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600 years of Gwanghwamun : Three Stories | 3rd Story-National Museum of Korean Contemporary History

GWANGHWAMUN_KOREAN CONTEMPORARY HISTORY FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF SPACE

National Museum of Korean Contemporary History

12-17-2021(Fri) - 03-31-2022(Thr)

  • Price : Free
  • Hours :10:00 – 18:00
    Opening hours will be extended to nine o’clock in the evening on Wednesdays. (Last admission is one hour before the closing time.)
  • For additional inquiries call : +82-02-3703-9200

Introduction to the Exhibition



Gwanghwamun avenue today refers not only to the mainSouth gate of theGyeongbokgung Palace but also to a broad boulevard from the gate leading downto the intersection of Sejong-ro and the neighboring area. The boulevard leadingup to the Gwanghwamun Gate, used to be called Yukjo Geori Six Ministries Avenuebecause it was flanked by the offices of six ministries of the Joseon dynasty, stillremains the symbolic center of Korea even after historical changes over centuries.

The neighborhood saw a drastic change between the 1960s and the 1980s for thefirst time after the country regained independence. The development of the areabegan to take off in the 1960s, followed by a series of renovation projects in thedowntown area, the development of the Gangnam region, as well as the SeoulOlympics in 1988: the avenues were widened and large-scale skyscrapers went upone after another in the neighborhood, turning the old town into a modern citycenter. The Gwanghwamun avenue naturally has developed so many differentlayers of identities over time: it used to be the heart of the politics during the Joseondynasty, and it still remains the symbolic center of the political and diplomaticaffairs of the Republic of Korea as well as the main stage of public activities wherethe Korean citizenry gather to make their voice heard and to enjoy cultural events.Thus, it should be understood as a historic place with complex and multi-facetedcharacteristics.

The special exhibition, presented jointly by the National Museum of KoreanContemporary History, the National Palace Museum of Korea, and Seoul Museumof History, has been staged on the theme of “600 Years of Gwanghwamun:The Three Stories,” exploring the history and culture of the area around theGwanghwamun. The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History hoststhe third installment of the series titled <Gwanghwamun. Korean Contemporaryhistory from the perspective of space.> It aims to help the audience rediscoverGwanghwamun as a center stage of the Contemporary history of Korea, reflect onthe complex and multi-layered implications of the neighborhood, and imagine itsfuture.
Part 1: Gwanghwamun Restored
After the forced annexation of Korea in 1910, imperial Japan built the officeof the Japanese Government-General of Korea inside the premises ofGyeongbokgung Palace as part of its colonization effort. The avenue in front ofthe Gwanghwamun Gate renamed ‘Gwanghwamun Tong’. On top of that, thegate structure was taken apart and relocated to the north of the east gate of thepalace. As the Sejong-ro intersection was connected to Taepyeong-ro avenueand colonial office and agency buildings went up on both sides of the avenue,the area became the symbol of the colonial power.
With the national independence, Gwanghwamun avenue once again becamethe center stage of Korean history. the U.S. military government and thesubsequent establishment of the Republic of Korea, however, hardly changethe face of the neighborhood much from what it had been during the colonialperiod. Worse, the area was devastated by the Korean war but the severedamage it suffered was hardly repaired or restored for some time afterwards.Still, Gwanghwamun avenue served as a forum for expressing people’s desirefor democracy during the April 19 revolution.
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Part 2: The Development and Construction of Gwanghwamun Avenue
The development of the Gwanghwamun neighborhood began in earnest inthe 1960s, laying the groundwork for modernization. As modern structuresbegan to go up one after another, the Park Chung-hee Government that cameinto power after the May 16 military coup concentrated government agenciesin Sejong-ro as part of its drive for economic development. The avenue waswidened, and an underground passage and overpass for pedestrians, turningthe boulevard into an automobile-friendly space.
Up until the mid-1980s, the area was characterized by the authoritarian displayof state power, becoming a venue for official and solemn state ceremonies. Also,the national tradition was mobilized to decorate Gwanghwamun and Sejong-roarea, largely to reaffirm political stability and national unity. Between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s, the neighborhood saw the formation of a boomingdowntown area as the rapid economic growth since the mid-1960s promotedconsumption culture and the birth of fashion trends.
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Part 3: The Modern Reconstruction of Gwanghwamun Avenue
Foreign media until the 1960s portrayed Seoul as a run-down, shabby city. In response, the government came up with plans to create a clean and organized urban environment that could rival any other capital around the world. Meanwhile, the raid attempt into the Blue House by North Korean agents on January 21, 1968, heightened public fears that the country is not safe from a North Korean threat. The Yushin regime of President Park Chung-hee stepped up its competition with North Korea, embarking on urban renovation programs along with the development of the Gangnam area. A modernized cityscape was an effective propaganda tool for its performance and its superiority in its national competition with North Korea.
As Seoul successfully won the bid for the Olympic Games in the early 1980s, it provided an opportunity to initiate a full-scale makeover of the downtown area around Gwanghwamun. A government plan to modernize the city’s skyline was put into practice in order to make the city proudly presentable to the audience from around the globe. In the process, a majority of small and medium-scale buildings including those in residential areas, restaurants, schools and academies, publishers, and libraries were removed or relocated to neighboring districts and the newly developed Gangnam area. Instead, larger, and taller high-rises took their place around the Gwanghwamun area. The modern layout of the Gwanhwamun boulevard as we see it today was completed between the 1970s and the 1980s.
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Part 4: Gwanghwamun Transformed
A series of historic events took place after the democratization movement inJune 1987, from the Seoul Olympic Games to the inauguration of the CivilianGovernment of President KIM Young-sam and the initiation of the localautonomy system, and they all had a serious impact on another transformationof the Gwanghwamun area: the former Japanese Government-General Buildingwas demolished and the Gwanghwamun gate structure was authenticallyrestored once again. Sejong-ro was also renovated to better present its historyand culture. A new subway station opened at the Sejong-ro intersection andcrosswalks were set up to meet the public demand.
After the country was fully democratized, there was a growing demand for anew space in and around the Gwanghwamun area where citizens can connectwith each other. In response, the Open Ground for Citizens was created in 1998in the form of a park. Later, the area was revived as a public forum for gathering,serving as a venue for nationwide festivities such as the World Cup games aswell as intense political demonstrations where citizens voice their opinion.Eventually, Gwanghwamun Plaza was completed and open to public in 2009.The plaza is once again undergoing renovation before being fully open to thepublic as ‘a plaza where citizens and take a leisurely walk and get rest.’
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