Nine Confucian academies listed at UNESCO

Namgye Seowon
Operation of seowon by the wonim (Board of administrators) at Namgye Seowon
Photo: Oh Jong-eun © Council for Promotion of the Inscription of Confucian Academies on the World Heritage List (Source)

For visitors to Korea (such as myself) who like to try to get round all the UNESCO-listed world heritage sites, the list just got longer. On Saturday 6 July, the World Heritage Committee included nine Seowon, or Neo-Confucian Academies, in the list.

The nine seowon are dotted around the central and southern parts of the country. Andong has two of them:

Sosu-seowon (Yeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
Namgye-seowon (Hamyang-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do)
Oksan-seowon (Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
Dosan-seowon (Andong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
Piram-seowon (Jangseong-gun, Jeollanam-do)
Dodong-seowon (Daegu)
Byeongsan-seowon (Andong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
Museong-seowon (Jeongeup-si, Jeollabuk-do)
Donam-seown (Nonsan-si, Chungcheongnam-do)

The academies are included in the list under criterion (iii), which requires the heritage asset “to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.”

The academies were originally considered for inclusion in 2016, but according to the Korea JoongAng Daily the submission was withdrawn because there appeared to be “a lack of a commonality among the nine seowon”. Arguments for their consideration as a group have now been refined and their inclusion this time follows an improved submission. According to the UNESCO news release,

Learning, veneration of scholars and interaction with the environment were the essential functions of the seowons, expressed in their design. Situated near mountains and water sources, they favoured the appreciation of nature and cultivation of mind and body. The pavilion-style buildings were intended to facilitate connections to the landscape. The seowons illustrate an historical process in which Neo-Confucianism from China was adapted to Korean conditions.

A preservation plan for the sites will be worked on by the Cultural Heritage Administration and the relevant regional authorities.

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