Heritage Management in Korea and Japan: The Politics of Antiquity and Identity by Hyung Il Pai (review)
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Reviewed by
Hyung Il Pai, Heritage Management in Korea and Japan: The Politics of Antiquity and Identity. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013. 298 pp.

inline graphic This work of historical scholarship on the heritage management of Korea and Japan traces ideas about heritage in Korea to Japanese colonialism, and cultural heritage in Japan to the discovery in the West of Japanese art and artifacts. Included in the research reported are the influences of both foreigners and Japanese who imported definitions of heritage. For example, the ranking of national treasures was a Japanese invention for nationalistic purposes. Pai demonstrates that early decisions and attitudes about heritage management echo in the present in both Korea and Japan.

Although it is often possible to skip the preface of a book, this preface rewards a careful read. Here, “heritage” is fully defined and the concept is traced through time by describing the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Pai strikes the theme of the book for archaeologists by stating, “the identification and ownership of art and artifacts recovered from the ground…have been and remain to this day the most contested symbols of nationhood” (xxix). This assertion is supported by the rest of the volume with explanations of the origins of cultural heritage in Korea and Japan. Chapter 1, “Ranking ‘Korean’ Properties,” demonstrates that Korean cultural heritage management began under Japanese colonialism and continued to develop after World War II, guided by perceived threats to Korean culture from both Japanese and Western influences. Pointed historical quotations and apt examples make her case. While the ranking of national treasures is uncommon elsewhere, it is a contentious matter in Korea. Numbers attached to these “treasures” are seen as values, rather than mere identifiers or signifiers of order in which they were selected as treasures. [End Page 187] The complications of selecting and ranking objects and places are entwined with Korea’s colonial past. While conceding the economic value and contributions to national pride of the cultural heritage business, Pai deplores the need for such amenities as tour bus parking for potentially spoiling the very heritage they are protecting and exhibiting.

To explain the history of cultural heritage in Korea, Pai takes the reader back to Japan in the late 19th century in Chapter 2, “Collecting Japan’s Curios.” World’s Fairs stimulated the Western rage for things Japanese. Pai begins to explore the subject with exhibitions of objects selected as typical of a nation’s culture. In the world of wealthy collectors, ethnographic objects soon became of interest as well. Archaeology, she suggests, was stimulated by the finding of a gold seal which seemed to verify ancient Chinese records. The astonishing effect of an edict separating Shinto from Buddhism was to allow Buddhist temples and shrines to be raided for objects by Shinto priests. Further, Pai asserts that the unbroken 2,500 year lineage of the imperial family was a “fabrication” whose main political agenda was to affirm the Meiji emperor’s divine status and his direct kinship ties to the mythical founding ancestor emperor, Jimmu (62). She discusses the creation of “new folklore,” “fudging historical records,” and “abuses of power.” These are strong words.

In the third chapter, “Tracing Japan’s Lineage,” Pai focuses on the effect of the unbroken lineage theory on antiquities, archaeology, and fine art as vehicles for nation building. She treats the influence of Ernest Fenollosa extensively, and shows that, although he recognized the contributions of Korea to the art of Japan, especially its early Buddhist art, he was primarily interested in Korea as a contributor to Japanese art. Okakura Kakuzo, who accompanied Fenollosa on his Nara survey, rose to be principal of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. In this capacity, he created a scheme for ranking national objects. As it was impossible not to recognize the Korean and Chinese origins of Buddhist art, Okakura explains this as, “swarms of immigrants from China and Korea, who crossed the sea at various periods in the early days of Japanese history, [but] it did not take them many generations [to lose their own identity]” (83). Pai emphasizes that Okakura’s arguments were based in...