|▲ Korean Seowon Conservancy / President Lee Bae-yong|
Seowon were the common educational institutions built during the 16 to 17th century Joseon dynasty and they played both preparatory school and Confucian shrine. Korean seowon have unique style of architecture melted with Koreanized Chinese Confucianism.
Lee Bae-yong, president of the Korean Seowon Conservancy, worked hard to spread its architectural value to the world and succeeded registering 9 Korean seowon to the UNESCO World Heritage in 2019.
Her passion in seowon goes back to September 2010 on which she started her term as the chairwoman of the Presidential Council on Nation Branding. She found a great value in unique Korean seowon and singled out 9 among 600 seowon nationwide for the registration. And the launch of the Korean Seowon Conservancy in 2016 was to effectively manage these 600 seowon scattered around and for this a number of renowned figures in the field joined to form the organization.
Members of the Conservancy studies similar buildings and shrines in China and Islamic states and holds seminars on regular basis. The 9 seowon they listed in the UNESCO World Heritage are Sosu (Yeongju), Namgye (Hamyang), Oksan (Gyeongju), Dosan (Andong), Pilam (Jangseong), Dodong (Daegu), Byeongsan (Andong), Museong (Jeongeup) and Donam (Nonsan).
"After registering in 2019, number of visitors to Korean seowon increased tenfold and members of the Conservancy are really proud of this" says Lee.
Lee has served a number of leading roles at the Korean Association of Women's History, the Academy of Korean Studies, the world heritage division of the Cultural Heritage Administration, and Ewha Women University. She received Helen Kim Women Leaders Awards and has become the first woman chief priest who offers the first cup of liquor to ancestral tablet in 600 year history of Korean Confucianism.
"Many people think Confucianism is about man's doing but it actually is about 'loving people'. King Sejong, for example, allowed 130 days of maternity leave for women and 30 days for men. So it is very important for me to spread this good value of Korean Confucianism alongside uniquely beautiful Korean seowon to the people and the world today."
The maintenance of 9 designated sewon are being carried out by only 6 voluntary specialists at the moment so it is important for lawmakers to bring up necessary measures to financially support the maintenance of invaluable Korean seowon, Lee adds.
Meanwhile, the Conservancy in cooperation with the Cultural Heritage Administration and local governments are working on building visitor counting and online monitoring systems and integrated information platforms alongside erecting UNESCO monuments.
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