Three Kingdoms

Korea —in one form or another— has been conducting diplomatic relations with other nations for well over two millennia.   So certain protocols have accumulated over the years centuries that are still present today.   One of the most visible of such practices involves the choice of backdrop behind the now-obligatory photo-op that accompanies the official reception of delegations from abroad.   In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s always a subtle message in the landscape scene that looms over the shoulders of the sober dignitaries who shake hands with Korean ministers, vice ministers, or the President himself.   So that you, too, can enjoy the fun, Lunghu will decode some of the subtext accompanying recent diplomatic encounters in the Republic of Korea.   Remember, people in the foreground are less significant than the folding screens in the background of the photos below.

source: Yonhap

Japanese and Korean environmental ministers meet in Busan.  In Asian culture, cranes (which mate for life) are a symbol of fidelity and longevity.  Furthermore, preservation of breeding grounds for migratory fowl has been  the foundation of the environmental movement in Korea.  This scenic backdrop asserts the intimacy, duration, constancy and pacific nature of bilateral relations with Japan on environmental matters.  This backdrop will not be used during discussions concerning historical precedents that justify(?) possession of Dok-do.

source: Yonhap

source: Yonhap

The presidents of Iraq and Korea meet at Cheong Wa Dae (the president’s official residence).  The respective energy ministers conclude a trade agreement in their presence.   The backdrop you see is almost invariably in evidence when receiving delegations from Africa, South America, and the Middle East.   Although the details may be difficult to make out in these particular shots, the folding-screen landscape depicts the reception of foreign envoys bearing tribute to the Chosun Emperor in times gone by.   In other photographs of this screen (at other receptions), it is possible to discern the figures of these ancient diplomats as they prostrate themselves, kowtowing before the Emperor.   This backdrop signals that the visiting (modern) delegation are considered cultural inferiors to/by their Korean hosts.

source: Yonhap

Korea’s foreign minister meets China’s chief nuclear envoy in the Seoul Foreign Ministry.  The landscape backdrop shows a peaceful woodland scene: in the foreground a rushing highland stream (favorable chi), in the middle distance a hillside covered with bamboo, flowering plum trees and tall pines (the three friends of winter), and in the background a high, sheer, rugged mountain chain that keeps the Chinese out of the Korean Peninsula (and thus preserves peace).  Bamboo = resiliency & integrity.  Plum = purity, perseverance & longevity.  Pine = nobility, longevity & venerability.  Together, the three friends of winter signify resistance to the elements and the ability to withstand hardship.  Get the message, comrade?  Judging by his expression, he does.

If only similar subtlety were present in the diplomatic practices of the US State Department … but American culture has a long way to go before it can match this kind of allusion —another 1800 years or so, at least.  Lunghu ain’t counting on it.

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,


%d bloggers like this: