University Arbor

Two Ginkgo Trees in the Garden of Sungkyunkwan

In the garden of Sungkyunkwan, you can see two cloud-like ginkgo trees with branches reaching skyward. From the glory and prosperity of the Joseon Dynasty through the tumultuous early twentieth century with the Japanese occupation, World War II, and the Korean War until the present era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the trees have stood as an enduring symbol of the institution that bore withness to half a millennium of Korea's history.

Sungkyunkwan was originally built in 1398 during the seventh year of the reign of King Taejo, the first monarch of the Joseon Dynasty. The ginkgo trees in Sungkyunkwan are believed to have been planted by Yun Tak, the head of Sungkyunkwan, around 1519, the 14th year of King Jungjong’s reign. Confucius is said to have taught his disciples under a ginkgo tree and as a symbol of his teachings ginkgo trees were planted in Sungkyunkwan and in all Confucius shrines and schools of Korea.

The trees, which are the oldest features of the campus, have even survived numerous fires. They have watched quietly while countless students have passed by who would go on to influence the course of national events. The ginkgo trees are old and parts of them are even filled in with cement, but they are still full of vigor. The wildly firm branches that hold their places unwaveringly against the wind somehow remind us of a peaceful elder saint who seems to have experienced every sweet and bitter taste of life.

In the courtyard in front of Myeongnyundang (original lecture hall) at Sungkyunkwan

명륜당 앞뜰 두 그루의 은행 나무

명륜당 앞뜰 두 그루의 은행 나무

The ginkgo trees stand facing each other in the home of Korean Confucianism. For over six-hundred years, the leaves have grown in spring, cast shade in summer, and turned a bright gold then fallen delicately to the ground below in autumn. Now, the trees stand like two friends who have spent all their lives together and watch over us with their caring eyes from "The Dignity of Tree" by Lee Yang-ha.

The ginkgo trees are designated as Natural Monument No. 59 of Korea. The trees have a height of 21 meters and a chest-high circumference of 7.3 meters with branches spreading out 10.5 meters to the east, 12 meters to the west, 10 meters to the south, and 12 meters to the north.

The ginkgo trees here show a development of aerial roots hanging down from the branches, which is rarely seen in Korean ginkgo trees. Also, it is very interesting and unusual to note that the ginkgo trees in Sungkyunkwan are all non-fruit-bearing male trees.

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