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Special Exhibition

Cheonggyecheon flea market, Hwanghak-dong
Title Cheonggyecheon flea market, Hwanghak-dong
Period 2020-04-29 ~ 2020-10-04
Location Special Exhibition Hall
Attached File

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Cheonggyecheon flea market, Hwanghak-dong

Cheonggyecheon flea market, Hwanghak-dong


If you follow Cheonggyecheon stream, past Ogansumun floodgate toward Yeongdogyo bridge, you will find the Hwanghak-dong flea market. Located between Heunginjimun and Gwanghuimun gates, the Hwanghak-dong neighborhood has always been a busy market for merchants buying and selling vegetables harvested in the nearby Wangsimni and Ttukseom areas. The neighborhood changed in the 1960s as Cheonggyecheon stream was covered to be turned into road and the Samil apartment was constructed nearby. The Hwanghak-dong flea market flourished with every items including military uniforms, watches, and cameras, as well as folk antiques including brassware and flat irons. It is a “flea market” selling old items and also a “everything market”. Today, the liveliness and energy of the Hwanghak-dong flea market – itself a museum of Seoul’s city life – is a fading past as the neighborhood changed once again following the demolition of the Cheonggye expressway and the construction of high-rise buildings nearby. Cheonggyecheon museum presents the exhibition Cheonggyecheon flea market, Hwanghak-dong recalling items and scenery from our memories.


A Village Outside the East Gate - From Dumo-bang to Hwanghak-dong

The name "Hwanghak" first appears in the administrative unit reform of 1943, implemented during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945). At that time, the present-day Hwanghak-dong neighborhood was referred to as Hwanghak-jeonghoe within Sindang-jeong. From the beginning of Joseon dynasty until King Seongjong's reign (1469-1495), logging, farming, grazing, or living in this region outside the city wall between Gwanghuimun Gate and the Wangsimyeok area were strictly prohibited. In the late Joseon period as social changes including development of a commodity economy took place, the present-day Hwanghak-dong area gradually transformed into a commercial space connected to the capital city.


The Flea Market in Korea’s Contemporary History

After the Korean War (1950-1953) ended, many people made a living by buying and selling military supplies and used items in Hwanghak-dong. As traditional markets and department stores prospered in the city center, Hwanghak-dong became the final chain in the distribution network – a market with connections to other markets near the city center to meet the ordinary people’s demand for low-price used items. The flea market expanded as its primary goods changed from vintage goods in the 1970s to used items after the 1980s. So today, when people hear “Hwanghak-dong,” they think about the flea market and a broad range of used items for sale.


The Flea Market, Selling Everything but Fleas

The flea market in Hwanghak-dong became Seoul’s most well-known market for used goods, and garnered nicknames including the Ant (Gaemi) Market, Korean Goblin (Dokkaebi) Market, Everything (Manmul) Market, Junk (Gomul) Market, and also the Final (Majimak) Market. Before the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project began in the early 2000s, the flea market attracted huge crowds and used goods were piled up even higher. The Hwanghak-dong neighborhood became the center of the flea market after Cheonggyecheon Stream was covered in the late 1960s, as the residents who lived in shanty town in the area before the construction returned to the neighborhood. This was followed by completion of Samil Apartment Complex in 1970. In particular, the flea market in the alley behind Building 16 of the Samil Apartment Complex became so popular in the 1980s that the alley was nicknamed the Golden Alley.


In Praise of Hwanghak-dong

Flea markets usually open only during weekends or special events, but the Hwanghak-dong Flea Market is open every day. It has become a central hub of the used item distribution network, as its merchants repaired broken items and made their products more valuable in the past decades. In other words, they became experts in various products as they accumulated know-how over the years. The discerning eye to appraise a vintage item’s value, the technical expertise to repair items such as watches and cameras – this is the kind of know-how that has been accumulated over time and is now part of the Hwanghak-dong Flea Market.


Hwanghak-dong Flea Market Today

Flea market visitors usually do not have any specific item to buy, but rather look around the market to see if there is anything interesting, then buy within their budget. Buying and selling “used items” means buying and selling the item’s traces of where it was yesterday, its utility today, and its value tomorrow. The flea market that prospered in Hwanghak-dong near Cheonggyecheon Stream experienced ebbs and flows after the Cheonggyecheon Stream Restoration Project began in 2003. But it survived and expanded to nearby Dongmyo Shrine and Seoul Folk Flea Market, maintaining its reputation as Korea’s most well-known flea market - a space of opportunity for merchants and consumers alike.