“Hanbok saenghwal” to Be Designated as National Intangible Cultural Heritage
- The Cultural Heritage Administration has recognized the outstanding value of the hanbok culture and how it embodies Korean people’s identity
The Cultural Heritage Administration (Administrator Choi Eung-chon) will designate “hanbok saengwal” as National Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Koreans have long transmitted the hanbok (traditional Korean clothes) culture in various ways throughout the history. Hanbok saenghwal is hanbok-derived traditional lifestyle and knowledge that embodies Korean people’s identity and values.
Hanbok saenghwal refers to a series of cultural practices which encompass the whole experience of making, wearing, and enjoying hanbok that has been practiced in accordance with specific etiquettes and formalities, differently for each occasion – ceremonies, rituals, traditional holidays, or recreational events. Hanbok consists of a jeogori (top) and either a chima (skirt) or baji (trousers) with otgoreum (ribbon knotted to close the top) completing its distinct look. It is designed to be worn from the lower garment first and then the upper part.
The Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee decided to designate the item as “hanbok saenghwal” instead of its provisional name “hanbok wearing,” considering it better represents the hanbok culture as a whole. Hanbok saenghwal comprehensively encompasses cultural experiences of wearing, making, and enjoying hanbok as well as intangible characteristics of hanbok itself.
Hanbok saenghwal has been passed down within families. Koreans keep the tradition of wearing hanbok on traditional holidays like Seollal (Korean Lunar New Year) or Chuseok (Korean equivalent of the thanksgiving holiday), as well as for special occasions like first birthdays, weddings, funerals and ancestral ceremonies. It is true that contemporary Koreans wear hanbok far less frequently than their ancestors. However, hanbok is still worn by Korean people as a means to show respect and courtesy.
Before the industrialization period, women used to sew or mend hanbok for their own family members. On traditional holidays, particularly when the seasons change, Koreans would get themselves a new fabric and make clothes to mark the beginning of a new season in hopes for good health and wellbeing. This custom is called differently for each holiday: Seolbim, Chuseokbim and Danobim respectively for Seollal, Chuseok, and Dano (the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar).
Likewise, hanbok is more than just a piece of clothing to Koreans, an important custom through which people have practiced courtesy and wished for each family member’s good health and well-being. This is why hanbok surely is a valuable intangible asset.
The fact that ancient Koreans also wore hanbok is evidenced by various artifacts and records such as tomb murals from the Goguryeo dynasty (37 B.C.- A.D. 668), clay figures from the Silla dynasty (57 B.C.–A.D. 935), as well as historical documents from China. It was during Korea’s three kingdoms period (57 B.C.-A.D. 668) when the two-piece, top-and-bottom structure of Korean clothes was basically established. The structure kept evolving and transforming based on our distinct clothing culture until the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), when the prototype of our own clothes was established. In April of 1900, the government announced a new regulation to officially adopt Western-style uniforms for state officials. With this, Koreans who used to wear only hanbok for thousands of years began to wear both Western-style suits and hanbok concurrently.
It is believed that our clothes were called “hanbok” to be distinguished from the foreign clothes – as “han” refers to “Korean” and “bok” refers to “clothing” – with Korea opening its ports to the outside world in 1876. However, the exact origin of the word “hanbok” is yet unclear. Although terminology for Korean attire has varied such as “Joseon-ui (Joseon’s attire)” used in a 1881 record of Seungjeongwon Ilgi (the diaries of the royal secretariat), or “hanbok” in a 1894 article from Japanese newspaper, all these historical records show how hanbok embodied Koreans’ lifestyle and culture as well as societal and national spirit at the time.
There are special types of hanbok for certain occasions. “Baenaet jeogori” is hanbok for newborn babies. To protect babies’ soft skin, it is made with as few seams as possible. Hanbok called “Kachi durumagi” was named after Kachi seollal, another name of the New Year’s Eve, and children traditionally wore it on the New Year’s Eve and also on the New Year’s Day sometimes. Today, contemporary Koreans dress their babies with Kachi durumagi for the baby’s first birthday party. This outfit has a bright array of colors on its cuff, which reflects people’s hopes to drive out the evil spirits while bringing in good fortunes.
For the wedding ceremony, brides traditionally wore a green jeogori and a crimson skirt, as well as ceremonial outerwear called hwalot or wonsam, with jokduri (flower headwear) on their head. For funerals, a shroud for the dead was made without a knot as knots were believed to bring bad luck to the descendants. Koreans also believed they could live long if they prepare the shrouds during the leap months while they are alive.
Introduction of Western-style clothing brought about changes to clothes and lifestyle of Koreans. Western clothing replaced hanbok in Korean’s everyday clothes as it was considered more practical and convenient. Hanbok became simpler in its form and began to be reserved for special occasions. Nonetheless, hanbok-wearing still remains today as a way of showing courtesy on special occasions.
“Hanbok saenghwal” was designated as National Intangible Cultural Heritage for the following reasons. ▲First, it has long been passed down from generation to generation across the Korean peninsula. ▲Second, records on hanbok have been found from historical artifacts and documents, such as murals of Goguryeo tombs, clay dolls from the Silla Dynasty and historical documents of China. ▲Third, extensive studies on hanbok are currently underway in various fields like history, aesthetics, design, fashion, technology, management, marketing, industry, and education, which will further contribute as valuable academic resources. ▲Forth, it is still practiced particularly within families as a way to show courtesy during traditional holidays. ▲Lastly, traditional knowledge of hanbok saenghwal is transmitted and safeguarded by diverse communities, not only by families but also businesses or research institutions.
Meanwhile, the Cultural Heritage Administration will not recognize a specific group or person as a transmitter for the designation, as hanbok saenghwal is a cultural tradition that is being practiced by all Koreans across the Korean peninsula, so are the cases of “kimchi-making” and “jang-making (Korean sauce and paste making).”
* National Intangible Cultural Heritage items that do not recognize a specific group or person as a transmitter for the designation (14 items in total as of June 2022):
Arirang (Traditional folk song); Jeda (Tea making); Ssireum (Korean wrestling); Haenyeo (Women divers); Kimchi Damgeugi (Kimchi making); Jeyeom (Traditional salt making); Ondol (Underfloor heating system); Jang Damgeugi (Korean sauce and paste making); Traditional Fish-Eosal (Fishing weir); Hwalssoki (Traditional archery); Insam Jaebae and Yakyong Munhwa (Cultivation of Ginseng and its medicinal application); Makgeolli Bitki (Makgeolli making and sharing); Tteok Mandeulgi (Tteok making and sharing); Getbol Eoro (Tidal flat harvesting)
The Cultural Heritage Administration will continue to support hanbok saenghwal and other intangible cultural heritage items that are being widely transmitted throughout the nation. It will actively encourage academic research and transmission programs which will promote people to share the values of intangible cultural heritage and participate in the future transmission. The Cultural Heritage Administration is also committed to expand the scope of safeguarding practices by identifying and designating more items as national intangible cultural heritage to facilitate wider range of our traditional culture to be safeguarded and passed down to our future generation.
Division: Intangible Cultural Heritage Division
Contact person: Kim Yeong-jin (042-481-4961), Lee Jeong-hwa (042-481-4994)