Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 13.COM 10.B.41

The Committee

  1. Takes note that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has nominated Ssirum (wrestling) in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (No. 01361) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Ssirum (wrestling) is a physical game practised popularly in all regions of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where two opponents try to push each other to the ground using a satpa (a fabric strap connecting the waist and leg), their torso, hands and legs. Ssirum is distinguished by the use of the satpa and the awarding of a bull to the winner. Since ancient times, Koreans have practised Ssirum for physical training purposes during breaks from work and, especially, during big contests on folk holidays. On folk days, when Ssirum takes place, lots of people (old and young) gather around the ring: wrestlers compete using diverse techniques; spectators enthusiastically cheer on their favorites; and the winner rides a bull in celebration. As an exercise of the whole body, Ssirum fosters the cultivation of the body and mind. It also encourages mutual respect and cooperation, contributing to the harmony and cohesion of communities and groups. Pyongyang, the capital city, plays a central role in enacting, protecting and transmitting Ssirum, comprising a number of communities, organizations and institutions concerned with the practice, including the Korean Ssirum Association. Koreans start learning Ssirum from family members and neighbours from childhood, and it is taught by educational institutions at all levels.

  1. Decides that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   Men learn Ssirum during childhood from their fathers, grandfathers and neighbours. Deeply rooted at all levels of Korean society, the element helps cultivate the mind and body and consolidates social cohesion and harmony within communities and groups: attending matches, cheering and sharing emotions provide the audience and wrestlers with a sense of identity and continuity. Although Ssirum is practised primarily by men, women also play important roles, participating as audience members, preparing food and costumes for male wrestlers and encouraging their offspring to learn and practise Ssirum.

R.2:   The inscription of Ssirum will highlight the importance of sustaining folk traditions and customs, encourage dialogue and the exchange of experience among domestic associations as well as among different communities practising similar elements worldwide. The production of tangible objects associated with Ssirum and related oral folklore expressions highlights cultural diversity and testifies to human creativity.

R.3:   The proposed, well-described safeguarding plan draws on the activities of an established institutional framework in place since 1945. The main objective of the plan is the sustainable development of the tradition, which would be achieved through long-term and yearly plans. Any factors that could negatively influence the element would be countered through the immediate designation of countermeasures. The Korean Ssirum Association is responsible for carrying out activities linked to formal education, documentation, research, information exchange, promotion and dissemination including through Ssirum centres at national and local levels. The community was involved in planning the proposed safeguarding measures during three consultative meetings.

R.4:   A wide range of public institutions and organizations participated in preparing the nomination file. The National Authority for Protection of Cultural Heritage collected data among traditional practitioners and bearers and held seminars with experts responsible for disseminating Ssirum techniques. Varied expressions of free, prior and informed consent are provided, and include the signatures of representatives of state and local authorities, Ssirum clubs, practitioners, schoolchildren and various socialist workers’ organizations.

R.5:   The element has been included in the State Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since 2013, which is updated every three years. The element was inventoried thanks to the joint efforts of the Korean Ssirum Association, the Education Commission, the Academy of Social Sciences, state organs, working people´s organizations and a number of Ssirum enthusiasts. Women also played a significant part in the inventorying process, providing information about the viability and social and cultural functions of Ssirum.

  1. Further takes note that the Republic of Korea has nominated Ssireum, traditional wrestling in the Republic of Korea (No. 01280) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Ssireum, or traditional wrestling, is a popular form of entertainment widely enjoyed across the Republic of Korea. Ssireum is a type of wrestling in which two players wearing long fabric belts around their waists and one thigh grip their opponents’ belt and deploy various techniques to send them to the ground. The winner of the final game for adults is awarded an ox, symbolizing agricultural abundance, and the title of ‘Jangsa’. When the games are over, the Jangsa parades around the neighbourhood riding the ox in celebration. Ssireum games take place on sand in any available space in a neighbourhood, and are open to community members of all ages, from children to seniors. They are played on various occasions, including traditional holidays, market days and festivals. Different regions have developed variants of ssireum based on their specific backgrounds, but they all share the common social function of ssireum – enhancing community solidarity and collaboration. As an approachable sport involving little risk of injury, ssireum also offers a means of improving mental and physical health. Koreans are broadly exposed to ssireum traditions within their families and local communities: children learn the wrestling skills from family members; local communities hold annual open wrestling tournaments; and instruction on the element is also provided in schools.

  1. Further decides that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   The element is acknowledged among Koreans countrywide as a part of Korean cultural heritage. The bearers and practitioners include people of different ages, social and regional origins and genders. In line with the general characteristics of games and sports, the element supports physical and mental health, solidarity and unity within the community and a sense of fair play. As the Ssireum games take place on every major traditional holiday, they are closely connected with Korean cultural identity.

R.2:   The inscription could contribute to raising the visibility of intangible cultural heritage by highlighting the value of folk games and sports as an integral part of it. Due to the diversity of ssireum in Korea and worldwide, its inscription could lead to dialogue among communities concerning different wrestling techniques and methods and to the establishment of a global ssireum network for promoting shared activities. The inscription would highlight how different countries develop diverse forms of wrestling to suit their natural and historical contexts, bearing witness to cultural diversity and human creativity.

R.3:   The element is safeguarded by families, local communities, schools and universities and the Korea Ssireum Association, as well as its regional branches, with significant institutional and administrative support from the government. The proposed safeguarding measures are balanced and reflect the fact that the element is widespread around the country, while its continuous transmission is the best way of safeguarding it for the future. The safeguarding plan includes monitoring the possible side-effects of the inscription and preventing the commercialization of ssireum.

R.4:   Three major groups participated in the nomination process: the general Korean population, who selected ssireum as one of the 100 Korean Cultural Symbols and perceive it as an important part of their identity; the Korea Ssireum Association, which represents the practitioners and prepared the nomination file; and experts and academics, who were also involved in preparing the file. Representative regional associations and academics from Yong-In University provided their free, prior and informed consent on behalf of the entire ssireum community.

R.5:   Since 2011, the element has been included in the State Inventory maintained by the Cultural Heritage Administration. This organization updates each entry at least once every five years. The element was identified and defined by diverse sectors of society, including the general population, who supported the national listing.

  1. Acknowledges the will expressed by both submitting States, following the evaluation of the two separate files by the Evaluation Body, to have the two files jointly examined by the Committee;
  2. Taking into consideration the recommendation of the Evaluation Body to inscribe both elements, decides, on an exceptional basis, to jointly examine the two files submitted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea;
  3. Inscribes Traditional Korean wrestling (Ssirum/Ssireum) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a joint inscription.