Relic forests comprise very original and unique cultural vegetation corresponding to the indigenous culture in Korea. This study examines Korea’s traditional Confucian values as a determinant that allows even fragmented relic forests to survive, and tries to consider the preservation of the surviving forests. As research materials, five relic forests, which are typical and representative of such forests in terms of their size or structure, were selected: namely, Mansongjŏng of Andong, Sŏngbaksup of Sŏngju, Karosup of Ŭisŏng, Sangnim of Hamyang and Kyerim of Kyŏngju. Through a survey on the historical records of each relic forest, an eco-sociological reinterpretation of the origins of the forests was carried out. Also, an on-site phytosociological investigation of the relic forests and their habitat conditions was accomplished. The transformation of the cover-abundance value was used to indicate the tree species performance of each relic forest. All of the five relic forests were thought to have originated from “forests artificially created by certain classical scholars” from the dictionary interpretation of Chinese characters in the historical records. As a result of this study, however, it was found that all of the relic forests originated from natural forests. In spite of the efforts to preserve these relic forests, this misunderstanding about the origins of relic forests, was found to have resulted in the qualitative and quantitative degradation of the forests. Due to the Chosŏn Dynasty’s Confucian values, Korea’s relic forests could survive until the beginning of the twentieth century; however, they have undergone changes from ancient prehistoric times to today’s urban industrial times along with the decline of Confucian values. As a result of this study it was concluded that even the surviving relic forests are mostly disappearing. Korea’s relic forests are not a space of landscape gardening for amusement but are rather a ‘relic forest-traditional village ecotope’, namely a unique cultural space in which nature and humans are in harmony.
There are various types of relic forests including traditional rural forests (Jang Dongsoo and Kim Hakbeom 1993, 19–31; Kim Jongwon and Lim Jeongcheol 2007, 133–188), historical forests and ancient forests in Korea. These relic forests are characterized by the fact that they are very original and unique cultural forests corresponding to the indigenous local cultures. Traditional rural forests exist within the area of influence of village communities, having historical and cultural significance, and for this reason they are forests that play a special role in clan communities or village communities. Historical forests have been preserved since they have historical significance, which is confirmed by extant historical records. Ancient forests also have a long forest age.
The authors of this article judge that the original form of these relic forests was well maintained qualitatively and quantitatively until the end of the nineteenth century before the introduction of modern science to Korea, due to the practice of Chosŏn Korea’s Confucian values. In fact, Korea’s relic forests rapidly started to degenerate and decline at the beginning of the twentieth century after the annexation and occupation of Korea by the Japanese. Because of frequent human interference due to the forests’ low-altitude locations, their qualitative degradation and structural disturbance have continued until now. The Japanese colonial era (1910–1945), the Korean War (1950–1953), and the projects for the improvement of living environments carried out as part of the Saemaŭl Movement (in the 1970s) can all be said to be historical events that have had a severely negative impact on the relic forests. The intensive human interference with these relic forests has been proven by examining their species composition (Kim Jongwon 1993, 83).
Meanwhile, since the 1990s, many relic forests have been designated as targets of protection through legal designations as ‘Natural Monuments’ or ‘Forest Genetic Resources Reserve’, etc. and have been administered by the state or local governments (Choi Jaiung and Kim Dongyeob 2000, 51–65; Korea Forest Service 2006, 47). Moreover, at the state and local levels, by means of various methodological strategies, many academic studies on the preservation, restoration and recreation of these forests have been carried out (Jang Dongsoo and Kim Hakbeom 1993, 19–31; Jang Dongsoo, Lee Kumok and Kim Hakbeom 1993, 77–89; Kim Hakbeom 1992, 239–257). Nevertheless, these efforts have been found to have resulted in a series of management strategies that have negatively affected the integrity of the entire structure of the forests due to the removal of undergrowth trees (Kang Hyunkyung et al. 2004, 63–74) or the introduction of foreign species or invasive alien species to the sites of relic forests.
