Registration of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage and Contestation of Belongings in North EastAsia


UNESCO has played a leading role in the protection of cultural heritage. While 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage(ICH) calls for international cooperation to safeguard the world’s intangible heritage, it inadvertently fosters nationalist claims on cultural ownership. The signatories of the Convention may treat the Convention as an approval of authentic ownership and use its lists to confirm their cultural proprietorship. Inclusion on the list of cultural heritage may generate contestation of belongings among countries over their origin and ownership. This study tends to examine the cases between Korea and China over the registration of UNESCO’s ICH from 2004 to 2012. In this period, there are five items(Goguryeo Tombs, Danoje, Nongak, Donguibogam, Arirang) including Arirang, which provoked cultural conflicts between the two nations. Similar case can be found in Karagoz and Karagiozis, shadow theatre shows of Turkey and Greece, respectively. While the country of origin of this shadow theatre has long been an issue of contestation of belongings between the two, these debates have been intensified following its inscription on the Representative list of the ICH on behalf of Turkey in 2009. This paper proposes to examine that despite ICH’s initial intention to safeguard the world’s intangible heritage, the heritage listing has been served as a strategic tool for politico-nationalistic purposes increasing the contestation of belongings. Examples from Korea and China illustrate that UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage regime can amplify connection between heritage and nationalism hence questioning the role of UNESCO in Culture.

Author Information
Sunhee Park, Seoul National University, South Korea

Paper Information
Conference: GLOBAL2017
Stream: Politics/ political Studies/ Political Sciences

This paper is part of the GLOBAL2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon