Korea's capital finally gets its own museum

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Korea's capital finally gets its own museum

Gwanghwamun, the main road in front of the venerable Gyeongbok Palace, has been the center of Seoul since the city was founded more than 600 years ago. And in many ways it still is.

Already home to movie theaters, Kyobo Bookstore and the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, Gwanghwamun recently added one more feature -- the Seoul Museum of History.

Opened May 21, the museum aims to show a spectrum of Seoul's history. Built on the old, 2-hectare site of Gyeonghee Place, the museum has four floors of exhibition space dedicated to Seoul's history and culture, mostly during the Joseon Dynasty. This museum is the first of its kind in Korea in that it concentrates on the history of a single city. Best of all, admission is free, at least until July 31.

The general exhibition section looks at Seoul as the capital of the Joseon Dynasty, the lifestyle of Seoul citizens, the culture of Seoul and the development of the city.

To launch the opening of the museum, two special exhibitions are offered: "Women's Life and Culture in the Joseon Dynasty" and "Seoul 2002, Vision of the City."

Once in the exhibition room, the first thing you notice is a dim, busily clacking sound from afar. It's the sound of dadeumijil, two people beating clothes with four clubs on a block. It was a tough job for the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law late at night and a sign of perseverance of Joseon women.

Among the approximately 300 items on display, the most eye-catching are the embroideries. From pouches to spoon and chopstick cases, Joseon women put their heart and soul into making them colorful and magnificent.

The hair accessory display is also impressive. A group of binyeo, or rod-like ornamental hairpins, show off a variety of colors and shapes. A dragon-shaped golden hairpin could ordinarily only be worn by the queen, but aristocrat women were allowed to wear one once in their lifetime, on their wedding day.

In another area, books and documents written by or for Joseon women are on display. In one inheritance document made in the early Joseon era, daughters were treated equally with sons -- something of a surprise considering how things are today. Daughters could exercise independent property rights. It was not until the 18th century, in the late-Joseon Dynasty, when the family inheritances usually went only to the first-born son and women were excluded.

A number of novels and poems are being exhibited as well, including the works of Heo Nanseolheon, a prominent woman literati from the Joseon Dynasty.

Much of the information in the educational books now are good mostly to amaze or amuse. One book teaches boys and girls should not sit together after 7 years of age, while another insists a woman should not go outside after 11 p.m., and if she does so, she should be punished with 100 whacks of a cudgel.

There are lectures about the exhibition daily in English at 2:30 p.m. and in Japanese at 10:30 a.m. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and to 7 p.m. on weekends. "Women's Life" runs until Aug. 18.

The Museum of History is about halfway between Gwanghwamun Station on Subway No. 5, exit 7, and Seodaemun Station on the same line, exit 4. For more information, visit the Web site, www.museum.seoul.kr (English available) or call 02-724-0114.

by Chun Su-jin

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