Episode 10: Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong

In 2010, UNESCO approved the inscription of two clan villages from the Joseon era to the World Heritage list under the title of “Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong.”

In a clan village, people sharing the same last name live together. Clan villages were prevalent in Joseon, which was deeply affected by the Confucian culture of family values and filial duty. “Hahoe” and “Yangdong” are Joseon’s oldest clan villages. Hahoe Village is located in Andong, North Gyeongsangdo Province, and the Pungsan Ryu clan has lived there for many generations.

“Father, look down there. That’s Hahoe Village. The village name implies that Nakdonggang River swirls through the village, as the word “ha” represents “river” and “hoe” means “turn around.””
“Hmm, I can see the wide, curving river coiling around the entire village in three directions—east, south and west. It is indeed located in an extraordinary area. And the village looks like a lotus flower floating on the water. I think Hahoe is truly a great site.”
“So, are we—the Pungsan Ryu clan—moving to that site?”
“Yes, we are. Hahoe is our new home where our future generations will live for many long years.”

Members of the Ryu clan, who had initially lived in the Pungsan area in Andong, looked for an ideal site for their new home and found a new settlement in Hahoe Village about 600 years ago. The traditional shape of a clan community from the early Joseon period is well preserved in this village. Clan villages of Joseon were built in accordance with geomantic traditions. The villages included the residences of jongga or the head family of a clan, houses of aristocrats and commoners, seowon or private educational institutions as well as farmlands. Hahoe Village conformed to this principle, but the village is unique in that all houses there are designed to face the river.

At the center of the village is the Yangjindang House, the home of the head family of the Pungsan Ryu clan, with six old houses of the clan members located nearby. Thatched-roof houses where commoners lived are arranged in a circle surrounding the clan houses, while Byeongsan Seowon, which is a place of learning, is nestled at the foot of the mountain across the village in harmony with the surrounding natural landscape. At present, some 150 households live in Hahoe Village. In addition to the old houses, the village also retains traditional community performances, including the “Byeolsingut mask dance drama” for commoners and a noblemen’s game called the “Seonyu Rope Fireworks.” It is very rare that an old village still maintains its traditional lifestyle and culture, and this element was highly valued in the process of the village’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Along with Hahoe, Yangdong is another historic village of Korea. Located in Gyeongju, Yangdong Village is the ancestral home of two clans, the Wolseong Son clan and the Yeogang Lee clan. Members of these clans have lived there for generations.
“Yangdong was originally the home of Lee Gwang-ho from the Yeogang Lee clan. Ryu Bok-ha from the Pungdeok Ryu clan married Lee’s granddaughter and moved in with his wife’s family. And Ryu’s daughter was married to Son So from the Wolseong Son clan, who also settled down in Yangdong. Eventually, the two clans—the Lee clan and the Son clan—comprised the clan village.”
According to a book titled Compilation of Ancient Documents in North Gyeongsang Region, Yangdong is described as a village of two clans related by marriage. During the Joseon era, it was common for the eldest son of a family to live in a yangban or nobility village and for his own eldest son to continue living there to form a clan village. In contrast to the general tradition, Yangdong Village was developed by the son-in-law of a family.

Yangdong Village is surrounded by Seolchangsan Mountain on the northern outskirts of Gyeongju. The village takes advantage of beautiful nature, as the four ridges sloping down from the mountaintop form the terrain shaped like a Chinese character (勿) that sounds like “mul”. Seobaekdang House and Mucheomdang House, the residences of the head family of the Son clan and the Lee clan, are found up in the valleys. While, the houses of the members of clan branches are situated below them. Houses of servants and tenant farmers are located on the low-lying ground at the foot of the mountain. In other words, the landscape in the village was rearranged in line with Joseon’s hierarchical social order set by different classes. Ancestral shrines, village schools and pavilions are found near the yangban residences, while the farmlands stretch in the field at the bottom of the mountain. Yangdong Village shows the layout of Joseon’s clan village, which consists of different zones for life, rituals and production.

Today, seasonal customs and four traditional ceremonies for coming of age, wedding, funeral and ancestral rituals are still practiced in Yangdong Village. The traditional village has more than 150 ancient residences and thatched-roof houses. This is another historic village where hundreds of years of life and culture are kept alive. People may feel like they are traveling back to the past when they visit Hahoe and Yangdong Villages, which haven’t changed over the past 600 years. History lives on in these two traditional villages that show Joseon’s lifestyle and culture.