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Broken VoicesPostcolonial Entanglements and the Preservation of Korea's Central Folksong Traditions$

Roald Maliangkay

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780824866655

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824866655.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM HAWAII SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.hawaii.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Hawaii University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in HSO for personal use.date: 18 September 2021



Promoting Tradition in Korea

(p.1) Introduction
Broken Voices

Roald Maliangkay

University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract and Keywords

In Korea, museum collections have long been comprised of mementos rather than specimens of the national heritage. Even so, Korean cultural properties have served the national interests of various administrations since the early 1960s. Although the cultural policies of previous military governments promoted patriotism and national pride, they also nurtured a cultural cringe that would prove hard to erase. Today, however, Korea’s intangible heritage supports the Korean Wave, which brought an end to the cultural cringe in the late 1990s.

Keywords:   postcolonialism, folksongs, heritage, intangible, preservation, cultural cringe, Korea, kugak, nationalism

ON my first visit to Seoul, in early August 1988, I visited the National Museum of Korea when it was still located on the grounds of Kyŏngbok Palace inside the monumental building formerly used by the Japanese colonial government. Relishing the respite from the humid summer heat, I slowly shuffled through the large open halls, occasionally followed by the stares and whispers of groups of school children, who were unaccustomed to seeing foreigners, let alone teenage civilian ones. The high ceilings and thick walls made the interior seem very impressive, and yet I could not shake the feeling that there was something sad about the exhibition as a whole. If anything, it looked empty. To postpone re-entering the stickiness outside, I visited the museum’s bookshop. But looking through the exhibition catalogues and books, I realized that many of the images offered in print were identical to those I had just seen behind glass. I learned not long after that several of the items on display at the museum were, in fact, copies of the originals.1 Not only had many artifacts been destroyed during the Korean War, but tens of thousands of items had also been taken abroad by foreigners over the course of the twentieth century, and the government was attempting to retrieve them. Despite my first impressions, though, the replicas on display served an important purpose. Many of them featured in publications and commercial products both as decoration and tokens of national pride. Koreans often told me about their cultural heritage with pride, could recite a list of important “national treasures,” and were quick to point their finger at the Japanese for having tried to destroy or erase them. Museum collections, it became apparent, comprised mementos rather than specimens of Korea’s national heritage. In the South Korean government’s attempt to nurture national pride, propaganda proved more important than either the size or authenticity of the country’s heritage.

Since the late 1980s, major sports events, global brands, and the Korean Wave—the worldwide success of South Korean (hereafter Korean) popular (p.2) entertainment since the late 1990s—have tied Korea’s national heritage to images of prosperity and celebrity. Korea’s cultural icons had to play catch-up with those of its neighbors, at least in the eyes of policy makers, but they have proved quite successful, and features of traditional culture now appear prominently in popular entertainment, tourism, and general retail. A modified copy of the traditional costume (hanbok) is a popular formal type of dress, worn by people on a wide range of occasions; and traditional crafts are used everywhere for decoration, from modern hotel lounges to car interiors and restaurants. Even the popularity of traditional folk ceremonies and religious rituals has grown, if perhaps more for sightseeing than participation. The success of such iconic traditions has derived as much from economic growth as from the effectiveness of Korea’s cultural policy. Of particular importance in this regard is the ongoing impact of the Korean Wave on foreign shores. Although it is significantly amplified by the global success of Korean business conglomerates, it is inconceivable that Korean popular entertainment could have become such a phenomenon without the features of traditional culture it incorporates. Korea’s heritage gained significant commercial importance only after the Wave began; until then the country’s cultural traditions were principally used to express a range of sociopolitical concerns, and evoke feelings of patriotism and nostalgia. Today, many consumers across East and Southeast Asia avidly keep up with the latest Korean traditional costume dramas, populated by casting agents from among a broad arsenal of idol K-pop stars.

The commercial success of Korea’s cultural policy is owed partly to the image of Japan overseas, in particular in China and Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and the West. This may be because of familiarity with or fond memories of Japanese popular culture, or resentment of the Japanese government’s unwillingness to discuss its war crimes or its position on whaling. Japan’s image has affected the world’s view of Korean con temporary culture as well as Korea’s national heritage. In this book I investigate Korean government policies created to preserve and promote its intangible heritage, and focus especially on the professional folksong traditions from the central provinces. I discuss the major factors that have made an impact on the alleged authenticity of the Korean traditions and show that the experience of Japanese imperialism has been a major factor in both their configuration and conception.

Studies that scrutinize Korea’s heritage management are generally concerned with either tangible or intangible cultural properties. In her extensive, seminal work on the presentation and preservation of Korean archaeology and tangible properties, Hyung Il Pai deliberates the crucial impact of nationalism, modernity, and colonialism on the valorization of Korean objects and the development of Korean preservation strategies.2 Others, such as Yang Jongsung, focus on strategies toward the preservation of specific elements of Korea’s (p.3) intangible heritage. Among his major contributions is his analysis of the impact of Korea’s heritage management on the reinvention of Kangnyŏng talchum, a mask dance-drama from the town of Kangnyŏng (National Intangible Cultural Property no. 34). As a former performer in the group that preserves the tradition, and an occasional adviser to the government on heritage-related issues, he is able to share many insights related to the decision-making processes.3 Keith Howard is concerned with the use of traditional arts and crafts in the construction of identities on either side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Although he critically investigates the challenges posed by the requirements of authenticity and transmission, he is particularly interested in the motivations of those involved. He includes folksongs in his analyses, but focuses on the less prominent genres from the southern part of the peninsula.4 While I carefully consider the roles identity formation and globalization play in approaches toward heritage and its management, in this book I deviate from the work of these scholars by presenting the primary argument that strategies and notions developed by the Japanese during the colonial period have impacted Korea’s folksong traditions.

Apart from Japanese strategies and notions, major factors in how the management of Korea’s national heritage was conceived include a range of socio-politi cal concerns and economic pressures. In the early days of South Korea’s existence, funding constraints significantly affected the scope of national heritage management. The enormous devastation of the Korean War left little room for a policy that concerned itself with heritage preservation or the nurturing of cultural activities. Rather than promoting the development of culture or investing in sizeable restoration endeavors, therefore, from the mid to late 1950s new legislation regarding culture was mostly administrative and regulatory. Since establishing a comprehensive system of heritage management in 1962, however, Korea has under gone dramatic sociopolitical and economic transformations. Bolstered by feelings of loss and nostalgia, efforts to preserve and revive Korean heritage have tried to keep up with the ensuing changes, but they frequently required adjusting. As properties, both tangible and intangible, became damaged, moved abroad, or risked becoming lost, constant maintenance and policy revisions became necessary.

