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Korea's Confucian Academies Put on World Heritage List

2019/07/14 | 194 views | Permalink | Source

The Byeongsan Seowon /Courtesy of the Cultural Heritage Administration

Nine Seowon or historic Korean Confucian academies have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List despite initial quibbles that they lack a coherent identity.

The decision was made at the 43rd session of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee in Baku, Azerbaijan on Saturday.

Seowon are private schools built between the mid-16th and 17th centuries by local scholar-aristocrats to train young students and honor dead Confucian scholars.

The committee acknowledged their "outstanding universal value" as manifestations of a cultural tradition that survives in the country's education and social norms until today, as well as a demonstration of a historical process in which the concept of neo-Confucianism has changed with the times.  

The Cultural Heritage Administration here first applied for the listing in 2016, but UNESCO turned it down because the committee could not see how they form a coherent unit and said they do not seem to have been preserved properly or integrated into their surroundings.

The application was submitted again and accepted last year, this time focused on building a story that would connect the nine academies.

Seowon are private schools built between the mid-16th and 17th centuries by local scholar-aristocrats to train young students and honor dead Confucian scholars.

"The story tells of a process by which the academies were built one by one over a century to establish an architectural model", from Sosu Seowon (1543) to Donam Seowon (1634), a CHA official said. "They survived even though Prince Regent Heungseon, father of King Gojong, ordered their closure in the late 19th century and are an important example of how neo-Confucianism spread to all of East Asia and took on regional characteristics".

The Byeongsan Seowon and Oksan Seowon had already been inscribed on the World Heritage List earlier as part of "Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong" in 2010.

The nine academies are Sosu Seowon in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, the first Seowon of the Chosun Dynasty; Dosan Seowon and Byeongsan Seowon in Andong, North Gyeongsang; Oksan Seowon in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang; Dodong Seowon in Dalseong, Daegu; Namgye Seowon in Hamyang, South Gyeongsang Province; Pilam Seowon in Jangseong, South Jeolla Province; Museong Seowon in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province; and Donam Seowon in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province.

Korea now has 14 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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