National Museum Of Korean Contemporary History

Special Exhibition

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At the Scenes of the Pandemic
Special Exhibition Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of National Registered Cultural Heritage

Views of Modern Heritage at Gwanghwamun

National Museum of Korean Contemporary History 3rd Floor Exhibition Hall

Apr. 16th, 2021(Thu) - Jul. 18st, 2021(Sun)

  • Price : Free
  • Hours :10:00 – 18:00
    Opening hours will be extended to nine o’clock in the evening on Wednesdays. (Last admission is one hour before the closing time.)
  • For additional inquiries call : +82-02-3703-9200

Introduction to the Exhibition



Do you know what “National Registered Cultural Heritage” means? Korea’s cultural heritage is not confined to the well-known national treasures such as Sungnyemun, magnificent gold crowns or elegant inlaid celadon pieces. Rather, valuable cultural properties that embody traces of Korea’s modern and contemporary history can be discovered all around us.

The Korea Cultural Heritage Administration and National Museum of Korean Contemporary History have jointly organized this special exhibition, Views of Modern Heritage at Gwanghwamun: Special Exhibition Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of National Registered Cultural Heritage, to introduce you to important examples of cultural heritage that can be found in plain sight. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the state-designated heritage system, which was established to protect cultural properties that were in danger of damage or eradication as a result of rapid industrialization and urbanization. The architectural structures and everyday items eligible for such a designation are at least fifty years old and were made since Joseon opened her ports to the outside world in 1876. They are deemed to possess historical, artistic, social or academic value that should be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

This exhibit selectively presents cultural properties that evidence efforts made to subjectively connect tradition and modernity amidst the turmoil of rapid change during Korea’s contemporary history. On display are standardized weights & measures, prescriptions for medicine, cookbooks, Korean language dictionaries and poems, six hangeul texts in Braille as well as architectural structures, comic books and movies that were widely seen throughout the land. Each of the cultural properties embodies the herculean efforts, earnest passion, and numerous stories of the Koreans who creatively maintained their traditions while embracing foreign institutions, goods, and technologies to bring about a new culture in step with the cataclysmic change that their generation experienced.

A cultural property needs at least fifty years’ time to become a National Registered Cultural Heritage. Items that we are using everyday today could well become cultural properties a half century from now. This special exhibition provides visitors with an opportunity to mull over precious traces of recent generations now gone. Let this also be a chance to reflect on the value of the things that we who live today will leave behind us.
Part 1: Changing the System of Knowledge and Way of Life
Knowledge from traditional times was passed down in new ways and altered as Koreans embraced modern culture and institutions. The Korean people managed to lead new lifestyles that linked the traditional worldview and knowledge system within the framework of modern products, technologies and knowledge systems from the West. Units of weight and volume, which differed by country region, were standardized. The latest printing methods were employed to publish books on cooking methods that had been passed down in just a few households, and these books were sold to the general public. Western medical practice became widespread, and traditional medicine also incorporated and systematized modern approaches to medical treatment. In fine arts, modern education was introduced that presented the familiar Korean surroundings with Western painting styles.
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1. Standardized Weight 2. Dry Glass Plate Negative of the Scene of O. R. Avison's Operation 3. Studies in Drawing (copy book) 4. Joseon Cooking Methods
Part 2: Gathering Words and Communicating Determination
Korea strove to accept modern culture and institutions in its own way and create a modern state, but this effort was thwarted by Japan’s imperialist colonization of the Peninsula. Koreans then recognized hangeul as the national script in a bid to preserve the national spirit and focus the national will. Throughout the Japanese colonial period (1910-45), scholars continued their effort to assemble Korean words, compile dictionaries, and standardize spelling rules. In addition, hangeul served as a means for criticizing Japanese imperialism and disseminating various religious texts. A new Braille alphabet based on hangeul letters was also created, providing the blind with a means to learn language and communicate with the world.
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1. Manuscript of The Comprehensive Korean Language Dictionary 2. Korean Alphabet Braille 3. Handwritten manuscript of The Heart of the Sea by Lee Yuk-sa
Part 3: Establishing and Building
Koreans’ lives and language evolved with the influx of modern cultural influences and the experiences of the Japanese colonial period, Liberation and war years. Architectural structures, places where people lived, worked, and worshipped, also changed. Initially, Christian churches were built in the traditional Korean style, but then foreign architects came into Korea to build their own structures, and foreign architectural styles cropped up. As time went on, Korean architects appeared who were well trained in both the traditional Korean and Western styles of construction, and they built novel edifices. Many buildings that were heavily influenced by modern and contemporary history of the Korean people still stand and currently serve diverse functions such as museums, schools and cafes.
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1. Gonghwachun Restaurant in Seollin-dong, Incheon 2. Provisional Government Building, Busan 3. Former Building of the North and West Educational Association at Konkuk University, Seoul
Part 4: Unleashing a New Culture after Liberation
Korea was freed from yoke of Japanese colonial rule in 1945, and a new era unfolded. A new culture emerged during this post-Liberation period as Koreans strove to cleanse the nation from the vestiges of Japanese rule and found the independence they had so eagerly craved for so long. Sohn Kee Chung (孫基禎 1912-2002), who won the gold medal in the marathon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, held during the Japanese colonial period, proudly led the Korean national team at the 1948 London Olympics. Comic books appeared that criticized the irregularities of the times under Japanese rule. Ladies’ dresses appeared on the world stage that exquisitely blended the look of the traditional Korean garments with Western fashion. Reflecting the new mood, popular movies advocated that old norms be scrapped and the cry of freedom be loudly heard.
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1. Pennant Used by the Korean National Team Participating in the 1948 London Olympics 2. Original Drawings of Mr. Gobau 3. Arirang dress 4. Wedding Day, a.k.a. An Auspicious Occasion for Scholar Maeng's House