When I first visited Korea in 2008, one of the first things I was taken to see was a tree. It doesn’t sound very interesting, does it? That is until you hear the urban legend that surrounds it. The Hanging Tree of Gyeongju.
Gyeongju was capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla between 57 BC and 935 AD, and ruled about two-thirds of the Korean peninsula. The city is famous for its giant burial tombs, and right in the heart of downtown is the largest of them all, Bong-hwang-dae (봉황대).
Though I can find little evidence for it, this is how the legend goes.
During Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th Century, young Korean women were subjected to a miserable life of subservience, in some cases even sexual slavery. They were forced into menial labor and used as playthings for the high-ranking Japanese officers (this part is 100% true), but rather than suffer the humiliation that such a stigma brought upon them and their families, many of those girls took their own lives by hanging themselves from the tree.
When you see the tree, it’s so easy to imagine that really happening. The way that the large branch arches down from the side of the tomb, as if baring the weight of a hundred tortured souls, seems to qualify the tragic event, and though I want to believe that it isn’t true, that it was just a myth after all, it’s hard not to believe, when both the tomb and the tree ooze misery and sadness.
First image credit HERE All other photos by me, at Steven Moore Photography