[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]A newspaper dawns; a storied monk diesMarch 28, 1885
Korea’s first newspaper was neither a penny press nor a partisan paper. Established by the court of the Joseon Dynasty in 1883, the Hanseong Sunbo was published every 10 days by a royal organization. Hanseong was another name for Seoul in Chinese characters, and Sunbo means a paper issued every 10 days.
A group of modest reformists, including Park Yeong-hyo, first brought up the necessity of a modern form of newspaper to King Gojong. The late Joseon Dynasty basically kept an isolationist policy, yet the king did not quite shut himself off from all things Western and welcomed the idea of publishing a newspaper. With royal support, the organization called Bakmungak, literally meaning “an organization for writings on broad topics and fields,” was established to publish the Hanseong Sunbo.
In a 26.5-centimeter (10 inch) -long and 19-centimeter-wide, 24-page format, the paper dealt with news and commentaries on local as well as international topics. The paper’s series included news about things Western that had newly arrived, or what was happening with a group of students learning English.
Such efforts by the reformists, however, were only a pain in the neck to conservatives. The reformists’ original idea for the paper was to publish it in Korean only, free of any Chinese characters, which was seen as an affront by conservatives, and so the paper was issued using only Chinese characters.
The year after the launch, however, the paper met a major crisis when the conservatives burned down the newsroom building in retaliation for the reformists’ failed revolution, the Gapsin Jeongbyeon.
On this date, however, King Gojong revived the paper, allowing the organization to move to a former royal building in Gyo-dong, central Seoul, and the paper resumed publishing in January 1886 as a weekly.
March 30, 686
Venerable Wonhyo of the Silla Dynasty was quite a character. Until he died on this date at the age of 69, he played a big role in familiarizing the public with Buddhism, leaving a number of anecdotes remembered by Koreans to this day.
Entering temple life at the age of 29, the Venerable built a small dugout next to a temple, where he alone scoured the Sutras and Buddha’s teachings. Five years later, he went on a journey to pursue further studies in China. Before he reached his destination, however, he returned home, following a revelation.
One night, he sheltered himself in a cave to sleep, but woke up thirsty in the middle of the night. He groped around the cave and found a cool bowl of water. He enjoyed the water, amazed that it tasted so fine, and went back to sleep. The following morning, however, he was astounded to find that the water was in a skull lying on the ground, its remnants smelling bad and looking foul. This led him to realize his signature teaching, “It’s your heart that determines all things and rules your world.” He packed up and headed home.
From then on, he began to act eccentrically. This included singing, “Who will give me an ax without a handle? I’ll carve a column to hold up your sky.” Learning about the song through hearsay, then-King Muyeol had the Venerable marry widowed Princess Yoseok.
This marriage transgressed Buddhist ethics, yet the Venerable tied the knot anyway and later fathered a baby boy, named Seolchong, who, like his rather odd parent, later became a respected man himself.
After the transgression, once-Venerable Wonhyo acted as if he were just another worldy person, but still kept up his efforts to teach the public to relate to Buddhism. These included writing books regarding Buddhist teaching, numbering 240 volumes. The books had a great deal of influence on Buddhism not only in Korea but also in China.
Particularly interested in gathering separated branches of Buddhist studies, he also wrote songs that expressed Buddhism in an easily accessible way. He is thus remembered as a monk who indoctrinated the public with Buddhist beliefs.
by Chun Su-jin