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What is Intangible Cultural Heritage?

The term ‘cultural heritage’ has changed content considerably in recent decades, partially owing to the instruments developed by UNESCO. Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions,performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization. An understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue, and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life.

The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next. The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State, and is as important for developing States as for developed ones.

Intangible cultural heritage is:
  • Traditional, contemporary and living at the same time: intangible cultural heritage does not only represent inherited traditions from the past but also contemporary rural and urban practices in which diverse cultural groups take part;
  • Inclusive: we may share expressions of intangible cultural heritage that are similar to those practised by others. Whether they are from the neighbouring village, from a city on the opposite side of the world, or have been adapted by peoples who have migrated and settled in a different region, they all are intangible cultural heritage: they have been passed from one generation to another, have evolved in response to their environments and they contribute to giving us a sense of identity and continuity, providing a link from our past, through the present, and into our future. Intangible cultural heritage does not give rise to questions of whether or not certain practices are specific to a culture. It contributes to social cohesion, encouraging a sense of identity and responsibility which helps individuals to feel part of one or different communities and to feel part of society at large;
  • Representative: intangible cultural heritage is not merely valued as a cultural good, on a comparative basis, for its exclusivity or its exceptional value. It thrives on its basis in communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills and customs are passed on to the rest of the community, from generation to generation, or to other communities;
  • Community-based: intangible cultural heritage can only be heritage when it is recognized as such by the communities, groups or individuals that create, maintain and transmit it – without their recognition, nobody else can decide for them that a given expression or practice is their heritage.


무형문화유산은 전통 문화인 동시에 살아있는 문화이다. 무형문화유산은 공동체와 집단이 자신들의 환경, 자연, 역사의 상호작

용에 따라 끊임없이 재창해온 각종 지식과 기술, 공연예술, 문화적 표현을 아우른다. 무형문화유산은 공동체 내에서 공유하는 집단적인 성격을 가지고 있으며, 사람을 통해 생활 속에서 주로 구전에 의해 전승되어왔다.

유네스코는 상당히 오래 전부터 무형문화유산 보호에 관심을 가져왔으며, 1997년 제29차 총회에서 산업화와 지구화 과정에서 급격히 소멸되고 있는 무형문화유산을 보호하고자 ‘인류 구전 및 무형유산 걸작 제도’를 채택했다.

이후, 2001년, 2003년, 2005년 모두 3차례에 걸쳐 70개국 90건이 인류 구전 및 무형유산 걸작으로 지정되었다. 무형문화유산의 중요성에 대한 국제사회의 인식이 커지면서 2003년 유네스코 총회는 무형문화유산 보호 협약을 채택하였다.

이것은 국제사회의 문화유산 보호 활동이 건축물 위주의 유형 문화재에서 눈에 보이지 않지만 살아있는 유산(living heritage), 즉 무형문화유산의 가치를 새롭게 인식하고 확대하였음을 국제적으로 공인하는 이정표가 되었다.

무형문화유산 보호를 위한 국제사회의 관심이 높아져가고 있는 한편으로 아직도 세계화와 급속한 도시화, 문화 통합 정책과 더불어 젊은 세대의 관심 부족으로 인해 많은 무형유산이 사라지고 있다.

■ 무형문화유산의 정의 (협약 제2조 1항)

  • 공동체, 집단 및 개인이 자신의 문화유산의 일부분으로 인식하는 관습, 표현, 지식 및 기술
  • 이와 관련된 전달 도구, 사물, 공예품
  • 문화 공간

■ 무형문화유산의 범위 (협약 제2조 2항)

  • 무형문화유산의 전달체로서 언어를 포함한 구전 전통 및 표현
  • 공연 예술(전통음악, 무용 및 연극 등)
  • 자연 및 우주에 관한 지식 및 관습
  • 전통 기술

■ 무형문화유산의 특징 (협약 제2조 1항)

  • 세대와 세대를 거쳐 전승
  • 인간과 주변 환경, 자연의 교류 및 역사 변천 과정에서 공동체 및 집단을 통해 끊임없이 재창조
  • 공동체 및 집단에 정체성 및 지속성 부여
  • 문화 다양성 및 인류의 창조성 증진
  • 공동체간 상호 존중 및 지속가능발전에 부합


Arirang is a popular form of Korean folk song and the outcome of collective contributions made by ordinary Koreans throughout generations. Essentially a simple song, it consists of the refrain ‘Arirang, arirang, arariyo’ and two simple lines, which differ from region to region.

Read more: Arirang

Mosi WeavingMosi Weaving in Hansan Region

Weaving of Mosi in Hansan is transmitted by middle-aged women in the township located in South Chungcheong Province, Republic of Korea. The region boasts fertile land and sea winds that allow ramie plants to thrive.


Read more: Mosi Weaving

Jultagi - The Art of Traditional Ropewalking

Tightrope walking is a widespread form of entertainment that in most countries focuses purely on acrobatic skill. The traditional Korean performing art of Jultagi is distinctive in that it is accompanied by music and witty dialogue between the tightrope walker and an earthbound clown.

Read more: Jultagi

taekyunTaekkyeon - Traditional Martial Arts

Taekkyeon is a traditional Korean martial art that makes use of fluid, rhythmic dance-like movements to strike or trip up an opponent. The graceful movements of a well-trained Taekkyeon performer are gentle and circular rather than straight and rigid, but can explode with enormous flexibility and strength.

Read more: Taekkyun

Falconry is the traditional activity of keeping and training falcons and other raptors to take quarry in its natural state. Originally a way of obtaining food, falconry is today identified with camaraderie and sharing rather than subsistence.

Read more: Falconry

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