South and North Korea may make joint bid for UNESCO intangible cultural heritage registration

Posted on : 2018-10-30 17:11 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Both sides respectively submitted applications for traditional ssireum wrestling
A wall painting of ssireum wrestling on the wall of a tomb made during the Goguryeo era; estimated to be drawn during the fifth century.
A wall painting of ssireum wrestling on the wall of a tomb made during the Goguryeo era; estimated to be drawn during the fifth century.

The governments of South and North Korea have submitted separate applications to UNESCO to add a traditional type of wrestling known as ssireum to the organization’s list of intangible cultural heritages, but there’s a growing likelihood that the two applications will be combined into one winning bid.

On Oct. 29, the assessment board of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage announced it had recommended that both “ROK ssireum (traditional wrestling),” submitted by South Korea, and “DPRK ssireum (Korean-style wrestling),” submitted by North Korea, be added to the list. Since the assessment board’s recommendation for inclusion is an official decision based on the findings of a preliminary expert review, such recommendations are typically accepted as the final decision when the committee convenes, barring any unforeseen occurrences.

In its recommendation, UNESCO’s assessment board said that “ROK ssireum is perceived as part of Korean traditional culture by Koreans throughout the country. The sport can be confirmed as being closely linked to Koreans’ cultural identity because possessors and practitioners of various ages are distributed regardless of social and regional background or gender and because contests are always held during important holidays.” The board went on to say that “DPRK ssireum is deeply rooted in every facet of society” and “this heritage strengthens mental and physical development and social harmony and cohesion.”

The final decision about ssireum’s addition to the list will be made during the 13th conference of the UNESCO committee, which will be held on the African island of Mauritius from Nov. 26 to Dec. 1. The biggest question is whether the South and North Korean governments can cooperate to bring about the first joint inscription of a Korean heritage to the list. The position adopted by South Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) is that, in principle, South and North Korea should withdraw the applications they’ve already filed and submit a new application composed together. But a CHA official admitted that “we’re constrained by the lack of time before the UNESCO committee holds its 13th conference.”

But since UNESCO welcomes the idea of jointly registering the two applications, there’s also optimism that it won’t be too hard to pull off a merger. When UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay met South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, on Oct. 16, she proposed the idea of combining South and North Korea’s ssireum applications.

By Noh Hyung-seok, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles