OWL Magazine Korea

“Episode Korean History: Joseon Dynasty” by Pyo Hak-ryeol

  • A student once asked their teacher, “Teacher, why do we need to study history?”
  • Upon hearing this question, the teacher gave the student a slap on the back.
  • The student, feeling the sting of the slap, asked the teacher again, “But why did you hit me? Why do we need to study history?”
  • The teacher attempted to slap the student again, but this time, the student dodged it.
  • Finally, the teacher spoke, “If you hadn’t remembered that you were slapped before, would you have been able to dodge it this time?”

The phrase “A nation without a memory of history has no future” is well-known to us, although its origin remains unknown.

Indeed, history repeats itself, and the past continually recurs. Therefore, studying history is important. It allows us to develop the insight needed to choose the right alternatives in similar situations by learning from past mistakes.

“Is History Inherently Boring?”

Studying history is crucial. However, the way history has been taught and learned so far has been too dull. Typically, the history we encounter is primarily aimed at achieving good exam scores. It involves tedious memorization of events and achievements of various kings.

As a result, for those who have studied history for exams, history may be regarded as “boring.”

However, by grasping history within a broader context and presenting it in an episodic format, history can be quite fascinating.

“Exploring History in an Episodic Format: Joseon Dynasty”

Books like “The Five Forces That Move World History” by Saito Takashi present history not as a subject to be memorized but as a collection of various historical events grouped by theme.

Through this episodic format, history can be better understood and enjoyed. Rather than simply memorizing facts about past events, delving into the stories surrounding those events allows for a deeper understanding and empathy. Moreover, it can provide the wisdom needed to handle similar situations in the future.

In the book “Episode Korean History,” both officially recorded history and folklore passed down through generations are presented together. While maintaining a somewhat chronological order, it diverges from the traditional method of listing events in chronological order and instead tells stories episode by episode, making it intriguing.

Through this format, one feels as if characters from the Joseon Dynasty era are personally recounting stories to us. This approach aligns well with the statement by E. H. Carr: “History is a continuous dialogue between the past and the present.”

Below are some memorable excerpts from the book:

The Origin of the Name “Hamheungchasawon”

The origin of the term “Hamheung Ambassador” dates back to the reign of King Taejong during the Joseon Dynasty. Lee Seong-gye, the father of Taejong who came to power after instigating two royal rebellions, lost everything to his son, including Jeong Do-jeon, who helped him establish the country, his wife Gang Bi, and his sons. He also lost the country he had dreamed of building and all real power. Therefore, he left Hanyang and returned to his hometown of Hamheung.

Upon his father’s return to Hamheung, Taejong was greatly perplexed and sent “ambassadors” to Hamheung in an attempt to bring his father back to Hanyang. An “ambassador” refers to an envoy sent by the king for a special mission. However, the ambassadors sent to Hamheung were each killed upon arrival by Lee Seong-gye, so the term “Hamheung Ambassador” came to mean a messenger who goes on an irreversible journey or a messenger who does not return.

The Naming of “Apgujeong”

The name “Apgujeong,” which symbolizes the glamor of Gangnam today, originated from a pavilion built by Han Myeong-hoe. Han Myeong-hoe built a pavilion by the Han River in present-day Apgujeong-dong to enjoy the scenery and named it “Apgujeong,” meaning “to comfortably relax with the wind.”

The fact that the name “Apgujeong” from the Joseon Dynasty era is still in use today serves as a reminder of the continuous connection between the past and the present.

“E. H. Carr: History is a Continuous Dialogue Between the Past and the Present.”

Upon encountering the episodes presented in “Episode Korean History,” one naturally resonates with E. H. Carr’s statement. History is not only essential for remembering the past but also indispensable for moving forward and furthering our growth. Analyzing trends from the past to the present is fundamental in predicting the future.

If history has been tedious through textbooks, books like “Episode Korean History” offer a more engaging approach to learning history.

“Episode Korean History: Joseon Dynasty”