The Korea Herald


[Editorial] End of an era

Cheong Wa Dae opens to public, going into history as site secluded from people

By Korea Herald

Published : May 12, 2022 - 05:30

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Cheong Wa Dae opened to the public shortly after President Yoon Suk-yeol’s inauguration ceremony Tuesday, ending its 74-year-old role as the site for the presidential office and residence.

Also called the Blue House, its status as the pinnacle of power -- which has been maintained by 12 presidents from the first President Syngman Rhee -- became history.

Many citizens from across the country visited Cheong Wa Dae on the day. They said that it was amazing and meaningful to walk down promenades on the grounds, once available only to those in power.

Cheong Wa Dae used to be a backyard garden of Gyeongbok Palace, the residence of the Japanese governor-general of Korea during its colonial occupation, and the residence of the commander of the US military government of Korea. From the beginning, it was a space thoroughly cut off from the outside.

Several presidents, including former President Moon Jae-in, attempted to move the presidential office out of Cheong Wa Dae. Their relocation attempts fell through due to concerns over presidential security and difficulties in finding an appropriate alternative site. Despite concerns and controversies, Yoon carried out his plan to return Cheong Wa Dae to the people and moved the presidential office several kilometers away to the defense ministry building in Yongsan-gu, central Seoul.

Cheong Wa Dae, situated at the foot of Mount Bugak, occupies a big swath of land whose area is about 250,000 square meters -- more than three times that of the US White House.

The complex consists of the main office building, the presidential residence, a state guest house, a press hall and secretariat buildings, among others.

The compound has much to see. Nokjiwon Garden features about 120 different species of trees planted by former presidents. The umbrella pine tree, the best known symbol of the garden, is more than 160 years old and about 17 meters tall.

A seated stone statue of Buddha, designated as a national treasure in 2018, is eye-catching. Two traditional Korean houses classified by Seoul as cultural properties and a 740-year-old yew (evergreen) tree are also worth seeing.

The two-story main office building was built in the style of a Korean traditional palace. Its roof is covered with about 300,000 Korean-style blue tiles. The guest house is supported by 18 stately stone pillars.

Cheong Wa Dae and its adjacent area are certain to become a new popular tourist attraction in central Seoul. Gyeongbok Palace, a famous destination for visitors to Korea, spreads out in front of Cheong Wa Dae, with the scenic Mount Bugak as the backdrop.

Yoon began his term at the start of Tuesday in an underground bunker set up at the new presidential office building. He received a briefing from the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the commander-in-chief.

At Cheong Wa Dae, the main presidential office, the presidential residence, secretaries’ offices and the pressroom were scattered far apart from one another. Former secretaries are said to have walked for about 10 minutes to report to the president. Now the presidential office, secretaries’ offices and a pressroom are all located in a single 10-story building. The president will be able to discuss with his aides easily and frequently. It will also be easy for Yoon to go down from his office to the pressroom on the first floor and hold news briefings often.

Space affects thought. Efficiency of communication can vary depending on space arrangement. If the president works with a handful of aides in a large office building separated from the people, he or she is apt to be disconnected from popular sentiments and become authoritarian.

A mere geographical relocation of the center of power is meaningless. The spirit of the Yongsan era lies in a free communication with the people. Yoon must go through with his original intention to the end.