[FOUNTAIN]A capital plan that faded into historyHwaseong Fortress in Suwon is one of a kind. Its construction was the greatest engineering accomplishment of its time, making use of new methods of fortification devised by Yu Seong-ryong and Yu Hyeong-won and a crane invented by Jeong Yak-yong. Considered the pinnacle of Korean fortress architecture, Hwaseong was named a World Cultural Heritage site by Unesco in 1997.
Hwaseong was the Korean Peninsula’s first example of urban planning. King Jeongjo announced in 1794 that the new city would be built, and set 1804 as the target date for completion. The king planned to abdicate the throne that year to the crown prince, who by then would be 15, and retire to Hwaseong with his mother, who would be 70. Plans called for 3,000 elite cavalrymen from the capital troops to be stationed in Hwaseong, which was near the tomb of the king’s father, Prince Sado.
Historians now see that the king’s secret intention was to relocate the capital. The Hwaseong project was a political move; the new fortress was to be the seat of a reform movement against the established Noron faction.
Like King Taejo, founder of the Joseon Dynasty, King Jeongjo may have wanted to maintain his influence as an abdicated king in order to assist the reform drive. He appointed Chae Jae-gong, one of the three most celebrated prime ministers of the Joseon Dynasty, to oversee construction, which suggests how important the project was to the king. King Jeongjo had previously abolished the monopoly privilege of big merchants; by breaking the cozy relationship between the Noron faction and the merchants, he hoped to promote commerce in Hwaseong.
But the king’s sudden death left Hwaseong a mere cultural relic. Four years after construction began, he died at age 49, and Queen Jeongsun, under pressure from the Noron faction, suspended the project. The king’s ambition to make Hwaseong the new center of Joseon, and the seat of reform, faded into history. The World Heritage site is all that remains of his grand plan.
A snow sculpture of the Paldal Gate, Hwaseong’s south entrance, was a highlight of the Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan a few days ago ― a reminder of the king’s withered dream, and of the latest controversy over capital relocation project in Korea.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.