[Hallyupedia] Beolcho (벌초)

나확진 / 인턴 차민경 / 2021-08-28 07:00:47
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by Ra Hwak Jin / Cha Min Kyung

[ENG] A practice where family members pull out weeds and mow grass around their ancestral grave

▲ This photo, taken on Sept. 18, 2020, shows officials at Yeongcheon National Cemetery carrying out 'Beolcho' services. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

'Beolcho' in Korean refers to people cleaning the surroundings of their ancestral graves by cutting down trees and pulling out grass. The term 'Beolcho' comes from the Chinese characters '伐·[beol],' which means to cut, and '草·[cho],' which translates to grass in English. While the characters alone merely translates to cutting grass, 'Beolcho' specifically represents mowing plants to clean someone's grave. According to the Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture by the National Folk Museum of Korea, some areas call this practice 'Geumcho (禁草)' or even 'Sobun (掃墳).' 

◇ 'Beolcho' to be held nationwide before the start of Korea's major harvest festival 'Chuseok'
While taking care of one's ancestral graves before 'Hansik,' also known as the Cold Food Festival held around April 5th on the Solar calendar, is also considered 'Beolcho,' the practice usually takes place before Chuseok (held on August 15th on the Lunar calendar).

In specific, people start to clean and pluck out grass around graves nationwide from 'Baekjung (寒食),' which is held on July 15 of the Lunar calendar until Chuseok.

Since grasses tend to stop growing around 'Baekjung,' when people finish 'Beolcho' before Chuseok, the ancestral graves can be kept neatly trimmed for a relatively long time.

In Korea, cleaning and preserving ancestral graves are recognized as taking care of one's parents and are usually responsibilities for younger generations. For this reason, it has become a traditional custom to tidy up and visit the graves before Chuseok. Otherwise, graves are perceived as poorly taken care and as if the deceased has no descendants. In addition, family members who do not carry out 'Beolcho' are considered disrespectful.

Even today, carrying out 'Beolcho' before Chuseok is considered important, and a month before Chuseok, the roads heading to the suburbs, where many graves tend to be located, are frequently crammed with cars.

▲ This photo, taken on Sept. 9, 2017, shows a number of people gathered together to trim grasses that surround the royal tomb located in Gyeongju. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

In the past, Gyeongju City, where many royal and ancient tombs are situated in, has organized a 'Beolcho' event for royal tombs and operated it like a festival.

◇ 'Beolcho' service business begin to flourish due to social distancing for COVID-19 

▲ In this file photo, taken on Sept. 17, 2020, shows people in Taean County carrying out 'Beolcho' services. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


From the early 1990s, the supply of string trimmers, a garden tool to cut weed and grass, and 'Beolcho' services began to flourish. One of the reasons behind the success of these 'Beolcho' services is due to the traditional custom being continuously passed on by generations. These days, local forestry associations and many public organizations such as Korea's National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (NH) serve as 'Beolcho' services. Local fire departments have also provided similar services. Since last year, due to the widespread of the novel coronavirus, people have been actively recommended to refrain from visiting graves and rather entrusting it to organizations which provide 'Beolcho' services.  

▲ This photo, provided by Wando County, shows two workers using string trimmers to mow grass around graves. The banner in the photo reads: "Beolcho services to be carried out during Chuseok." (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

◇ From blade cuts to bee stings, numerous accidents emerge amid carrying out 'Beolcho'
Since 'Beolcho' is mainly carried out in mountainous areas using sharp equipment, many accidents are reported during the process. People who carry out the service usually get cuts from the blade of the string trimmer or get stung by bees after accidentally hitting bee hives.

According to the Gangwon Fire Headquarters, a total of four people were killed and 238 injured in a 'Beolcho'-related accident in the Gangwon province between the years 2014-2018. In Jeju Island, two people were killed and 100 injured after cleaning up graves from 2018 to 2020.



▲ In this file photo, taken on Sept. 14, 2020, shows residents of Hyoryeong-dong, Gwangju, trimming grasses around graves two weeks before the Chuseok holiday. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

To further prevent more accidents, every year the government provides protective equipment such as face shields and gloves, as well as bright colored clothes for those using the string trimmer.



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