I’ve escaped the heat of Gyeongbokgung Palace and made my way to the National Palace Museum just beside it. What a relief it is to be inside an air-conditioned building, and what a relief it is to see more stuff about Korea. By this time, I am eyeballs deep in Korean history and frankly, I am enjoying every bit of it. I haven’t picked up any Hangeul along the way but slowly my knowledge of Korean history widens with each museum visit.
Having enjoyed the halls, the corridors, and the gardens of Gyeongbokgung Palace, I now enter the museum dedicated to the courtly life of the Joseon dynasty of old. The first thing I read in the museum sums up who the Joseon are, the Joseon was Korea’s oldest dynasty, ruling for over 500 years until their sudden and shameful (their words, not mine) annexation by the Japanese in 1910. Yup, finally I have something to say in class in case they ask me this question.
With that in mind, I was now prepared to learn more about the dynasty itself and the inner workings of the courtly life. Unlike in the Forbidden City, where I didn’t learn that much about the lives of the Chinese Emperors, the Palace Museum goes into rich detail about their lives. The museum starts off with the rituals concerning the transfer of power from one king to the next, yes we started our tour with death, and the process of gaining the “mandate from heaven”. Being strong believers of neo-Confucianism (something I have to now learn), this was very important in legitimizing a king’s rule. After the whole process, then can a king rule, and each display showcased every aspect of it. There were volumes of books, rolls of paper 6-7 ft. long all detailing the ins and outs of palace life. Just seeing those well-preserved documents made me shudder at just how detailed and meticulous the Joseon court was.
Even though I wasn’t satisfied with my experience in Gyeongbokgung Palace, going inside the museum adjacent to it was more than satisfying. It gave me a clearer understanding of how different and similar the Joseon Kings were compared to their Chinese and Japanese counterparts. But it was also fun to learn all the nuances of royal life, from the moment they become kings to the point of their death, it was all explained in great detail, and for foreigners that is one of the best feelings.
National Palace Museum
12 Hyoja-ro, Jongno-gu
Open daily from 9am-6pm on weekdays, and 9am-7pm on weekends
The museum is closed on Mondays.
Nearest station: Gyeongbokgung Station