A Tradition of Excellence

Old Sungkyunkwan


A university that will continue to inherit and advance the essence of the nation with commitment

Old Sungkyunkwan

Almost every weekend, the campus bustles with guests at traditional wedding ceremonies that are held in the grounds of the hall just inside the main gate. They mingle with the tourists, who stand in awe of the beauty of the traditional architecture.

Main attractions for visitors are the two giant ginkgo trees (Natural Monument No. 59) planted in 1519. Ginkgo trees have a symbolic meaning in Confucianism because Confucius is said to have loved reading, pondering, and teaching his disciples under a ginkgo tree.

The time-honored campus, most parts of which are designated as National Treasures, is now a famous tourist spot. Traditionally, all Old Sungkyunkwan students stayed in traditional dormitories called Dongjae and Seojae (meaning East Hall and West Hall respectively). Though the rules were stringent, student life at Old Sungkyunkwan was never boring. Students studied music, archery, horsemanship, mathematics, the Confucian classics, and etiquette. The buildings were home to distinguished students of Confucian Studies. Those selected to live there were granted full scholarships and this was considered as a great honor.

To the north of Dongjae and Seojae stands Myeongnyundang, the main lecture hall. Each early morning, with the sound of the drum signaling the beginning of the day, students used to prostrate themselves once before entering the hall to receive a lecture on Confucian teaching. Visitors can appreciate the traditional architecture of the building, which consists of a middle hall and two wings.

Located in the west of Myeongnyundang is Bicheondang; built in 1664 its name means ”enlightening the great way” cited from the famous Confucianist Chu Xi. This building, as well as Myeongnyundang, was a site for the state examination. The present building was reconstructed in 1988 on the site of the original, which was burnt down during the Korean War.

Jongyeonggak was built in 1475 as the first library in Korea. As the meaning of the name (to revere the classics highly) implies, the volumes housed in the library were exclusively Confucian books. During the Japanese occupation, most of the books were taken to the library of Gyeongseong Imperial University (the predecessor of Seoul National University), and remaining books were moved to the Central Library of the University after the completion of the new campus in 1953.
The largest building on the old campus is Daeseongjeon, where the memorial tablets of Confucius and his followers are enshrined. The calligraphy on the board over the gate is the work of Seokbong Han Ho, one of the greatest calligraphers in the Joseon Dynasty. Originally built in 1398, this building burned down during the invasion of 1592 and was rebuilt in 1602. The shrine is an excellent example of the architecture of the time. The Seokjeonjae, a ritual memorializing Confucius, is still observed here twice a year, in the second and eighth months of the lunar calendar.

Hamabi (dismounting point) and Haryundae (parking place for sedan chairs) in the front of the campus indicate that the Old Sungkyunkwan was a sacred place. Even members of the royal family had to show their respect by dismounting and walking as they entered the campus. Historically the president of Old Sungkyunkwan officiated at the Confucius memorial service, at which the king was always present. Because the king was merely a disciple before Confucius, he took off his royal robes and put on plain clothes before he stepped into the courtyard of the Confucian Shrine.

Today, the University is respected as a guardian of the rich traditions of Korea. In the 1997 Winter Universiade, the Sacred Torch was lit in the Amsadong prehistoric remains, a site of early Korean times, and then taken to Old Sungkyunkwan amid a gala festival before being delivered to Muju, the main venue of the games. Fifty million Korean people shared the joyful and symbolic moment with youths from all over the world who gathered under the sacred flame at the site of the historical higher educational institution.