[KS] Facing South

gkl1 at columbia.edu gkl1 at columbia.edu
Mon Sep 24 23:17:35 EDT 2007

   The KPA Lt. Col. indeed had a historical background for his
comment. The ancient sensibility behind it was probably originally
Chinese, but over the early centuries C.E. it was internalized all
over East Asia. The ancient tradition was that the emperor or king
faced south, and his subordinates faced north. This basic rule
played out among all the lower levels of authority, so that,
especially in formal ceremonies, the superiors would face south,
the inferiors north. One will notice that capital cities throughout
East Asia have the main government building facing south. Kyongbok
Palace is a typical example. In this, the tradition also plays out
geomantically in houses and graves, which ideally will face the
warmer side, the south.
   This south-pointing orientation is so deeply entrenched in
classical texts and many common place names that "left" will mean
east, and "right" west. On the east-west axis the east was usually
treated as the superior side, probably because the sun rose in the
east. Thus, in traditional ceremonies with the king facing south,
the civil officials (who lorded it over the military) stood facing
north on the east side of the courtyard, while the military
officials stood on the western side.
   In 993, when Koryo was negotiating with the Khitan over a
sensitive frontier issue in the area around the mouth of the Amnok
(Yalu) River, the Khitan general sat on the north side of the room
and faced south. So Hui (Seo Heui), the Korean negotiator, refused
to negotiate in this posture since it implied that Koryo was the
inferior party. He persuaded the general to sit on the west side
while he sat on the inside. From that time on, he dominated the
negotiations (according to the reports of that time) and to this
day his exploits and patriotism are rehearsed year after year in
the public schools of Korea--both halves.
   The traditional north-south axis represents superior-inferior.
But in military negotiations, this easily translates into
victor-vanquished. I have seen instances of this in many different
traditional sources.

Gari Ledyard

Quoting "Walter L. Keats" <walter.keats at asia1on1.com>:

> Question regarding where the victors and losers sat for the
> Armistice
> signing.
> On my last two visits (this August and September) to Panmunjom
> from the
> North we, as usual, visited the two Armistice related halls, the
> one for the
> negotiations and the other for the signing.  For both these times
> the
> briefer, described as a KPA lieutenant colonel, gave the
> following
> explanation for the placement of the three tables in the signing
> hall.
> (There are three tables aligned on the north-south axis.  The
> middle table
> was empty, kind of a spacer.  The signers sat on the western side
> of their
> respective tables facing east.  The northern table is where the
> representative sat and the southern table is where the UN, or as
> they say,
> the US representative, sat.)  The Colonel said that the "victors"
> sat on the
> north and the "losers" sat on the south.
> I have visited this hall various times since 1995 and no one
> previously had
> made this geographically related comment.  Was this just a
> flippant comment
> by a gung-ho soldier or is there a tradition in Korea (and
> possibly other
> Asian countries) that the victor sits in the north while the
> loser sits in
> the south?  Given the emphasis in Asian dynastic cultures on
> palaces being
> built on a north-south axis, with the seated leader on his throne
> facing
> south, I could see this as a logical extension of that geographic
> preoccupation.
> Can anyone clarify this for me?  If this is the case, does anyone
> know why
> the UN signers didn't know about this, other than that the South
> Koreans
> refused to sign and were therefore not "in the loop"?
> Walter L. Keats, CTC, CMP
> President
> Asia Pacific Travel, Ltd.
> P.O. Box 350
> Kenilworth, IL 60043-0350 USA
> Tel:              1-847-251-6400
> Fax:              1-847-256-5601
> Email:           walter.keats at asia1on1.com
> Websites:     www.asia1on1.com <http://www.asia1on1.com/>
>                      www.northkorea1on1.com
> <http://www.northkorea1on1.com/>
> .

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