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World Reporters at the Hanseong Baekje Cultural Festival

Updated: Jan 3, 2020

If you are familiar with Korea’s history, you have probably heard about a period called “the Three Kingdoms”, which stands for three ancient countries called Goguryeo, Silla and Baekje. Amongst those three states, Goguryeo had the largest territory, while Silla was the one that unified the whole Peninsula. Because of that, Baekje often remains in their shadow but its historical development and cultural progress should definitely not be overlooked.

Baekje was founded by King Onjo, one of King Jumong’s sons. It established its kingdom in the area around the Han River. As a result of its strategic location, it became the most powerful kingdom on the Korean Peninsula in the 4th century. Even though Baekje accepted Chinese culture, including some of its distinguished traits such as Chinese characters, Confucianism, Buddhism, the lunar calendar and good understanding of astronomy, it also developed its own cultural specifics. The culture of Baekje was said to be graceful and refined, as we witnessed during the 19th Hanseong Baekje Cultural Festival last Friday.

Our Foreign Students World Reporters team was invited to attend the opening ceremony of the festival by one of the NGL Forum’s mentors, Mrs. Mira Lee. The event is well-known in Korea for its excellence, as it is the only festival in Seoul renowned as a Culture Tourism Festival for 6 consecutive years. The first Hanseong Baekje Cultural Festival was held in 1994 in Seoul's Asia Park with the theme “Songpa, the City of the Hanseong Baekje”. Changing venues and themes over the years, the festival has come to its 19th edition this year. It was held at Olympic Park's Peace Plaza in Seoul on September 27 - 29. This year's theme was “The Establishment of Baekje, the Beginning of 2000-Year-Old Ancient City Seoul”.

The emblem of the Hanseong Baekje Festival consists of the three colors which are stated to symbolize “culture, future and prosperity and aim at the participation of the world.” Such choice of an emblem firmly summarizes the very purpose of the Hanseong Baekje Festival; to bring back the cultural prosperity of the Baekje Kingdom era, and to provide not only the Korean citizens but also the foreigners with the opportunity to experience the glorious culture of Baekje. The stage part of the opening ceremony, naturally, followed that topic and included a performance by Kook Soo-ho Didim Dance Company which presented the birth of Baekje and a creative dance called “Smile of a Thousand Years” by the young and enthusiastic Korean Dance Team of Sunhwa Arts High School. The opening ceremony ended with a special performance by Sohyang, a singer who has been proclaimed by the international media as the "Korean Mariah Carey".

The organization committee of the Hanseong Baekjae Cultural Festival had spent a lot of effort to deliver this wonderful event and that was evident in its structure. The Peace Plaza where the festival took place was divided into small areas with a variety of functions. Besides the main stage named after King Onjo and the food market, the big space of the square was filled up with plenty of activities related to daily life during the Baekjae Dynasty. One of the fascinating aspects of the festival, in that relation, was the Experience Village. When entering the Experience Village, we could already recognize the historical atmosphere created through not only the lantern decorations and the dominant use of roof tile color but also the costumes and accessories of the staff members.

First of all, there was a Baekjae Military Experience corner where people could directly have a hold of old weapons such as wooden swords, bows and arrows, as well as enjoy themselves while trying to escape from a small maze made of rice straws. Secondly, a large part of the space was used to replicate an improvised Hanseong Baekjae Village. All the facilities of the village were made of natural materials just like in ancient times. The themes of the booths varied from Baekje's traditional clothing stores to the educational settings of the Baekje period, as well as a Baekje pharmacy exhibiting ancient medical tools and pottery pavilions that introduced a wide range of kitchen utensils used in different settings. People could also directly experience life in Baekjae by making dyed towels and potteries themselves.

Government office setting from the Baekje time

Furthermore, the Village included a booth that described Baekje's prison settings together with the tools that were used to punish criminals. Besides that, one of the most special corners was Baekje Lantern Street, located right outside the Peace Plaza. In the evening, visitors surely were attracted by the magical atmosphere of the street which was covered in the light of hundreds of traditional lanterns, making you feel like you have just traveled back in time to the Baekje Dynasty!

Immersed in that authentic atmosphere, it was possible for our team to experience one of the historical periods of the city, namely the era of the Baekje Kingdom that has marked this territory in the 4th century. We tried several activities of the program such as pottery for which some of the typical decorations of Baekje were checkered stamps and tiles decorated with lotus petals, preparation of traditional Korean rice, and dyeing clothes with different colors which at the time of Baekche defined social classes. With the help of those activities we could see how the social organization was carried out at that time, especially when dyeing fabrics using natural pigments.

Since ancient times the beauty of Korean clothes has been recognized overseas while inside the peninsula the colorfulness of the clothes used to be one of the main features that distinguished aristocracy from other social classes. For example, in Baekjae a color reserved only for high government officials and royals, was purple. In ancient Korea the color model was called Obangsaek (five-direction-color) and included blue, red, yellow, white and black colors standing for the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) and the five directions (East, South, Center, West and North). The coloring pigment used at the festival was made of clay with yellowish brown color (Earth). In order to create special patterns, we tied the fabric in multiple places before dipping it in the dye and after untying, a circular ornament had appeared. Those hand-made handkerchiefs became a great souvenir from the festival.

In addition to the wide scope of cultural activities, there were epic traditional dance and drum performances that were far beyond impressive. The dancers whose legs and feet were mostly entirely concealed by their hanboks, embodied the fluid motion that surged through the traditional drums as they were performing. This type of dance is inseparable with Korean traditional music, which consists of mainly drums and flutes. Originating from Buddhist and shaman rites, the Ogomu (Five-Drum Dance) we witnessed, is characterized by varied drumbeats and rhythms simultaneously played to form unique synchronization.

We believe that through providing booths and stage performances that encompass all the aforementioned elements to illustrate the Baekje period, and allowing participation of the visitors, the 19th Hanseong Baekche Cultural Festival has successfully accomplished its purpose of reviving and interacting with the prosperous culture of Baekje, while leaving remarkable memories in the minds of the people.

Wrapping up the evening with our hosts

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