[FOUNTAIN]On taking ‘seoul’ away from SeoulIn Korean, Seoul is not just a proper noun but also a common noun meaning the capital city of a country. If the capital relocation plan proceeds as currently planned, Seoul as a common noun would move to the Chungcheong provinces while Seoul as a proper noun would remain in place. Seoul will be divided in two, both literally and figuratively.
It is presumed that the word Seoul was first used to refer to the Gyeongju region over 2,000 years ago. In Samguk Yusa, or the Legends and History of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea, the region was recorded as “Seobeol” in Chinese characters, meaning a fertile field. Seobeol was the name of the kingdom and the capital until the kingdom became Silla. From the beginning, Seoul referred to Gyeongju, which was a kingdom and a capital by itself. Later, it became a common noun referring to the capital of a kingdom.
Seoul became a proper noun referring to its current location in 1945, when the country was freed from Japanese occupation. For over five centuries, the region was called Hanseong. The name includes “seong,” or fortress, because Lee Seong-gye, founder and first king of the Joseon Dynasty, built a fortress around the city as soon as he moved the capital from Gaeseong to Hanseong. The 17-kilometer stone fortress encompasses Bukak, Inwang, Namsan and Naksan mountains.
In the early days of the Joseon Dynasty, two feng shui masters, court minister Jeong Do-jeon and great monk Muhak Daesa, debated whether to build a palace at the foot of Mount Bukak to face south or to build it at Mount Inwang to face east. Jeong Do-jeon’s plan was accepted by the court and the royal palace was build at Mount Bukak. As a legacy to his feng shui design, the Blue House is located facing south.
In the history of the Korean Peninsula, Baekje was the first kingdom to have Seoul as its capital. In 18 B.C., Baekje founder Onjo set up his capital in modern day Pungnap-dong in Seoul.
In retrospect, Seoul meant nature and power at the same time. Seoul has lasted longer than any dynasty and held stronger power than any regime. By itself, Seoul is the history of the Korean Peninsula. The city has centralized the country and held a privileged status. It is only natural that Koreans are uncomfortable with the idea of taking Seoul away from Seoul.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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