The heritage preservation system of South Korea is a multi-level program aiming to preserve and cultivate Korean cultural heritage. The program is administered by the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA; 대한민국 문화재청, Daehan Minguk Munhwa Jaecheong), and the legal framework is provided by the Cultural Heritage Protection Act of 1962, last updated in 2012. The program started in 1962 and has gradually been extended and upgraded since then.
The CHA classifies cultural heritage into five major categories (state-designated heritage, city and province-designated heritage, cultural heritage material, registered cultural heritage, undesignated cultural heritage) and these are divided further into subcategories. Besides tangible cultural heritage, South Korea aims to preserve its intangible cultural heritage as well, including folk customs, music, dance and handicraft. The program also includes Living National Treasures, persons who possess the knowledge and skills important to pass down intangible cultural heritage to new generations. South Korea has founded several educational centers throughout the country and established a university, specifically dedicated to heritage preservation.
Some of the heritage properties of South Korea has been inscribed into various UNESCO lists. As of 2014, the country has nine cultural and one natural World Heritage Sites, with 15 added to the provisional list; and there are 17 items registered as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.
Although the program is considered successful by both the public and experts, there are unresolved issues regarding the system and particularly the selection method of "living national treasure" holders.
Main article: Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea
The program is administered by the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA; 대한민국 문화재청, Daehan Minguk Munhwa Jaecheong), the predecessor of which was founded in 1945 by the American military government of Korea. It first belonged to the Ministry of Education, then to the Ministry of Culture. Between 1999 and 2004 it functioned as an independent agency. The CHA administers the National Palace Museum of Korea as well as various 'palace offices' and 'shrine offices'. It is also responsible for the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
The CHA established Korea National University of Cultural Heritage in 2000, which specifically educates professionals for heritage preservation. Since 1999 the South Korean government founded 27 educational centers for cultivating intangible cultural heritage. The administrator of CHA is Kim Hyeon-mo since 2020. The annual budget of the administration was 615 billion won in 2012.
The legal framework for the heritage program is provided by the Cultural Heritage Protection Act of 1962 (문화재보호법, Munhwajae Bohobeop), last updated in 2012.
The legal framework of cultural heritage preservation is based on the number 961 Law of 1962 (문화재보호법 Munhwajae Bohobeop), which in turn is based on the similar Japanese act of 1950. The Korean act is broader in scope, also extending to folklore. The act was amended in 1970 not only to include people (인간문화재, ingan munhwajae, "human cultural heritage") but also to support them financially.
At the beginning of the program, after the Korean War, the CHA had little means to operate. Go Sangnyeol (고상렬), the administrator of CHA between 1961 and 1968 set out to search for intangible cultural properties on the basis of a series of articles written by Yae Yonghae (예용해) for Hankook Ilbo, as the reporter spent years in exploring the country and interviewing old masters of handicraft. The first items to be inscribed on the intangible heritage list were thus taken from Yae's articles. Others were added based on the opinions of researchers and also included winners of the annual folk tradition competitions. The recommendation of local administrations was also sought.
Korea introduced a unique system in the 1970s to preserve folk traditions (including handicraft, arts, folk songs, folk dances, theatre, traditional food preparation techniques, etc.). This was triggered by a movement called New Community, aiming to modernize life in the countryside. In an attempt to get rid of old superstitions, the movement advocated cutting down the old Zelkova trees often found at village entrances, as they were believed to be 'protectors' of the village according to tradition. In 1971, the songs of the haenyo, or "sea women" of Jeju Island were declared provincial intangible cultural properties.
Major stakeholders of the intangible heritage program are "living national treasures" or officially called "holders" (보유자 boyuja), people who possess knowledge or skills essential for preserving Korean culture. Some of these 'holders' obtained significant national exposure or fame, for example Han Bongnyeo (한복려), a holder for the Korean royal court cuisine who supervises the authentic presentation of Joseon Dynasty food in historical movies and television series.
The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage took place in 2003 and South Korea joined the program a year later. In 2005 China declared some 1200 properties as intangible cultural heritage, with 16 items belonging to the Korean minority of the country, including the traditional wedding ceremony, Arirang (a folk song) and nolttwigi (a traditional seesaw game). The CHA decided that they also had to broaden the scope of intangible heritage to properties that do not have any designated 'holders', like kimchi, hangul or Goryeo ginseng.
The CHA opened its World Intangible Heritage Complex in Jeonju, which also functions as a national centre. The complex has an area of 59,930 square metres (645,100 sq ft) and was constructed from US$66 million.
In 2017, the CHA decided to widen the range of possible cultural assets, including objects younger than 50 years. Thus items like Yuna Kim's skates she wore at the 2010 Winter Olympics and the first train operated by the Seoul Metropolitan Subway in 1974 are also designated as cultural assets.
