Heritage and the Politics of Culture
In 1962, the Republic of Korea enacted the Cultural Property Protection Law under the leadership of President Park Chung-hee. The aim of the act was the protection of the tangible and intangible Korean cultural heritage and the improvement of citizens’ lives by making use of it. The complicated historical background, which characterised the Korean peninsula from 1905 until the independence and after the Korean division, was strongly influenced by foreign colonisation, trusteeships, and ideologies. In particular, new Western thoughts and legacy were assimilated by the end of the Nineteenth century and then re-shaped during the colonial as well as post-division periods, in this way stimulating a counter-ideology based on particularism, which is reflected in modern cultural policies.
Through a theoretical approach, I try to demonstrate the different influences that Western culture had on the first Korean legislation for the safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Sixties’ and onwards, and on the creation of a particular Korean ethnic identity, enforced by politics and cultural policies.
The analysis lays out beginning from the late Nineteenth century modern reforms made by King Gojong (1852-1919), who was inspired by Western countries’ modern ideas and institutions, to quickly arrive at the beginning of the Independence movement and the creation of (traditional) Korean culture associations under Japanese colonisation, until the division and the US modeled developmentalism with Korean specific aspects applied in the economic progress endorsed in the southern part of the peninsula.