Ultimately, the surviving relic forests have in fact been quantitatively reduced despite the recent active measures taken in the fields of policy making, academic studies and management (Kim Jongwon and Lim Jeongcheol 2006, 81–114). For instance, about 70% of the historical forests in the Kyŏngju area have already disappeared (Hwang Sookyoung 2011, 9–11), and even the existing historical forests continue to be seriously damaged by distorted forest-management strategies.
The authors of this article judge that the reason for this result is that the authorities involved in managing relic forests fundamentally misunderstand their true nature. In other words, with the designation of the relic forests as targets of protection, the preceding studies carried out for their theoretical support were mainly limited to an interpretation of these forests as historical monuments and lacked a naturalistic understanding of them. Regarding the origin of the relic forests, it seems that the humanistic view that perceives them as “forests artificially formed by certain classical scholars or communities” (Kim Hakbeom, Jang Dongsoo, and Lee Seungje 2003, 90–93; Park Jaechul et al. 2004, 27–32) is an erroneous one that has given rise to a distorted forest-management strategy, while an academic understanding of the relic forests based on natural science has not been developed.
Since a forest is an aggregate of plant species that repeats the processes of birth, death and regeneration as time passes and a superorganism with life (interrelation among species) and ecology (interrelation among biological communities), it definitely has an origin. Thus, this tells us that essential and fundamental interpretations and discussions on the artificial origin and natural origin of the forests, at least for the recognition of the value of relic forests, must be undertaken.
This study selected five representative relic forests considering the size of the forests and the integrity of their phytosociological species composition and tries to prove the origins of the forests eco-sociologically. Especially, it attempts to discuss the interrelationship between relic forests and Korea’s Confucian values that were dominant until the end of the nineteenth century. Ultimately, this study examines the Confucian mentality behind the relic forests and tries to propose preservation strategies for their effective maintenance.
This paper examined five representative relic forests as shown in Table 1.
Mansongjŏng (萬松亭) covers Hahoe Village, P’ungch’ŏn-myŏn, Andong-si, Kyŏngsangbuk-to, and is a traditional,
Sŏngbaksup (forest outside the castle in Kyŏngsan-ri, Sŏngju) is a traditional, rural and
Karosup (forest traversing the landscape from south to north in Sach’on-ri, Ŭisŏng-kun) is a traditional ancient, rural and windbreak forest. It is located in Sach’on-ri, Chŏmgok-myŏn, Ŭisŏng-kun, Kyŏngsangbuk-to, a developing riverside in the alluvial fan, and a branch of Mich’ŏn stream. Karosup is known to have been created to block winds from the west from Andong to Sach’on-ri by Kim Chach’ŏm (金自瞻, 1369–1454), the ancestor of the Andong Kim clan (安東金氏) in 1392, at the end of the Koryŏ Dynasty (Kim Taechong 2006; Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea 2011), but there are no basic historical materials related to it. It was designated as a natural monument in 1999 (an area of 33,862 m²).
Sangnim (上林) in Hamyang is an ancient, traditional rural, and bankprotection (保堰,
Kyerim (鷄林) in Kyŏngju is a mythical, historical and religious forest that has been maintained till now as it is the site related to the tale of the birth of Kim Alchi (金閼智), the ancestor of the Kim Dynasty of Silla (Kim Pusik 2009, 54). It is located in Kyo-dong, Kyŏngju-si and was designated as a historical site in 1963 (with an area of 20,023 m²). Generally it is perceived to have been “formed,” (Hwang Junghwan 1999, 443–464; Jang Dongsoo, Kim Hakbeom and Hwang Junghwan 1996, 37–49; Tokumitsu 2007, 52–60) but there is no literature that provides “the proof of the formation.”
