The permanent exhibition 1, “Korean Traditional Daily Life” presents everyday life in seventeenth to twentieth century Korea. A village community formed by a wide range of people provided an important place to make a living. This exhibition features items embodying the modest lives of villagers as they work from early in the morning until late at night to coexist in harmony with their neighbors and earn a livelihood.
A confucian scholar awakens at dawn, washes his face, and prepares for the day; a farmer prepares for the next year’s crop; an artisan produces daily necessities in his workshop; a woman draws water from a well and washes laundry in a stream; a child plays in the field ; and a woman lights a fire in the furnace while cooking dinner. A familiar scene of people starting and ending their days unfolds in this exhibition.
This exhibition gallery changes with the season to reflect the cycles of daily life among Korean people as they experience and appreciate seasonal changes. The final section of this gallery introduces a modern day as a contrast with traditional society, providing an opportunity to appreciate values that never change.
As the crowing of a rooster breaks through the cold dawn, the bell ending the nighttime curfew rings out thirty-three times. Fields, rice paddies, and a cluster of houses gradually emerge through the veil of darkness. At last, the day begins.
Next to a well at the entrance of the village, people stand in line with their water jars to collect the clear water of early dawn. A mother prays sincerely for the wellbeing of her family in front of the water she drew at daybreak. A scholar who started the day by washing his face and tidying himself puts on his outer garment and hat and offers greetings to his parents.
A lively morning begins with officials wear light clothes on the way to work or with the jaunty steps of farmers who start the day by checking the weather. These different routines form a familiar yet constantly renewing spring morning scene.
During the daytime, the hustle and bustle of daily activities from farmwork to household chores is constantly repeated. Once the frozen ground thawed in the warm spring sunlight, farmers busied themselves ploughing their fields and paddies with plows and harrows and revitalizing their fields with fertilizer.
Women occupied themselves collecting spring greens to stimulate the appetite. They were also busy ginning the cotton from winter clothes and completing household chores like laundry. Master artisans made furniture and daily goods from the wood they had dried throughout the winter. Literati families occupied themselves greeting guests since this courtesy was considered an important virtue and obligation of the upper classes.
A market bustles with a crowd of women on their way to buy cloth to make new clothes for the season, merchants carrying daily necessities and selling them, and other people buying or selling products and bargaining over prices.
When the sun sets and night arrives, the pressures of the day would ease. At dinner, people relieve their fatigue by eating seasonal food, including spring greens. After dinner, the dim streets are deserted and people focus on tasks that could be done within the home. A scholar absorbed in studying under a lamp, and a woman ironing clothes for her family. They all spend the night preparing for the next day.
Soon, a bell announcing the nighttime curfew is struck twenty-eight times, and those who remain outside hurry back home. They nestle themselves into bed while gazing at the stars in the night sky and longing for the stability and prosperity that comes as spring fills everything with life.
Industrial society brought changes large and small to people’s everyday lives. The crowing rooster that signaled the start of a day was replaced by an alarm clock. Family businesses that had operated for generations fell by the wayside while companies working with many people emerged and a variety of new occupations were introduced. Handicrafts were replaced by machinery. Artificial lighting brightened the night and prolonged daily tasks. Rather than wrapping up the day at dark, people tried to stay up until a time signal from the late-night radio. Nevertheless, greeting each new morning and living every day in pursuit of a better life remain universal.