The Center for Korean Studies fall 2014 colloquium series will open Thursday, September 18, with an exploration of some of the political aspects of Korea’s most famous folksong, “Arirang.” Byong Won Lee, professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, will deliver a presentation titled “The Politics of ‘Arirang’: Tripartite Political Dynamics of the Korean Folksong in South Korea, North Korea, and China.” The colloquium begins at 4:00 p.m. in the Center for Korean Studies conference room.
“Arirang” originated in the central region of Korea in the mid-1920s as a new folksong (sin-minyo) and has evolved into the iconic song for Koreans everywhere. In 2011, the Chinese government designated “Arirang” as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of the ethnic Koreans in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of China.
Nationalistic South Koreans were suspicious of the Chinese move as another of the ongoing Chinese efforts to appropriate Korean heritage, including asserting ownership of some historical events. The South Korean government has been actively promoting the song internationally as the national musical icon with considerable exaggeration of its historical origin. This effort resulted in the registration of “Arirang” as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanities in 2012.
By contrast, “Arirang” was rarely mentioned in North Korea until the early 1980s. The insertion of the song title in the “Arirang Mass Games” in North Korean is an effort to tone down the strong ideological embossment and project a utopian Korea under socialism through the unification of the peninsula on North Korean terms.
Professor Lee’s presentation will examine the tripartite political dynamics of “Arirang”: (1) as a musical icon through its nation-branding efforts in the Republic of Korea, (2) as a soft image-making medium and ideological disguise in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and (3) as a political embracing of minorities by the People’s Republic of China.
Center for Korean Studies colloquia are free and open to the public. The Center is located at 1881 East-West Road on the UH Mānoa campus. Paid parking ($6.00) is available in the parking lot mauka of the CKS building and elsewhere on campus. For further information, including arrangements for access for the handicapped, telephone the Center at (808) 956‑7041.