Lecture Video: Guan Yu: Why Koreans Worship a Chinese Tofu Seller

How is it that a Chinese tofu salesman, who lived his entire life in the Middle Kingdom about 1800 years ago and never set foot on the Korean Peninsula, came to be venerated in Korea as a god of both war and wealth? Join us as we trace back the story of Guan Yu, and discover how this semi-mythical figure, described in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms as over 9 foot tall, with a 2-foot long beard, a face as red as a jujube, and eyes like those of a phoenix, first appeared in Korea during the Japanese Hideyoshi invasions of the late 16th century. In a few short years, several shrines were built in honor of Guan Yu, the bean-curd-seller-cum-general. In the last years of the Joseon Dynasty, King Gojong and his second wife had more shrines built in Seoul, giving the Guan Yu cult more impetus. Why was this?
Guan Yu's shrines have been all but forgotten by modern Korea, and yet in some places ceremonies are still held. Where are they carried out, and by whom? Dongmyo is the largest Guan Yu shrine remaining, and the only one in Seoul that still sits in its original location. Some interesting discoveries have been made during recent restoration, but that restoration is also not without controversy.

Jacco Zwetsloot has lived in Korea for 14 of the last 18 years. He has held a number of jobs in this country, and calls himself a Jacco-of-all-trades. Currently Jacco is studying for a Master's degree in Korean Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He has previously spoken to the RAS on Hollywood movies set and filmed in Korea, North Korean comic books, and Japanese-run POW camps in Korea during World War Two.

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