39th Annual Meeting – Objects Morning Session, June 2, “Establishing a Code of Ethics in Korea: Challenges and Dilemmas” by Dr. Sujeong Lee

Dr. Sujeong Lee with the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage in Korea spoke regarding the current efforts being made towards establishing a Code of Ethics for the Korean government and conservators. She comes from a background of studying the history and theory of conservation with a particular interest in value assessment. She presented her paper as answering two primary questions: 1. Why does a Code of Ethics need to be established in Korea/Asia? and 2. What is the process for establishing a Code? From the start, she established that she was at the conference as a representative of the Korean government and that she was meant to present the country in a positive light but that she was here to ask for help and advice and not to mask the difficulties her country is facing in their quest to establish ethics.

In answering the ‘why,’ Dr. Lee provided a history of the past one hundred years of conservation in Korea, a field which has evolved largely in response to the damages of occupations and war. The Japanese occupied Korea up until WWII and from 1950-1953 the country experienced the Korean War, referenced as the “three year war” by Dr. Lee. In the wake of these events, Korea has spent the last sixty years attempting to repair the many buildings and objects that were damaged, a process that she contends resulted in the loss of many of the fundamental ideas of conservation. It is now her goal to help the country regain an understanding of why conservation should be undertaken, the methodology for doing so, and the best materials to use. In order to underscore the loss of real ethics in Korea, Dr. Lee explained the legality of being a qualified conservator in Korea and the certification process that each undergoes. During the testing and interviews, each individual is assessed based on their ethical qualifications; however, there are no standards for doing so and even after becoming a certified conservator, Dr. Lee finds that many individuals are unequipped to address the many decisions they must make as a conservator. She feels that developing a Code of Ethics would help in the training of conservators as well as give individuals a standardized and approved manner for approaching conservation. Significantly, there is has also been a recent growth in public awareness and participation in the stewardship of high-profile objects and buildings in Korea. In support of this trend, Dr. Lee presented the case of the 2008 arson of the Namdaemun gate, a 14th c. treasure located in the center of Seoul. Following the tragic destruction, the public responded by laying flowers in front of the building and generated enough emotional investment that the conservation efforts were reported on a continuous basis.

The recent increase in the number of conservators registered in Korea is another determining factor contributing to the present need for a Code. There are currently approximately two thousand conservators registered, though Dr. Lee is concerned that many of them are unfamiliar with the principles, techniques, and practices of conservation, something she feels that a code will assist in remedying. Perhaps the most compelling reason she presented for why Korea must establish a Code is that it will be the first Asian country to do so, and thus hopefully not the last.

The second question, the ‘how,’ is unsurprisingly a more complicated topic and one that has yet to be fully realized in practice. The committee charged with developing the Code has examined many of the other codes currently in use, including that of the AIC. At the start of the process, Korea held an international conference in order to understand the many issues they were grappling with. Dr. Lee reported that the conference was widely attended, which was both surprising and encouraging for their efforts. They have hosted a series of conferences; the first discussed the benefits of developing a Code, the second focused on listening, and the upcoming seminar will attempt to separate the junior and senior associates so as to achieve a more comprehensive and honest analysis of the field and the ethical concerns. Dr. Lee is optimistic about the future of the code but admits that there is still much to be done. She concluded her presentation by once again requesting that anyone with advice contact her as she and the others behind the development project are very eager for input.

See also: http://www.conservation-us.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=page.viewPage&PageID=858&E:\ColdFusion9\verity\Data\dummy.txt