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Heritage Protection in the DPRK

The first draft of the nomination file comprised only 20 Goguryeo decorated tombs which have been selected not only for their historical value but also for the quality of their paintings.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been a new State Party to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention since October 1998 and is only beginning to implement this international Convention. To date, very few sites from the Northeast Asian sphere have been designated as World Heritage sites, despite the fact that this was a region of cultural interaction and hence, a region of great historical and archaeological interest.

In order to intensify international collaboration in the field of heritage
protection, the DPRK has sought to nominate properties for eventual inion on the World Heritage List. Therefore, a UNESCO expert mission was undertaken in the DPRK from August 5-12, 2000 with the aim of assisting the Korean authorities in drafting the nomination file for the Goguryeo tombs by providing technical expertise on conservation and management planning.

The Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C- A.D 668) produced thousands of tombs which range from the simple cairn to the more elaborate stone chamber covered by an earthen mound. The latter were sometimes found decorated with colorful wall paintings which are dated between the 4th and the 7th centuries A.D. These burials are found scattered on both sides of the Yalu River in Jian, Jilin province,in the Liaodong peninsula of northeast China and in the
vicinity of Pyeongyang in North Korea.In total about 90 Goguryeo tombs with wall paintings have been discovered so far,including those located in China, and some 70 tombs are concentrated in the vicinity of Pyeongyang.

The latest archaeological excavations in Korea and China of the past decade force us to reconsider the extent of Goguryeo's cultural and political sphere of influence and interaction in the northeast Asian region as well as in the southern part of the Korean peninsula. The cultural background of the numerous Chinese and foreign kingdoms, including Goguryeo, which existed in East Asia is revealed to have been of considerable complexity, with various layers of artistic, religious and cultural influences. In the absence of contemporary historical texts from the Goguryeo Kingdom, the wall paintings have great historical and artistic value since they bear a rare and early testimony to a painting tradition in East Asia, and constitute a unique testimony to the religious beliefs pervading this kingdom. They represent the earliest known example of Taoist imagery and one of the earliest astrological representations in Korea.

With the warming of relations between the North and the South and the growing number of inter-Korean projects, mostly commercial but also tourism-related (such as the cruise ship tours to Mount Geumgang),there will be in the near future growing pressure to open sites to visitors. The Goguryeo tombs will most likely be the first sites to be visited not only by Korean tourists but also by Chinese and Japanese tourists as they form part of a
broader East Asian cultural sphere.(The earlier capitals of this kingdom were located in the Liaoning and Jilin provinces of China) There is still a large Korean community living in this part of China).

It is with those facts in mind that the UNESCO expert mission reviewed the nomination file and the management plan of the Goguryeo tombs in order to establish policies for the conservation and presentation of these sites.

The mission was led by Mrs. Minja Yang, Deputy Director and UNESCO World Heritage Centre Director for the Asia-Pacific Region, and comprised of various international specialists in the field of conservation and management, including an expert on legal issues and urbanist;an expert on wall painting conservation from the International Centre for the Study of thePreservation and Restoration of Cultural Property(ICCROM), Italy; an expert on management planning from English Heritage; and a curator of Korean art.

As my Ph.D.dissertation focuses on the Goguryeo tombs decorated with wall paintings, I was invited to participate in the mission as a consultant for the history and archaelogy ofthe Goguryeo Kingdom.Several rounds of meetings were held with North Korean experts from the Management Bureau for Cultural Property Conservation (MBCPC) and the Korean Cultural Preservation Agency (KCPA) which compiled the famous 20-volume series Joseon yujeok yumul dogam "llustrated Book of Ruins and Relics of Korea" from 1990 to 1996, of which four volumes are dedicated to the Goguryeo relics and sites.

Field visits to a number of Goguryeo tombs in the Pyeongyang, Nampo, and Anak regions were also organized, as well as visits to temple and tomb sites from the Goryeo period near Gaeseong.We discussed the legal and dministrative system of the DPRK for the protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage and tackled the issues of conservation of the wall paintings and the management plan of the goguryeo tomb sites.

