The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] CHA head reveals ambition to promote Korean cultural heritage worldwide

By Song Seung-hyun

Published : June 24, 2020 - 17:11

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Cultural Heritage Administration head Chung Jae-suk speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald held at the National Palace Museum of Korea on Monday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald) Cultural Heritage Administration head Chung Jae-suk speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald held at the National Palace Museum of Korea on Monday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Cultural Heritage Administration head Chung Jae-suk on Monday talked about her ambition to play a more active role in promoting Korean cultural heritage around the world.

“The CHA’s role has been restricted to preserving cultural heritage. Even now this role accounts for a large part of our work, up to 70-80 percent of our budget. I understand the importance of preserving cultural heritage but from now on we have to also consider how we will promote these items,” Chung said during an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday.

“So far, the CHA has been providing information about cultural heritage in the traditional way and mainly for Koreans. We hope to change that and promote more cultural heritage globally using online channels and technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality,” Chung said.

Chung added that that her agency is cooperating with the Ministry of Science and ICT to create content using new technologies.

This year the CHA has also injected 3.6 billion won ($3 million) for creating content using VR and AR technology. In addition, it has spent 1.8 billion won to create digital 3D scanned data of state-designated national treasures, other treasures and world heritage sites.

Chung noted that there had already been some successes with online promotion.

“Our silk weaving AMSR YouTube video unexpectedly became popular,” Chung said. As of Wednesday, the video on the CHA’s official YouTube channel surpassed 1.79 million views.

She also talked about the lead track of “D-2,” released by Suga of K-pop sensation BTS in May. The song has sparked global fans’ interest in the traditional Korean intangible cultural heritage “Daechwita,” and a five-minute video clip explaining it, which was posted four years ago by the National Gugak Center, has received over 120,000 views.

The CHA head added that the agency would continue experimenting by providing diverse content to appeal to the public, especially to younger people.

With the agency hoping to expand its global reach, Chung emphasized the importance of providing services in English for foreigners.

“It has been two years since we started the project to correct the errors on English signboards. We are not simply providing direct translation. We try to make sure that the materials make sense to foreigners. We started issuing some of our press materials in English as well,” Chung said. At the moment, about 20 percent of the CHA’s offerings on its official YouTube channel are available in English.

Chung admitted that her organization has been having difficulties in proceeding with its plans for the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year our annual budget surpassed 1 trillion won for the first time. Before, it was around 800 billion won,” she said. “We were ready to use this money wisely.”

According to Chung, the CHA’s main campaign this year, the “Visit Korean Heritage Campaign,” which provides seven tour routes featuring different examples of Korean cultural heritage, and events such as “Korea on Stage” and “World Heritage Festival” were originally designed to help the country achieve its goal of attracting over 2 million foreign tourists. However, with virtually all international travel halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, the agency has tweaked the programs to target domestic travelers.

“Due to COVID-19, many plans have been canceled. But we see that there is still a silver lining,” she said. “I will also join in walking the K-heritage route this summer to promote it to domestic tourists, joined by officials or influencers from the respective regions.”

Among the casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic are official development assistance projects involving the restoration of cultural heritage in several Southeast Asian countries, and research on Korean cultural heritage in museums in Germany and Japan.

Moreover, as tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang mount, the CHA’s plan to jointly seek UNESCO listing of the Demilitarized Zone with North Korea is uncertain.

“The deputy commander of the US-led United Nations Command was positive about our idea. We also considered stationing staff at the Kaesong liaison office. But the office was destroyed,” Chung said.

Chung, however, still believes that it is crucial to continue with the project. “It will take some time. But we will continue our preparations since we do not know when an opportunity may arise,” she added.

On June 9, the CHA conducted its first field survey inside the DMZ since drawing up a plan in March to seek UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Cultural Heritage Administration head Chung Jae-suk (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald) Cultural Heritage Administration head Chung Jae-suk (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

On the recent media report that the Korean government plans to ask UNESCO to remove Japan’s Hashima Island from its world heritage list, Chung confirmed that the CHA is not considering it.

The issue arose after Japan breached a pledge made in 2015. At the time, Japan had promised the information center on UNESCO Industrial Heritage would include information on Koreans who were forced to work at the site during that country’s 1910-45 colonial rule over Korea. But the newly opened center reportedly does not provide information about the forced laborers.

“We will dispatch a staff member to the UNESCO Industrial Heritage Information Center in Tokyo to find out more about the situation,” Chung said. “Instead of asking for delisting, we will share our concerns with the 21 member states of the World Heritage Committee,” she said.

Chung was appointed as head of the CHA in August 2018. Previously, she worked as a journalist at several local news outlets, covering culture.

By Song Seung-hyun (