Sunday, May 31, 2009

7-Finger Dragons

Korea was a tributary kingdom to China and the country was a kingdom, not an empire; their monarch was a 'King', not an 'Emperor', meaning they were subordinate to the Chinese Emperor.

Chinese emperors used 5-finger dragons as their representation, so Korean kings could only use 3-finger dragons. After Korea became independent from the Qing Dynasty and claimed theirself to be the Empire of Korea, backed by their Japanese masters, the King of Korea became the Emperor of Korea, and he wanted to show that he was even more superior to their former Chinese masters. For that reason, they had 2 7-finger dragons decorating the ceiling of the Geunjeongieon Hall in Gyeongbokgung Palace, the equivalent of the Chinese Hall of Supreme Harmony. 2 more fingers than the Chinese emperor.

However, being sandwiched between military super powers of China & Japan, the Emperor of Korea didn't want to offend the Chinese too much either, so the 2 7-finger dragons are strategically located. If you look from the front of the hall, you won't be able to see the 2 7-finger dragons.

But if you want to the two sides of the hall, then you can see the dragons. If you don't look at them very carefully and actually count the number of fingers, you still won't notice the dragons actually have 7 fingers.

These are what our tour guide told us, how true it is, I don't know. I suppose there is some validity to it. The Geunjeongieon Hall 勤政殿 was actually restored in recent years. When I visited South Korea in 2001, this hall was still wrapped up and under restoration.

There are actually other signs in the Geunjeongieon Hall that tells that Korea was a tributary country to China. Notice the use of red in the hall, instead of yellow? Yellow could only used by Chinese emperors. Another sign is the use of blue tiles in the palace, instead of yellow. Not too difficult to guess the reason, right?

Anyway, we are no longer living in a feudal dynasty. Kings and emperors are no longer important to us, even less important whether the dragon has 5 or 7 fingers. If I like, I can even use 100 fingers, or 1000 fingers dragons for myself, although I am a nobody.

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