We carried out phytosociological investigations of these relic forests and ascertained the environmental conditions of each habitat and described their ecological information. To understand the tree species performance of each relic forest, Braun-Blanquet’s transformation of cover-abundance value was used; namely, 9: over 76%, 8: 51–75%, 7: 26–50%, 6: 12.5–25%, 5: 5–12.5%, 4: less than 5%, 3: less than 5% with few individuals size, 2: with three or four individuals, 1:one or two individuals. Tree species diversity is described by the population size of each species and the relative proportion of each was estimated based on Mansongjŏng, Andong. For related information obtained through a survey of historical records, an eco-sociological reinterpretation of the origins of the forests was also carried out.
The origins of the five relic forests studied are defined as naturally developing ones from the diversity of tree species that form each forest (Table 2). This is because the occurring tree species have the same ecological characteristics as the key species of potential natural vegetation (later PNV) in the cool-temperate southern/submontane zone and warm-temperate zone of the Korean peninsula corresponding to the site conditions of their relevant habitats. First, the major tree species of the relic forests are native species growing in response to the climatic and edaphic environments of the site conditions of the habitats, which are not alien species (introduced species or foreign species). In other words, except for
Second, key species such as
Third, it is not difficult to distinguish a natural topography from an artificial one. This is because, in general, artificial plantation accompanies the arrangement of the topography and the ground for the plantation, and as a consequence such artificial traces can be found in the shape of the habitats. If the topography is natural, the topography and ground are wild, developing through natural erosion or sedimentation mechanisms. In the relic forests in this study, the physical shape of the habitats, that is, the structures of their topography and microtopography have developed from their original shapes, which originated from natural mechanisms. This is also proved by the fact that the key tree species that constitute the forest canopies are the constituents of the potential natural vegetation corresponding to such original topography.
Andong’s Mansongjŏng (萬松亭) is commonly thought to be an artificial forest that originated from the ten thousand
Thus, Mansongjŏng is not an artificial forest but a forest that has natural origins. The formation and development of Hahoe Village were possible due to the fact that such pine forests as Mansongjŏng preexisted. Mansongjŏng had its essential significance and value as a
However, later scholars interpreted this phrase as meaning “I planted ten thousand
If Mansongjŏng forest is considered pioneer vegetation, the passage should be understood as meaning “I managed and grew countless
There are no historical records for the origin of the name of Sŏngju’s Sŏngbaksup except for the statement, “There had been Sŏgyosu (西郊藪), Ch’ŏnsu (泉藪) and Yulsu (栗藪) but they no longer exist” in
In conclusion, Sŏgyosu in
However, Sŏngbaksup has been greatly damaged since the 1950s as a result of urbanization and industrialization processes and has, therefore, been managed since it was designated as a natural monument—the strictest legal device to preserve natural heritage—in 1999. Nevertheless, since people have not recognized the ecological and biological processes of this natural willow forest developing on a floodplain, it has been ruined and has gradually reduced in size. Sŏngbaksup is a relic forest that demonstrates the Confucian authenticity of the ancient town of Sŏngju and the integrity of the
Karosup is situated on a terrace by Sach’on stream, Ŭisŏng-kun. It is a huge forest with an existing size of 40 m in width and 600 m in length, and is, therefore, the largest among the relic forests studied in this article. The actual vegetation of Karosup is phytosociologically classified as a deciduous broad-leaved mixed forest of a
Generally, the creation of Sŏrim (西林, West Forest) by Kim Chach’ŏm (1369–1454), known as the ancestor of Sach’on-ri village, is accepted as being the origin of Karosup (Kim Taehong 2006). However, there is no original literature proving this; it is simply assumed that a story handed down orally was eventually written down. The current Karosup is located to the west of Sach’on-ri village running north and south, from which it is known that Sŏrim, meaning “west forest” of the village, is also a
Some scholars believe that Karosup was artificially created for religious reasons (Jang Dongsoo and Kim Hakbeom 1993, 19–31). However, Karosup was evaluated as a natural forest from a phytosociological analysis of the PNV. The fact that the representative species such as
