[KS] Officially condoned cultural vandalism: the destruction of hanok in Kahoi Dong

Afostercarter at aol.com Afostercarter at aol.com
Wed Aug 31 04:33:14 EDT 2005

Dear Listmembers,

The joy of the World Wide Web, as we know, is
the way one thing leads to another ....

Wondering who this David Kilburn was, 
who kindly sends me articles from time to time
- I don't know him personally, so far as I know -
I googled, as one does...

... and found the sorry tale of official vandalism below.

Is this widely known? (it was news to me).
How can such things happen now, in the C21, 
in a country which has a strong Green movement
- where a fasting nun can hold up the final stage of the 
Seoul-Pusan high speed train link to protect a lizard! -
and which (I thought) was genuinely concerned to
preserve its precious cultural heritage?

Yours in deep dismay, 

Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds University 

Home address: 17 Birklands Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire, BD18 3BY, UK 
tel: +44(0)  1274  588586         (alt) +44(0) 1264 737634          mobile:  
+44(0)  7970  741307 
fax: +44(0)  1274  773663         ISDN:   +44(0)   1274 589280
Email: afostercarter at aol.com     (alt) afostercarter at yahoo.com      website: 
[Please use @aol; but if any problems, please try @yahoo too - and let me 
know, so I can chide AOL]



The Destruction of Kahoi Dong

After six hundred years at the heart of Korean cultural and social life, 
Seoul's Kahoi Dong district, "the place where beauty gathers," is being 
relentlessly destroyed. Kahoi Dong is the last district in Seoul where there are whole 
streets of Hanoks, preserving the ambience of Seoul a century ago. These old 
homes are now being bulldozed to be replaced by two storey buildings built 
mainly of concrete and decorated with a topping of traditional-style architecture.

For readers outside Korea: Hanoks are single-storey buildings based on a 
cubical framework of interlocking wooden beams that rest on blocks of stone. Other 
materials used to complete the buildings are also wholly natural materials 
such as straw, mulberry paper, and clay. The materials and methods are 
fundamentally the same as those used to build the royal palaces of the Choson dynasty 
as well the old Buddhist temples, many of which have been lovingly restored in 
recent years.

These new developments are financed partly via government grants and low 
interest loans. In a typical example, the owners of Kahoi Dong 31-96 were given a 
government grant of Won 30 million and an interest-free long term loan of Won 
20 million for "Hanok Repair and Redecoration." This money was used to 
completely demolish a fine hanok and erect a modern two-storey building which has 
also been licensed to operate as a wine bar. These arrangements were authorised 
by officials at Chongro-gu who assert " . . there are no proper regulations 
governing these matters."

The new developments bring great profit to speculative developers who 
purchase the land at prices based on single storey dwellings and immediately re-sell 
it at far higher prices, exploiting loopholes in various regulations to erect 
two-storey buildings.

As a result, Seoul's last hanok district is being destroyed; government 
grants to encourage preservation are being made available solely for demolition; 
and ordinary people are denied the chance to realise the fair value of their 

More documents will be added to this site to show what is being done by 
speculative construction companies under the guise of "preservation," and with the 
help of local government officials in Chongro-gu, and the support of the Mayor 
of Seoul. 

David Kilburn
June 30th 2005

Message Board - (coming soon)
Links (will open in new windows)
Picture Gallery New Buildings that replace the old
Views (in autumn) of our own Hanok at Kahoi Dong 31-79
Speculation: How land values are manipulated in Kahoi Dong
Who are JAHO (the construction company demolishing Kahoi Dong)
Media.Daum Report (August 9th 2005)
Pansori Concert at Kahoi-dong 31-79 on August 27 2005 
TV MBC Television (2005/7/21), TBS Television (2005/8/6) KTV (2005/8/12)
A meeting at the Chongrogochung (Video) July 14th 2005 
An open letter to the President of Korea Korean / English July 6th 2005
Dong-A Ilbo July 1 2005 - protest about destruction in Kahoi Dong (Korean)
Joong Ang Ilbo June 27 2005 - about our own Hanok (Korean)
Government grants to demolish a hanok and build a wine bar! March 2005
Letter to the Mayor of Seoul November 7th 2004 (English)
Kim Ki-Duk selects our Hanok for filming "Bin Jip" August 2004 (English)
The House of Choi September 1990 - about our own Hanok ( also as PDF) 
How you can Help Help needed!  Last Updated: Monday, August 22, 2005 6:13 PM 


