Thursday, August 10, 2006

Namdaemun: Pedestrians run through it

The above photo of Namdaemun was taken from a collection of photos taken by Rev. Corwin Taylor and Nellie Blood-Taylor, who were Methodist missionaries active in Korea between 1908 and 1922. When I saw this photo, I couldn't help but remember this quote from something I posted at the beginning of this year about the opening of the center of Namdaemun gate to the public:
[The] entrance to the national treasure had been forbidden since 1907, when the occupying Japanese government regulated traffic by removing the fortress walls on both sides and putting in a road and streetcar line.
In my post, I looked at the photo below, wherein the gate is open to the public, and which is obviously from the 1910s or 1920s, and figured that the line Seoul City was spinning about Namdaemun being closed for 99 years was just a little on the false side of the truth. The photo above (which is likely facing south (whereas the photo below is likely facing north)) was taken at a much earlier time than this photo -

- and is, I think, further proof that the statement printed by the Chosun Ilbo, above, is not historically correct. It should also be mentioned that the Japanese did not build the streetcar line at Namdaemun that was present in 1907; it was built seven years earlier.

For those curious about the tearing down of the fortress walls around Namdaemun (and Dongdaemun) the essay "Colonial City Planning and Its Legacy", by Sohn Jung-Mok (from Seoul, 20th Century: Growth and Change of the Last 100 Years) provides a great deal of information about this project (on pages 438-441):

When the streetcar line from Seodaemun to Dongdaemun and Cheongryangri was built between October 17 and December 25, 1898 (with another line going from Jongno to Namdaemun and Wonhyoro 4-ga (near the river) completed in 1900), the trams were routed through the doors of the city gates, as the Korean government feared the public response to tearing down any part of the walls. By 1905, when the Gyeong-Bu (Seoul-Busan) train line was compete, with its main station south of Namdaemun, the traffic through the narrow gate entrances had become incredibly congested. On June 27 of that year, Japanese diplomatic minister Hayashi suggested in a note to foreign minister Lee Ha-yong that the walls on either side of Namdaemun be torn down to make room for the trams and more traffic, but this suggestion was ignored.
Finally, on March 30, 1907, one year after Japan took complete control over all domestic affairs of Korea, a high state councilor of the State of Council Park Jae-soon, Internal Affairs minister Lee Ji-yong, Defense minister Kwon Jung-hyun drafted an agenda titled Removal of fortress walls adjacent to Dongdaemun and Namdaemun.

The South and the East are gateways to the royal palace and have long been the busiest where people bump their shoulders against each other and overflow with with cars and horses. A tramway has been built running through the gates and added more traffic to the already bustling area, causing more inconvenience. Due to this situation, it is deemed necessary to take urgent measures to ease transportation in this area. It is now necessary to remove 8 gans (gan is a unit of length equal to 180 cm) from either side of the fortress walls at the gates for streetcars and the gates will be for the exclusive use of pedestrians. This will greatly reduce problems due to the narrow roads and correct traffic flow. We hereby duly present this proposal with attached blueprint for approval by your highness.

The next day, on March 31, King Gojong sanctioned the plan. [...] The government appropriated 135,595 won 93 jeon from the budget for the project using government bonds and began purchasing land, homes and relocating people to other regions. While work was in progress, a new cabinet moved in as of May 22, 1907 and petitioned King Gojong, who gave his royal approval on June 22. The new petition reads as follows.

The removal of the fortress walls on both sides of Namdaemun and Dongdaemun have already been approved. The partial removal of the fortress walls will leave unsightly remains and the residual walls would be of no use in the defense of Seoul. We humbly suggest that the remaining fortress walls be removed under the aegis of the Nambu (Ministry of Internal Affairs) and the Takjibu (Ministry of Finance), thus demonstrating to people that there would be no 'outside' in the king's mind.
Of course, the king would soon have little to say about any of this. A month after approving this proposal, on July 20, 1907, King Gojong was forced to abdicate the throne by the Japanese and his son Sunjong was made king. On July 30, the Fortress Wall Removal Committee was established, composed of members of the ministries of Internal Affairs, Defense, and Finance (who by that point were mostly Japanese).
At the beginning of September, construction teams filled Namji pond, southeast of Namdaemun, the main body of the gate was left intact, the walls on both sides were removed to build a new 8 gans wide street (inclusive of the old road, the Namdaemun area eventually had three streets). Detailed plans and execution of the plans were carried out by the committee: a stone wall was built around the gate, lawns and trees were planted inside the wall, stone pillars were put up at the four corners on top of which were placed jade electric lights. The Fortress Wall Removal Committee was dissolved on September 5, 1908 when the planned construction was completed. Construction of the two roads on either side of Namdaemun gate was completed on October 3, 1908. Supplementary work continued however until May 30 into the next year.

The continued construction work further expanded these roads toward Namdaemun Station (presently Seoul Station) , a total of 436 meters with 34.54 meter widening. Other roads such as Gurigae road (presently Euljiro), and the road between Gwanghuimun gate - Wangshimni were repaired with a budget of 454,604 won.
I have no idea where those living and working near the gates would have been moved, but there most certainly would have been a number of people who would have needed to have their dwellings/places of business torn down, as these photos taken in 1904 show:

One can only wonder how fairly they were treated in being relocated (or whether they would have been considered as squatters on the land outside of the gates).

On a related note, an earlier civic improvement project in Seoul was carried out in 1896, and improved a number of roads and drainage systems in the city, as described by Isabella Bird Bishop in the scanned pages below:

At any rate, this description of the destruction of the walls around the gates questions the idea that it was all the doing of the Japanese, seeing as those who proposed the project were all Korean (that there might have been pressure from the increasingly powerful Japanese authorities isn't impossible, of course). Of course, the description of the areas opened up by the destruction of the walls being used for streetcars and a road, and that the gates will be for the exclusive use of pedestrians corroborates with the photographic evidence above to show that Namdaemun's doors had been open for many years after the walls were removed, contrary to the claims of the Seoul city government's overzealous public relations staff.

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