By Chung Ah-young
The Korean folk song "Arirang" has been registered on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.
UNESCO confirmed the registration submitted by the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) at the 7th Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Paris, France, Wednesday.
With the latest inclusion, Korea now has a total of 15 items on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, including the Royal Ancestral Rite and Ritual Music of the Jongmyo Shrine (2001), "pansori" (traditional narrative song) (2003), the Gangneung Danoje Festival (2005), and the traditional Korean martial art "taekkyeon" (2011).
The international organization highly appreciated that the folk song has been handed down and continuously recreated from generation to generation through various communities. "An array of practitioners of regional versions including local communities, private groups and individuals, actively lead efforts for its popularization and transmission, highlighting the general and local characteristics of individual versions," UNESCO said in a statement.
As the lyrical song has been sung for more than 600 years, it is in the heart of not just South Koreans but for those in the North as well. The cultural heritage carrying the title "Arirang" has been recreated in some 3,600 variations, inspiring many literary, cinematic and art works. The song which contains the pathos and sorrow felt throughout history has contributed to rallying unity among Koreans living both at home and abroad.
"While dealing with diverse universal themes, the simple musical and literary composition invites improvisation, imitation and singing in unison. A great virtue is its respect for human creativity, freedom of expression and empathy. Everyone can create new lyrics, adding to the song's regional, historical and genre variations, and cultural diversity," UNESCO said.
Previously, in August 2009, the CHA applied for a listing on the intangible cultural heritage for "Jeongseon Arirang," known as the original version of the song from the mountainous area of Jeongseon in Gangwon Province. But it was rejected as the number of items for which each country applies for a listing evaluation is limited. Since then, the government had not taken any further action.
But it stepped up efforts to get "Arirang" put on the UNESCO list after China designated it as part of its own national intangible cultural heritage in May 2011. China claims that it is a folk song of an ethnic Korean group living in the northeastern part of the country.
After the Chinese action, the government submitted a revised application for "Arirang" including all variations and versions encompassing different regions and times.
The subpanel of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage last month recommended the song be listed after screening 36 nominations.