2021-2 / Volume 57 / ISSN 2384-230X


Views of Modern Heritage at Gwanghwamun:
Special Exhibition Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of National Registered Cultural Heritage

What occurs to your mind first when you think about cultural heritage in Korea? Probably, it could be the National Treasure No.1 Sungnyemun Gate (The South Main Gate of the Old Seoul in the Joseon Era), the luxurious golden crowns of the ancient Three Kingdoms Period, or the mystically jade green inlaid celadon of the Goryeo dynasty. However, few people realize that cultural heritage of modern Korean history, namely National Registered Cultural Heritage, can be readily found around us. The scheme was first introduced in 2001 with a view to protecting and preserving historic items that are near us and thus we often fail to appreciate their values. A total of 901 items are registered as of April 5, 2021.

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the registration program, National Museum of Korean Contemporary History is now holding a special exhibition titled Views of Modern Heritage at Gwanghwamun. The exhibition features key items on the list testifying our ancestors’ efforts to combine tradition with modernity in the midst of turbulent modern history of the nation. You will be able to find so many different stories with the same passion and endeavor to create a new culture by embracing foreign institutions and cultures while also inheriting tradition in a creative way to keep in step with the times.

Standardized Weight, National Registered Cultural Heritage No. 320,
From the Collection of Korean Agency for Technology and Standards, Early 1900s.

A total of 80 items are on display at the exhibition, which consists of 4 sections. The prologue offers a visual presentation of the entire items on the register, followed by Section 1 “Changing the System of Knowledge and Way of Life”, where you can take a look at the evidence of how people adopted modern civilization while renewing traditional knowledge such as weights and measures, medicine and recipes. Section 2 "Gathering Words and Communicating Determination” gives you a glimpse into attempts to fight Japanese colonialism by setting the foundation of Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, as the nation’s new language and efforts to create a Hangeul braille for the visually impaired population. Section 3 “Establishing and Building” presents a 3D documentary film featuring historical buildings registered as cultural heritage, while Section 4 “Unleashing a New Culture after Liberation” exhibits traces of a series of efforts to promote national culture in fields as diverse as fashion, sports, film, etc. In the epilogue section, you can see how the national register of cultural heritage is operated and what items are currently on the list.

Arirang dress, National Registered Cultural Heritage No. 613,
From the Private Collection of Shin Hye-soon, 1959.


Korea and Koreans in the Eyes of a European in the Early 20th Century - COREA e COREANI

Carlo Rossetti (1876~1948), the 3rd Italian Consul to Korea, stayed in Korea for about 7 months from November 1902 until May of the following year. Returning to his home country, he published a book titled COREA e COREANI (Korea and Koreans) in 1904. The book suggests a growing interest in the Far East among the European population, particularly around the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. Photographs in the book include those taken by Rossetti himself as well as those sold as souvenirs at Murakami Studio in Japan, and they captured the vivid and ordinary daily life of the Korean people at schools, markets, art performances, etc.

Many foreign travelers, missionaries, and anthropologists visited Korea at that time and left written observations about the country, but few of their photos and writings rival those by Rossetti in terms of volume and depth, who stayed in Seoul for a certain period in an official capacity and looked around the city. Moreover, his book has a high historic value, since the quality of the photos and illustrations in the book are almost as good as those taken recently and they provide a relatively accurate portrayal of the period.

The Front Cover of Corea e Coreani, published in 1904.


KBS TV1 Live Special
"Finding Dispersed Families"

In the turmoil of the Korean War, a large number of Korean families were torn apart, not to see each other for decades. The war left 10 million people separated from other family members and 100,000 orphans. Commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement signed in 1953 and the 33rd anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) originally planned a television show "Finding Dispersed Families" in 1983, with a view to helping find and reunite dispersed family members who do not have a clue about the whereabouts of their kindred. After its first airing at 10:15 PM on June 30, 1983, the show met with an enthusiatic reception nationwide. The KBS Hall was packed with people anxiously waiting to hear from long-seperated parents and sibling, while people aspiring to be on the show crowding outside the building day and night. Also, journalists and broadcasters from across the world gathered at the hall to capture scenes of historic family reunion that moved the heart of citizens worldwide.

In reponse to the fervent public reception of the show, KBS decided to extend the special broadcast, which ended up running live for a total of 453 hours and 45 minutes over 138 days featuring stories of 53,536 dispersed families and succesfully finding and reuniting 10,189 of them. Journalists from 25 countries delivered reunion stories real-time from a press room set up at the lobby of the KBS headquarters, while the 4 major press agencies including AP, UPI and Reuters, as well as newspapers and broadcasters from all over the world featured the news on the front page, suggesting the extent of attention the show gained globally.

Further, the show helped ease tension between the two Koreas, as a North Korean delegation visited KBS two years later in 1985 and paved the way for the first historic inter-Korean family reunions in September in the same year. Moreover, the 138 days of intense recording earned global recognition: it won the World Congress of Journalist's Humanitarian Award in 1983, Gold Mercury Inernational Honorem Award for Peace in 1984, and was eventually listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2015.

Reunion of Dispersed Families at the Show,
From the Photo Collection of the Kyunghyang Shinmun, 1983.


Museum Culture Performance Review

As part of the monthly culture performances it is hosting on Wednesdays, the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History brought on stage a Deolmi marionette show “Prince Moon-doong” on May 5. The Deolmi puppet show combines the Korean traditional marionettes and a masquerade, borrowing a motif from the character Moon-doong (leper) in a traditional masquerade Goseong Ogwangdae (The Five Jesters of Goseong), National Intangible Cultural Asset No. 7. The Deolmi show features the story of the boy Moon-doong setting on a journey to run away from the world he dislikes and find a star of his own.

Deolmi Marionette Show “Prince Moon-doong”

On May 26, a music performance titled “May Forest” took the stage. Musicians Hong, Jae-mok and Dan Dan, who have long been working together, presented pieces portraying the verdant and varying scenery of May characterized by fresh breeze and the fragrance of lush grass in a city forest.

Music Performance “May Forest”

Click the icons below to watch the highlights of the shows:

National Meseum of Korean Contemporary History Newsletter 2021-2, Vol.57
198 Sejong-daero, Jongro-gu, Seoul, 03141, Republic of Korea / 82-2-3703-9200 / www.much.go.kr
Editor: PARK Sookhee, KOOK Sungha, HONG Yeonju, KIM Hyewon / Design: plus81studios

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