[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]First leper colony, rain gauge and Joseon kingMay 17, 1916
Sorok island is a quiet, beautiful place on the southern tip of the peninsula whose name means “a small deer,” coming from the shape of the island.
The island, however, has a much-storied history, which started on this date when the Japanese colonial government established Jahye Hospital.
The facility was essentially a leper colony and slightly over 100 patients were accommodated their under a Japanese doctor named Arikawa.
Back then, leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, was considered something of a curse. With such a stigma, leper patients were isolated from society.
Many patients, including acclaimed poet Han Ha-un, were forced to stay on the island against their will, spending the rest of their lives locked away from the outer world.
The facility, now named National Sorok Island Hospital, still has many heart-warming stories of doctors and volunteers devoting their lives to helping patients. The hospital still carries a decades-old board that reads, “Hansen’s disease can be cured.” After the liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, the island has remained as the leper patients’ shelter to this day.
The island today is relatively free from the strong stigma against the disease and enjoys a good reputation as a tourist attraction, with impressive gardens and trees planted that are cared for by the patients.
May 19, 1442
King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty is best known for commissioning the creation of hangeul, the Korean alphabet.
The king, however, was instrumental in other inventions, including the rain gauge, which was created on this date on the king’s orders.
Ruling an agricultural country with an annual monsoon season and unexpected typhoons, it was natural for the king to come up with the idea of a scientific pluviometer to better the lives of his subjects.
The rain gauge of King Sejong’s era marks the first of its kind in the world, followed by Italy in 1639 and England in 1677.
With a body of stone, the gauge had a metal cylinder on top. It may look too simple to the people of the 21st century, but at the time it was a revolutionary invention.
This first rain gauge in this country and the world is designated as a national treasure and kept by the Korea Meteorological Administration.
May 22, 1388
There can be many ways to settle disagreements. In the case of Lee Seong-gye, an ambitious army general during the late Goryeo Dynasty (918 to 1392), it was a coup d’etat, which he carried out on this date.
Goryeo had its capital in Kaesong, in today’s North Korea, bordering the Ming Dynasty of China and suffered from continual territorial disputes.
When the Ming Dynasty one-sidedly informed Goryeo of its plan to take over a northern village on Goryeo’s side of the border, the king of Goryeo and some statesmen including Choi Yeong decided to attack China.
As a general, Lee was appointed to lead the army, but he opposed the whole war plan. He had even made an appeal to the king to stop hostilities to no avail.
When his army reached a region called Wihwado near the Aprok River by what is now the border between North Korea and China, he decided to change direction by heading to the royal palace of the capital of his own country.
Thus began what’s dubbed the Wihwado Coup d’Etat, and it enabled Lee to start a dynasty of his own.
After taking control of the country following the coup, however, it took several years for him to establish the Joseon Dynasty in 1392.
by Chun Su-jin
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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