Hwaseong Fortress was constructed over two and a half years from 1794 to 1796, according to a design by Jeong Yak-yong. A young intellectual who would later lead the school of “Pragmatic Studies,” or silhak, Jeong was then working for the royal library, Gyujanggak, established by Jeongjo to encourage academic research. In designing the fortress and planning its construction, Jeong broadly employed the scientific knowledge of his fellow silhak thinkers.
Based on a study of ancient fortresses of Korea, China and Japan, he worked out a marvelous plan for a military stronghold taking full advantage of the topography of the area and making up for the deficiencies of earlier facilities. Suwon and its surrounding areas with its rich produce, human resources and easy access to both Seoul and China across the Yellow Sea, had been a point of strategic interest since the Three Kingdoms period.
Jeongjo apparently planned to build up Suwon as a prosperous city by boosting commercial and manufacturing activities. And, as many historians assume, he probably dreamed of moving the capital there to be near the tomb of his beloved father and carry out political reforms away from the faction-minded courtiers in the capital.
In any case, Jeongjo ordered the removal of the residents around Mt. Hwasan to the present downtown section of Suwon at the expense of 100,000 ryang of gold (one ryang equals 37.5 grams) from the national treasury. The residents were exempted from all taxes for 10 years thereafter and the urban infrastructure including administrative, industrial and education facilities were newly built.
Three years later, the king ordered the old Suwon Magistracy to be promoted to a separate capital and appointed Chae Je-gong, a respected statesman who had previously served as the chief state minister, its first magistrate.
The construction of Hwaseong Fortress began in the second month of 1794 under royal decree. Strategically, the fortress was a clear departure from the convention of building simple walls surrounding cities and towns and separate fortresses in nearby mountains for the evacuation of residents in times of war.
It is equipped with assorted defense facilities such as command posts, observation towers, battlements, secret gates and arrow-launching platforms built along ramparts with crenellated parapets.
It has four major gates in the four cardinal directions which served as town gates. The construction cost 870,000 nyang(the Joseon unit of currency), 1,500 sacks of rice and 700,000 man-days.
The workers, mobilized from across the country, were all paid from the national treasury, which was also a novel policy considering that most government projects had previously been undertaken with compulsory labor.
The King personally visited the construction site to direct the work on various occasions and when the fortress was completed in the ninth month of 1796, he was greatly impressed but feared it was too opulent. He invited a number of officials and engineers who had worked on the construction to the palace and commended them, granting various presents.
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