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Korea’s National Treasures Revealed

Posted November. 21, 2005 08:40,   


Story of National Treasure

Written by Lee Gwang-pyo/344 pages/15,000 won/Published by Little Museum

Much attention has been paid recently to Korea’s national treasures due to the controversy over changing the designation of National Treasure No. 1. This makes Story of National Treasure,by Lee Gwang-pyo on Korea’s national treasures even more eye-catching. The book enriches the stories behind Korea’s national treasures with interesting information in an easy-to-read writing style.

It is not just a book praising Korea’s national treasures, however. It also includes stories behind the treasures and provides background on them, ranging from the reasons for their designation as national treasures to stories of their theft, pillage, damage, restoration, and scandals regarding their genuineness. The author also debunks some famous myths and stories about Namdaemun, National Treasure No. 1, and National Treasure No. 308, a Buddhist statue in the lotus position near Daeheungsa in Haenam, South Jeolla Province.

Such an interesting, easy-to-read book reminds its readers that national treasures are not just remains from the past, they are also tangible manifestations of past realities.

The first chapter, “What is a national treasure?” clearly defines how national treasures differ from ordinary historical artifacts. The book says that both are examples of cultural heritage with artistic value, but that national treasures must date back at least 100 years.

The second chapter deals with various topics such as national treasures in terms of statistics, treasures with incomplete pairs, and treasures that have been misnamed. It also deals with the value of national treasures in terms of money.

Because national treasures are impossible to trade in markets, their insurance values are calculated instead to determine their monetary value. The title of most expensive national treasure goes to “Geumdong Mireuk Bosal Bangasang,” National Treasure No. 83, and is estimated to be worth about 50 billion won.

In the book’s third chapter on mysteries, interesting stories are revealed, including how many people made the Tripitaka Koreana woodblocks, and where and how the gold crown of the Shilla Dynasty came into being. The book goes on to say, “The golden crown is a representative of our proud national treasures. There are eight golden crowns in Korea out of a total of 10 in the world. Did the kings in the past really wear the crowns? The golden crowns were a bit like masks for the dead, and not for use by the living.”

In the book’s sixth chapter, which deals with comparative perspectives, the author’s viewpoints offer a professional reporter’s perspective on the cultural heritage and art history background of Korea’s national treasures. Daeungjeon of Sudeoksa and Muryangsujeon of Buseoksa are compared in terms of aesthetic views of their vertical lines and curves. The beauty of their pagodas and round stone temples shows the true exquisiteness of the stones. And various examples of blue and white porcelain national treasures show a contrast of magnificence and blandness.

The book’s approximately 500 illustrations, and its detailed lists of locations, museums, features, and tips on how and where to see these treasures are also informative and of interest to readers fascinated by Korea’s national treasures.

Mun-Myung Huh angelhuh@donga.com