History, legend, and lore about Pyongyang's old West Gate
Potong Gate, Pyongyang, North Korea (DPRK)
Potong Gate (보통문 | 普通門) is the former western gate of Pyongyang, North Korea, from when the city was surrounded by walls. It is one of the oldest remaining city gates in Korea.
Potong Gate Background
The Koguryo kingdom first established at gate at the location in the mid-6th century and maintained as the west gate of Pyongyang city through the Koryo (917-1392) and Choson Ri (1392-1910) dynasties as an important defensive fortification and thoroughfare for travellers.
The gate’s current architectural form dates back to 1473 to the Choson Ri dynasty, but maintains characteristics of architecture from the previous Koryo dynasty. The gate is made up of a granite base and two-story pavilion. The pavilion was destroyed by American bombing during the Korean War and rebuilt in 1955.
Potong Gate is named for the Potong River (보통강 | 普通江) located just outside of the gate. It literally means ‘normal gate’.
In the past, it has also been referred to as Gwangdok Gate and Uyang Pavilion, the latter which means ‘to see the morning sun again’ in reference to its west-facing location.
Locals also call it the ‘Mysterious Gate’ (신문 | 神門) due to a medieval legend.
A Legend of Potong Gate
It is said that when Japanese forces occupied the Potong Gate during the Imjin War (1592-98), the gate’s main door begin to act strangely. When the door was supposed to be kept open, it would shuts seemingly on its own accord. When the door was supposed to be kept close, it would mysteriously open — quite the problem for the occupying Japanese forces as Korean ‘righteous armies’ assembled to retake the city.
The Japanese commander summoned an old Korean elder and asked if the gate was haunted. The elder replied: ‘The gate isn’t haunted, it is just a normal gate. The only ghosts here are you Japanese, so the only exorcism is to drive you out!’
The legend has it that the gate’s mysterious behavior helped defeat the Japanese armies at Pyongyang.
Seeing Off Guests at Potong Gate
In times of peace, Potong Gate has also been the site of friendly meetings and farewells.
‘Seeing off guests at Potong Gate‘ (보통송객 | 普通送客) is one of the traditional ‘Eight Views of Pyongyang’ (평양팔경 | 平壤八景). Each of the ‘Eight Views’ combine a location in the city with an activity to do there, essentially a ‘top eight’ list of things to do and see in Pyongyang for travellers in days of yore.
Medieval click bait!
The March 1st Movement
The Potong Gate was the centre of protests in Pyongyang during the March 1st Movement (3.1인민봉기 | 三.一人民蜂起) in 1919.
Kim Il Sung’s autobiography With the Century describes the events that took place that day as instrumental in shaping his life course:
The loud hurrahs for independence that shook our land of misfortune and reverberated throughout the world kept on ringing in my ears all through that summer; the ringing forced me to grow up faster. The Potong Gate boulevard,shrouded in smoke and sparks of intense fighting between the marchers and the Japanese police, opened a new venue in my world-view. Shouting 'Long Live Korea' squeezed between grownups and on my tiptoes to see between their legs ended my age of innocence; my childhood ended abruptly on that day.
The book Korea’s Fight For Freedom by F.A. McKenzie (1920) gives eyewitness accounts by American missionaries living in Pyongyang in a chapter called ‘The Reign of Terror in Pyeng-yang’.
· Tour buses will regularly pass Potong Gate during the tour. If you want to spend more time at the gate, it is possible to walk from the Changgwangsan Hotel via the People’s Palace of Culture on the way to Changjon Street.
· In the 1920’s, the American missionary community in Pyongyang lived outside Potong Gate. According to Mckenzie in Korea’s Fight For Freedom, the Japanese Osaka Asahi newspaper described the community as the following:
Outside the West Gate in Pyeng-yang there are some brick houses and some built after the Korean style, some high and some low. These are the homes of the foreigners. There are about a hundred of them in all, and they are Christian missionaries. In the balmy spring, strains of music can be heard from there. Outwardly they manifest love and mercy, but if their minds are fully investigated, they will be found to be filled with intrigue and greed. They pretend to be here for preaching, but they are secretly stirring up political disturbances, and foolishly keep passing on the vain talk of the Koreans, and thereby help to foster trouble. These are really the homes of devils.
Location and Access
Potong Gate located in at the intersection of Changgwang, Yongung, and Mansudae Streets in Pyongyang’s Central District. Potong Gate can be viewed any day of the week.