The issues of contextual comparison and authenticity criteria were raised as well. Some tombs, such as the Tomb of King Dongmyeong and the Tomb of King Wanggeon have been heavily reconstructed and may not pass the test of authenticity of the World Heritage Convention. Historians in the DPRK are still reluctant to consider any foreign contact and exchange in accordance with their Juche ideology of self-reliance.

Local scholars like to stress in particular the fact that Goguryeo developed independently from any external influences. This has sometimes led to some exaggeration in defining the boundaries of the Goguryeo territory, extending it beyond what archaeological evidence permits us to believe. The strong political bias underlying historical interpretation in North Korean historiography has even prompted the fabrication of new historical evidence (e.g. the Tomb of Dangun, the founder of the Korean nation).

The UNESCO expert mission has stressed the importance of placing the Goguryeo
Kingdom within a broader historical and geographical context by speaking of cultural interaction with the neighbouring region of Liaoning (an important region of interaction during the Han, Wei and Jin period, and a former Goguryeo territory) and Shandong province.

The first draft of the nomination file comprised only 20 Goguryeo decorated tombs which have been selected not only for their historical value (such as the Tomb of Anak No.3 and the Deokheungri tomb that are the only two Goguryeo tombs which have been firmly dated thanks to a funerary epitaph) but also for the quality of their paintings. Six out of the 20 tombs in the nomination file are open to visitors.

They include: Anak No. 3, Yaksu-ri, Susan-ri, Gangseo Great and Middle tombs, and Deokheung-ri. We visited all of these tombs with the exception of the Susan-ri tomb. Three sets of equipment for monitoring changes of temperature inside the tombs,that had been donated by the Hirayama Foundation, were installed in Anak No.3, the Gangseo Great tomb and the Deokheung-ri tomb.

The wall paintings appeared to be in fairly good condition given the fact that they are about 1,500 years old. Few studies have been dedicated to the analysis of early Korean pigments. However, with growing concern over the conservation of the Goguryeo tombs wall paintings, some recent research efforts have focused on the nature of these pigments in an effort to bring forth appropriate conservation methods.

A glass structure has been built inside the funerary chamber of the Gangseo Great and Middle tombs, Anak No. 3 and Deokheung-ri tombs to protect the wall paintings. Some wall paintings were hardly visible because of water condensation forming on the glass. Given the small size of the tombs, not more than five to six people can visit the tomb at the same time.

Other visits included Bohyeon Temple, a Goryeo dynasty temple built in 1042 where one set of the 80,000 woodblocks of the Buddhist ures known as the Tripitaka is housed; the Seonggyungwan Academy and the Gaeseong Museum of Goryeo History; and the Tomb of King Wanggeon, founder of the Goryeo Kingdom, whose burial chamber is decorated with wall paintings.

The site was reconstructed in 1995. The original stone sculptures with the 12 animals of the Oriental zodiac which decorated the base of the tomb have been removed and put along the corridor which leads to the burial chamber. The wall paintings were hardly visible because of water condensation on the glass panels. Relics were also on display.
Perhaps the most striking site in terms of the remarkable landscape setting was the tomb of King Gongmin, the 31st Goryeo monarch, which is located up on a hill in an outstanding location, overlooking mountains. No access to the burial chamber was allowed but there is a smaller model of the interior of
the tomb which is on display in an on-site pavilion. The tomb has
been closed since 1975.

This trip to North Korea was the second one for me, following a first trip in 1988. Unlike China which has dramatically changed over the past decade, I found that Pyeongyang remained much the same: a quiet city with naked walls, barely lit at night, with little traffic or lines of people walking. As expected,we did not have the opportunity nor the time to meet the local population.

The UNESCO mission gave me the unique opportunity to visit several Goguryeo
tombs located in the DPRK and complemented well my six-months of fieldwork in northeast China in 1998. Both parties were very pleased by the positive outcome of the mission; we had several opportunities to discuss matters directly with local experts and exchange views and information. We were impressed by the amount of time and effort the North Korean specialists put into preparing and translating all the working documents in a relatively short span of time.

The local authorities are profoundly committed to the protection of their heritage. We were equally impressed by the beauty of the sites which we found to be very well managed. It is hoped that such a high level of maintenance will be continued in the future despite the development of tourist facilities.