Challenges for World HeritageHappy occasions are sometimes accompanied by a responsibility to foster the good momentum. That is true for the villages of Hahoe and Yangdong, which have been placed on Unesco’s World Heritage List, becoming the 10th sites in Korea to enter the list, following Haeinsa Temple and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.
With this designation, the two villages, which were home to the aristocratic class of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), have gained global recognition and as such should be preserved, not just for our country but for the world. The task ahead of us is to ensure that we care for them well.
But local governments and the residents alone cannot do this job alone, as the job requires systematic assistance from the state.
Hahoe village in Andong, North Gyeongsang, is literally a museum of the Joseon culture. It is comprised of traditional houses and preserves four ceremonial occasions, including coming of age, wedding, funeral and ancestral rites. It also maintains the Hahoe mask dance drama, rare old books, documents and paintings.
By adding Yangdong village to the list, Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-935 A.D.), enjoys a new status beyond its existing image as the capital of Silla.
Now that these sites are part of the prestigious list, we are charged with the thorough preservation of the relics and a strict regulation of development of the region. If we are not careful, we may follow Germany’s Dresden Elbe Valley, which was removed from the World Heritage List as a result of the city government’s attempt to build a bridge across the valley.
We should develop the two villages wisely in a manner befitting their status as World Heritage Sites and to benefit local residents as well. In that sense, we welcome Hahoe village’s decision to limit the number of tourists to 5,000 per day in an effort to prevent potential damage to its cultural assets.
However, it is very regrettable that there is no five-star hotel in downtown Andong. This is a good example of the lack of tourism infrastructure in the area and should be addressed as soon as possible. Furthermore, both city governments should develop diverse programs for tourists around the Joseon-era culture.
In addition to the Hahoe and Yangdong villages, heads of local governments are now pushing to get the Namhan Mountain Fortress, rock paintings of Daegok Creek in Ulsan, the Woopo Swamp, the Nagan village castle and the Demilitarized Zone onto the World Heritage List. We hope that the two villages will manage their cultural assets in a way that inspires those local governments.