In the early 1960s, at the first signs of economic recovery, the administration of Park Chung Hee (Pak Chŏnghŭi, 1963–1979) began to heavily involve itself in activities to preserve what it defined as national heritage: “Culture must be a part of the daily lives of the people to hasten the renaissance of our national culture.”5 Believing that its sociopolitical and economic goals could only be achieved through concerted sacrifice by the Korean people as a whole, the administration laid out a cultural policy that promoted national pride using a single historical narrative that emphasized the uniqueness of the Koreans and their culture, which past invaders had tried hard to eradicate.6 In doing so, (p.4) it executed a cultural policy that was colonial at its core (although it would strongly deny this).7 Several of Park’s developmental policies and strategies were noticeably inspired by Japanese ones, including those dealing with Korean heritage. Indeed, in devising his policies and strategies Park would have drawn substantially on his years serving in the Japanese imperial army in Manchukuo.8 It is likely that in exchange for considerable economic aid and investment, US representatives also urged Park to adopt schemes similar to those that had proven successful in Japan in earlier years. For the purpose of reviving the Korean economy and advocating unity in the face of North Korea’s belligerence, Park openly embarked on a policy of reconciliation with Japan.9 His efforts were explained as necessary to secure loans and develop an economy strong enough to hold its own. Since they were intent on making South Korea “impervious to further outside influence,” the government sold them to the public as patriotic.10

In spite of the emphasis they placed on traditional Korean values, Park’s policies were fully supportive of capitalism. Yet they sought to define the modern Korean nation as decidedly non-Western. Chatterjee has shown that in India, in response to British colonialism, a non-Western nationalism led to an exploration of the spiritual and cultural essence of the East, whereby traditional values retained their relevance at home and global values held sway outside. According to the protagonists, Chatterjee asserts, Britain had failed to destroy the inner, essential identity of the East, which lay in its distinctive and superior spiritual culture. The nationalists were nevertheless intent on people studying “the modern sciences and arts of the material world from the West in order to match their strengths and ultimately overthrow the colonizer.”11 In Korea, where Japan was virtually synonymous with the dominant West, Park chose to follow a similar approach. To rally the people behind him in his bold pursuit of idealized Western living standards, he used a similarly self-orientalizing rhetoric: “Orientals possess a mysterious, unified, and harmonized spiritual culture that can scarcely be understood by Westerners, who have different ways of thinking and different systems of logic. Although it is risky to generalize, it is clear that Oriental cultures have a certain gentle, mild rhythm and harmony.”12 To promote this view, government propaganda began to use the slogan “spiritual mobilization,” originally a Japanese war time term whose adoption under Park was again no coincidence.13 And to foster the study of this unique, spiritual culture of Koreans, in 1978 Park established the Korean Spiritual Culture Research Institute (Han’guk chŏngshin munhwa yŏn’guwŏn; renamed Han’gukhak chungang yŏn’guwŏn, or Central Research Institute for Korean Studies, in 2005), known in English as the Academy of Korean Studies. On its current home page, the institute explains that its mission is to overcome “the ethical confusion that has emerged alongside rapid industrialization.”

(p.5) Apart from making efforts to implement policies from Korea’s former colonial power while publicly denouncing them, Park emphasized the danger of renewed North Korean aggression, communism, and foreign cultural imperialism. In his inaugural address on December 17, 1963, for example, he said, “The difficult times that followed the turn of this century included [our] blind acceptance of unsuitable foreign customs and manners at the end of World War II. This half century of shame and disgrace degraded our traditions and customs, and lowered public and private morality.”14 While primarily aimed at encouraging Koreans to work toward a common goal—the pursuit of Western materialism—and refrain from dissident activities, the denial of the plurality (and indigenous agency) of colonial modernity,15 and the focus on Korea’s unique culture also served to prevent negative reactions to the effects of economic growth (e.g., increased economic in equality and new values in conflict with official policy). At the same time, Park may have hoped that the emphasis placed on protecting Korean traditions would help prevent accusations of being unpatriotic in light of his efforts to reconcile with Japan.

The inability to abandon the standards and hierarchies of the colonial past has long represented one of the major predicaments of postcolonial nationalism. Indeed, Park’s penchant for comparing Korea with Japan would have resonated with many of his contemporaries, including US representatives. Sorensen notes that after liberation, many among the business and intellectual elite, who had maintained “uncomfortably close ties with the Japanese authorities” during the colonial period, believed that Koreans had a lot to learn from the Japanese.16 Possibly compounded by the geographical proximity of its former colonizer, which achieved fast economic recovery after the Pacific War and benefited from the United States having a relatively higher opinion toward its recent adversary, a cultural cringe manifested in the first few decades of Korea’s post-Liberation era.17 Many norms introduced by the Japanese during the colonial era prevailed, as the former colonizer remained, alongside the United States, one of Korea’s primary yardsticks in terms of cultural prowess and economic development. The cringe dissipated only in the final years of the previous millennium, when the Korean Wave began to divert considerable soft power away from Japan, and Japanese pop culture, which had been banned for decades, became widely available in Korea for comparison.

Park’s cultural and education policies would have a profound effect on the national “popular” image of Japan. Along with a cultural cringe, they fostered anti-Japanese sentiment, which remained strong at least until the mid 1990s. Although the administration could not openly promote negative opinions of Japan, it ensured that their adherents occupied key positions in public information and education while prohibiting the import and public display of cultural products from Japan, including the employment of Japanese entertainers. It also (p.6) made efforts to educate foreigners about Korea’s suffering at the hands of foreign invaders. An English-language publication by Samsung from 1991 is testament to the lasting impact of Park’s public information and education policies. Entitled “Misconceptions about Korean History,” it sets out to correct factual errors in the descriptions of Korean historical events in foreign textbooks and in the process conveniently lists endless examples of Japanese aggression.18 Two years later, Jeon Yeo-ok (Chŏn Yŏok) published a collection of essays that attacked Japanese culture under the title There Is No Japan (Ilbon-ŭn ŏpta; 1993), which became a bestseller within months.19 Although the government did not directly subsidize either publication, the latter’s initial popularity, amid some criticism, suggests that it did not reflect the opinion of the author only. A critical view of Japan had become widespread.

In 1962, the government promulgated the Cultural Properties Protection Law (Munhwajae pohopŏp), which set up a system to protect, transmit, and promote Korea’s cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. It initially won the approval of many students and intellectuals who wanted to uphold Korea’s folk heritage, which they claimed the Japanese colonial government had tried hard to erase.20 Despite their support for the government policy, they would later join the antihegemonic Minjung movement, which, among other things, spurred criticism of the way the government went about protecting and reviving Korea’s folklore. Although several other laws related to culture were passed around the same time, the administration’s economic strategy prevented the system from receiving adequate funding until the end of the decade.21 Active sponsorship and promotion of cultural activities began with the enactment of the Culture and Arts Promotion Law (Munhwa yesul chinhŭngpŏp) in 1972. This law, last amended in 2016, forms the basis of Korea’s present cultural policy. The most comprehensive measures for the promotion of culture taken since then include two five-year plans (1974–1978 and 1979–1983), a ten-year plan initiated in 1990 by the newly established Ministry of Culture,22 and the 1999 Basic Law for the Promotion of Cultural Industries (Munhwa sanŏp chinhŭng kibonpŏp), which provided major incentives for the production and promotion of Korean popular entertainment.23

