Cheonghak-dong
the Azure-Crane Village
in the Far-South (Hadong County, below Samshin-bong) Sector of Jiri-san
Nestled 23 km up a long narrow valley from National Highway #2, at 800 meters above sea-level
just below Three Spirits Peak [
Samshin-bong], Cheonghak Village has long been famous as a
remote and unspoiled site favoring longevity and spiritual practices -- it is said to enjoy
just-about-perfect geomantic features according to Korea's
Pungsu-jiri-seol.   It's also a popular
hiking trail-head for climbing Samshin-bong (1288m) and onwards up to Jiri-san's main ridge.

The name itself is highly auspicious -- Cheonghak-dong means the Azure Crane Village.   Azure is
"refined blue", a clear bright pure blue, the color of a cloudless unpolluted sky at its best -- the color of Heaven,
where the higher Spirits reside.  The Sino-Korean character pronounced
cheong is very common in the names
of places, religious sites and artworks in Korea.  Its original ancient meaning covers all colors between blue to
green; the famous medieval Korean style of "celadon" pottery glazed with beautiful peaceful colors ranging from
sea-green to bluish-green is called Cheongja (
cheong-ware).  But in this case and those similar, when it is used
in a cultural-religious sense, it should be translated "azure", color of the spiritual realm above.   Cranes are
highly auspicious animals in traditional Korean culture, sacred to all the religious traditions, representing
gracefulness of being, loyalty, the dignity of scholarship, and beneficial communication with Heaven.   White
Cranes are most commonly depicted in artworks and invoked in place-names, are one of the
Shipjangsaeng
[10 Symbols of Longevity in traditional Korean art], and the most common item for a painted San-shin figured to
be holding is a fan made from the feathers of a white crane (the complex deep meanings of this symbol are
discussed on page 59 of my book).  The Azure Crane is a heavenly-spiritual version of this widespread and
venerable icon, much less frequently invoked -- giving a rare, very profound, multi-religious and multi-faceted
meaning to the name of this very special area, one of Korea's most sacred sites.
a typical house in upper Cheonghak-dong Village, in 1993
This cult moved from urban Korea to this location almost 50 years ago, following the Korean War.  They combine
elements of Christianity with selected elements of the various great Oriental religions, a typical feature of new
Korean religions in the 20th Century.  Most of their philosophy is based on Joseon Neo-Confucianism with a strong
orientation of Heaven-worship, but they also believe that they are creating a utopian model for humankind, and that a
semi-divine "savior of mankind" will be born in their village, destined to become the Sage-King who will bring peace
to all the world, due to its excellent geomantic features as said above.

In the early 1960s they built a Temple to enshrine and practice their beliefs, naming it
Jinju-am [Pearl Hermitage].
Hikers, and one Cheonghak-dong
gentleman in traditional Joseon
Confucian costume, entering the
front gate of Jinju-am in 1993.
Cheonghak-dong Jinju-am's main and
central Altar in October 1993, featuring
a map of celestial star-constellations
(representing all the various powers
and aspects of Heaven) partially
covered by auspicious Chinese
character writings, and a portrait
of the cult's founder.
When at the beginning of the 1990s the Korean government built a paved highway all the way up that long valley to
Cheonghak-dong, and brought in electric and telephone lines, this cult faced major challenges to the survival of their
chosen lifestyle.  Their children started watching television, public buses and telephones made contacts with the
outside world much easier, and many Koreans started driving their private cars up to this legendary refuge and
acting like tourists.  The cult evolved in response, deciding that this was a sign that the savior-hero would soon be
born, and that these curious picture-snapping tourists were a Heaven-granted opportunity to earn enough money to
build a proper Palace for the Sage-King to rule the world from.  They built parking lots, restaurants and a souvenir/
crafts shop (featuring their own "
Shinseon-ju", herbal-wine of spiritual-immortality).  With the sharply increased
revenue and interest in their lifestyle and beliefs, they have started construction of a gigantic new Palace-Temple in
the cleared area above their Jinju-am.  The future of this group will be quite interesting to watch.
A Neo-Traditionalist restaurant of southwestern Cheonghak-dong, at the
parking area for the trail leading up to Samseong-gung, in October 1993.
The Cheonghak-dong Valley begins to the south of Samshin-bong Peak {1284m} (which itself is the end of a long
ridge descending from Yeongshin-bong {1652m} on Jiri-san's main ridge)
and slowly drops southeast through Hadong
County's Cheongam-myeon [Azure-Rock District] until it meets National Highway #2 in Hadong's Hoingcheon-
myeon District.  It has
Ssanggye-sa and the upper Hwagye-myeon Valley / Daeseong Valley on its west, the
Akyang-myeon and Jeokryang-myeon Valleys to its southwest.  It has the Naedae-cheon Valley of Sancheong-
gun County's Shicheon-myeon District on its east, and Hadong's Okjong-myeon District on its southeast.

The Cheonghak-dong Valley is formed on its eastern side by the beginning of the Naknam-jeongmaek Range,
14th Branch of the Baekdu-daegan Range, a long high ridge running from Samshin-bong to Ju-san Peak {831m},
and then a string of smaller ridgelines and peaks.  It is formed on its western side by another long high ridge
running through Gwaneum-bong {1171m}, Geosa-bong {1100m}, Hoinam-jae Ridge {900-680m}, Chilseong-
bong {899m} and then several 300-400m peaks.  In about its center the Hadong-ho Lake has been created by
a dam; the Local Highway 1003/1014 winds past its western shoreline in a very scenic way.
Currently, two different unique native-Korean religious cults make their home there;
my impression is that only the one in the northeast sector is very well-known to the Korean and foreign-
resident publics.  That cult is famous for continuing to live in a reconstruction of the Joseon-Dynasty
Neo-Confucian style, with traditional clothing and long uncut hair (worn in a long braid by unmarried men and
women, and in a topknot covered by a horsehair hat by married men).  Until 1992 they did not have electricity
and there was no road reaching this area (visitors had to hike a few hours from the end of the dirt road);
therefore they had no television or other modern-culture influences, and their children learned only classical
teachings in Chinese characters, like the Koreans of centuries gone by.  They live in old-style Korean
Hanok
wooden houses with tile or thatched roofs and mulberry-papered walls, and survive by traditional agriculture
and crafts, all quite deliberately.  Due to official recognition of their religion-inspired special lifestyle and
commitment to remaining un-modern, this was the only village in Korea that was exempted from the military
draft, and also from the 1960s~80s Saemaeul-undong [New Village Movement] that transformed Korea's rural
communities from poverty to prosperity -- and destroyed their traditional lifestyles in the process.