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Hyanggyo, A Trip Back to an Old Korean School
Apr 30, 2020

Let’s take a look back at one Korean school during the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasty

The Korean public school went online recently. Official school year should have started last March but was delayed because of the recent COVID 19 epidemic. This is totally unprecedented and seems inevitable at this time but the government decided to start the school year — online. This is the NOW but let’s have a look back to how it was a hundred years ago. We’ll share a bit of it through Hyanggyo (향교), an educational institution at that time. One can still find the old buildings of Hyanggyo in Cheonan.

Hyanggyo in History

Hyanggyos were first established during the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392 A.D.) It is a part of the Confucian-based education (during King Seongjong’s reign) even though the country’s official religion was Buddhism at that time. 

King Taejo (1392-98 AD) specially supported it during the Joseon Dynasty. It served as the secondary level of academic institutions for the children of the elite upper-class called yangban in the rural areas. These children would usually start at Seodang, the primary level before moving up to Hyanggyo in the rural area or Sahak in the more urban setting. 

Currently, there are three Hyanggyos that you can still find in Cheonan. There is one each in Mokcheon,  Jiksan, and Dongnam-gu. The last one is more popularly known as Cheonan Hyanggyo. This time, we will cover the Jiksan Hyanggyo in the northern part of Cheonan City, near Pyeongtaek. 

What’s there to see?

Hyanggyo is usually composed of a lecture hall (명륜당), dormitories (서재, 동재) and a shrine (대상전) for Confucian ancestral rites. The first thing that one will have to pass through is the hongsalmun  (홍살문, a gate for entering a sacred place with two round poles set vertically and two transverse bars on it. The outer gate with a wooden door and roof will be next in order to actually get in the school complex. 

The lecture hall is what you will see right after stepping inside, with the Seojae (사재) on the left and Dongjae(동재) on the right.  

Further uphill behind the lecture hall is another set of steps leading to the inner gate or naesangmun (내상문). The main hall at the other side of these gates is called Daeseongjeon (대성전) where ancestral tablets are usually kept at that time.

*There are also hanging boards with phrases sharing the history of Jiksan Hyanggyo and other documents about Confucian scholars which are currently kept at the lecture hall.  

*Now, once you’re done soaking up the ambience of the old school with trees and a small hill just behind it, there’s an added bonus for a history buff. There is a Shrine of King Onjo, founder of Baekje and the third son of Jumong, who is the first king of Goguryeo, just next to it. Although this was already built in modern times based on some historical records, it was believed to be originally 2 kilometers North East away from the current site. The original one was burned during Japan’s second invasion in 1597. 

Well, isn’t that a little bit overwhelming for a quick look back at history? I am pretty sure that Korean students NOW will be learning more of it as they go online to study from the comforts of their houses. Korean schools have come a long way. 

And speaking of ways, how do you get to Jiksan Hyanggyo? 

From Cheonan Bus Terminal 

A direct bus ride from Cheonan Bus Terminal will roughly take 40 minutes including a 10 minute walk after getting off at Goondong2ri bus stop (#1355). It is located in a rural neighborhood with vegetable and animal farms nearby so do not be surprised if you get lost and see such. However, the city government has recently improved the roads and scenery by painting some murals on the walls of the private houses and commercial buildings leading to it.

If you will be driving, North Cheonan IC is the nearest access from Gyeongbu Expressway.

 직산향교 

충남 천안시 서북구 직산읍 군서리 164-1

How to get there?