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Importance of Land and Mountains in Korean Culture

Mountains and harvested rice

Mountains and harvested rice in the autumn near the village of Andong in South Korea.

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The image above shows mountains and harvested rice in the autumn near the village of Andong in South Korea. Andong has been preserved as a traditional village, and exhibits both upper- and lower-class houses from the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910).

The Korean peninsula is filled with mountains. Mountains form natural barriers and also create distinctive regions within Korea. Rice is a staple crop in Korea. Land formed the basis of wealth for most of Korean history. Rice was harvested not only for food, but also to pay for taxes.

Discuss the importance of the land and mountains to Korean history and culture:

  • indigenous spirits were believed to inhabit mountains; these mountain spirits or mountain gods were later incorporated into Buddhism
  • Buddhist monasteries were often built in mountain locations; during the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), Buddhism was suppressed, but it continued to thrive in mountain and rural settings, where it gained support among common people
  • villages and towns were positioned with their backs (north) to the mountains facing a river (south); Andong is located where the river forms an S-curve. Finding an ideal place for a building in the landscape is called p’ungsu (geomancy) Correct placement of buildings is believed to ensure good fortune for all who live there.
  • Korea is a country of four seasons; traditional life was built around cycles of the moon and the changes in weather. The Korean fall harvest festival is called Chusok.
  • Rice was introduced to Korea probably from China in ancient times; rice cultivation improved during the Choson dynasty; rice is grown in terraces that make efficient use of mountainous terrain; rice forms a principal grain dish (pap) at meals.