In the late 1960s, when it was still making regular adjustments to its overall approach toward preserving and promoting national heritage, the Korean government split with the US government over issues of defense and security. Tension built up between President Park and Korean Christian leaders, who had long kept close ties with their American counter parts.24 Partly in order to secure the allegiance of his political base in the Yŏngnam region of Kyŏngsang province, a Confucian stronghold, Park began to actively promote Confucian activities, including the concepts of ch’ung and hyo (loyalty to one’s superiors and filial piety). This was intended to encourage compliance with official regulations (p.7) and the endorsement of national economic plans. The Cultural Properties Protection Law from 1962 fit well into this policy, as it could be used to promote specific customs and traditions, including traditional values (though by the late 1980s the new rituals and principles included a few with strong shamanistic associations, which Park had tried hard to eradicate).25

Initiated in 1971, the New Village Movement (Saemaŭl undong) was another major program intended to develop the Korean economy and the people’s communal spirit. It followed Park’s plans to reduce the economic and ideological differences between urban and rural areas and to boost agricultural production. Rapid urbanization was leading to a fast-growing age gap between rural and urban populations, causing rural communities to become ill disposed toward new policies and farming methods. Crucial to the success of the movement, therefore, was an upgrade of farming methods and technologies, and for this the government had to interfere extensively in village matters.26 In order to achieve significant technological innovation, the government tried to break down the traditional Confucian hierarchy of the village and to install younger, more modern men in leadership positions. It also advocated for a New Mind Movement (Saemaŭm undong) and New Village Spirit (Saemaŭl chŏngshin), which under-scored the importance of harboring ideals equivalent to those of ch’ung and hyo while promoting self-reliance and a cooperative spirit.27 The movement’s emphasis on frugality and the value of moral and physical education once more revealed the influence of earlier Japanese programs, specifically the colonial Rural Promotion Movement (Nongch’on chinhŭng undong) and the New Life Movement (Shin seikatsu undō), which was introduced in Japan in the late 1940s and reached its height in the 1950s. The wide distribution of entertainment and sports programs served the additional purpose of swaying the populace by giving them a taste of what the movement’s primary slogan—“let’s try living well” (chal saraboja)—implied.28 Yet, as it was believed that the success of the New Village Movement lay in modernizing the villages to the level of the cities,29 those rituals and traditions thought to stand in the way were oppressed or forbidden.

Many Koreans opposed the focus on secular rationalism and Westernization as well as the unfair treatment of workers and police violence that persisted during the regime of Park’s successor Chun Doo-hwan (Chŏn Tuhwan, 1979–1988). In the 1970s a populist Minjung movement began to emerge that engaged industrial workers, artists, students, and young intellectuals. Although relatively obscure at first, it gained momentum following the ruthless government crack-down on a popular uprising in Kwangju City in May 1980, which later also became known as the Kwangju massacre. The violent episode firmly established Minjung as the dominant ideology of the working class.30 Several years ahead of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, when the world media feasted on footage of students hurling rocks at military police across torn-up streets clouded by tear gas, (p.8) the Minjung political protests concentrated on cultural symbolism. Protagonists expressed their discontent in a way that stood in sharp contrast to the cultural features of the regime.31 They advocated traditional Korean culture, which they defined as rural and largely agricultural, in opposition to Western culture, and accused the government and the elite of too eagerly embracing North American culture and its associated norms. In its stead, they sought “a national community where humans are liberated” from “individualistic materialistic culture and administrative force.”32 Seeing as it advocated a return to the traditional, preindustrialized village values, the Minjung movement promoted principles that conflicted a little with those under lying the New Village Movement. But Minjung proponents’ active opposition to cultural imperialism and their anger over Japanese aggression in some ways mirrored the government’s own cultural policy and may have been a partial outcome of it.33

In protest against the government’s advocacy of Western values and the oppression of Korean traditions, many Minjung practitioners turned toward the study of traditional arts and religion, masked dance drama, farmer’s music and shamanism in particular—aspects of Korean culture that were not institutionalized and had long been suppressed. Masked dance drama appears to have preceded shamanism as a metaphor of political resistance. Having traditionally provided political satire for the working classes, its very image represented resistance to the military dictatorship, regardless of its script.34 Some students started playing the music of farmers’ percussion bands (p’ungmul) in small ensembles, dressed in the costumes of folk musicians. Their number grew considerably in the mid-1980s, when their activities became a common sight on university campuses. For a while, shamanism became a popular form of entertainment and field of study. Kim Kwang-ok points out that the use of shamanistic ritual items as an integral part of the student rallies symbolized protest against the government’s official cultural policy in two ways: it was a reaction against Western cultural imperialism and a demonstration in favor of an authentically Korean belief system that governments had long attempted to eradicate because it was thought to be superstitious and retrogressive.35 Tangherlini argues that, in addition, because shamans were predominantly female, their publicly taking center stage symbolized a rejection of the traditional Confucian social order.36

The Park and Chun administrations strongly endorsed sports activities not only to nurture patriotism, but, along with cheap, erotic entertainment, also to divert the public’s attention away from politics.37 At the same time, they maintained a system of strict censorship to silence critical voices and drown out dissonance. For decades, government propaganda and the apparatus of censorship worked overtime to mold the Korean people into conscientious workers and to quiet subversive thoughts that spurred Minjung or any other form of activism. (p.9) Widespread propaganda emphasized proper morals and a strong work ethic and reminded people of the hazards of foreign imperialism and aggression. The government even scrutinized the public performances of folksongs it had officially designated as cultural properties,38 making sure their performers did not abandon the script for the sake of entertainment. The rules for censorship were left intentionally vague, but expressions of support for North Korean or Japanese society and culture could result in incarceration and even torture.39 In 1999, the second democratically elected government acknowledged that there was no longer a purpose for such policies and abolished many of the propaganda and censorship committees that had scrutinized the entertainment media and public performances.40 Government-disseminated information nevertheless continues to be an important political tool and efforts to protect Korean moral standards persist, albeit in reduced form. As many forms of commerce and political activism have moved online, the Korean government has established new agencies to survey online activities. While some of these may be politically motivated in their investigation of potentially subversive or other wise illegal activities, others, such as those protecting Korean copyright, may be driven mostly by the possible loss of revenue.

Korea’s cultural policy thus continues to adapt to the changing sociopolitical and economic climate. This applies equally to the way in which the government manages national heritage, but the changes in approach have been subtle, as compromises have been made. Those compromises are arguably most noticeable among intangible cultural properties, a category that comprises a range of practices and skills that have been passed on from generation to generation and include the performing arts and a number of crafts. But preservation efforts must be sustainable. Since the heritage preservation system relies on transmission, it must generate an interest in its traditions among future generations, while recognizing that the changing makeup of Korean society will dictate what captures the imagination of future practitioners and domestic audiences alike. In the future, people may highlight and further develop specific aspects of some traditions that are not necessarily of particular note today. The use and performance of these and other traditions may become associated with different social groups, which, in turn, will affect how the traditions become interpreted. The preservation system does not officially incorporate the possibility of adaptation as such, but many of the traditions under the system’s tutelage have either been adapted or promoted differently to maintain their con temporary significance—with the fast-growing number of mixed marriages and Koreans born overseas likely creating the need for further adjustments in the future.41 Despite being left undefined, since the notion of authenticity remains essential to the system, conspicuous forms of adaptation challenge the effectiveness of its approach.

