A critical lack of accountability

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A critical lack of accountability


I was at a loss for words. Sungnyemun, Korea’s National Treasure No. 1, was destroyed in an arson attack in February 2008 - and six months after a five-and-a-half-year restoration, its pillars are cracked and its paint is peeling. I couldn’t look at it straight.

I had toured Kanazawa Castle in Japan in June and Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, Gyeonggi, in August with experts from various fields. The two cultural heritage sites have something in common: The names of the people who worked on the project were identified. As we looked around Hwaseong, we found the names of construction supervisors in each section engraved into the stone.

Park Seok-moo, director of the Dasan Institute and leader of the tour, said the marks tell us who was in charge of the section, and that the system was established in the 18th century during the reign of King Jeongjo. Park said it was a device to make the supervisor accountable for the mistakes and problems, and the system could be even more helpful today.

King Jeongjo was wise to implement such a logical idea, and Hwaseong still stands solid today. Kim Dae-sung, the architect of the Seokguram Grotto from the Unified Silla period (676-935), exerted his utmost efforts and prayed every day to create a brilliant treasure that has lasted more than 1,000 years. Why can’t we properly restore and maintain the 600-year-old Sungnyemun and the 1,000-year-old Seokguram with 21st-century technology?

Similarly, the rocks piled in front of Kanazawa Castle were engraved with various crests. Chungbuk University professor Kang Hyeong-gi explained that Taimyo Maeda had the warrior clans working on the castle’s construction and material procurement carve their family crests into the rocks. The leader wanted the samurai clans to take responsibility for the construction of their sections with their family honor. A guide said that when construction was not carried out properly, the supervisor in charge of the problematic section had to commit suicide by disembowelment.

The Kanazawa College of Art, which retrains people in traditional craftsmanship, was even more interesting. Established in 1996, the college continues nine traditional trades in masonry, roof tile, plastering work, building carpentry, tatami floor mats, windows, doors, sheet metal and ironwork. Mr. Kitaura, the chairman of the board of directors, told us that the college offers free three-year programs consisting of cultural studies, spiritual education, field trips, technical instruction, training and comprehensive hands-on experiences. The expenses are funded by the city and donations. When I asked why skilled craftsmen needed retraining, he responded that the spirit and skills of the master become even more impressive the more he trains. I wonder if there’s a school that teaches artisanship in leadership and administration.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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