Also, the argument that it is a religious artificial forest is not a persuasive one due to the relationship between the formation of the village and the origin of the forest. In ancient times, in mountainous inland regions, the development of indigenous villages was inevitably dependent on the local natural surroundings and environmental conditions. In other words, a scenario whereby a village was formed first, and then a forest was created to protect the village is virtually impossible in a traditional agricultural society considering the people’s mode of living that was necessarily dependent on natural mechanisms. Instead, the village site would be chosen on the basis of human wisdom taking into account the environmental conditions in which a village might be built. In this context, Karosup was a natural structure that made a crucial contribution to the formation and sustainability of Sach’on-ri village. In fact, studies of the effects of the forest on the reduction of wind speed and water evaporation rate (Lee Dowon, Koh Insu and Park Chanryul 2007, 47–100) sufficiently support the assertion that Karosup existed as a natural structure even before there was the village. Therefore, the religious element behind Karosup is judged to have been caused by the hidden intention of a local scholar or the community to prevent the forest from damage at a certain point in time. Karosup is a relic forest that functions as a windbreak against the prevailing northwest wind, a
Karosup was a forest with a natural origin, therefore, and the village community clearly perceived this, but the fact that it was one that was also managed is shown in the diversity of the species in Karosup. Evidence of this is the large, old oaks (
Despite this intentional management of Karosup, its plant diversity is very high. In general, it is different from afforested vegetation or park landscaped forests which are managed using uniform and simple plant species (Bae Byungho, Yoon Yonghan, and Kim Jeongho 1998, 701–710). The diversity Karosup’s plant species is about fifty-four times that of Mansongjŏng—the highest diversity among the target relic forests of this study. Also, the ratio of the PNV’s components indicative of the typicality of the habitat condition among the entire plant species was 78.4%—also the highest ratio. This means that Karosup is essentially different from artificial afforestation or park-forest and that it has long been managed in a way that demonstrates that the local community was in harmony with the forest’s ecological properties and vitality.
Since the onset of the urban industrial era in the twentieth century, however, the original form of Karosup has been distorted by a variety of management methods that have inevitably caused its qualitative decline. A typical example is the introduction of the invasive alien species
Sangnim (上林) is located in the warm-temperate evergreen broad-leaved forest zone in the southern part of the Korean peninsula and has the greatest surviving area among the target relic forests in this study. According to legend, the forest was created in the Silla Dynasty by Ch’oe Ch’iwŏn (崔致遠, 857–?) when he was the governor-general of Ch’ŏnnyŏng-kun (now Hamyang-kun) (Institute for the Translation of Korean Classics 1969, 196). It is recorded that the forest was planted by the family in 1923, based on a passage in Ch’oe Ch’iwŏn’s
But this study reaches the conclusion that Sangnim originated from a natural forest based on a phytosociological analysis of the diversity and nativeness of the arbor species. The phrase “建學士樓手植林木於長堤” could mean that Ch’oe Ch’iwŏn built a long bank somewhere in the Sangnim area, planted some plants there and soon afterwards built Haksaru (學士樓, a pavilion).
Sangnim can be said to be a remnant vegetation of mixed summergreen broad-leaved forests where the typical components of PNV such as
An ecological proof that could support the above assertion can also be found in the structures of the surface (Figure 4) and underground of the site where Sangnim has developed. On the Korean peninsula, the natural and typical habitat of
Confucian scholars Ch’oe Ch’iwŏn (崔致遠), Kim Chong-jik (金宗直) and Pak Chiwŏn (朴趾源) focused on Sangnim as originating from a natural forest
Therefore, Sangnim was not a space of consumptive amusement or event celebration. It can be assumed that no artificial structure, whether pavilion or tower, was installed in Sangnim for almost one thousand years from the days of Ch’oe Ch’i-wŏn, the governor-general of Hamyang, Chŏmp’ilchae Kim Chongjik and Yeonam Pak Chiwŏn through the latter era of the Chosŏn Dynasty to the twentieth century. Currently all artificial structures including Hamhwaru (咸化樓), Saŭnjŏng (思雲亭), and Ch’osŏnjŏng (樵仙亭), which are the elements that deaden the originality of Sangnim, were built after the 1900s (Figure 5).