(p.10) Managing the Intangible

Government policies that focus on national intangible heritage can be found all over the world.42 Their stated objectives are likely to highlight the cultural and social capital of the art forms concerned, but as they support the general objectives of their respective administrations, they may not be all-inclusive or aimed at the preservation of the art forms for future generations. In North Korea, for example, legislation does not incorporate intangible cultural properties.43 Following the inauguration of the Galloping Horse Movement (Ch’ŏllima undong) in 1957 and the subsequent Juche ideology, concepts such as “collective art” (chipch’e yesul) and “collective creation” (chipch’e ch’angjak) were introduced that did away with individualism and the evils of the feudal past and paid homage to Soviet influence.44 Traditions were subsequently revised introducing, among other things, new instruments and harmonic arrangements.45 In the south, rather than relying on the masses to recreate and innovate, policies for intangible heritage aimed, instead, at emphasizing the historical uniqueness of the Korean people and their culture. Although it may seem ironic that the pivotal 1962 Cultural Properties Protection Law (CPPL) closely followed a Japanese model (see chapter 1), including a category of intangible (muhyŏng) cultural properties that comprised performing arts, crafts, and martial arts, it differed from its Japanese counterpart in that it prioritized folk arts and crafts rather than the arts of the nobility. Howard argues that this shift of emphasis was intended in part to avoid foregrounding art forms that had been limited only to a privileged few and were marked by Chinese influence, and in part to allow the inclusion of folk traditions that had been oppressed by the Japanese.46

In order to regulate the decision-making process for listing cultural properties, the CPPL established a committee made up of specialists from different fields of study, the Cultural Properties Committee (Munhwajae wiwŏnhoe; CPC). CPC members travel throughout the country to survey and write reports on cultural items, and on the basis of these reports, which often define an item’s “original form” (wŏnhyŏng), the CPC may recommend their recognition as cultural properties. The CPPL ensures the protection, promotion, and, if appropriate, the restoration of such properties. It “maintain[s] the right to authorize or other wise control the performance of designated items or the activities of the performers.”47 To safeguard the transmission of these so-called Important Intangible Cultural Properties (Chungyo muhyŏng munhwajae; IICPs), “holders” (poyuja) were appointed. These holders are required to perform and teach their art, and since 1968 they have received a monthly stipend to help them do so. To encourage and support the study of intangible cultural properties, the government also financially supports promising students.

(p.11) Opinions about what constitutes a successful preservation scheme differ considerably. Studies and reports document the conflicting concerns and approaches of various stakeholders involved in intangible heritage management across the world, such as private entrepreneurs, academics, the general public, and governments, and the values that each group ties to specific cultural expressions.48 A study of these reveals a consensus that today, one of the greatest challenges to the sustainable preservation of cultural items and activities is the tourism industry.49 Even so, efforts to protect cultures from the negative effects of tourism cannot guarantee their survival. Although an interest group may be successful in its preservation efforts, it is likely that its objectives will change over time and that the cultural elements preserved will acquire a different symbolic value as a result. Specific items can maintain their significance and even outlast the communities and customs that initially sustained them,50 but this may require the readjustment of strategies and even the invention of a new historic continuity.51

It might seem that loss of authenticity would render heritage management impossible, but equally, any system that seeks to freeze aspects of culture will eventually have to justify their importance time and again as society changes. Even traditions recognized for their historical cultural value may ultimately yield to the forces of change, such as technological innovation, new notions of beauty, and demographic shifts. In Korea, the legislation does not include provision for the adaptation of traditions, although those involved in the designation of intangible cultural properties acknowledge the inevitability of change. As long as people are involved, some change will occur, but many studies nevertheless challenge the authenticity of traditions based on their alleged unnatural development. Such studies presumably assume that “authentic” traditions are relatively stable. And yet traditions rarely develop along a steady chronological line and sometimes incorporate modern elements from a very different origin.52 Andrew Killick notes that when ch’anggŭk, a traditional Korean opera, borrows from other genres, the elements brought in are rarely “pure and unified” themselves.53 In the case of Korean traditional performing arts, at least, the issue of authenticity does not, therefore, apply so much to the inclusion of new ingredients per se, but rather, to forms of art that have adopted this practice more recently.

In Korea, debates regarding heritage management have often revolved around the issue of authenticity. As they were concerned with the re-evaluation and preservation of Korean culture, the magazines Space (Konggan; since 1966) and The Deep-rooted Tree (Ppuri kip’ŭn namu; since 1976) both featured regular discussions of the government’s cultural policies. While Konggan viewed traditions as constantly evolving elements of culture, The Deep-rooted Tree expressed a fervent concern for the erosion of the authenticity of traditions under the state’s guardianship.54 The Chun administration finally banned The Deep-rooted (p.12) Tree in 1980 under the National Security Act,55 an action the magazine’s founder, aesthete Han Ch’anggi (1936–1997), explained as having been driven by the notion that “intellectuals read it.”56 Although Han was not critical of the concept of heritage preservation as such, he was scathing when he discussed the wide-spread corruption in the system and the fact that it was encouraging artists to change their traditions in order to be noticed:

With regard to the current preservation system I think they fail to project it into the future. They do a lousy job too. Usually they designate [as holders] the people who are friends with the researchers. These people are very diplomatic, certainly not the best artists. Real artists are temperamental. … so they designate the wrong people, the kind of people that do a great job of explaining their art. … You see, they also designate useless things like embroidery. This craft—hwarot—was prosperous until the Chinese moved in. The coats are very expensive. Without appointments there would be competition and lower prices. Now they sign their product. The same with shoes. There was this man who was very skilled at making shoes so they appointed him, but he started making his own designs and then he even started to make tables. Very ugly tables, outside his field. Now look at this ink stone. Our ink stones used to be very simple, but if you go to Insa-dong now all stones are decorated too much, like baroque. At the National Handicrafts Contest one has to make big things in order to win. The country lets them compete. … There was this guy who could make really nice knives, the kind Koreans wore on their belts, but he got no attention. Someone told him, “you should make a big sword.”57

Since the fall of the military dictatorship that banned the magazine, the majority of Koreans have come to embrace the system as a whole, though the issues Han raised continue to complicate its effective implementation.

The official designation of intangible cultural properties implies a change in the social and cultural capital of the art forms. This inevitably leads to a reduction of diversity. When the Korean government began to designate traditions as cultural properties, it chose one or two versions of a tradition as they existed at a specific point in time. It disregarded alternatives and the possibility that a few elements had been changed in recent years.58 Although the authenticity of many Korean art forms had been the subject of debate well before the heritage management scheme was put in place,59 the official designations have led to much criticism among scholars and practitioners. While some condemn the exclusion of alternative forms, others argue that a number of the traditions the government claims to protect are not being preserved in their “original form” (wŏnhyŏng).60 Scholars have also pointed out a lack of depth in several (p.13) reports that document why an art form was designated, and they have questioned why candidates put forward for appointment already held authoritative positions in their fields.61

While many of the changes to the three folksong genres discussed in this book are relatively recent inventions, they do not necessarily jeopardize the value of the genres as cultural heritage as long as the particular values they have been chosen to represent remain unaffected.62 What is more, artifacts and traditions have more than cultural or nostalgic value; they may provide an income and perform a social function, factors that require a degree of flexibility on the part of both the performers and their audiences. When inventions do occur, the inventors themselves may be unaware of them, and even when they are, they may not always consider them “changes”; they may believe in their own creations as long as they benefit from them.63 Eyerman and Jamison argue that in today’s world, traditions have come to remedy the breakdown of communities. More individualized than in the past, people select them to define themselves.64 Traditions increasingly represent different things to different people. Even within a fairly homogenous society such as South Korea, the general public, intellectuals, and others may variously criticize the legitimacy of traditions.65 Their opinions are shaped by sociopolitical and economic change, to which, along with technological innovation, cultural development occurs in response.

