BKS Virtual Event: Korea’s Four Golden Ages, 8 June 2021

Written by: Hari Blackmore  |  Posted on: August 3rd, 2021


A Study of Korean History and UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites


On Tuesday the 8th of June, BKS welcomed Prof. David Mason to give an online lecture about Korean history, its Golden (and Dark) Ages, and the numerous World Cultural Heritage Sites associated with each Age. Prof. Mason’s extensive experience studying and consulting on Korean history and tourism made for a fascinating look at Korean cultural heritage and the historical contexts of each site.


The scale and variety of Korea’s cultural heritage is extremely impressive, running from religious sites, to scholastic academies, and even villages that are still occupied today. We started off hearing about the great numbers of Bronze Age dolmens spread all over Korea, but it was in the first Golden Age, during the Three Kingdoms Period, that saw a great flourishing of artistic and technological achievement. The great step tombs of Goguryeo, with their elaborate wall paintings, the tumuli of Silla in Gyeongju, and an array of Buddhist sites from Baekje and Silla were not only highly significant culturally, but also represent technological and architectural achievements that were far ahead of their time. While there may be an element of the victor writing the history, it is hard not to be astonished at the rich achievements of Silla and Unified Silla, a society that has defined the landscape around Gyeongju.


Buddhism was also a great influence in other Ages, particularly during Goryeo, while Confucianism and scholarship influenced great achievements during Joseon. For example, the Tripitaka Koreana, still stored at Haeinsa, records Buddhist scriptures carved on tens of thousands of wooden printing blocks with millions of characters. These blocks were carved during the Mongol occupation of Korea, a time where other temples were burned and the Goryeo royal court was in semi-exile; a remarkable achievement. Early Joseon was another Golden Age for Korea, where palaces, castles, and scholastic academies were built. We heard how it is historical figures and cultural heritage this period that are most fondly commemorated today. Hahoe and Yangdong folk villages are also from the Joseon period, with people still living their lives there.


All in all, the talk highlighted the scale, strength, and resilience of Korean culture. In good times and bad, Korean ancestors have built and maintained a remarkable variety of important cultural heritage. Gyeongju in particular has a phenomenal concentration of World Cultural Heritage sites, rivalling much larger cities like London or Rome. Also, the fact that so many sites, like temples and folk villages, are still occupied today speaks volumes about the commitment of Koreans to their heritage. Prof Mason finished the lecture by suggesting that South Korea had entered a fourth Golden Age from 1988. I suppose only time will tell. However, I think it is fair to say that South Korea’s impact on modern culture will remain substantial.


Other than the AGM, this was BKS’s second online event, with 24 members in attendance. We expect online events will become a regular feature of events offered by BKS, and look forward to hearing about a range of new and interesting topics.


Leave a Comment