Introducing the 'Eight Scenes of Pyongyang' from days of yore
But I love you more than words can say
I can't count the reasons I should stay
One by one they all just fade away
Oh I love you more than words can say - The 88
Jack London once wrote of Korea: ‘In Cho-sen seven is the magic number’ (London, 1915). Yet like the fortune-telling black billiard ball, the actual magic number is more likely eight: eight provinces across the peninsula from 1413-1895 AD, ‘Eight Scenes of Korea’, and similarly the ‘Eight Scenes of Pyongyang’. Pyongyang is not alone in Korea, north and south, in having eight famous scenes: Kyongju, Cholryong, Jinju among others have their own eight too.
Hanging in the Pyongyang’s Central Art Museum is a paneled painting in eight sections. Each section, in traditional style on aged yellow scrolls, depicts one of the traditional ‘Eight Scenes of Pyongyang’ (평양팔경-平壤八景). These date back to at least the 15th century when the scholar So Ko Jong (서거정, 1420-1488 AD) composed a series of poems about the eight, paeans to the medieval city, its landscape, and its people. The scenes are, in fact, a combination of a specific location in Pyongyang and an associated activity to be done there. The Eight Scenes are as follows in the order of So Ko Jong’s poem:
1. Enjoying the spring scenery at Ulmil Pavilion (을밀대의 봄경치)
2. Watching the full moon from Pobyok Cliff (부벽루의 달맞아)
3. Boating on the Taedong River (거문에서 배 띄우고)
4. Finding the monks at Yongmyong Temple (영명사의 중을 찾아)
5. Seeing off guests at Potong Gate (보통문에서 벗을 보내며)
6. Listening to the sound of rain falling on a lotus pond (련당에서 비소리 들으며)
7. Viewing the scenery of Ryongsan (룡산의 저녁풍경)
8. The spring floods at Matan (마탄의 봄물결)
Over the next half-millennia, the Eight served as a kind of pre-modern tourist checklist for any visitor to Pyongyang and make repeated appearances in arts and literature century to century. These days not all of the Eight are still possible to see in their original form yet one can still accomplish six or seven in close approximation. Over the next few months, the Koryo Tours blog will look at each of the Eight in detail.
The Koryo Academy is a regular posting on Korean history, culture, and language. Traditional painting of Pyongyang from Wikimedia Commons: 'Kim Hong-Do, Feast of the Pyongyang Governor'.
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