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Korea's Iconic Tune, "Arirang," in Danger Updated: 2011-07-29 00:00:00 KST

The song "Arirang" has been accompanying the Korean nation through its trials and jubilations.

[Interview : Kwon Yeon-ok, Ethnic Korean in China] "The song "Arirang" is famous in China as well. It would be nice if it could become a shared heritage."

[Interview : Hyun Seok-yeong, Seoul resident] "That is impossible. It's appropriating someone else's culture as your own. That is just impossible."

[Interview : Kim Jeong-yong, Head
Chinese Korean Society Research Institute] "I believe that it is the joint property of all Korean people including the 7.5 million overseas Koreans."

[Interview : Yun Jae-yeong, Seoul resident] "It's very sad for us. I hope we get the chance to correct such mistakes."

Let's look over the controversy between Korea and China regarding the song "Arirang."

In June, China announced its 3rd list of intangible cultural assets which included the Korean folk tune "Arirang."
China has been seeking to register "Arirang" on the list since 8 years ago. The decision to include the song "Arirang" on the list finally came to pass this year.

[Interview : Bang Seon-gyu, Government employee
Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism] "China has the policy of protecting minority groups. The registration of Korean traditions as intangible cultural assets is part of China's minority policy. The folk song "Arirang" is an indisputable part of Korean culture unique to us alone. This fact cannot be altered by some forced measure on the part of any state."

[Interview : Park In-hwi, Professor of Intl. Studies
Ewha Womans University
] "The song "Arirang" symbolizes the Korean spirit. If it is recognized as a cultural property of the minority group of ethnic Koreans in China, and not as a resource for Korean public diplomacy, it could cause serious problems in cultural diplomacy. As countries become increasingly interconnected, such problems will continue to arise."

This is not the first time China has registered Korean cultural assets as its own. China registered the 60th birthday rituals, the Korean traditional wedding and the hanbok in 2008 as its own. The farmer's dance was registered in 2009 and now, Arirang has been added to the list.

The controversy surrounding China's appropriation is further heighten as the decision is supported by ethnic Koreans in China.

[Interview : Phone interview with ethnic Korean living in China] ""Arirang" is an important cultural asset to ethnic Koreans in China as well. For our culture to survive, we have to receive support from the Chinese government."

[Interview : Lee Wook-yon, Professor of Chinese Culture
Sogang University
] "China is a multiracial country and it considers all the cultural heritage of the minorities living inside its border as its own.
In the case of the "Arirang," it is the cultural heritage of an ethnic minority within China, but it is fundamentally part of Korea's cultural heritage. In such cases of shared culture, the countries involved have to collaborate and make notifications beforehand."

Currently, there are about 60 different versions of the song "Arirang" including those from North Korea.
The song united the entire nation during the World Cup and it was the moving soundtrack to Kim Yu-na's figure skating program.
However, it is not even registered as one of Korea's major cultural asset.

[Interview : Kim Yeon-gab, Chairman
Korean Arirang Association
] "According to South Korean laws on the protection of cultural property, every intangible asset has to have a designated living human treasure as well. However, there are so many varieties all over the country, making it difficult to find corresponding performers for each version, thus many were not designated as cultural assets."

To address the issue, the South Korean government announced legislative amendments to allow all versions of "Arirang" to be designated as cultural assets along with plans to register the song at UNESCO.

[Interview : Kim Sam-ki, Government employee
Cultural Heritage Administration
] "We plan to register "Arirang" at the UNESCO next year. We also plan to amend cultural laws in the long term to enable the designation of "Arirang" as well as festivals such as the Korean New Year and Chuseok as intangible cultural assets without the need for a corresponding living human treasure."

However, the concern among Korean citizens continues to grow.
This is the embassy of China in Seoul, where a lady stands, holding a 1 man protest against China's appropriation.

[Interview : Gwi Mi-hyang, Korean citizen] "When the farmer's dance was registered at the UNESCO by China, the Korean government sent a letter to China, suggesting negotiations regarding such registration. However, China did not give a reply. I was worried that the same could happen to "Arirang", so I decided to participate today."

The Jeongseon Arirang School houses an Arirang Museum. This is where artifacts and records of the song gathered from individual donors are stored.

[Interview : Eom Jeong-ja, Korean citizen] "We have to collect historical records in order to prove that "Arirang" belongs to Korea."

[Interview : Jin Yong-seon, Head
Jeongseon Arirang Research Insitute
] "We should have, and should continue, to document the song whether in writing, audio or video recordings."

Couldn't there be a more fundamental way to protect "Arirang," the song of the Korean spirit[Interview : Kim Yeong-im, Intangible cultural property No. 15] "If we lose "Arirang", it'll be like losing our national identity. Although it seems a little late, if the people and the government all come together to protect the "Arirang," we should be able to accomplish great things."

[Interview : Bang Seon-gyu, Government employee
Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
] "This is not simply a matter of popular sentiments. Preserving and promoting our culture is directly linked to our national identity, so we have to deal with the issue seriously."

In its simple lyrics and soulful melody, the song "Arirang" contains the emotional DNA of the Korean people. The nation will continue its efforts to protect this unique Korean tradition.


I see how frustrating this is because it's a pretty bold maneuver.
This song is one of those pieces of music that resonates in your gut so a lot people are feeling like they got punched in the stomach.
Amazing what people think they can get away with.
Good to see that there are those out there who are defending what they believe in.
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