‘Arirang’ recognized as a Korean national treasure

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‘Arirang’ recognized as a Korean national treasure

Korea’s most well-known traditional folk song, “Arirang,” finally became an official state treasure, two years and 10 months after it was added to Unesco’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) announced on Thursday that the song has been designated as Important Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 129 after recent deliberation by the committee for cultural heritage. Intangible cultural heritage refers to things like drama, music, dance and craftsmanship that carry historic, artistic or academic significance.

Despite the song - which almost all Koreans can hum - being a “second national anthem” and embodying the sorrow and joy of the Korean people, the song had not been recognized as a national treasure for all these years.

This was mainly because the law stipulates that for something to be an official piece of intangible cultural heritage, there must be an agreed-upon standard version with certain individuals or organizations qualified to perform it. But last year, the Korean government revised the law in order to recognize “Arirang” as a state treasure.

Unlike other types of cultural heritage with fixed standards, there are numerous renditions of “Arirang” depending on the region. Experts say there are at least 60 versions of “Arirang” across the Korean Peninsula, and the origin of the song is elusive. Among the most famous are those of Jeongseon County, Gangwon; Jindo County, South Jeolla; and Miryang, South Gyeongsang. In particular, the Jeongseon version, observers say, is the most lyrical.

“This marks the first case in which we didn’t designate a certain person or organization who possesses [the skill to present the song],” said Bang In-a of the CHA’s intangible cultural heritage department. “The ‘Arirang’ that’s now recognized as important intangible cultural heritage includes ... all versions of ‘Arirang’ sung across the country.” She added that different cities and provinces can designate their versions as their own treasures.

“Arirang” was added to Unesco’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in December 2012, with Unesco officials noting how the song deals with diverse universal themes and how its simple musical and literary composition allows improvisation and singing along.

BY KIM HYUNG-EUN [hkim@joongang.co.kr]
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