[FOUNTAIN]Ode to a troubled river

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[FOUNTAIN]Ode to a troubled river

Gando is a name that inspires longing as the spiritual hometown of the Koreans. After the Manchu established the Qing Dynasty, they banned any approach or immigration to this area, arguing that it was their birthplace. Gando got its name from being shaped like an island between the Joseon and Qing dynasties, since gan means “between” and do means “island.” Jumong, the founder of Goguryeo, came from this region.
In the large plain from Jilin to Heilongjiang province, copper pots similar to those found in the Gaya region of South Gyeongsang province were discovered. Gando is a territory the Koreans ruled for 3,300 years, under the Gojoseon and Balhae kingdoms.
The 1,960-kilometer-long Songhua River, which runs from the Cheonji crater lake on Mount Paekdu through Jilin and Heilongjiang province, meets the Armur River of Russia, then flows out to the East Sea. The Songhua was a source of energy throughout Korean history. Habaek, the river god from the myth of King Dongmyeong, lived here. Habaek’s descendant, Jumong, crossed the river with the help of a turtle.
In addition, the river’s name derives from the word “cheonha,” which means a river with many branches, based on “songallaulla,” the Mongolian term for cheonha.
The Songhua River is still the cause of a territorial dispute. Korea and China argue over the name of a branch in its upper stream. In 1712, the Joseon and Qing dynasties established a monument that denoted the national boundary. The marker indicates that the Yalu and Tumen rivers constitute the borders. Depending on whether the Tumen refers to the Duman or a particular branch of the Songhua, Korea’s ancient territory can change greatly.
The Songhua suffered from benzene contamination last week following a huge chemical factory explosion. An 80-kilometer-long slick is heading north underneath the ice. Since the river is freezing up from the cold temperatures, it is flowing very slowly, and some experts say that the safety of its water cannot be assured until the ice thaws in the spring. There are many tombs along the Songhua River. That is because the Chinese government has allowed tombs to be built by ethnic Koreans, a minority within the country, although it has a strict policy for cremation in other regions. The names of the areas near the river are all familiar, including Yanji, Yongjeong, Cheongsanri and Heilanjiang. They have become familiar to us through the novels “North Gando” by Ahn Su-gil and “Land” by Pak Kyong-ni. Upon hearing the news that the Songhua River is in pain, our heart also aches.


by Lee Chul-ho

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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