Don’t play with national treasures

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Don’t play with national treasures

It is shameful that the country’s No. 1 National Treasure Sungnyemun (also known as Namdaemun) is under an embarrassing spotlight for cracks and other flaws just five months after a state-run organization completed a three-year multimillion-dollar renovation project. The traditional decorative coloring (called dancheong) and ornamental patterns are discolored, and wooden pillars of the 600-year-old gateway show cracks and fissures.

The Cultural Heritage Administration, which oversaw the repair work, reportedly bought cheap and unqualified materials, and paid workers below the government-set rates. Investigative reporters from the JoongAng Ilbo also discovered more than 20 cracks in the Seokguram grotto in Gyeongju, National Treasure No. 24, which is also listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

The government will have to come up with a thorough and long-term master plan to overhaul the management of cultural assets and national treasures across the nation while addressing immediate problems in Sungnyemun and Seokguram. It is urgent to maintain the value of our culture and hand down its wonders with care to the generations to come.

Various private experts should be recruited to pool their ideas, expertise and skills in cultural repair and restoration work. A comprehensive computer database on cultural assets and properties is necessary. The government said it will computerize various technology used in redesigning and remodeling the Sungnyemun. But given the disastrous work it has already done with the gateway, its actions would almost be guaranteed to be makeshift. It must carry out an investigation and complete more research, and computerize a database on all traditional culture and technology applications. Maybe some lesson will be learned from the failure.

The government must also sponsor research programs for experts in the fields of traditional cultural so that they can develop ways to preserve traditional artifacts, architecture and other properties. We should look at the city of Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan, which has done a good job in preserving its cultural and historic landscapes. The efforts to preserve and protect traditional culture should use modern technology. Experts and engineers in various fields should be brought together to come up with the best possible manual on cultural restoration so that actual reconstruction of cultural treasures does not turn out to be wasteful experiment work.

The repair work on the two national monuments underscore that remodeling and restoration of cultural properties should not be rushed.

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