Hwaseong Cultural Festival
Suwon, with its rich history has no shortage of cultural offerings for those looking to learn more about this historic city. Probably the most notable is the Hwaseong Cultural Festival, held annually in the fall (usually in October). The festival spans nearly a week and includes a number of special parades and performances. Two of the most notable parades are the citizens’ parade through the fortress and King Jeongjo’s procession at the Haenggung. The festival is headquartered at the Hwaseong Haengung, which serves as the central performing area for musical events and the International Food Festival. If one has time for only one event, the annual nighttime military exercises shouldn’t be missed.
Also headquartered at the Hwaseong Haenggung is the almost daily performance of integrated 24 martial arts, called the Muye24Ki. Under the command of King Jeongjo, Shilhak scholars Lee Deok-Mu and Park Je-Ga collaborated with martial arts master Baek Dong-Su to bring together the best aspects of Korean fighting styles with those of neighboring countries (China and Japan). The riveting performance thrills spectators of all ages and is one not to be missed. Those wishing to hone their sports photography skills will find themselves with plenty of action to capture.
While the exact date of origin isn’t known, most scholars date traditional Korean tightrope walking back to the Silla or Goryeo era. This acrobatic skill is both listed as an intangible Korean Cultural Property (#58) and an UNESCO Intangible Cultrual Heritage Asset. In total, there are some forty different techniques employed by performers. When viewing the weekly performances at the Haenggung (2pm, Saturday), visitors are treated to an amazing display of skill.
The show usually begins with performer making his way up to the tightrope, shaking nervously while eliciting oohs and ahs from the crowd, with an occasion shrill of terror as it appears like he may fall. Careful inspection of his footwork will reveal just how talented the performer is when giving this illusion. Before long, the performer is running back and forth along the tightrope. One of the best parts of the Haenggung performance is “Picture Time,” where the performer pauses and sits on the rope posing for the entire crowd. Then, he segues into the finale and leaps into the air, catching the rope between his legs before he’s thrust upward one more time, spinning around and repeating the maneuver. It is amazing.
Ringing the Bell of Filial Piety
Eloquently described by Featured Writer Suzy Chung, “Filial piety is a core virtue of Confucianism which was introduced to Korea a couple centuries BC and flourished in the Three Kingdoms era, although it co-existed with Buddhism during most of the latter period. It was during the Joseon Dynasty when Confucianism rooted itself as the ruling philosophy of Korean culture and its influence still remains today.” [You can read her entire article here.]
Since the Suwon Fortress and Haenggung were born out of filial piety, is shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a cultural activity surrounding this act. Atop Paldalsan is the bell of Hyowon (효원). The bell is nearly 3.5 meters tall, over 2 meters in diameter, and clocks in an impressive 12.5 tons. Visitors can pay a nominal fee (W1000 [1-2 people], W2000 [3-4 people]) to ring the bell. Doing so honors one’s parents and friends. The action itself allows those ringing the bell to pray for good tidings and well wishes for parents, friends, and oneself.
Next week, The Korea Blog will take a look at some of the other experiences around the Suwon fortress as this series concludes.