Scenes of Cheonggyecheon Stream
Title Scenes of Cheonggyecheon Stream
Period 2018-05-04 ~ 2018-07-29
Location Special Exhibition Hall, Cheonggyecheon Museum
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Contents

Scenes of Cheonggyecheon Stream

 

Scenes of Cheonggyecheon Stream

 

In spring of 2018, the Cheonggyecheon Museum is opening a special exhibition based on Park Tae-won’s novel, Scenes of Cheonggyecheon Stream (Cheonbyeon punggyeong).

 

It is often said that literature is the mirror of society and a product of the era in which it was written. With his unique, lively writing style and detailed descriptions, Park Tae-won (pen name: Gubo) explores and presents the social conditions along Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul in the 1930s through the life events of various characters.

 

This exhibition introduces the life and culture of the people who lived along Cheonggyecheon Stream in the heart of Seoul in the 1930s, during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945). Seoul was evolving into a modern city, and it is also when the novel was written and takes place.

 

[PART 1]Park Tae-won, Author’s Workspace

 

Park Tae-won (1909-86)

Park Tae-won, who also went by the pen names Gubo, Mongbo, and others, was born in Seoul in 1909. Park made his debut in 1926, when his poem Elder Sister (Nunim) won a contest sponsored by Joseon Literary World (Joseon mundan). After graduating from Gyeongseong Jeil High School in 1929 and studying in Japan, Park joined the literary group Group of Nine (Guinhoe) in 1933. Park boldly embraced the spirit of experimentalism and adopted new writing techniques, working with writers such as Yi Sang, Yi Tae-jun, and Kim Gi-rim, to play a key role in and lead Korea’s 1930s modernism literature. His works during this period include A Day in the Life of Novelist Gubo (Soseolga Gubossi-ui 1-il) and Scenes from Cheonggyecheon Stream (Cheonbyeon punggyeong). Park moved to North Korea in 1950 during the Korean War, where he wrote works including Does the Day of Enlightenment Break Over Hills and Streams? (Gyemyeong sancheon-eun balga oneunya) and Gabo Peasant War (Gabo nongmin jeonjaeng). Park produced more than 200 works in various genres, including poems, vignettes, essays, critiques, and translated novels, such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin.

 

Scenes of Cheonggyecheon Stream - a Novel

In 1936, Scenes of Cheonggyecheon Stream was published as a serialized novel in Jogwang, a literary magazine. In 1937, the series continued under the title, Sequel to the Scenes of Cheonggyecheon Stream (Sok cheonbyeon punggyeong). In 1938, the entire series was compiled and revised into a full-length novel Scenes of Cheonggyecheon Stream, which was published by the Bakmunseogwan Publishing.

The novel depicts daily lives of the people who live along Cheonggyecheon Stream. More than 70 characters appear in the novel’s 50 installments, which are mainly centered around the barbershop and the stream-side communal clothes washing places. Park Tae-won was a writer devoted to modernology (a field of study that systematically surveys and researches the lives of contemporary people, to analyze and explain customs of the era). In this context, Scenes of Cheonggyecheon Stream is the ultimate work of modernology from Park’s perspective. It is viewed as an amazing work that fuses extreme ends of both modernism and realism.

 

Seoul in the 1930s and Cheonggyecheon Stream

From 1910 to 1945, Korea was under Japanese colonial rule. In the 1930s, the Japanese authorities set out to spatially reorganize Seoul for more effective governance, as the city began to serve as a key location to support Japan’s policy and strategy to invade Manchuria to the north. This effort was incorporated into the Joseon City Planning Act of 1934. The changes brought by the plan were not only spatial, but demographic as well. With Cheonggyecheon Stream as the boundary, the Japanese built their homes to the south (“south village”), while the Koreans lived to the north (“north village”). The Japanese city administration focused on improving the south village, and with the society’s wealth controlled by the Japanese, the south village gradually became the “civilized space,” while the north village became more dilapidated.

 

In 1936, Scenes of Cheonggyecheon Stream was published as a serialized novel in Jogwang.

When Park was writing this novel, Cheonggyecheon Stream was where both traditional establishments (such as communal clothes washing places, traditional pharmacies, and textile shops) and modern premises (such as barbershops, boarding houses, cafes, and restaurants) coexisted. The traditional and the modern coexisted in the minds of the people who visited these places as well. In sum, Cheonggyecheon Stream in the 1930s was a space where the traditional and the modern overlapped. While the people were confused by the changes, they gradually adapted to modern lifestyle.

 

[PART 2]Scenes of Cheonggyecheon Stream – The People

 

The characters in the novel Scenes from Cheonggyecheon Stream are the people who live along the stream. There is no specific protagonist at center of the story making decisions – different characters appear in the novel’s 50 installments. Each character is the protagonist in their own story who makes decisions and initiates their actions. With the help of other characters, the readers are vividly introduced to different aspects of lives along the stream in the 1930s in Seoul. The novel depicts in detail the stories found in the transformation from a traditional society to a modern metropolis.

 

Clothes Washing Places at Cheonggyecheon Stream

Communal clothes washing places along the stream were women's spaces. They were also spaces of communication, where news was disseminated and where one could first hear about neighborhood happenings. In the traditional way of thinking, paying money for laundry services was inconceivable. But the novel depicts how the principle of urban capitalism reached Cheonggyecheon, with more people paying for laundry services.

 

Traditional Medicine Pharmacy

Park Tae-won’s home address was 7 Daok-jeong, Gyeongseong-bu(Seoul). He was second son in the family of four sons and two daughters, and his family operated a pharmacy called ‘Gongaedang’ at the same address. The building also housed Gongae Hospital, managed by Park’s uncle who was a doctor. Park lived here until 1936 (when he was 28), when he moved out to nearby Gwancheol-dong. Han Pharmacy – an important location in the novel – seems to have been modeled after Park’s own home, while the newly married ‘modern couple’ seems to have been modeled after Park himself, who was indeed newly married in 1934.

 

The Barbershop

The barbershop was a place that clearly divided the traditional society and modern society. In traditional society, maintaining the integrity of the body was considered extremely important. Thus, cutting one’s hair was practiced only by Buddhist monks or people in the lower classes. A barbershop could not exist without a break from tradition. This new occupation – barber – emerged only after King Gojong’s Hair Cutting Edict in 1895.

 

Pyeonghwa Cafe

Around 1930, cafes and bars began to appear in Korea’s major cities. Pyeonghwa (“Peace”) Cafe in the novel is located “at the corner of Gwanggyo Bridge” in Seoul. Unlike dabang, where patrons enjoyed tea and presented works of art, cafes were centers of merrymaking where alcohol and smiles were the products sold. “Waitress” was another new occupation for women that emerged with modernization.

 

[PART 3]Scenes by the Stream after the 1930s

 

Following the announcement of the Joseon City Planning Act of 1934, the complete covering of Cheonggyecheon Stream was actively discussed as a part of the Greater Gyeongseong (Seoul) Plan. While the primary goal was to make the transport of military supplies more efficient, financial constraints limited the project to a very small section of Cheonggyecheon Stream. After the end of the Japanese colonial period (1910-45) and the Korean War (1950-53), Cheonggyecheon Stream became the symbol of poverty and unsanitary conditions. Eventually, full-scale covering construction began in 1958, and continued into the 1970s. Nonetheless, Cheonggyecheon Stream served as a clothes washing spot for local housewives, a playground for children, and a space of communication that embodied the dramatic life stories of countless people.

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