City tours tell the real history behind your favorite K-dramas
Whether heavily fictionalized or just sticking to the facts, historical K-dramas have been gaining popularity both in Korea and overseas as many series, both old and new, are available on Netflix and other streaming services.
Cities that house the historical locations for filming such historical dramas have been seeing a steep increase in visitors. For example, Gwanghallu Garden in Namwon, North Jeolla, which is well known as the filming site for historical drama series like MBC’s “The Red Sleeve” (2021-22), KBS’s “The King’s Affection” (2021) and SBS’s “Lovers of the Red Sky” (2021), saw a 19 percent increase in visitors in 2021 from the previous year.
The Goyang City government in Gyeonggi took note and seized the opportunity. As the city is home to the royal tombs of many important figures of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), often featured as protagonists in historical drama series, it decided to organize a special tour program that introduces the tombs in the city and the characters to which they belong, citing popular Korean historical dramas. Under the title “Delving into historical K-drama series,” the city government selected four drama series and developed four unique tour programs that began operating from March 3.
The four drama series are: MBC’s “The Red Sleeve,” SBS’s “Jang Ok Jung, Living in Love” (2013), JTBC’s “Queen Insoo” (2011-12) and KBS’s “The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won” (2021-22). All four tours had their first run through last week, with one tour per day from Wednesday to Saturday, and they will each have a second run again this week before the special program comes to an end.
“Participants will get on board the Goyang City Tour Bus and visit the historical spots together,” said Song Geum-hee, the organizer of the trip. “This week, we hosted the first session of all four routes, and the responses were great. 'The Red Sleeve' tour on Wednesday was especially popular, possibly because the tour includes some areas that are usually prohibited to the public.”
On Wednesday, May 9, the Goyang City Tour Bus for “The Red Sleeve” route will take off once again. The 17-episode historical series centers around King Jeongjo (1752-1800) of Joseon (played by actor Lee Jun-ho) and his beloved concubine Uibin Seong (1753-86), also known as Seong Deok-im (played by actor Lee Se-young). The drama series focuses on the highly-romanticized relationship between the royal consort Uibin Seong and King Jeongjo rather than the actual history, so Goyang City decided to instead focus their tour on the king’s beloved concubine Uibin Seong and take the participants around the city’s Seosamneung, or the royal tomb complex of Joseon Dynasty located in the western part of Seoul that houses the tombs of Uibin Seong and her son Crown Prince Munhyo (1782-86). The tomb of Crown Prince Munhyo is called Hyochangwon.
A cultural heritage tour guide will accompany each of the four routes and explain what’s fact and what's fiction in the drama series and provide additional information about the sites or other characters. For example, in “The Red Sleeve” tour they would explain how the system of Joseon concubines worked and why Seong Deok-im was called Uibin.
So, why was Deok-im called Uibin?
Any woman working in the palace who caught the eye of the king could become a concubine. Concubines were given one of eight ranks, which would become the latter part of their new, concubine name. The king would assign the first part of their name based on hanja, the Korean name for Chinese characters.
When Jeongjo’s first son Munhyo became crown prince, his mother Deok-im received the highest rank, which is called bin. The king gave her the hanja ui, meaning appropriate.
Unfortunately, Crown Prince Munhyo died of the measles in 1786, and Deok-im died not long after her son, in the same year. As she wished, Jeongjo buried his wife next to her son. Their tombs were originally located at today’s Hyochang Park in Yongsan District, central Seoul.
However, in 1921, during the Japanese colonial era (1910-45), their tombs were relocated to the current Seosamneung to be buried together with other Joseon kings, queens, concubines, princesses and princes. The tomb complex where Uibin Seong is buried is usually off limits to the public.
The tour also makes a stop at the Placenta Chamber, a funerary facility dedicated to members of the royal family of Joseon. It is located next to Seosamneung.
The Thursday tour is themed around the 2013 historical drama series “Jang Ok Jung, Living in Love” and focuses on the infamous concubine Jang Huibin (1659-1701), also known by her real name Jang Ok-jeong. The drama series, in which actor Kim Tae-hee plays the concubine, was heavily fictionalized, so the cultural heritage tour guide for this route, according to the city government, has a lot to explain.
It is mentioned in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty that Ok-jeong was known for her beauty and that King Sukjong (1661-1720), the 19th king of Joseon, was so infatuated by her beauty that he made her his concubine, promoted her to bin, and gave her the hanja hui, meaning — of course — beauty. She gave birth to the king’s first son Yi Yun, who later became King Gyeongjong (1688-1724). King Sukjong even deposed his wife Queen Inhyeon in 1689 for refusing to adopt Yi Yun, and made Ok-jeong his queen consort in the same year. But in 1694, Ok-jeong lost the king’s favor and the king reinstated Queen Inhyeon and deposed Ok-jeong.
In 1701, Queen Inhyeon died of an unknown disease, though it is alleged that Ok-jeong conspired with a shaman to plot the queen’s death. After hearing the allegation, the king executed Ok-jeong in the same year and passed a decree prohibiting any concubine from ever becoming queen. Ironically, the tomb of Ok-jeong, which is called Daebinmyo, is located near the royal tomb complex that holds the tombs of King Sukjong and two of his wives, Queen Inhyeon and Queen Inwon.
Participants of this tour will visit the royal tomb complex as well. Daebinmyo was originally located in Gwangju, Gyeonggi, but was moved to its current spot in 1969 following the Gwangju City Government’s city expansion plan.
JTBC’s “Queen Insoo” was the motivation for Friday’s tour, but the historical figure the tour focuses on is not Queen Insoo, but her first son Prince Wolsan (1454-89), who could not become king because his younger brother, Yi Hyeol, succeeded the throne from his uncle and became the ninth ruler of Joseon, King Seongjong (1457-95). Though Prince Wolsan never became king, the tour focuses on what kind of person he was, visiting the shrine and tomb of Prince Wolsan.
KBS’s "The King of Tears, Lee Bang-won" is the drama series featured in Saturday’s tour. As the drama series puts a lot of emphasis on the establishment of Joseon, the bus takes participants to the tomb of King Gongyang (1345-94), the final ruler of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Actor Park Hyung-joon plays King Gongyang in the series. King Gongyang was deposed by Yi Seong-gye, who established the Joseon Dynasty. The bus also takes the participants to the tomb of General Choi Yeong (1316-88), a revered national hero. As depicted in the drama, Choi (played by Song Yong-tae) fought together with Yi Seong-gye in numerous battles but was later betrayed by him.
Buses for all four tours depart at 1 p.m. from the Goyang Tourist Information Center. Participation fees are 3,000 won ($2.50) per adult and there will be additional fees for entrance tickets to different tomb sites. For more information, visit goyangcitytour.modoo.at
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [email@example.com]