Stories of China in Myeong-dong
See & Do Tours
Directions： 5 min. walk from line 4, Myeong-dong station, exit 5.
When you walk around Myeong-dong, you will find a big gate. The red rectangular gate with a blue roof is the entrance of the Embassy of China in Seoul.
3,500 troops of the former Qing Dynasty (China) were stationed at the Embassy. Chinese merchants who came into Korea with the soldiers opened linen shops, restuarants, and numerous stores with the hopes of earning great fortunes. Qing merchants in Myeong-dong started to become influential in Korea and Chinese culture started to flow into Korea in great numbers. Chinese activities in Myeong-dong were very lively at that time.
Near the embassy, there are numerous stores selling items related to China and traditional Chinese restaurants run by ethnic Chinese. This street is called Kwan-chen-ru (官前街), which means the "front street of the Embassy" or "downtown." Many money exchange counters operate well into the night at Kwan-chen-ru. 14 counters have now increased to 58. The main customers were once Japanese, but they are now greatly outnumbered by the Chinese.
If you walk from the Chinese embassy to the Central Post Office, you can see traces of the old Myeong-dong that was occupied by the Chinese. Jaeil-seolim (bookstore), which first opened in 1977, became famous because it sold hard-to-get Japanese books. Korea had not opened up to Japanese culture at that time, so it was difficult to acquire Japanese books in Korea. Jaeil-seolim continued to sell Japanese books even after the cultural opening and now sells pictures and goods of Korean wave stars.
On the other hand, Jung-hwa-seo-guk(bookstore) has been selling books related to China for a long time. They also sell pictures, albums, and goods of Chinese stars, and so is loved by people who are interested in Chinese entertainment.
Sengwon is one of the oldest stores in Myeong-dong with 100 years of history. Sengwon started to sell ginseng in 1908 when it was Sengwon-insam. Now they sell traditional Chinese tea and other miscellaneous goods.
China is famous for its variety of different foods. Chinese cuisine, which uses various ingredients and seasonings, are even loved by Westerners. The most popular places to go in Kwan-chen-ru are in fact Chinese restaurants. Most of the restaurants are run by Chinese and passed down to the next generation. In this way, the authentic taste of China continues to spread to people who visit Myeong-dong.
Gaehwa, which is located at the end of Kwan-chen-ru, is 40 years old and the oldest Chinese restaurant in Myeong-dong. Its signature dish is "Jajangmyeon" and the secret behind this recipe is chunjang (black bean paste). Minced meat and vegetables are cooked with starch, which makes the jajangmyeon thick and tasty.
Il-poom-hyang is famous for its pork cuisine and you can find dishes such as ohyang jokal (five spice pig's feet) and tang-su-yuk (sweet and sour pork). Its main dish is the ohyang jokbal, which has been passed down for 3 generations. Limited plates of jokbal are sold each day. The Guangdong-style tang-su-yuk is also a favorite due to the combination of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors.
Sandong Kyoja's dishes originate from Shandong, China. They are known for their Mulmandu (water dumplings) made of leeks and ohyang-jangyuk (thinly sliced braised pork), which goes great with a little alcohol on the side.
Do-hyang-chon is a traditional Chinese cookie store, and funnily enough, is the only shop that is run by a native Korean on this street. Although the owner is Korean, they strictly follow the traditional method of cooking from a Chinese chef; thus, no one should question their authenticity. Most people come here for the their mooncake, which is made with sunflower seeds, pine nuts, walnuts, and other nuts. They also sell cookies that can be customized with ingredients of one's liking.
Jajangmyeon： This is a noodle dish with vegetables cooked in chunjang (black bean paste). Originally from the Shandon Province, the Shandong people would mix fried noodles with chunjang, but it has now evolved to jajangmyeon in order to match the palate of Koreans.
Ohyang jokbal, ohyang jangyuk : Ohyang jokbal is where pig's feet are boiled in water with 5 different kinds of spices (fennel, cinnamon, Chinese pepper, cloves, and orange peels). Ohyang jangyuk is then made by braising the thinly sliced pork in soy sauce with the 5 spices.
Most old stores in Kwan-chen-ru, such as Il-poom-hyang, Sandong Kyoja, Do-hyang-chon, and Sengwon are located inside a 5 story grey building. In the past, this building was once Jungjeong Library.
Jungjeong is the Korean pronunciation of the Taiwan Leader, Chian Kai-shek. As you can tell by the name, the library was closely related to China. To commemorate the great taiwanese leader, the name of the building was changed to Jungjeong the year that Chiang Kai-shek passed away in 1975. Jungjeong library was used as the cultural council of China in Korea. It housed 10,000 books on Chinese history, culture, and customs. Elderly Chinese would visit the library to remember their home country and teach their children who were born in Korea about Chinese history and culture. The library was also a meeting place for Chinese and an education center where young Chinese could learn about their heritage.
However, the library was closed in 1992. As the place was treasured by many Chinese, many were saddened by this loss. The Hansung Hwagyo (ethnic Chinese in Korea) Association of Seoul renovated the Jungjeong Library in 2013. In the newly refurbished building, the Association's headquarters is located in the midst of many stores related to Chinese cuisine and culture. Although the old library is gone, the Chinese spirit still lives on.
In the middle of this tourist-filled area, there is a school. After you pass the Chinese embassy and walk up a narrow alley, you can hear children chattering in the school playground. Hansung Hwagyo primary school has more than 100 years of history.
During the late Joseon Dynasty, the Chinese living in Myeong-dong felt th need for a educational institute that could teach their children and that is how the Hansung Hwagyo primary school came about.
Hansung Hwagyo primary school is the biggest among the 14 overseas Chinese schools in Korea. Form 1960 to 1970, 2,300 students enrolled in the school. As time passed, the number of students has reduced, but Hansung Hwagyo primary school still remains the most famous overseas Chinese school in Korea.
On October 10th of every year, students put on performances and it is a rare occasion on which we can watch Taiwanese minorities gather together to dance and Chinese traditional fan dances in one setting.
Yeonnam-dong ： If Myeong-dong was the old Chinatown of Seoul, Yeonnam-dong is the present day Chinadown. From 1960 to 1970, the Chinese living in Seoul started to spread out to different locations, one of which was Yeonnam-dong. Yeonnam-dong is close to Gimpo airport and is favored by people in the clothing and distribution industry. Like other chinatowns, Yeonnam-dong is home to many Chinese restuarants.
Daerim-2-dong ： Daerim-2-dong is similar to Yeonnam-dong since many Chinese live there. Many Chinese immigrants started to reside in the area starting from the late 1980s. You can find easily spot many red signboards with Chinese characters. A large-scale Chinatown has been formed around Jungang market and most of the residents here are Chinese. One may even think that they have been transported to China.