One of the highlights of our trip to Korea was visiting Yang Dong Village near Gyeonju, in the Gyeongsangbuk Province of South Korea. The village hails from the Joseon Dynasty, when the Son family and the Lee family came to this area nearly 500 years ago as a celebrated part of the Joseon dynasty. Many of the families descendants still live and work in the village, maintaining homes and buildings, in addition to farming, schooling their children and guiding visitors through today’s village.
The village was recently named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique culture and customs still inherent in the village and the people here today. Yang Dong Village boasts over 50 homes and more than 150 buildings on the site housing their leadership, famous village temples, schools and other structures for village living. Many of these buildings are more than 200 years old and are still maintained by villagers here.
While visiting Yang Dong Village, we were able to meet with the Cheng Son, one of two leaders of Confucianism and the Yang Dong Village by lineage. “Cheng,” means to govern, and “Son” is the heritage of governing which is passed down from the patriarch of each family to the next generation.
Their fathers, grandfathers and ancestors were also leaders of their villages in Yang Dong and ruled as the Cheng Son, one of the 18 original followers/leaders of Confucianism. If the family did not have a son, then the father’s brother’s first son would be next in line for this patriarchal honor. It really is fascinating to see how they had all of the “what if’s” worked out, even 500+ years ago.
Yang Dong Village is home to numerous national treasures of Korea. With this in mind, and the addition of the village to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, the village is currently building a museum to welcome visitors, house many of their national treasures and begin to tell the story of the village.
This will help visitors see the highlights as they walk the rice patties, trek the trails up to the temple, follow the schoolchildren to their schoolyard, and walk to the homes of villagers who will share their stories, cultures and customs, including the wearing of traditional Han Bok clothing and the writing of calligraphy.
The video below illustrates the village of Yang Dong today, its people and their life and livelihood in 21st century Yang Dong Village. It amazes me how their customs and cultures have remained while the world around them has changed so dramatically.