Click here for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. — Ed.

Figure 1: Close-up of Magistrate Yi inspecting tribute tangerines somewhere west of Seogwipo, circa 1702

Figure 1: Close-up of Magistrate Yi inspecting tribute tangerines somewhere west of Seogwipo, circa 1702

37-0You there! Reader! Caughtcha!” Didn’t you know that peeking over the walls at Magistrate Yi Hyong-san’s private picnic (featuring gisaeng) inside the King’s tangerine tribute orchards on Jeju Island is a serious breach of security? Heaven forbid you should actually climb the wall to steal then eat one of those precious, succulent beauties!

Two principle punishments to discourage both peeping Ko’s and tangerine thieves “back in the day” on Jeju Island were 1) bastinado (flailing the feet) and 2) amputation (sawing through the flesh to the bone and beyond with thin, jagged wire). Hendrik Hamel himself witnessed bastinado applied to captured iron thieves in the immediate aftermath of his shipwreck in 1653. Hamel remarked in his recollection written some years later how each of these thieves had 30 or so strokes of the cudgel applied to the soles of his (or her?) feet — and how some of their toes dropped off during the torture! Ouch! The second form of punishment, the sawing, is too horrible to contemplate here.

Judging from ample evidence in Yi Hyong-san’s Jeju Island inspection maps (drawn by Kim Nam-kil), there were many heavily-guarded tangerine tribute orchards on the island. One of the most remarkable examples is found within the walls of Jeju Castle. Here we see Magistrate Yi picnicking away in a tribute orchard located there — this time without his broad-brim horsehair hat (zoom in to verify). The trees hang heavy with fruit. The magistrate is again depicted within his familiar comfort zone surrounded by a cornucopia of tangerines, gisaeng galore, somber court officials and menacing bodyguards.

Figure 2: Magistrate Yi in a tribute orchard within the walls of Jeju Castle. What is this building with the unusual onion-dome copula?

Figure 2: Magistrate Yi in a tribute orchard within the walls of Jeju Castle. What is this building with the unusual onion-dome copula?

Hello? What’s this? An onion dome? Is that building abutting the orchard wall in Jeju Castle the Russian embassy? Doubtful.  But seriously, what is onion-dome architecture doing on Jeju Island in 1702? Artisan Kim Nam-kil thus bequeaths us with a bit of a mystery here. He is probably smiling from his grave after more than 300 years. Let’s take a closer look:

Figure 3: An onion-dome copula architecture in East Asia in 1702? How odd.

Figure 3: An onion-dome copula architecture in East Asia in 1702? How odd.

Help me out here readers. I’m at a loss to explain this rooftop adornment. What does the sign read above the door? Or is that a gate? Perhaps this structure is the official entrance to the orchard? That still doesn’t explain the origins of the onion dome. And why is it painted black? This can have nothing to do with Buddhist iconography (for example, a lotus) because Magistrate Yi was tasked specifically with destroying all traces of Buddhism on the island during his tenure.

Meanwhile, there is another map in the Inspection Atlas drawn by Kim Nam-kil worth considering. Part of this other map depicts the onion-domed structure from a different perspective:

Figure 4: The onion-dome within Jeju Castle walls sprouts leaves!

Figure 4: The onion-dome within Jeju Castle walls sprouts leaves!

Figure 5: Architectural sketch from Tver (Russia), 1294

Figure 5: Architectural sketch from Tver (Russia), 1294

Now I’m really confused! Perhaps we can blame the Mongols? The history of the onion-dome rooftop copula in Russia traces its origins to the tumultuous Mongol Empire era, and perhaps earlier. Here, for example, is an architectural sketch from the oblast of Tver (on the Volga River northwest of Moscow) dated 1294. Tver is about 5,000 miles distant from Jeju Island.

The Mongol occupation of Jeju Island began in 1273 and ended in 1375. The Mongol civilian administration brought horses, camels, mules and sheep to the island. Tangerines were already there (I assume). Did the Mongols bring the onion-shaped dome from one end of their empire to the other in the 14th century? If so, how could this architecture survive for an additional 350 years, to the time of Magistrate Yi’s inspection tour? And what became of the onion dome after 1702? C’mon Jeju World Wide readers. Help me out here!


Next Week: The Illustrated Peace Corps Man (Part 5)

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