of Korea

A Living Human Treasure system

Strengthening transmission is one of the most important means to safeguard ICH. UNESCO encourages States to create national systems of “Living Human Treasures” that honour exemplary tradition-bearers and encourage them to transmit their skills and knowledge.


On lesson: casting a positive light on the future of Pansori
On lesson: casting a positive light on the future of Pansori

In 1962, Korea enacted Cultural Properties Protection Act No. 961 (English), the objective of which is to “strive for the cultural improvement of the people and to contribute to the development of human culture, by inheriting the native culture through the preservation of cultural properties so as to ensure their utilization”. The Act distinguishes four categories: Important Tangible Cultural Properties, Important Intangible Cultural Properties, Folk Cultural Properties, and Monuments.

The protection and designation of Important Intangible Cultural Properties and of the corresponding holders started in 1964, when the Royal Ancestral Ritual Music in Jongmyo Shrine and the Epic Chant Pansori (proclaimed Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001 and in 2003 respectively) were designated as Important Intangible Cultural Properties. Since 1964, holders (LINK see below for the explanation of this term) have transmitted their knowledge and skills to new holders.

Legal measures

The Cultural Properties Protection Act No. 961 enacted on 10 January 1962 establishes a framework for the management of Important Intangible Cultural Properties, including the creation of a Cultural Properties Committee, the designation of holders of Important Intangible Cultural Properties, protection and promotion measures through the granting of scholarships, organization of performances, and undertaking of emergency actions, etc.

The Enforcement Decree of the Cultural Properties Protection Act established the procedure for designating holders of Important Intangible Cultural Properties, as well as a scholarship system that ensures transmission.

Who are the holders of an Important Intangible Cultural Property or a Living National Treasure?

Holders (‘poyuja’) of an Important Intangible Cultural Property are individuals or organizations who enact Intangible Cultural Properties with noteworthy historic, artistic or academic value.

Domains of the intangible cultural heritage concerned

Intangible Cultural Properties are expressions and practices, such as music, dance, drama, folk games, rites, martial arts, handicrafts and cuisine.

Responsible body in charge of the system

The Cultural Properties Committee serves as an advisory body to the Minister of Culture and Tourism. One of its sub-committees is the “Intangible Cultural Properties Committee”, which is composed of six members, each representing one of the domains defined by the Cultural Properties Act as Intangible Cultural Property.

The members of this Committee, after nomination by the Cultural Properties Administration, are appointed by the Minister of Culture and Tourism. The two-year term for members is renewable. The committee meets on a need-basis.

The Intangible Cultural Properties Committee has a mandate to:

  • designate and cancel Intangible Cultural Properties and their holders;
  • advise the Minister of Culture and Tourism on the management or utilization of a designated Intangible Cultural Property;
  • contact performers/practitioners who wish to be designated.

The Intangible Cultural Properties Committee works in close cooperation with the Research Institute for Cultural Properties and the Cultural Properties Administration for the implementation of these mandates.

Selection process

1) Application for designation:
Applications submitted by local organizations contain the following information: the history of the item, a detailed description, the context of the performance, information about its special features, photographs, a video tape of the item and any other type of documentation deemed necessary by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
2) Investigation for designation:
Based on the data submitted, reports are made by at least three experts of the Cultural Properties Committee.
3) Examination for the designation:
After examination of the investigation reports, the Cultural Properties Committee decides on designation.
After the selection of an item, bearers of the property in question are selected for designation as holders. Often the designation of the item and its holder(s) are done simultaneously.
4) Notice for designation:
The Official Gazette announces notification of designation as an Intangible Cultural Property.
5) Deliberation for designation:
The Cultural Properties Committee makes the decision, after deliberation, as to whether the selected item is designated or not.
6) Announcement of the designation:
The result is announced by the Official Gazette to the applicants, local organizations and holders.

The forms of designation vary from “individual holder” to “group holder”, depending on how and by whom an element of a designated Intangible Cultural Property is enacted. These holders are also called “Living National Treasures” (‘inganmunhwajae’).

Rights and obligations of the holders

Holders, apprentices and scholarship students receive several benefits, including a monthly stipend, health insurance, subsidies for hospital fees and funeral expenses, and support for training programmes and advancing in their career. They also enjoy special government protection in times of war, armed conflict, or other emergencies. Holders in disadvantaged areas receive additional funds.

In return for these benefits, holders are required to transmit the designated Properties to the next generation, to spread traditional culture by holding public and government-organized performances, in addition to other specific duties determined by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The Ministry will monitor their safeguarding activities to ensure that all their responsibilities are carried out appropriately.

With a view to implementing systematic safeguarding activities for intangible cultural properties, the Korean system maintains a consistent inheritance procedure from skill holder to apprentice to graduate and to scholarship student.

Once individuals or groups are acknowledged as holders, they are asked to identify trainees and to implement training activities. Trainees with remarkable talent are recommended by the trainer(s) and selected as scholarship students. When the selected scholarship students complete a course of at least five years and reach a level of full ability, they are recognized as “graduates”. Among these graduates, the most excellent ones will be selected as “apprentices” by recommendation of the holders and on the basis of evaluations by cultural experts. These selected apprentices have the duty to assist the holders, as well as to learn their skills.

In case the holders do not meet their obligations, there are penalties, the most severe being cancellation of their designation as holder.

When a holder of an Important Intangible Cultural Property is deemed to be inadequate due to a physical or mental impediment or other reasons, the Administrator of the Cultural Properties Administration may cancel the designation of the holder (Article 12 of the Cultural Properties Protection Act of 1962). When the holders can no longer transmit their skills due to old age or disease, they are acknowledged as honorary holders.

When a holder passes away, his/her designation is cancelled. When there is no designated successor to the holder, the Important Intangible Cultural Property is also cancelled.

Safeguarding activities

The Cultural Properties Administration is responsible for ensuring that the safeguarding activities for the designated Intangible Cultural Properties are carried out effectively, in cooperation with holders.


A Heritage Education Center of Intangible Cultural Properties has been established. Furthermore, in order to raise the awareness of the younger generation on the importance of Intangible Cultural Properties, the government supports social educational programmes, the production of textbooks, and activities implemented by schools that are twinned with Important Intangible Cultural Properties organizations.

Support to performances and exhibitions

Support is given to events such as performances and exhibitions of holders of Important Intangible Cultural Properties, handicrafts tournaments and local festivals. Among others, a public event is organized annually in order to raise awareness and appreciation among the general public, who are shown how the holders and qualified trainers maintain and improve their techniques and skills. Another important function of this public event is that the members of the Cultural Properties Committee and other professionals evaluate the events, to see if the holders have well preserved their skills, and to judge the level of their training programmes.

Documentation activities

The Cultural Properties Administration endeavors to create audio-visual records of the performances by the holders. About 10 audio-visual records are produced annually.
A booklet is published annually by the Cultural Properties Administration providing information on all designated items and holders.

More information on the Living National Treasures

Status as of May 2004

ROK - Status as of May 2004

More information is available in the following document:

  • Abstracts of the Cultural Properties Protection Act No. 961 of 10 January 1962 (English)