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Painting of Government Examination in the North
Painting of Government Examination in the North (Puksaesŏnŭndo) is a well-known documentary painting that depicts a special session of the civil and military exams held in northern Korea in 1664 CE.
One of the trademarks of Confucian society in the Chosŏn Kingdom was the highly educated civil servant, often referred to as the scholar-official. These scholar-officials served as both government officials and cultural leaders. Scholar-official families, also known as yangban, worked tirelessly to ensure that members of their clan entered into the ranks of officialdom. They did this by sponsoring the education of male family members so that they could one day pass either the civil or military service exams. The successful passing of the government exams ensured a secure income and high social standing.
Because of the importance of these exams, artists during the Chosŏn period often depicted the examination process and the grand celebration following their completion. Painting of Government Examination in the North (Puksaesŏnŭndo) is a well-known documentary painting that depicts a special session of the civil and military exams held in northern Korea in 1664 CE. While most testing occurred in the capital, the king and court would periodically hold exams in outlying areas to oversee special testing and to visit different areas of the kingdom. This region, Hamgyŏng Province, was particularly important because of its role as a border region where the military frequently defended against bandits and other invaders.
Han Sigak, a well-known court artist, painted the scenes on two three-meter long scrolls. The painting depicts two scenes. The first scene, Mounted Shooting in Kilju, portrays the military exams testing within a fortress in Kilju, a town located in northeastern Korea. On the right side of the painting, an exam candidate rides a galloping horse while shooting at five human-shaped targets. The examinee must hit every target in order to pass the test. Below archery range, a group of candidates anxiously awaits their turn. Inside the buildings, a group of the officials dressed in official red robes observe the examinees. The jagged mountains in the background, the well-defined fortress wall, and the series of moats with a draw bridge add to the militant atmosphere of the testing.
In the second scene, Presenting Awards to the Civil and Military Exam Passers in Hamhŭng, two groups of successful exam passers line up in front of the king. The king, although not painted, sits upon his throne, the symbolic representation of his presence. The king traveled to Hamhŭng, a major city in northwestern Korea, to present both civil and military exam passers with their rewards.
These examinees passed the highest level of exams in their respective fields. The civil service examinees stand to the left of the king (east) and the military examinees stand to the right (west). The king will award the examinees with a special paper to signify their successful completion of the exam. The examinees also will receive a flower headdress and umbrella to use as they travel home. This headdress is a great symbol of honor. Just inside the courtyard, musicians play various instruments to accompany the ceremony. Also, in contrast to the previous painting, the soft rounded hills and various buildings reflect what the actual area of Hamhŭng looks like.