To link the uniqueness of a culture to history by stressing “authentic” traditions can therefore be misleading. A number of Korean scholars have nevertheless emphasized the historical legitimacy of Korean culture in order to justify the nation’s existence, as if the absence of true change somehow explains its many accomplishments. Kim Young-soo, for example, claims that without a firm notion of “national culture,” “race would lose its spirit and finally fall into a colonial country in the political dimension. If this abnormal state extended over a long period of time, the race would stand on the brink of perishment. Only by elucidating the right tradition of national history upon the tradition of national identity and at the same time accept and assimilate foreign culture in our own way, can we create a new and high culture and history.”66 In other words, a Korean identity based on a clearly defined single history is the basis of national legitimacy and it is tied to the concept of national culture, regardless of whether the latter is based on mere assumption as opposed to fact. Kim’s words certainly apply beyond Korea. Benedict Anderson argues that in general, among the various imagined communities that have emerged around the world since roughly the eighteenth century, “the objective modernity of nations in the historian’s eye exists alongside their subjective antiquity in the eyes of nationalists.” He notes that this position is not a universal one, since Swiss nationalism, for example, appears to be characterized by modernity rather than antiquity.67 Richard Handler finds that the justification of nationhood through heritage is (p.14) common. Quoting a Quebec high school student who claims that Quebec constitutes a nation because it has a culture, he contends that it reflects the Western materialist idea that a people’s identity is manifested through its possessions.68 He cites a principle formulated by a UNESCO panel in 1976 that recognizes the importance of repatriating cultural properties to their countries of origin on the basis that they constitute “a basic element of a people’s identity.”69

Despite the importance of claims to historicity, heritage management always disrupts the continuity of traditions. It cannot maintain the historical social contexts in which traditions grew, and it will affect the purpose of the art forms and that of the people involved in them. Shalom Staub is right, therefore, to question whether the authenticity of traditions lies in the objects themselves (even if the original function is lost) or in their function.70 The Korean government pursues the protection of cultural properties through preservation and transmission,71 but it is inconceivable that one might successfully pass on a folk tradition endlessly without sacrificing its authenticity. Since societies change, so do traditions. The alternative to freezing a tradition in time lies in allowing it to reflect changing societal contexts. Especially in music, which not only carries meaning and a link to the past but also functions as entertainment, preferences change considerably over time. To freeze all elements of a traditional music would deny its practitioners the ability to modify their art to relate to contemporary entertainment and expectations, including their own. Bruno Nettl posits that preventing music from changing will eventually turn it into “an artificially preserved museum.”72 Even so, attempts to freeze traditions can certainly serve a purpose. Museums provide a reference for questions of identity and definitions of a culture. They may play a role in the revival of traditions and use them to demonstrate a culture’s continuity. And even when they merely document that which identifies a cultural group, museums serve to embellish the identity of that group and summon feelings of nostalgia.

The difficulty of dealing with change in the performing arts is partly due to oral transmission and interpretation. Since interpretation—and improvisation—is an inherent aspect of the folk performing arts, it needs to be incorporated in the preserved art form, to some degree at least. Folk performing arts are generally transmitted orally, through rote learning, and performers rely on what they recall having been taught, though the more senior they are the more room for interpretation they are likely allowed. They may add and omit elements intentionally or unintentionally, based on the conditions of performance, all within the tradition. Nettl argues in favor of allowing change because it constitutes a basic element of folksong performance: “A folksong may be sung differently by a singer on various occasions, each performance representing a change from the past, but the artifact remains an unchanged unit of musical thought.”73 The degree to which some traditions allow improvisation, however, varies. Nettl (p.15) notes that while the Samaritans of Israel and the Navajo were anxious to preserve their liturgical tradition, in other cultures people may be much less concerned about preserving the lyrics or music of their folk art because its essence does not lie in those elements.74 In folk music, improvisation will in many cases result from participants either not knowing or failing to remember parts of a piece of music. Roger Janelli and Dawnhee Yim Janelli found that ignorance is a standard characteristic in the performance of Korean folklore: “Ignorance, or ‘not knowing,’ need not be regarded as a lapse of memory, a faltering of tradition, or any other deficiency in either the folklore performance or transmission progress. Ignorance may be characteristic of highly effective performances, enhance their very effectiveness, and help maintain a vigorous and healthy tradition in its present form.”75 Joshua Pilzer points out that for elderly Korean women, particularly those living in the southwestern namdo area, self-expression is prioritized over the accurate rendition of versions of songs passed on to them.76

Korean society has changed considerably since the enactment of the Cultural Properties Protection Law, and social values and norms have adapted accordingly. The Korean government’s cultural preservation system may allow a small degree of adaptation, but it cannot allow it to lead to further development. The designated cultural property sets an ideal that the heritage system hopes will be followed, irrespective of its authenticity. This book focuses on those who are expected to preserve the traditions they represent and personify, regardless of whether that allows them to convey personal emotions. Although I describe aspects that have changed from the audience’s point of view on a number of occasions, I am not concerned with change itself and concur with Bruno Nettl in regarding studies concerned with “continuity and change” as clichéd.77 Rather, I attempt to show how Korean folksong traditions have evolved and what factors have caused them to change. Why, in other words, they have either gained, maintained, or lost their relevance in changing conditions.

Establishing Motives

Upon examination, it is clear that a number of intangible cultural properties have been altered since their designation. The changes are diverse: some folk traditions have been modified to gain an advantage over similar traditions, for example, by adding a colorful uniform or unusual stage props; others have changed the gender composition of the performers due to a lack of male or female interest; and others still have reverted to an earlier form as a conscious decision of its performers. These changes reflect personal and artistic priorities as well as sociopolitical and economic pressures. Because a tradition can stress the uniqueness of a people as a whole and serve as a cultural icon, it can extend (p.16) cultural and social capital to those involved. It is difficult, therefore, to isolate a single agent of change, not least because various interest groups are intertwined: both scholars and performers are among those who have been involved in executing government efforts to preserve traditions. Although it is easier to determine the effect of changes in folk traditions than to identify their cause, it is sometimes possible to establish a particular motive, even among the vast body of Korean folksongs. Folksongs rarely require special skill and are easily performed and transmitted by large groups of people. The common anonymity of the songs may cloud the rationale for particular changes, but among preserved genres such as those examined in this book, which require considerable special training and are passed on by a relatively small number of people, the cause for change can occasionally be determined.

