Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Facts about Korea: Joseon Korea’s Seven Great Wonders

Up until the late 19th century, very little was known about Korea other than it was an ancient kingdom. Much of the information that made its way into the Western press came primarily from Chinese and Japanese sources which were often exaggerated or outright manufactured to make Korea seem more mystical and foreboding.

In the early 1890s, American and European newspapers published a series of articles that they had gleaned from an English-language Chinese newspaper detailing Korea’s seven great wonders. It is unclear how the Western editors of the Chinese newspaper learned of these wonders. Except for perhaps a brief visit, none of them spent any great amount of time in the country. Nonetheless, here is their list of Korea’s great wonders.

The first was a hot mineral spring near a place identified as Kin-Shantao. It was said that the Koreans believed the healing properties of this spring were miraculous and “no matter what disease may afflict the patient, a dip in the water proved efficacious.”

The second great wonder was a pair of streams ― one on each side of the peninsula ― that were completely opposite one another. When one stream bed was full the other was nearly empty. The water in the full stream was “pure and sweet” while the water in the other was bitter. Every so often the conditions of these streams would reverse.

The third wonder was a great cave from which perpetually blew a powerful wintry wind that was so strong that no man could stand before it.

The fourth was a forest of giant pines that could not be destroyed. Even if the trees were cut and burned they immediately sprouted up again like phoenixes from ashes.

The newspaper claimed the fifth wonder was the most wonderful of them all. It was a “floating stone” that was located in front of a palace that had been built for it. The stone, described as “an irregular cube of great bulk” appeared to be resting upon the ground ― unsupported in any way ― but according to the article, “two men at opposite ends of a rope may pass under the stone without encountering any obstacle whatever.”

The sixth wonder was a great “hot stone” on the top of a high hill that radiated heat. Allegedly, the stone had lain there glowing since the “remote ages” and its origin was unknown.
\The final wonder was more religious than natural ― a drop of Buddha’s sweat. The article claimed that the influence of the relic is so powerful that “for thirty paces round the temple in which it is enshrined not a blade of grass will grow. There are no trees or flowers inside the sacred square. Even the animals decline to profane a spot so holy.”

While the descriptions of these wonders and their locations are somewhat obscure, the first and last wonders seem to have some elements of truth. Hot springs are scattered throughout Korea and are often attributed as having healing properties. As to Buddha’s sweat ― in his book, “Korea: A Religious History”, professor James Huntley Grayson, relates that in 1662, several wooden statues of Buddha in Jeolla Province were discovered to be covered with moisture. The local population claimed it was the “sweat of the Buddha.” Concerned that a superstitious cult would spread, the statues were destroyed.

Source: The Korea Times

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