As of July 2013 South Korea has 411 active National Treasures, 2317 Treasures, 485 Historic Sites, 104 Scenic Sites. It also classified 459 Natural Monuments, 134 Intangible Cultural Heritage items, 1062 Folklore Cultural Heritage properties and 549 Cultural Heritage of Early Modern Times. In 2012 there were 180 active Living National Treasures, out of 570 registered, the rest mainly retired.
|National Treasure||Important tangible cultural heritage, valuable not only for Korea but also for humankind, including historical structures, ancient books and documents, paintings, sculptures, handicraft, archaeological findings and armory.||Namdaemun; National Treasure #1|
|Treasure||Important tangible cultural heritage, including historical structures, ancient books and documents, paintings, sculptures, handicraft, archaeological findings and armory.||Standing stone Buddhas of Paju; Treasure #93|
|Historic Site||Sites of outstanding historical or academic value, for example, pre-historic sites, fortresses, tombs, kilns, dolmens, temple sites.||Hwaseong Fortress; Historic Site #3|
|Scenic Site||Natural scenic sites that are of outstanding historical, artistic or landscape value, and are unique or rare due to their natural formation.||Jeongbang Waterfall on Jeju Island; Scenic Site #43|
|Natural Monument||Animals, plants, minerals, caves, geological features, biological products and natural phenomena of outstanding historical, cultural, academic or aesthetic value.||Lacebark pine at Jogyesa temple in Seoul; Natural Monument #9|
|Intangible Cultural Heritage||Intangible cultural heritage of outstanding historical, artistic or academic value, such as theatre, music, dance and handicraft. Holders of these Important Intangible Cultural Properties are Living National Treasures.||Taepyeongmu, a type of court dance; Intangible Cultural Heritage #92|
|Important Folklore Cultural Heritage||Devices, clothing and buildings essential for everyday life, commerce, transport, entertainment, public events, religious and other festivals, to understand the change in lifestyle over the centuries.||Breastplate of Prince Heungseon ; Folklore Cultural Property #65|
|Tangible Cultural Heritage||Building, classical records, books, documents, paintings,sculptures, handicraft, archaeological findings.||Seoul Anglican Cathedral, Seoul tangible cultural heritage #35|
|Intangible Cultural Heritage||Theatre, music, dance, handicraft||Somokjang (소목장), furniture carpentry, designated by multiple cities and provinces|
|Monument||Shell mounds, ancient tombs, fortresses, palace sites, relic sites, animals (including habitats and breeding places), plants (including habitats), minerals and caves.||Nakseongdae Park (낙성대), Seoul|
|Folklore Heritage||Devices, clothing and buildings essential for everyday life, commerce, transport, entertainment, public events, religious and other festivals.||House of Han Kyuseol aristocrat in Seoul (장교동 한규설 가옥)|
Cultural heritage rendered important from a regional point of view but not classified by cities or provinces.
Early modern buildings built between the end of the 19th century and the 1940s, in need of preservation due to their condition.
Classified into two categories:
Relations with UNESCO are coordinated through the Korean National Commission for UNESCO since 1954.
Main article: List of World Heritage Sites in South Korea
South Korea joined the UNESCO World Heritage program on 14 June 1950. There are nine cultural and one natural world heritage sites in South Korea as of 2013, with 15 additional items on the provisional list. World heritage sites include the Pulguksa temple complex and the Changdeokgung palace, and the provisional list includes sites like the ancient mountain fortresses in Central Korea.