Thus, Sangnim is a natural structure, that is, a natural heritage forest, and at the same time, a cultural heritage related to the practice of Confucian values. In such a context, Sangnim Forest is evaluated as one of the world’s rare and precious “natural-cultural heritage forests.”
Kyerim (鷄林) is a mythical relic forest associated with the birth legend of Kim Alchi, the founding ancestor of the Kyerim (Silla) nation. Kyerim, a summergreen broad-leaved forest consisting of various broad-leaved plant species and Najŏng, an evergreen needle-leaved forest consisting of
The fragment of
Among the major species comprising the actual forest of Kyerim, the PNV of the alluvial plain and lowland that ultimately forms in the environmental conditions of Kyerim is the cold-temperate southern/submontane forest or the warm-temperate summergreen broad-leaved forest consisting of
Plant species, except the elements of the PNV, are a heterogeneous species group that belongs to the ecological categories of introduced and foreign species to the habitats of Kyerim Forest. Especially,
The Kyerim monument house is micro-topographically located in the highest place in the Kyerim area, and is the key site from which the liveliness and ecological properties of the habitat of Kyerim forest are derived. In this way it is like the area’s navel. At the rear of the Kyerim monument house are cut granite stones that resemble the Chinese character
Currently, however, the
The matrix of Kyerim is widely occupied by a
Kyerim has been preserved as a protected forest in a historical site (Cultural Heritage Administration designated an area of 23,023 m² in 1963). However, the site management has included serious anti-ecological and anti-historical elements. As there was no chance for
In conclusion, it is recognized that the identity and ecological properties of Kyerim have been thoroughly damaged due to the perception of its origin as an artificially created forest and due to excessive management caused by its objectification as a cultural heritage site. This has occurred in tandem with the decline of human- and nature-friendly Confucian values caused by Korea’s rapid entrance into the industrial era along with the downfall of the Confucian state, Chosŏn.
The driving force behind surviving relic forests originates in Confucianism, the ideological base of the modern times (historical period closest to contemporary times–Chosŏn Dynasty), and these forests have been preserved by the prophetic wisdom of the classical scholars of Confucianism. Furthermore, most relic forests remain in Yŏngnam province where Confucianism is rooted most deeply and widely.
In Confucianism, great importance is attached to customs related to community morals, which have been led by the virtuous example of Confucian scholars who have always advocated benevolent rule. Thus, scholars became the masters of community rituals and Confucian saints. As such they were the ones who best embodied the community, in other words, they were ideal men and sages (Choi Jaemok 2004, 52–67; Kaji 1999, 70–103). In this sense, the Confucian values of T’oegye (退溪) Yi Hwang (李滉, 1501–1570) or Nammyŏng (南冥) Cho Sik (曺植, 1501–1572) are connected to eco-sociology that pursues the completeness and happiness of nature, including humans, by exploring the ultimate principles of vitality and the ecological properties of nature. Here, nature would mean “good mountains and rivers,” “good forests” and “good plants” with ecological completeness. The relationship between Confucian scholars and nature may be found in the name
In the phrase “
To Confucian scholars, these forests were places for seclusion and pursuit of study, and the more complete forests they were, the better they were as spaces for their self-cultivation in which they practiced and confirmed the contents of the scriptures of their sages (Choi Jaemok 2004, 52–67). Thus, probably in the same vein, Nammyŏng wished that he could be a scholar in the mountains and woods without taking up public office himself (Kim Chungyull 2008, 89–94/486–488). Here,
All the five target relic forests in this study are places where Confucian ideology and philosophy have long been practiced, and the Confucian customs remaining until the beginning of the twentieth century contributed to the survival of the relic forests. As consequential evidence, in the five relic forests of the study, there were no facilities that could prove that they functioned as spaces of play and amusement, such as pavilions or towers. This shows that relic forests protected peace (life and property) as concrete practices of love for the people, and furthermore, were perceived as “good forests” that enabled people to come face to face with the sages, showing a long tradition based on Confucian values. But the traditional culture of these relic forests was definitely spoiled during the Japanese colonial era, and ultimately, they hardly survive due to the process of industrialization and urbanization today.