At present, a total of eight folksong traditions are listed as National Intangible Cultural Properties (for a detailed list, see chapter 1), but this study is concerned primarily with Sŏnsori sant’aryŏng (Standing Mountain Songs), Kyŏnggi minyo (Folksongs from Kyŏnggi Province), and Sŏdo sori (Folksongs from the Western Provinces). These three genres have the largest number of folksong practitioners. Unlike many other folksong genres, they have been transmitted in and around Seoul, where they have been subject to considerable change and their performers, music, and repertoires have become interconnected. They therefore present major challenges when discussing authenticity. In the case of Kyŏnggi minyo and Sŏnsori sant’aryŏng, for example, the issues are tied very much to gender. Although once sung by either men or women, both genres are now sung predominantly by women, which affects the sound, movement, and semiotics of performance. Because the CPPL lends authority to the form of these folksongs, their sound and presentation will become set in the minds of audiences for the foreseeable future. The preservation of Sŏdo sori, on the other hand, ties the issue of authenticity to the question of roots: How can performers successfully pass on a tradition when they have never visited the native land from which it derives—and, in all likelihood, never will—and to which its music and lyrics refer?

In this book I investigate how the three major genres have developed over time and what impact the official preservation system has had on their alleged authenticity. I analyze the historical development of these three traditions from the viewpoint of repertoire, pedigree, music, and representation (or performance) and pay attention to what factors have influenced decision making. One major factor in their transition to intangible cultural properties is postcolonialism. Resentment towards the Japanese, for example, continues to smolder. Until recently, many Koreans resented the Japanese colonial government’s alleged suppression of many forms of Korean folk performing arts. In response, some of the custodians of these genres have emphasized their anti-Japanese credentials, while others have created them. In these cases, the indignation over the (p.17) colonial experience may have been fuelled by the desire to stand out among competing folk traditions. In 1998, for example, “Tondollari,” a dance with song from south Hamgyŏng province was listed under a special category of cultural properties (see chapter 1), even though those involved had made obvious adjustments to it in order to compete with similar traditions and become noteworthy as a unique remnant of anti-Japanese resistance.78 Its developers prob ably drew inspiration from “Kanggangsullae,” a women’s circle dance song, which in 1966 became the first folksong genre to be appointed an IICP and was included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. There are many theories regarding the latter’s origin. One of the most popular holds that the tradition dates from the time of the Hideyoshi invasions (1592–1598), when the women’s movements were intended to lead the Japanese Navy to think that Korean troop movements were a preparation for battle on the shore.79 According to a 1954 English language publication of Korean folksong scores by the “National Music Research Society of Korea,” on the other hand, a “rather reliable” theory holds that the song was composed by Admiral Yi Sunshin, who was responsible for defeating the Japanese Navy on numerous occasions. Intended as a warning that the Japanese Navy was approaching, the song title therefore ought to be interpreted as meaning “the ferocious enemy is coming across the sea.”80

Korea’s most widely known song, “Arirang,” meanwhile, was included on UNESCO’s list in December 2012, first as a South Korean song and then again on November 24, 2014, as a group of songs that came from different provinces in North Korea.81 Although it already existed in many forms in the nineteenth century, the version preserved gained much popular appeal when in 1926 its lyrics appeared on screen at the end of Na Un’gyu’s controversial silent film of the same name. Both the narrative of the movie, which highlighted the Japanese colonial government’s violent oppression of the Korean people, and the film narrators (pyŏnsa) who performed it lent the song an undertone of political resistance not actually reflected in its lyrics.82 Despite the active promotion of a mere romantic reading of the lyrics by the Japanese,83 the popularity of the song with the Japanese in the ensuing years nevertheless authenticated its power, as both a form of entertainment that could compete with that of Japan, and as a symbol of colonial-era retribution. Many Korean government-produced materials, including the previously mentioned English language volume, have highlighted the standardized song as an expression of the Koreans’ colonial experience: “Under Japanese pressure, we shed tears of national indignation singing Arira[n]g and now swear to realize our wishes singing this warm-hearted song. … The melancholy melody of this song … seems to symbolize the sorrowful and painful fortune of our nation. We cannot overlook that this melody holds firmness of purpose desiring final victory against the enemy through national trials and tribulations.”84

(p.18) Popular folksongs play a significant role in the experience and representation of postcolonialism. For many years government-sponsored performing troupes traveling overseas have incorporated “Arirang” alongside elements of dubious heritage or authenticity in their performance. While the latter were aimed primarily at boosting the shows’ visual appeal—they sometimes featured a few scantily clad male drummers beating oversized barrel drums, an image strongly reminiscent of a Japanese wadaiko performance—the inclusion of “Arirang” was intended to promote the song’s recognizability as a symbol of Korea. Both characteristics were, however, also aimed at stirring feelings of nostalgia and national pride among Koreans in the audience. Perhaps because “Kanggangsullae” would require a considerable number of young female performers, the song rarely forms part of the programs. It appears that “Tondollari,” which is not as strongly associated with a particular age group or gender, has taken its place. In October 2014, for example, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed a large number of guests to an extravagant kugak (Korean traditional music) show touring Australia to commemorate the opening of the G20 Leaders Summit in Australia. Although it comprised folk, fusion, and B-boy dance music, the program included no less than five folksong renditions: four of “Arirang,” and one of “Tondollari.” The Korean national flag appeared both on stage and in a slick tourism video, which was projected halfway through the concert and highlighted some of Korea’s major achievements in culture, science, and business.

Considering that all Japanese cultural products, including traditional performing arts, were banned in Korea from the time it was liberated, it seems unlikely that they would have had any significant impact on Korean art. And yet their image has long affected the interpretation of Korean traditions, including folksongs. Unable to shake the cultural cringe, performers, scholars, and policy makers have sought to establish Korean icons that could compete with those of Japan.85 Much like folksongs with anti-Japanese lyrics, the three folksong properties seek to heal the wounds of Korea’s colonial past, and they remind us of its suffering through the broken voices of the singers. Changes that epitomize this purpose have occurred in the traditions of Sŏnsori sant’aryŏng and Kyŏnggi minyo since the colonial period. In dance, vocal style, costume, and the gender of its primary performers, the two genres have been developed as Korean alternatives to the iconic sound and image of koto-playing geisha. Chapter 3 describes how these traditions came to be reconfigured, in part, to outdo their imagined Japanese counterpart.

There are, however, other factors that have led to the reconfiguration of Korean folksong traditions. One is that Korea now has a significant Christian population, which, though still a minority, exhibits significant intolerance toward shamanistic, Buddhist, and Confucian features, particularly where its own activities are concerned.86 Another factor is the diminished career prospects offered (p.19) by the folk arts. Although the Korean Wave has boosted the visibility and marketability of Korean traditions both domestically and overseas, the possibility of performers earning a decent living through folk arts remains small, leading to a steady demise in the number of male professionals. A third factor involves the nostalgic value of folk arts from what is now North Korea. While the likelihood of reunification was great enough to inspire the many students who took part in the Minjung movement, the failure of President Kim Dae Jung’s Sunshine Policy (1998–2007), and continued North Korean aggression since then, have diminished nostalgia for the north and its customs. It is therefore possible that the tradition of Sŏdo sori, which comprises songs that originate from and relate to the now North Korean Hwanghae and P’yŏngan provinces, may summon stronger feelings of nostalgia if the idea of reunification is abandoned. Equally though, the genre may lose these feelings for good because neither its current practitioners nor the majority of their audiences were born or trained in the tradition’s native land.

