Introducing Haechi: Gyeongbokgung’s Guardian And SNSD’s Friend
Have you listened to SNSD‘s song “My Friend Haechi” before? You might have wondered, “who is Haechi” and “why is he SNSD’s friend?” Haechi is a legendary creature that stands guard outside Gyeongbokgung – “the Palace greatly blessed by Heaven”- and keeps watch over the tourists flocking in and out of this historical palace.
Founded by King Taejo (Yi Seong-gye) in 1395, 3 years after the establishment of the Joseon period, the Gyeonbokgung in Seoul, Korea today is not the same as the one built then. Having been through its own set of trials and tribulations, it is no wonder that Haechi has much work to do in order to preserve the history of Gyeongbokgung even as reconstruction works are ongoing to restore it to its formal glory.
- The haechi seen at Gwanghwamun can be regarded as the basic image of the haechi, but that particular image breaks away from the existing conventional shape/form of the haechi.
- The haechi has its head slightly tilted backwards and its gaze is directed towards the heavens
- A dynamic and forward-looking image by the expression is etched on the haechi
- Symbol: Seoul–blue, Dancheong–red, Namsan- green, ancient palaces–brown
The protector of stability and the bringer of hope and happiness, Haechi has about 600 years of cultural history and is regarded as an intelligent animal. As a righteous animal, it is said to attack those who commit wrong with their horn, so if you have offended someone and come face to face with a haechi in Seoul, it might be time to turn tail and run hurriedly to the person whom you have done wrong to and apologize!
Placed in Gyeongbokgung to protect the palace from the strong “fire” energy emitted by Gwanaksan (mountain), it ultimately encapsulates the desire of the builders of the palace for Gyeonbokgung to never be faced with a fire, especially in olden times, when buildings were faced with the threats of fire.
The Gyeongbokgung we see today was rebuilt and the project to restore it to its original state has been ongoing since 1990. First completely destroyed by the Japanese during the Hiideyoshi invasions of 1592~8, it was reconstructed in 1867, and then 93% of it was again torn down during the Japanese Occupation. Hence, it might not be an exaggeration to say that Gyeongbokgung is a symbol of the ever-enduring spirit of the Koreans in face of external troubles. To find out more about Gyeongbokgung and its historical and cultural significance, you can join the free one-hour guided English tours conducted daily at 9.30am, 12pm, 1.30pm and 3pm.
When you do visit Gyeongbokgung, do take some time to internalise the deep meanings and history hidden in its grounds, you will realise that the Haechi smiling to you on the streets – as seen below – does more than just welcoming you to Korea!
Keep a lookout for the Haechi taxis!
In the meantime, if you want to find out more about Gyeongbokgung, you might want to click here.
For all other Korea Joa 2015 articles, click here.
Korea Joa 2015 is participated by Adrian Cheng and Sng Yunting
Photos by Adrian Cheng, Technical assistance by Phan Seckvoon