Recently, four historical documents were registered in the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Memory of the World Register (UNESCO MOW): The Royal Seal and Investiture Book Collection of the Joseon Dynasty, Documents on Joseon Tongsinsa/Chosen Tsushinshi: The History of Peace Building and Cultural Exchanges between Korea and Japan from the 17th to 19th Century, and Archives of the National Debt Redemption Movement. A series of records about so-called comfort women, however, was not among them. Records of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery are the documents that show the brutality of Japan in the past and if it were to be registered, they would have been a great help towards getting an official apology from Japan. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) looks at UNESCO’s Memory of the World Registers, including Korea’s new Memory of the World Register, and analyzes the disputes over the process of the Memory of the World Register.
UNESCO’S Memory of the WORLD PROGRAMME
Definition and Major Activities
UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme (MOW) is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective oblivion, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and deliberate destruction. It calls for the preservation of valuable archival holdings, library collections, and private individual compendia all over the world for posterity, the reconstitution of dispersed or displaced documentary heritage, and increased accessibility to, and dissemination of, these items. Inscription on the Register leads to improved conservation of the documentary heritage by calling upon the well-organized networks of experts to exchange information and share resources for the preservation, digitization, and dissemination of the material. The program also has the goal of using state-of-the-art technologies and raising funds to provide wider accessibility to the items inscribed on the Register. Korea has the most Memory of the World heritage items in Asia with a total of 15 MOW heritages.
The first criterion is authenticity. A Memory of the World heritage item should be a refined article that can demonstrate the nature and origin of the heritage. Secondly, the heritage item should be unique and irreplaceable. It should represent a historical or cultural event that has had a lasting impact on a specific period or region. It should also be judged to potentially cause serious harm to the development of human heritage if it were to be decimated or the quality of it were to decline. Lastly, the heritage item should have worldwide significance. Whether it has influenced not only one region but the world is an important factor. The prospective heritage item should fulfill more than one condition from the five factors listed on the next page to demonstrate its importance.
Any organization or individual can nominate a documentary item for inscription on the Register. Documents on Joseon Tongsinsa/ Chosen Tsushinshi: The History of Peace Building and Cultural Exchanges between Korea and Japan from the 17th to 19th Century is registered by both Korea and Japan, and Records of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery has been requested by 14 organizations from eight countries including Korea, China, and Netherlands.
Newly Registered Memory of the World items in Korea
The Royal Seal and Investiture Book Collection of the Joseon Dynasty
The Royal Seal and Investiture Book Collection of the Joseon Dynasty is a collection of royal seals and investiture books created for the royal sovereigns of the Joseon Dynasty. The seals and books were produced from the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty until the very end, a period of approximately 570 years. It is the only case in the world that has such a long history. The seals and books were bestowed to the kings and queens, commemorating their important lifetime occasions and ceremonies such as investitures and inaugurations of official titles. The different names and titles given to the king and queen were engraved into the seals, starting from the moment of their commencement as crown heir and even after the deaths of the bearer, composing an archive for both the individual and the royal lineage. The investiture books and royal edicts are accompaniments to the seals which provide descriptions and justifications of the names and ceremonial occasions. Though the book collection was made for ceremonial purposes, it has meaning in that the contents of the words, writers, forms of the sentences, calligraphic style, materials, and decorations are so diverse that they reflect the transition periods in the fields of politics, economy, society, culture, and art. The seals symbolized the eternity of the dynasty and the books with annotated seals assigned legitimacy to the current king and provided sanctity after death. They are, therefore, adored as hallowed. The investiture books were largely distributed to establish the royal family’s political stability. In terms of human cultural history, it is certainly a valuable heritage item in that it expressed very unique cultural aspects.
Documents on Joseon Tongsinsa/Chosen Tsushinshi: The History of the Peace Building and Cultural Exchanges Between Korea and Japan from the 17th to 19th Century
|Documents on Joseon Tongsinsa/Chosen Tsushinshi: The History of Peace Building and Cultural Exchanges Between Korea and Japan from the 17th to 19th Century/ ko.wikipedia.org|
Documents on Joseon Tongsinsa/Chosen Tsushinshi are comprised of materials related to 12 diplomatic missions dispatched from Korea to Japan at the request of Japan’s Shogunate government between 1607 to 1811. They are now located both in Korea and Japan as a result of this history. The missions contributed to restoring and maintaining peaceful diplomatic relations between the two countries, which had worsened due to the invasion of Korea by Japanese ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 16th century. The nominated documents, which have been in the custody of both countries, include diplomatic documents, travel records, and cultural exchange records, demonstrating the importance of the missions in promoting reconciliation, mutual understanding, and interactions in the diplomatic, cultural, and industrial spheres. Methods and wisdom to construct peaceful periods and maintain good relationships between two countries which experienced miserable wars are condensed within the documents. As a result, not only the two countries but also all of East Asia experienced political stability because of them, and exchanges between different nations that respected each other became possible. They are peaceful and intellectual heritage items that demonstrate the historical experiences of the two countries. They have universal value in solving common human challenges which can lead to peaceful relations and respect of other cultures.