Con temporary folk artists must meet other demands that are not directly related to their art per se, such as networking, liaising with private benefactors, and sometimes even converting to Christianity or undergoing cosmetic surgery.87 Such demands are a consequence of changes in society and may be inspired by developments in popular culture. Oskar Elschek argues that cultural policies can only “speed up or slow down processes of change that are already taking place,”88 and yet it is commonly expected that the holders and students of intangible cultural properties adhere as close as possible to the “authentic form” designated by the CPC, even though this is not specified in the CPPL. This book does not seek to account for all the social factors implicated in the changes that have occurred within the folksong traditions, but acknowledges the significance of major sociopolitical and economic shifts. I contend that the Korean preservation system has both effected and consolidated changes in folksong traditions in the process of selection, and that it has chosen not to rectify modifications that have since taken place.

Some of the material presented in this book is based on fieldwork from the mid-1990s. Drawing on standard methodologies of anthropology, I have applied in particular ethnomusicology’s “critical method,” which highlights the contextualization of music and performance. It urges caution when interpreting field-work data, paying due account to the potential impact of the recording process on the actions of informants and their audiences.89 The importance of contextualization also pertains to the use of particular sound or image media. Considering, for example, the cost and practical operation of gramophone recordings in the past should allow more accurate conjecture regarding the media’s application and audience. This can be of use in trying to avoid making false claims on the basis of materials that do not represent the conditions described,90 and allows readers to (p.20) infer caveats on claims made by informants.91 Although the many methods used to notate music and lyrics in the past ought to be included in such considerations, I have chosen to discuss only those I consider to have had significant impact on the performance or transmission of specific forms of music.

The prominence of musicians’ personal stories in this text acknowledges the individual conditions in which the musicians studied and performed their art over time, which intimates to some degree the basis of their position within their music scene and outside. In addition, it sheds light on the possible rationale for a number of the changes traditions incurred under their helm. The information I was able to gather on the singers’ past is limited by lack of access to their backgrounds. As a result, the conclusions I arrived at in regard to the effect of postcolonialism on their traditions are more likely to appear assumptive. While the focus and detail of individual accounts as well as the time of their composition will bear on the value of any musical ethnography, Timothy Rice presents a strong argument that by considering the experience of music, an overemphasis on the role of particular individuals (including the ethnographer) can be remedied. What, indeed, led them to take up studying music in the first place? And how did they respond to modernity and the changing significance of their practice?92 Since an emphasis on adversity is nevertheless likely to highlight and possibly romanticize individual accomplishment, I have included the personal stories of a range of performers across different genres. This should underscore the importance of recognizing the individually dissimilar experiences of certain sociopolitical or economic changes.93

The conditions under which I collected fieldwork data differed over time. Sometimes, a professor or musician would provide the necessary introduction to an informant, but in most cases I was able to approach people of my own accord. The value of the eventual interview would rely on a fortunate culmination of factors, such as the informant being in the right mood, and perhaps intrigued by a young foreigner who professed an interest in Korean heritage, as well as him or her having faith in my ability to understand and represent the information requested. Interviews ultimately became easier as my language skills improved, and as I became older and was affiliated with a Western educational institution, all of which lent me more legitimacy. It is unavoidable that my being a foreigner affected the informants’ rendition of events to some degree. It certainly led several elderly informants to simplify their accounts and spend time recounting what was fairly common knowledge, even after I provided evidence of having previously studied the topic. Meanwhile, the practicalities of conducting interviews also changed. In my early days as a researcher, I would turn up with a paper notebook and a cassette recorder and place the latter within sight of the interviewee. These days I continue to take notes by hand during interviews, but I use a smartphone app to record the sound, which (p.21) due to the standard practice of placing phones on tables has become fairly unobtrusive. Most of the interviews took place at someone’s office or school, though on occasion, research-related matters were discussed over dinner or while at a “3-ch’a” (third—and thankfully last—consecutive drinking venue). In those cases, I would remind my informants of both the question and the fact that I was recording their words, lest intoxication would cause them to forget.

I often contacted singers multiple times. While my own aging afforded me easier access to some of the very old singers, their age made it increasingly difficult for them to spend much time talking or even meeting people. When I started fieldwork in 1995, most of the key singers were already in their seventies. An Pich’wi (d. 1997) told me she was too ill to meet me, and when I first met Muk Kyewŏl and Yi Ŭn’gwan, they both had to rest after they had climbed the many stairs to their institutes where they had agreed to meet me. In addition to their physical frailty, they sometimes had difficulty recalling events in detail. On my last visit to Yi Ŭnju in July 2013, for example, she began to recount the days of old in response to questions regarding the activities of her peers in recent decades. Had I not had the assistance of her senior student Yu Oksŏn, I would not have pursued my questions further. Although I also intended to conduct an interview with Muk Kyewŏl that month, a few singers told me that due to her weakliness it would not be worth the trouble I might cause her. She died less than a year later, on May 2, 2014. While Yi Ŭnju and Hwang Yongju were ultimately still able to provide fairly detailed descriptions of past events, Yi Ŭn’gwan became quite fuzzy. On more than one occasion, he would respond to my questions about a certain event or singer dismissively or give me information that conflicted with what he had told me before. Keen though he generally was on providing me with the right details, he regularly contradicted his earlier statements. When I had conflicting accounts, I either pointed them out in the notes or chose to rely on different sources.

Rather than freezing the folksong traditions of Sŏnsori sant’aryŏng, Kyŏnggi minyo, and Sŏdo sori and jeopardize their survival, the preservation system has allowed them to adapt to the changing sociopolitical and economic climate and to incorporate a degree of technological innovation. Whereas the decisions made by the parties involved in official recognition are mostly left unjustified, they have defined genres in ways that differ from the often more diverse forms they had prior to being designated. It is possible that performers and those involved in the traditions’ designation were influenced by, among other things, loyalty to peers, a desire to compete with Japanese cultural icons, commercialism, and individual pride. While considering these factors, I concern myself primarily with the development of the folksong traditions and the ways in which they have been affected by the preservation system, positively or negatively. I discuss the changing conditions of performance over the years, and the (p.22) various forces behind those changes, while paying attention to the key individuals involved in the preservation of the three folksong genres.

In chapter 1, I chart the history of legislation related to the protection of cultural properties and the influence of Japanese colonial rule. Because the notion of a particular item having cultural significance to the Korean people may have affected the decision making of performers even before the promulgation of the Cultural Properties Protection Law, I discuss how the development of Korea’s heritage management policies reflects a growing recognition of cultural property as representing historical, cultural value beyond mere private possession. In the second part of the chapter, I examine current legislation and the various measures and procedures established concerning intangible cultural properties. I investigate, among other things, the rationale for focusing on folk traditions and demonstrate that the requirements for holders are not explicitly supported by law. Chapter 2 discusses the characteristics and terminologies of Korean folksongs, such as their melodic style, structure, and the pressures imposed by Confucian morals. Here I lay out the primary regional characteristics and the main factors currently affecting the performance of Korean folksong traditions, such as the increasing number of Christian practitioners and the ongoing decline in the number of male professionals.

