finds its true meaningfulness in the 1,000th anniversary of the birth of GyeongGi’s culture. Goryeo, the origin of the 1,000-year culture of GyeongGi, adopted a social structure of local governance, sought the diversity of local cultures and came up with a tolerance policy characterized by compromise and coexistence that showed the kingdom’s willingness to integrate divided local areas and popular sentiment. That was the true nature of GyeongGi which is not an area surrounding the capital but the one including it. The meaningfulness of GyeongGi Millennium is found in summarizing the 1,000-year culture of GyeongGi and in serving this occasion as a driving force behind the culture of the new millennium. The year 2018 will mark the beginning of such endeavor. GyeongGi-do Province needs to prepare large-scale festivals like the traditional religious ceremony Palgwanhwe. Such festivals could serve as a model for the inter-Korean cultural exchange that Korea will have to carry out and for the country’s pursuit of pluralist society. From its founding in 918, it took 18 years for Goryeo to unify the Korean Peninsula. However, it is worth remembering the fact that it took the kingdom a hundred years to form the culture of GyeongGi in the unified kingdom of Goryeo.

#Bulletin #Bulletin Vol.4 #Cultural Policy #GyeongGi Millennium

@Kim Sunghwan

    • writer/ Kim Sunghwan

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    Writer/ GyeongGi Cultural Foundation

    About/ Everything about the GyeongGi arts and culture, GGCF

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