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The Peninsula

The Politics of Poongsu

Published April 3, 2022

South Korean president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol recently announced plans to relocate the presidential residence from its current location to Yongsan, a district in Seoul best known for previously hosting a U.S. garrison. The decision has been controversial. Among speculations on Yoon’s unstated rationale, a prominent line of discourse attributes the move to longstanding rumors about the current residence’s poor poongsu.

Poongsu jiri, or feng shui as it is known outside Asia, is geomancy – the identification of favorable geographical features such as mountains or flowing water. Seoul was founded between four mountains based on the calculations of poongsu masters.

According to poongsu principles, water and roads equal wealth, a tenet that still affects real estate prices today. Heads of major companies like Samsung consult poongsu when choosing locations to buy and build plants.

Yongsan faces the Han River and maintains its back to Mt. Dunji, making it an ideal location to poongsu experts. Furthermore, the Blue House carries historical legacies and baggage. In fact, this is not the first time that a South Korean leader has considered relocating the presidential residence.

So why the controversy? Yoon’s presidential campaign was dogged by a series of scandals that led the public to wonder if he was governed by superstition. The Korean public also remains wary of political associations with shamanism and other animistic beliefs after investigations revealed that President Park Geun-hye was heavily influenced by a spiritual advisor who not only interfered with policy but also peddled their influence for cash.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of  KforKaleb

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