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Has Korean royal ritual music been corrupted?

Posted January. 22, 2020 07:50,   

Updated January. 22, 2020 07:50


Will it be discussed thoroughly this time whether the original form of the Jongmyo Jeryeak, Korea’s Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 1, has been corrupted?

The Jongmyo Jeryeak is the music and dance performed in royal ancestral rituals held at the Jongmyo Shrine, the royal shrine of the Joseon dynasty. Created by the King Sejong, the Jongmyo Jeryeak was first put to use during the era of King Sejo and used in various rituals. It was added to list of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, together with the Jongmyo Jerye, in 2001, but there have been doubts that its form and content have been corrupted during the Japanese colonial era.

In fact, the name of Botaepyeong and Jeongdaeeop, musical pieces of the Jongmyo Jeryeak, were changed to Botaehwa and Hyangmanyeon, respectively during the Japanese colonial rule. Lee Jong-sook, head of the Korean Traditional Music and Dance Research Institute, indicated the problem in her book and thesis. According to Lee, “Taehwa” is from the Japanese word “Daehwa (大和),” the first united government in Japan. Daehwa means preserve Japan and make it last 10,000 years.

It was Kim Yong, 87, the holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property Cheoyongmu and former chief musician of the National Gugak Center, who suggested that the Jongmyo Jeryeak has been corrupted. Lee Chang-geol, who is leading the citizens’ alliance for the restoration of Jongmyo Jeryeak with Kim said the current Ilmu, a dance of the Jongmyo Jeryeak, is very different from the Siyongmubo, a book illustrating the dance moves of the Jongmyo Jeryeak. He went on to say that the difference is resulted from Japan’s distortions that prevented Iwangjik Iyakbu (training school) from learning the dance properly.

Others argue that it was a change, rather than a corruption. Joo Jae-geun, head of the Jeonghyo Gugak Cultural Foundation, who studied the issue while working for the National Gugak Center, said in a phone interview that it is difficult to discuss the original form of performing arts unless it is recorded on video. He added that it is not that Japan intentionally changed it but the form has been changed over time.

The need to create a committee to investigate the issue has been raised since 2003 in parliamentary inspection of government offices but the committee is yet to be established. The Cultural Heritage Administration reported to the Cultural Properties Committee that it will have a meeting with the National Gugak Center in December last year to review the need to create an investigation committee but the meeting has not been held. It was reportedly pushed back to February this year due to year-end events.

Jong-Yeob JO jjj@donga.com