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[Editorial] Royal Tombs From the Joseon Dynasty

Posted May. 14, 2009 08:11,   


Royal tombs from Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) are almost certain to gain World Heritage status from UNESCO. All 40 tombs except for two in North Korea are eligible for the registration. The International Council on Monuments and Sites, which surveyed the sites last year, recommended in a report that the tombs be put on the World Heritage list. A final decision will come next month at the 33rd session of the UNESCO World Heritage Commission in Seville, Spain. Based on precedents, however, the recommendation will likely be accepted.

World Heritage refers to sites and cultural relics registered by UNESCO due to their huge value that deserves protection for humankind and being handed down to future generations. As of July last year, 878 items in 141 countries were on the list. Korea has eight World Heritage properties – seven cultural and one natural. The Joseon royal tombs will be the ninth. China has 33 properties and Japan 13.

The tombs show the extraordinary wisdom of Korea`s ancestors in balancing the artificial and natural as well as dignity. Experts from countries who surveyed the tombs have given high marks to the tombs` unique architecture and gardening. They recognized the tombs’ preservation value, saying they represent a rare case in which a dynasty’s tombs are concentrated and remain undamaged. In addition, the experts highly appreciated not only the external beauty of the tombs but also the underlying spiritual world of Confucianism and feng shui. In short, Korea’s beauty, as shown in the originality and superiority of these tombs, is highly recognized by the world.

The tombs` possible registration as World Heritage sites should change the Korean public`s perception of royal tombs. Many of them are now surrounded by skyscrapers as Seoul and vicinity have sprawled. The original shapes of several of the tombs have been damaged as ponds were dug up. Authorities must prevent further damage to the relics and conduct delicate restoration work.

Insufficient academic research on those tombs has been conducted. Shame on Koreans for remaining indifferent to the aesthetic value of the tombs, which is highly praised by foreign experts. It is imperative that they are academically supported.

The Joseon royal tombs are valuable assets for Korea`s future generations as education on Korean cultural heritage and as priceless tourism resources. Korea should make full use of them and promote the many other cultural properties in the country. The entire nation should take pride in its cultural assets, while the government and cultural authorities should take a more active attitude in promoting them.