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King to appoint palace royal guards in reenactment of court ceremony at Gyeongbokgung Palace

March 22, 2023 - 17:19 By Hwang Dong-hee
Actors reenact the royal guard appointment ceremony in 2022. (Cultural Heritage Administration)

A reenactment of the Joseon Kingdom's royal guard appointment ceremony will take place at Heungnyemun Gate, the second inner gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace, at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Titled “The King Chooses His Palace Royal Guard,” the guard appointment ceremony event will be performed by some 200 people -- including 160 actors, 20 dancers and 20 musicians -- who will reimagine the ceremony based on historical records.

During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), a royal guard unit called the “sumunjang” was responsible for opening and closing the walls and gates of the five palaces of Seoul, guarding, patrolling and conducting other related duties.

The sumunjang is first mentioned in records during the seventh year of King Sejo’s reign (1462), but the guards at that time were appointed temporarily.

It wasn't until the first year of King Yejong’s reign (1469) that the sumunjang were officially appointed. The importance of the palace guards was emphasized as gatekeeping was crucial for the safety of the royal family.

Dancers perform a sword dance during the royal guard appointment ceremony in 2022. (Cultural Heritage Administration)

The ceremony to appoint the royal guards is a dramatic re-creation of the event reproduced by the Cultural Heritage Administration and Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation, based on documentation of the first official appointment of the sumunjang in 1469 in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty.

The heads of the sumunjang were appointed through a selection process in which the king put a dot on the names of his most trusted people from a list of recommended senior officials. The appointed gatekeepers were responsible for the front line of palace escort duties, guarding the palace and city gates.

For this year’s ceremony, seven head gatekeepers and their guards from the following places have been invited to be officially appointed by the king: Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace and Deoksugung Palace in Seoul; Incheon Airport; Jinjuseong Fortress in South Gyeongsang Province; Gangneung-daedohobu Government Office in Gangwon Province; and Jeju-mok Government Office on Jeju Island.

In the ceremony, it will be possible to note the different characteristics of the guards' attire based on the region and period. The Gyeongbokgung Palace unit has restored its guards' attire to the early Joseon period, while other regions' units have restored their guards' attire to the late Joseon period. The attire of each unit varies depending on which king's era it is based on.

The poster for this year's “The King Chooses His Palace Royal Guard” ceremony event (Cultural Heritage Administration)

The Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation’s performance arts group will kick off the ceremony by performing the “Taepyeongmu,” a Korean traditional dance aiming to wish a great peace for the country.

After the appointment ceremony, Jinjuseong Fortress and Jeju-mok Government Office will showcase a joint martial arts demonstration. The KCHF’s performance arts group will then perform a sword dance.

Prior to the main event, a hands-on event to experience the process of selecting “gapsa,” the elite warriors of the Joseon Kingdom's central army, will be open to some 50 people on a first come, first served basis, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. near Hyeopsaengmun Gate, to the right of Heungnyemun Gate.

Participants will experience “bongsul,” a type of traditional martial art using a five-foot-long stick, and “gukgung,” or Korean archery.