Confucian Ceremony, Seoul, South Korea
Text & Photography ©Nayan Sthankiya
Gukjagam, the highest education system during the Goryeo Dynasty, was established in November 992 by King Seongjong. Gukjagam was renamed Sungkyunkwan in June 1304, and then relocated to the old site of Seongmun-gwan in 1367 during the reign of King Gongmin near the end of the Goryeo Dynasty.
After the founding of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392, King Taejo relocated Sungkyunkwan to Hanseong, current Seoul, and also founded 360 Hyanggyos nationwide in July 1398, establishing a national education system.
Sungkyunkwan was destroyed by fire in 1400 and rebuilt in 1407. Sungkyunkwan was rebuilt again in 1601 after it was destroyed during the Japanese invasions. During the colonial era between 1910 - 1945, royal Sungkyunkwan was demoted to a private institution and renamed Gyunghakwon, while Korean education was prohibited and Japanese education was forced nationwide.
After Korea gained independence in 1945, Gyeonghakwon was renamed to Sungkyunkwan and with funding from Yurim (Confucians) nationwide, Sungkyunkwan University was established.
The current Sungkyunkwan buildings are reconstructions built in 1988. Confucian ceremonies are held here twice a year in the second and eighth months of the Lunar calendar. The ceremony in the eighth month is on Confucius' birthday, which is a school holiday for SKKU students.
Sungkyunkwan's teachings were mainly Confucian-related, and was largely aimed at preparing students for government services. The main goal was for the students to pass the civil service examinations, also known as gwageo, which assessed the ability to interpret the Chinese classics in terms of official Neo-Confucian ideology.
The set number of students were 150 when Sungkyunkwan was founded, and raised to 200 in 1429. Each year, only 30 students could graduate.
Entrance examinations for Sungkyunkwan were extremely harsh, and was only allowed for the sons of high-ranking officials or yangban. The students composed two factions, coming from the empowered Hungu faction or the more radical Sarim faction, better known as seonbi. Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, there were four major purges related to conflict between these groups, often involving Sungkyunkwan students.
There were two ways to be accepted into Sungkyunkwan. Either the students had to pass the two admission exams, Saeng-wonsi and Jinsasi, or take the other two examinations, Seungbo and Eumseo. If they passed these examinations, they were given the opportunity to be accepted.
Once accepted, the students had to complete the curriculum and also fulfill the minimal attendance score of 300 Wonjeom to qualify for the first test of the civil service exams. Students lived very comfortably on full scholarship and were waited on by servants.