A letter to President Roh Moo-hyun
    July 6th 2005

Dear Mr. President,

Since 1987, my wife and I have made our Korean home in Kahoi Dong, one of the 
last districts in Seoul where you could still find streets lined with 
traditional hanok. We made this choice the day I saw my first hanok. It was love at 
first sight, and we have enjoyed the pleasures of wood, paper, stone, and the 
ondol ever since. We have also enjoyed adapting a traditional hanok for modern 
life while preserving the peace and charm of its essential Korean character.

In 1990, as a journalist, I had the opportunity to write about our own hanok 
and Kahoi-Dong for “Wingspan,” a magazine published by All Nippon Airways. 
This was one of the first articles in English about hanok to reach a wide 
audience. More recently, in 2004, filmmaker Kim Ki-Duk selected our house for 
filming scenes for his movie “Bin Jip” – he wanted a hanok that reflected 
traditional Korean values in contrast with other, newer, homes that appear in the film. 
Kim Ki-Duk later won the Silver Lion for best director at the Venice Film 
Festival in 2004 for “Bin Jip. This year, on June 27th, the Joong Ang Ilbo 
published an article about these matters.

Much has changed since 1987. At various times, the government has relaxed or 
tightened controls on the re-development of Kahoi-Dong. As a result, the once 
traditional streets now have occasional apartment blocks or other modern-style 
buildings. However, a few years ago Seoul city government launched plans to 
preserve the whole of Bukchon as part of the capital’s historical and cultural 
treasure. The city government offered grants and low interest loans to help 
residents with restoration work on their own properties.

Yet in our own part of Bukchon, Kahoi-Dong 31, the results are the opposite 
of what could be hoped. One after another, traditional hanok are being 
demolished and replaced by modern, two storey buildings. These typically have a first 
floor of reinforced concrete and steel and a second floor built hanok-style. 
Such buildings have no place in a district preserving Seoul’s heritage. Even 
more sadly, the demolished buildings would all have benefited from careful 
restoration work and repair.

One of the new buildings, Kahoi-Dong 31-96, apparently received government 
funding and was granted a business license for a wine bar and other commercial 

The new buildings exploit construction laws and planning regulations to 
betray the spirit of the original plan. The new buildings offer immense profit to 
the speculative construction company that erects them.

We have contacted and met officials of the Chongroguchung many times since 
June 7th 2004 and submitted many complaints to them about how these new works 
have damaged our own house. At every encounter, officials told us that we were 
powerless since all the new works were officially approved. We were told to go 
away, to move out, and to give up. Last year, I also wrote to Seoul City Mayor 
Lee Myung-Bak and, more recently, met Chongro-gu Mayor Kim Choong-Yong to 
protest what is happening. All this has been to no avail. At a recent meeting in 
Mayor Kim’s office, we were told “that we were too late, that nothing could 
be done.”

Last year, we applied for a grant to do more restoration and repair work on 
our own house. Plans were submitted by a professional architect but rejected 
because “we would be destroying some authentic Chosun features.” The features 
cited were alterations we made in 1990’s, yet photographic evidence of this was 
rejected, and the bulldozers continued to obliterate all the features of 
neighbouring buildings. It appears the Chongroguchung is only willing to grant 
money for preservation work that involves total demolition by a favoured 
construction company.

My concern is a simple one. I have spent 18 years of my life preserving and 
restoring one single hanok to which I feel greatly attached. I do not wish to 
see all this work wasted. Considering the history of the last century – the 
depredations of the Japanese, the ravages of the Korean War, the iron rule of 
military dictators – it is amazing that much of Korea’s traditional culture has 
survived. When I reflect on how public officials neglect and betray their 
duties to help preserve what has survived, it truly brings tears to my eyes. 

Mr. President, I feel there are two questions that require attention:
1. How to preserve what little remains of the authentic Bukchon
2. The nature of the relationship between construction companies and public 
officials concerned with new building in Kahoi dong 31. Who benefits and how 
from these developments?

Most Respectfully,

David & Jade Kilburn




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