Archives of the National Debt Redemption Movement
Archives of the National Debt Redemption Movement is a collection of documents which chronicled the entire process and history of a nationwide campaign undertaken by the Korean public from 1907 to 1910, to help their government pay back a huge debt owed to Japan and thereby save their country from colonization. The collection consists of a total of 2,475 documents, which are related to the background and beginning, the expansion, and influences of the movement. Additionally, the collection includes documents from the Japanese government (Japanese Residency-General in Korea) and mass media materials including newspaper and magazine articles reporting on the movement.
|Archives of the National Debt Redemption Movement/ go.seoul.co.kr|
From the late 19th century, the power of imperialism condemned colonized countries to bear enormous debts while Japan strengthened control over them. At that time, Korean began a National Debt Redemption Movement to overcome the national crises caused by Japanese foreign loans. Men quit drinking and smoking, women donated their rings and binyeo, Korean traditional ornamental hairpins, and even gisaeng, Korean geisha, beggars, and thieves contributed funds. About 25% of Koreans voluntarily joined this movement. Koreans thusly informed the world of the National Debt Redemption Movement in domestic and overseas newspapers. During the 1907 Second International Peace Conference which was held in The Hague in the Netherlands, there were several similar movements made in countries like China, Mexico, and Vietnam which were also occupied by imperialist nations. The Korean National Debt Redemption Movement was the first among other movements and it has significance in that it was a voluntary donating movement which lasted for the longest period. It also has high historical value in that the historical documents of the period are well-preserved. The spirit of the movement is a universal spirit that overcomes national crises with civil solidarity. This movement received attention as an economic model that is based on national solidarity and responsibility in overcoming accumulated debt that the world economy is facing.
Records of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery: Is Its Registration Being Held Back?
The Appearance of Political Phenomena in UNESCO
The process of registration consists of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) commissions. After each commission, they decide the fate of heritage registrations with designations such as register, holding back, return and not inscribed, and then submit them to UNESCO for final decisions on their registration. Recently, however, it seems likely that there are hints of political influences in the process of registration. UNESCO MOW has decided that registration permission would not follow the decision of an advisory committee but rather follow the interests of international society. Countries that pay more allocated charges to UNESCO tend to exert more authority.
|UNESCO’s Holding Back Records of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery/ news.kbs.co.kr|
Japan’s Exercise of Authority After the Withdrawal of the US from UNESCO
Japan postponed paying allocated charges last year, highlighting the problem of heritage registration, as civil organizations submitted registers of Records of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery to MOW. Records of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery are the materials that were submitted from civil organizations of eight countries and whose contents expose the Japanese military’s brutality which forced women to be sexual slaves during World War Ⅱ. The documents are appraised as the “sole and irreplaceable material” in the fact that victims who experienced violations of human rights boldly spoke out with a lot of courage and led the battle for truth ascertainment. In response, UNESCO suddenly delayed the registration due date from March 31st to May 31st. During this period, Japanese civil organizations submitted documents stating that there was no evidence of involvement with the sexual slaves. A UNESCO official reviewed this material and decided to hold back the registration of Records of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery. There were many concerning actions in the judging of the documents. UNESCO closed the process of judging heritage items to the public, and did not even register the contents of heritage and documents that Japan submitted on its official website. It was the first time that UNESCO did not show the contents of a certain candidate. UNESCO made the incomprehensible excuse that “there was no space to post the material on our homepage.”
Predicted Problems and Solutions
It is predicted that a clause pertaining to “conversation between the people directly” will be added in the revised bill of registration of MOW because of Japan’s continued pressure on UNESCO. It means that the documents related to the damage of colonies, wars, and national violence cannot be registered without a conversation with suzerains, states controlling another states politically. There are no clauses in UNESCO policy about conflicts of heritage registration items that can solve them. An institutional buffer system which can widen the opportunity for conversations between countries and ease conflicts is expected.
Though the registration of heritage items might not seem to be very important, Kingos should remember that people who forget their history do not have a bright future. To correct this distorted history, it is very important to let people around the world also recognize it. Furthermore, the government should do their best to register these valuable documents, and UNESCO, which was founded with a desirable purpose, also needs to refocus on what they should do.
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