Daegu Hyanggyo Confucian Academy

published by Devon Furbush

By definition, a hyanggyo is a Confucianism academy officially run and sponsored by the state that also serves as a preparation site for the civil service exam. These academies were built respectively during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). Daegu Hyanggyo (Daegu Confucian Academy) was established in the year 1398 as a regional learning institution for following the way of Confucian scholars. However, a fire during the 1592 Imjin Japanese Invasion completely destroyed it, but reconstruction brought it back to life. From 1599 to 1932 it went through numerous relocations going back and forth to Dalseong Park twice, the Gyodong area, and to the current location in Namsan-dong.

*Fun fact: The Confucius statue above was donated by Qingdao, China, one of the many sisters city of Daegu*

Why did people want to study for the civil service exam??

Those who took the civil service examination were normal people, mostly men, who wanted to reach a status in the ruling upper class known as yangban. This exam measured the applicant’s abilities of stylized writing, expertise in medicine and law, and knowledge of Chinese classics. As you can guess, it was extremely demanding in Korean society as being a yangban gave one a respectable social status and an impeccable reputation. The children of those who passed the exam also attended school here. The size of a hyanggyo ranged from normal-sized buildings to ones the size of a modern-day city or county. Though hyanggyos appealed to the masses, sooner or later they would become unfit to compete with the special independently-run seodangs and seowons.

Daeseongjeon shrine hall

There are two main buildings: the lecture hall called Myeongyundang, and the Confucian shrine hall called Daeseongjeon. The latter is the ‘Daegu Local Cultural Material No. 1’ and, as you guessed it, is not open to roam around. If you were to go inside you can see enshrined memorial tablets of Confucian sages. Hyanggyos around the country look more or less the same across the board, but seeing this one and knowing its status as #1 in Daegu is pretty awesome. Every year on the 2nd and 8th Lunar months (February and August) a ceremony called Seokjeon-daejae honoring Confucius and other renowned scholars in Daegu is held.

Myeongundang lecture hall

This is the biggest area on the grounds. It consists of three buildings that are now open to attend lectures on classic Chinese characters and Korean etiquette. On the weekends you can even get a glimpse of a traditional Korean wedding. It took me three visits to get a good picture of Myeongyundang since the weekends are mostly occupied by weddings and it isn’t open on Mondays and Tuesdays. (also the reason why some pictures are sunny and the others are cloudy)

Nakyukjae study center

Nakyukjae was the first public library in Daegu (built in 1721) and this developmental study center cultivated a local culture. Built for spreading education to talented scholars all over the Gyeongsang Province, it also handed out scholarships to outstanding students that would help the region to further scholastic research. Here, students studied classics and honed their writing skills for poetry and composition while living in nearby dormitories. Unfortunately, after Japan established the Residency-general in the early 1900s all school systems of Joseon were abolished, including Nakyukjae. However, it was later reconstructed in 1990.

Yangsajae study room

This young scholars’ study room called Yangsajae (built in 1766) was seated outside of Daegu Hyanggyo. As the name states, selected Confucian students were housed here while they furthered their education. It was also used as the location for taking the civil service examination. It looks like it only has one level, but apparently, there is an upper floor educational discipline hall that holds meetings for the Women Association and Women Manners Cultivating Research Institute of Daegu Hyanggyo. The first floor is where calligraphy lessons are taught.

My thoughts on Daegu Hyanggyo

While this isn’t my first time coming here, I have to say I’m more impressed with this place than I was before. And it really makes me wonder how many historical monuments and buildings were destroyed during battles that never got reconstructed. At one point, the Japanese Empire put a grip on Korean culture and education which means there are still many things and places that couldn’t recover in modern society.  

Address: 112 Myeongnyun-ro, Namsan 1(il)-dong, Jung-gu, Daegu, South Korea


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