Valorizing the Old: Honoring Aging Practitioners of Korean Traditions

Roald Maliangkay*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    Since 1962, the Korean government has made concerted efforts to preserve its cultural heritage. The comprehensive system it devised has faced many challenges, one of which was the selection of “holders, " virtuosos capable of passing on a National Intangible Cultural Property (NICP). Since many NICPs have gained considerable stature and attracted a sufficient number of new apprentices, the system has been widely praised. In recent decades, however, some NICPs have struggled to attract students or failed to secure government support for their aging teachers. As the number of very senior practitioners increases, so does the need for practical and financial support, particularly for assistant teachers who work closely alongside a holder but who are not awarded the official title and the significant financial benefit that it comes with. On April 25, 2019, the government therefore decided to honor aging assistant teachers with the title of “honorary holder, " which was previously given only to holders who expressed a desire to retire from their active role in the transmission of their art, craft, or ritual. But the measure may not be enough to solve the problem entirely. Since the designation does not involve a stipend, it is unlikely to reduce the burden on aging assistant teachers to maintain their active role, and it may still deter holders who are losing their ability to teach from applying for it. In this chapter I deliberate Korea’s system of honorary holders and the sources of discontent in their designation. I argue that to better support the preservation of NICPs, the government should prioritize the needs of aging holders and practitioners, while pursuing the recognition of all existing NICPs by UNESCO.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Two Koreas and their Global Engagements
    PublisherSpringer International Publishing
    Number of pages20
    ISBN (Electronic)9783030907617
    ISBN (Print)9783030907600
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


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