The origin of the relic forests culture can be found in that the survival of village communities definitely depended on them. The relic forests that maintain the life, property and peace of the clan communities or village communities do not originate from artificially formed forests (Kim Hakbeom and Jang Dongsoo 1994, 30–33). In other words, a relic forest culture appeared due to a series of processes. There was initially a forest originating from a natural forest. A place where humans could settle was provided thanks to the existence of the forest, so a village was formed, and the village community came to manage the forest with an awareness of its functionalities. Thus, in the results of this research, the origin of relic forest culture has been proven to be related to the type of the source of the relic forest. The target relic forests of this study are classified into five types of cultural relic forests, namely,
These various cultural types of relic forests are categorized according to two functionalities: 1) the issue of biological survival by responding to natural disasters; and 2) that of social survival centering on absolute power. Nach’ŏng called the first
Korea’s relic forests’ traditional village ecotope is, in fact, completely transitioning from the ‘Gemeinschaft’ of the ancient prehistoric era to the ‘Gesellschaft’ of the urban industrial era (Lee Younghee and Lim Hunyeong 2010, 522–523).
The disorder of species composition within the original phytocoenosen in each relic forest is not caused naturally but by humans. Although the species composition in relic forests surely derives from the properties of the integration of the relevant habitat conditions, they have been managed from a human perspective that has regarded their formation as being artificial. Foreign and exotic plant species, which never suited the ecological properties of the relic forests, have been introduced and continue to be introduced until now. Management even more violent than this has resulted in the removal of the forest itself, excluding the ecological and historical properties of the relic forests. Seven out of the eleven relic forests around the Kyŏngju area have disappeared altogether, and these are examples of the disappearance of forests due to the straightening of the river (Hwang Sookyoung 2011, 9–11).
There is a passage in
Relic forest culture being misunderstood as a
The value of the ecosystem services of relic forests are summarized as follows: (1) they are important places for feeding wildlife, providing spaces for breeding and resting shelters, for securing biological diversity and gene banks, and contributing to the ecosystem’s productivity through complete mutual relations; (2) they are important for air purification and material decomposition; (3) they act as buffers against natural disasters and are useful for monitoring environmental change; (4) they are spaces for buffering the local climate and fixing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide; (5) they preserve aspects of the symbolism, originality and historicity of the traditional geography and culture such as
Relic forests are a key ecosystem preserving local environmental conditions and highly valuable forests in terms of conservation biology and humanities. Therefore, relic forests are a model that will allow humans and nature to live a sustainable life in cities if they are recreated through ecological preservation and restoration.
[Figure 4.] The natural condition of the micro-topography on the Sangnim forest floor. The dominant species of the forest canopy is Carpinus tschonoskii, which is a major element of the potential natural vegetation of the Sangnim area (May 20, 2011).
[Figure 6.] Two elm trees barely surviving by the wall of the Kyerim monument house (left photo, September 5, 2008), and king willows (Salix chaenomeloides) occurring on low-lying ground in the Kyerim area (right photo, July 16, 2010).
1Editor’s note: In this section of the references the preferred romanization of the authors’ names and the original English translations of the titles of their articles have been used at the request of the authors of this article.