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Korea's traditional folk song "Arirang" was added to UNESCO's intangible
cultural heritage list on Thursday.
The Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage decided to inscribe the song on the heritage list during its seventh meeting Wednesday, Paris time, at UNESCO headquarters, the U.N. cultural agency said.
"Arirang" is not just one song but a variety of local versions handed down generation after generation in Korea. It is often dubbed a "second national anthem" or an "unofficial national anthem" of Korea because, due to its easy melody and tune, virtually all Koreans, even those living in North Korea and abroad, can sing at least part of it. Experts say there are thousands of variations of "Arirang" carrying the refrain, "Arirang, arirang, arariyo."
"While dealing with diverse universal themes, the simple musical and literary composition invites improvisation, imitation and singing in unison. A great virtue is its respect for human creativity, freedom of expression and empathy. Everyone can create new lyrics, adding to the song's regional, historical and genre variations, and cultural diversity," UNESCO said in a press release.
The lyrical folk song has inspired many literary and art works. Both the first full-scale Korean film and the first opera made by Koreans had the title "Arirang." The song has long served the role of rallying unity among Koreans both on the Korean Peninsula and in other parts of the world.
The addition brought to 15 the number of South Korean items on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List, including the Royal Ancestral Rite and Ritual Music at the Jongmyo Shrine, which the kings of the Joseon Dynasty used in ancestral memorial ceremonies, and "pansori," a traditional Korean style of narrative song.
The result has been widely expected since the committee's subsidiary body that pre-examines nominations recommended "Arirang" be placed on the list early last month, along with 17 other nominations. There have been no known nominations dropped in the final stage after being recommended by the subpanel, according to Seoul officials.
South Korea belatedly stepped up efforts to get "Arirang" on the UNESCO list after China included the song on its own national intangible cultural heritage list in May 2011, claiming that it is a folk song of an ethnic Korean group living in the northeastern part of the country.
Seoul previously unsuccessfully attempted to add "Jeongseon
Arirang," known as the original version of the song, on the UNESCO list in 2009,
but had made no aggressive efforts until then.
Prompted by the Chinese move, the Seoul government submitted a revised application to UNESCO to list the song as an intangible heritage in June this year. This time, the application included all versions of "Arirang."
"We hope the registration of Korea's most popular folk song as UNESCO cultural heritage will help increase the world's awareness of Korea and the South Korean people's perception of the importance of their own intangible cultural heritage," South Korea's Cultural Heritage Administration said in a statement.