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Heritage expert You Hong-june pens new cultural travelogue series

Bestseller series "My Cultural Heritage Exploration" celebrates 30th anniversary

Nov. 22, 2023 - 18:12 By Hwang Dong-hee
You Hong-june speaks at a press conference at the Changbi Seogyo Building in Mapo-gu, Seoul, Tuesday. (Changbi Publishers)

Our entire country is a museum, wrote You Hong-june a professor emeritus of art history at Myongji University, at the very beginning of his 1993 bestseller travelogue series, “My Exploration of Cultural Heritage.”

It means every corner of the country is a breathing and living museum of history and culture, said the author.

You, who is also the chair of the executive board of the Academy of Korean Studies and former head of the Cultural Heritage Administration, has been at the forefront of introducing cultural heritage sites to the public for decades.

Last year, he concluded his “My Exploration of Cultural Heritage” series, consisting of 20 volumes: 12 focusing on Korea, five on Japan and three on the Silk Road in China.

“‘My Exploration of Cultural Heritage’ has evolved over 30 years and has now turned into this ‘Pilgrimage Through the Homeland's Cultural Landscape,’” said You, unveiling a new series at a press conference at the Changbi Seogyo Building in Mapo-gu, Seoul, Tuesday.

“While the ‘My Cultural Heritage Exploration’ series documented visits to each region, the new series takes on a different approach. It’s a journey through time -- exploring Korea's history chronologically and introducing significant historical sites and cultural heritage representative of each era,” said You.

You Hong-june speaks at a press conference at the Changbi Seogyo Building in Mapo-gu, Seoul, Tuesday. (Changbi Publishers)

Volume 1 covers from prehistoric times to the Goguryeo Kingdom, including sites such as a world-famous Paleolithic site in Jeongok-ri, Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province; the Shell Mound in Yeongdo, Busan; and the Daegokcheon Petroglyphs in Ulsan. The second volume covers the Baekje, Silla and Gaya Kingdoms.

“I wrote the book so that if you read it from the beginning, you can grasp Korea’s history and experience it as if you were on a journey yourself,” You said. “Certain historical sites were omitted in the ‘My Cultural Heritage Exploration’ series so I felt like filling in those gaps.”

One such example is the Shell Mound ruins in Busan, a representative Neolithic relic unexplored in his previous books.

Covers of Volumes 1 and 2 of "Pilgrimage Through the Homeland's Cultural Landscape" (Changbi Publishers)

Reflecting on his bestseller series, You shared, “The series' longevity and popularity come from several ‘evolutions,’ I think. Initially, I planned to conclude with Volume 3, but after a visit to North Korea, I decided to start again.”

After leading the Cultural Heritage Administration from 2004 to 2008, You resumed the series and traveled to Japan and the Silk Road.

"I think this series has evolved about five times. … I met readers without falling into mannerisms,” he said.

You said the series is to “mark the end of his cultural heritage series.”

“If (the series) hadn’t received so much attention, I wouldn’t have worried about how to end it properly, and do justice to its ending. But I want to make a meaningful conclusion as I have received love for a long time.”

You plans to cover Balhae and Unified Silla in Volume 3 while Volumes 4 and 5 will cover Goryeo, Joseon and modern times. The final topic of the series will be Ulleungdo and the Dokdo islets, which he has yet to explore.