Chapters 3 and 4 explore the history of the folksong genres Sŏnsori sant’aryŏng, Kyŏnggi minyo, and Sŏdo sori, including the tradition of Paebaengi kut, a partly sung, partly narrated performing art that was categorized under the latter category. I examine the development of repertoire and discuss the ways in which the government’s efforts to preserve folksongs have either prevented or encouraged change in the three genres. As I discuss the transmission of the traditions in recent years, I also observe the impact of iconic Japanese traditions on their presentation and performance. The life stories of the first holders of the three genres testify to the significant impact of changes in the sociopolitical and economic conditions on their work. They detail the impact of the Japanese colonial period on opportunities for employment and conditions of performance, and they highlight the importance of personal networks and the media for the performers’ careers and the preservation of their art.

The book concludes with a recount of the changes and compromises made to the three folksong traditions. I discuss how the folksong traditions have come to be promoted as the valuable property of the Korean people as a whole, including the growing number of Koreans born overseas. While the direct recollection of the colonial experience is waning, the changes it has effected in the three genres—the substitution of “authenticity” with popular, iconic appeal—may be permanent. Rather than being threatened by a loss of authenticity, however, I contend that folksongs have retained their appeal, albeit for less practical and more political reasons, such as tourism, nostalgia, and community pride.


(4.) Keith Howard’s work on heritage management comprises two monographs published in 2006, Creating Korean Music and Preserving Korean Music, and the edited volume Music as Intangible Cultural Heritage.

(6.) Sang Mi Park, “The Paradox of Postcolonial Korean Nationalism,” p. 70. Oskar Elschek notes that “cultural policies have more to do with politics than with culture i.e. they have to do with politically and ideologically targeted goals” (“Traditional Music and Cultural Politics,” p. 32). Throughout the 1990s, leading economic magazines continued to tie the promotion of economic activity to that of Korea’s cultural heritage. The front cover of the monthly Korean Business Review, for example, which regularly included an article under the title “Korean Heritage,” always displayed an image related to Korea’s cultural past. The monthly Economic Report also had a section called “Culture” that usually focused on Korea’s tangible heritage.

(p.176) (15.) For more on postcolonial contra-modernity with which this is associated, see Bhabha, The Location of Culture, pp. 6, 245.

(17.) In the 1950 editorial in which he coined the term “cultural cringe,” Arthur Phillips deplored the lack of confidence among Australians in the standard of their own art. Comparisons, so he argued, were inevitable, but the preferred British standard ultimately diminished the volume of art that sought to depict the complex idiosyncrasies of Australian life (Phillips, “The Cultural Cringe,” p. 299). In early twentieth-century India, however, the Bengal school of art already recognized the importance of a national standard of art independent from that of colonial powers. The school sought to eschew comparison with European standards by being “modern and national, and yet recognizably different from the Western” (Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments, p. 8).

(18.) The left side of each page gives excerpts, the underlined parts of which should be corrected according to the suggestion on the righthand side of the page. One such excerpt from an Indonesian textbook reads as follows: “The Japanese people have always loved to fight. Their history is filled with warfare. In 1375 A.D., there was a princess named Ingo. She was successful in conquering parts of Korea.” In this case, the recommendation was simply to delete the underlined sentence (Samsung Co., Ltd., Misconceptions about Korean History, p. 86).

(19.) Maeil kyŏngje (Economy daily), February 17, 1994, 25.

(20.) Roger Janelli, “The Origins of Korean Folklore Scholarship,” p. 102; Chungmoo Choi, “The Minjung Culture Movement and Popular Culture,” p. 111. E. Taylor Atkins argues that the notion of Japanese colonial policy in Korea having been aimed at eradicating Korean culture remains strong among historians. Atkins, Primitive Selves, pp. 3, 201n2.

(23.) Kim Yŏngt’ae, “Munhwa sanŏp chinhŭng kigŭm 500 ŏk chosŏng.” A remarkable 70.2 percent of the first five-year plan’s bud get was spent on renovation and preservation (Hongik Chung, “Cultural Policy and Development in Korea,” p. 2).

(26.) To nurture goodwill, people were sent to villages to organize cultural community events, including campfires, games, and folk dances. An undated guidebook for such event organizers, prob ably from the early 1970s, emphasizes the importance of good organization and leadership as well the organizer’s appearance and use of humor (Min’gan tanch’e saemaŭl undong chungang hyŏbŭihoe, pp. 4–5).

(38.) Wŏlbo kongyŏn yulli (Public screening monthly), May 15, 1977, p. 8.

(40.) In 1997, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism began to revise its censoring apparatus (Mun Okpae, Han’guk kŭmjigog-ŭi sahoe sa, pp. 20, 159).

(41.) Chang Chansŭp and Chang Nanju appear to be in denial of this possibility when they say, “the Korean culture is a stockpile of more than 2000 years of heritage. The culture will abandon some of its components and absorb some new elements, but the basic framework of the culture will remain. The Koreans remain Koreans with their unique culture no matter what happens to them” (The Korean Management System, pp. 71–72).

(55.) Tonga ilbo (Tonga daily), February 4, 1997, p. 45.

(56.) Interview with Han Ch’anggi, December 24, 1995.

(60.) Hesselink, SamulNori, p. 134; Howard, “Authenticity and Authority.” In 1996, the succession of the martial art t’aekkyŏn polarized the CPC and the Korean T’aekkyŏn Organization (Taehan t’aekkyŏn hyŏphoe). The latter disagreed with plans to appoint Chŏn Kyŏnghwa, the main student of Shin Hansŭng, as one of the two holders who had passed away in 1987, because Chŏn was said to represent a less authentic version of the martial art than the organization’s preferred candidate, Yi Yongbok (Chŏng Namgi, “Muhyŏng munhwajae chijŏng chedo kaesŏn moksori”).

(69.) Ibid., p. 67.

(72.) Nettl, The Study of Ethnomusicology, p. 177. Nettl adds that the preservation systems in some “rapidly westernizing Asian societies” are the exception. In these cases, he finds, the attempts to fully preserve traditional music remove it from its earlier social context.

(73.) Ibid., p. 177.

(74.) Ibid., p. 190.

(81.) The Korea Herald, November 28, 2014, 16.

(85.) In 1993 Ahn Sook-Sun (An Suksŏn), renowned vocalist of p’ansori (folk dramatic song), expressed her concern over the iconic power of Japanese traditions: “Their kabuki is no match for the richness and maturity of our p’ansori. Yet they have made it known to the world through decades of concerted efforts. Today, they have exclusive kabuki theaters in downtown Tokyo. We should learn a lesson from the Japanese” (Jung-nam Chi, “Ahn Sook-sun,” p. 47).

(87.) In the past few years, I have encountered many young female performers of traditional music who had had cosmetic surgery. In doing so, they were following the trend that has seen a growing number of young Korean women, and men, opting for cosmetic surgery in order to increase their chances of success in finding the right partner or job (see Verbeek, “Koreaanse man zweert bij cosmetica”).