As of 2020, there are 21 South Korean items inscribed as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage:
|2008||The Royal Ancestral Ritual in the Jongmyo Shrine and its Music||종묘제례악||Royal ancestral ritual in the Jongmyo shrine and its music|
|Pansori||판소리||Korean folk opera|
|Gangneung Danoje Festival||강릉단오제||Praying to mountain gods to protect the village|
|2009||Yeongsanjae||영산재||A Buddhist rite|
|Namsadang Nori||남사당 놀이||Male performance of music, acrobatics and dance|
|Jeju Chilmeoridang Yeongdeunggut||제주 칠머리당영등굿||A ritual on Jeju Island when locals pray for a peaceful sea and abundant catch|
|Ganggang sullae||강강술래||Female dance from South Jeolla Province|
|2010||Gagok||가곡||Lyric song cycles accompanied by an orchestra|
|Daemokjang,||대목장||Traditional wooden architecture|
|2011||Weaving of Mosi in Hansan region||한산모시짜기||Weaving of Mosi (fine ramie) in the Hansan region|
|2013||Gimjang||김장||Kimchi making season|
|2014||Pungmul (Nongak)||풍물 (농악)||Farmers' traditional music and dance|
|2015||Tugging rituals and games (with other countries)||줄다리기||Tugging rituals and games (with other countries)|
|2016||Culture of Jeju Haenyeo (women divers)||해녀||Female divers in the Korean province of Jeju|
|Falconry (with other countries)||매 부리기||Falconry, a living human heritage (with other countries)|
|2018||Ssireum||씨름||Traditional Korean wrestling|
|2020||Yeondeunghoe||연등회||Lantern lighting festival in the Republic of Korea|
As of 2017 there are 16 South Korean items inscribed into the Memory of the World Register:
|1997||The Annals of the Choson Dynasty||조선왕조실록||From 1413 to 1865|
|The Hunmin Chongum Manuscript||훈민정음||Manuscript on the introduction of Hangul|
|2001||Seungjeongwon ilgi||승정원일기||The Diaries of the Royal Secretariat|
|Baegun hwasang chorok buljo jikji simche yojeol (vol.II), the second volume of "Anthology of Great Buddhist Priests' Zen Teachings"||불조직지심체요절||the second volume of "Anthology of Great Buddhist Priests’ Zen Teachings" and it is the world's oldest extant book printed with movable metal type|
|2007||Printing woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana and miscellaneous Buddhist scriptures||팔만 대장경||Printing woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana and miscellaneous Buddhist scriptures about resisted for Mongol invasions|
|Uigwe||의궤||The Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty|
|2009||Donguibogam: Principles and Practice of Eastern Medicine||동의보감||Principles and Practice of Eastern Medicine made by Heo Jun|
|2011||May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement||5·18 광주 민주화 운동||Human Rights Documentary Heritage 1980 Archives for the May 18th Democratic Uprising against Military Regime, in Gwangju, Republic of Korea|
|Ilseongnok||일성록||Records of Daily Reflections for the King|
|2013||Nanjung ilgi||난중일기||War Diary of Admiral Yi Sun-sin in Imjin War|
|Archives of Saemaul Undong(New Community Movement)||새마을 운동||Archives of the New Community Movement. A movement aiming to modernize rural life in the 1970s|
|2015||Confucian Printing Woodblocks in Korea||유교책판||Printing woodblocks of Confucian texts related to How to make the book from Seonbi groups in Neo-Confucianism society of Joseon Dynasty period|
|The Archives of the KBS Special Live Broadcast "Finding Dispersed Families"||KBS "이산가족을 찾습니다" 기록물||The Archives of the KBS Special Live Broadcast "Finding Dispersed Families"|
|2017||Royal Seal and Investiture Book Collection of the Joseon Dynasty||조선왕실 어보와 어책||Royal Seal and Investiture Book Collection for Symbol of the Royal Family in Korea|
|Archives of the National Debt Repayment Movement||국채보상운동 기록물||The Archives of the National Debt Redemption Movement is a documentary heritage chronicling the entire process and history of a nationwide campaign undertaken by the Korean public from 1907 to 1910, to help their government pay back a huge debt owed to Japan and thereby save their country from colonization.|
|Joseon Tongsinsa||조선통신사 기록물||Documents on Joseon Tongsinsa/Chosen Tsushinshi: The History of Peace Building and Cultural Exchanges between Korea and Japan from the 17th to 19th Century|
The cultural heritage program of South Korea is generally considered a success both by academics and the public, however, a few issues remain to be addressed. One of them is the selection process of the "holders", as the prestige and state support of the position creates high competition between folk artists to be selected. According to Choi Sung-ja, a member of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Subcommittee, the intangible cultural heritage program should not be tied exclusively to the existence of "holders", and a less subjective selection process should be introduced. Since 2009 the CHA changed its selection process by involving academic professionals to introduce a more objective evaluation system of "holders".
Changes in society also brought challenges to the program. For example, in the 1990s Christian groups started to question the need to classify shamanistic rituals as cultural heritage. Patriarchal lifestyle, where the man is the main provider of the family and women stay at home, also influenced "holders", as housewives started to pick up the preservation of folk traditions also in areas that were previously dominated by men. The government resisted appointing female holders for such predominantly male traditions but was gradually forced to acknowledge them when there were no male practitioners at all, or where the women were significantly more talented than the men.
According to Roald Maliangkay of The Australian National University, the program faces challenges from the Korean Wave, as well. As Korean culture is becoming more popular worldwide, due to the influence of television series and K-pop, South Korea started to use its culture as a means of soft power, involving its cultural heritage, too. Maliangkay thinks that
"...a society’s image abroad is not shaped entirely by cultural activities. It is, instead, shaped by the combined total of what people abroad see and hear, and what they know about aspects they consider important, whether those are positive or not. [...] Even a society that cares greatly for its people and its heritage may not have a very positive image abroad, and vice versa. South Korea cannot control what people abroad will come to understand about its society and culture either.