[KS] Re: Seoul

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at fas.harvard.edu
Wed Sep 1 00:44:05 EDT 1999

>Does anyone know why and/or when the name of the capital city of Hanyang
>was changed to "Seoul"?
>Any help that you could provide would be appreciated.
>Mark J. Sweetin

You may look it up in any Korean or Western lexica, or even in the Kugo

>From the Britannica:
>>Seoul was the capital of Korea from 1394 until the formal
division of the country in 1948. The name itself has come to mean
"capital" in the Korean language. The city was popularly called Seoul in
Korean during both the Yi dynasty (1392-1910) and the period of Japanese
rule (1910-45), although the official names in those periods were Hansong
and Kyongsong, respectively. The city was also popularly and, during
most of the 14th century, officially known as Hanyang. Seoul became the
official name of the city only with the founding of South Korea.

Name changes of East Asian cities were pretty common.  Today's Beijing
(Peking), for example, was called Nanjing (southern capital) during the
Liao Dynasty. The Jurchen named it first Zhongdu (middle capital) and they
had moved their Manchurian capital here now called the new main capital
Yanjing (capital of Yan, in Korean sources often called Yanshi); the
Mongols called it Dadu (great capital) while Marco Polo spoke of Canbaluc
(city of the Khan). During the Ming Dynasty it became Beiping (northern
freedom). Shortly after (1403) it was called Beijing (northern capital) --
until 1928 when the Nationalists renamed it Beiping -- and when they lost
the civil war the communists renamed it to become again Beijing (which, I
believe, is still not accepted in Taiwan). You'll find similar renaming
processes in Japan and with other Korean place names  .... not only cities,
but also, for example, mountains. There are many names for "Kumgang-san,"
for example, and they do (did) coexist at the same time. A mountain may be
called by another name depending on the time of the year (fall, summer..),
or by different names in a mudang's text than in government documents.
During one century a certain name may have been more popular than another.
In the case of Seoul, it is important to notice that this is a Korean word.
With the tributary relations between Korea and China it would not have been
possible to use "Seoul" as the official name for the Korean capital,
unless, of course, someone could have convinced the Chinese court to learn
Han'gul. Starting with the late 19th century independence and reform
movement, Han'gul became a key symbol of Korean cultural, historical, and
ethnic independence; so it is only natural that "Seoul" was chosen to
become the official name of the capital of an independent Korean state.


Frank Hoffmann * 1961 Columbia Pike #42 * Arlington, VA 22204 * USA
E-MAIL: hoffmann at fas.harvard.edu
W W W : http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hoffmann/


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