.Each year, UNESCO registers important cultural assets from around the world on its World Heritage List in an effort to preserve and maintain valuable cultural assets in the interest of all humanity. In 1995, three Korean cultural assets-Chongmyo, the royal ancestral shrine of the Choson Dynasty; the woodblocks of the Koreana Tripitaka and their storage halls at Haeinsa Temple; and Sokkuram Grotto of Pulguksa Temple-were added to the list. In 1997, two more Korean architectural treasures, Hwasong Fortress in Suwon (also called Suwonsang) and Ch'angdokkung Palace in Seoul-were included on the list.
.It is also significant for Koreans that this year, the Year of Cultural Heritage in Korea, Hunmin chong-um (Correct Sounds to Teach the People) and Choson wangjo-shillok (Veritable Records of the Choson Dynasty) have been included in the "Memory of the World Register," an undertaking launched by UNESCO three years ago, Hunmin chong-um, a detailed record and explanation of the creation and use of the Korean alphabet, han-gul (which was first called Hunmin chong-um), is an unparalleled achievement. The Choson wangjo-shillok, a chronological record of the reigns of the kings of the Choson Dynasty-from the dynasty's founding in 1392 to Ch'oljong's rule until l863-is the longest and the most elaborate of its kind in the world.
.The purpose of the Memory of the World Register is to select, preserve and enhance the accessibility of documents-from printed material on any medium (wood, paper, leather, parchment, papyrus) to audio material, film and even electronic media-that are considered valuable to all humanity. UNESCO has recommended that its member nations establish national committees similar in function to the Memory of the World International Committee; currently there are 26 countries that have set up such committees to preserve their nation's endangered documents.
.To be included on the Memory of the World Register, a document should meet any of the following criteria: It should 1) have a major influence on world history; 2) reflect in an outstanding way a period of momentous change in world affairs; 3) contain important information about a place that made a crucial contribution to major developments in world history or culture; 4) have a special association with the life or works of a person or people who made an outstanding contribution to world history or culture; 5) embody a major theme of world history or culture; 6) be an important example of an outstanding form or style; or 7) have outstanding cultural or spiritual value transcending its native culture.
.The Memory of the World Register program has two major purposes: conservation and accessibility.Conservation refers to saving and preserving rare and valuable documents that are endangered. It is an unfortunate fact that many documents that are valuable cultural assets are vanishing due to natural causes and human neglect. Accessibility refers to the replication of such documents in media such as CD-ROMs and the World Wide Web so that more people can access them more easily.
.Han-gul was invented in 1443 by King Sejong and was promulgated on October 9, 1446; hence the designation of October 9 as Han-gul Day to commemorate this achievement. In his postscript to the treatise explaining the creation and use of han-gul, Chong In-ji, the head of Chiphyonjon (the Hall of Worthies) which compiled the treatise, recorded that the script was introduced on the tenth day of the ninth lunar month of 1446, which was October 9 by the solar calendar.
.Hunmin chong-urn consists of two major parts. In the first part, which was written by King Sejong himself, the purpose for inventing the script is explained. and the 17 initial (consonant) sounds and 11 medial (vowel) sounds are introduced. The second part, which was written by the scholars of the Hall of Worthies, comprises six chapters; 1) an explanation of the design of the letters, 2) an explanation of the initial sounds, 3) an explanation of the medial sounds, 4) an explanation of the final sounds, 5) instructions for combining the letters, and 6) examples of the use of the letters.
.Recently, certain artists have been incorporating han-gul in paintings, sculptures and even choreography. It is very encouraging to know that more people are beginning to recognize and to interpret the formative aspects of han-gul.
.Choson wangjo-shllok is a comprehensive record of the Choson Dynasty's reign over a period of 472 years -from King Taejo, the founder of the dynasty, to King Ch'oljong, the third last Choson monarch. It covers not only political, diplomatic and military events but also social, religious and astronomical occurrences; extraordinary natural phenomena; advances in geography, music, science, warcraft, transportation and art; and countless other topics in an encyclopedic style. Therefore it can be said that the historians of the Choson Dynasty were the precursors of today's versatile journalists who can report single-handedly and objectively about any subject, be it political. economic, social or cultural.
.During the reigns of Choson's first three kings-taejo (r.1392-1398), Chongjong (r.1399-1400) and Taejong (r.1401-1418) -the record was written by hand. From the time of King Sejong (r. 1418-1450), metal type was used to print the record.
.In 1431, realizing the importance of conserving the dynasty's chronicles, King Sejong ordered that the records of the first three kings be kept in Shillokchong, a building constructed to serve as the dynasty's central archives. In 1439, two additional archives were built in Songju, Kyongsang-do province, and Chonju, Cholla-do province, and in 1445 another one was built in Ch'ungju, Ch'ungch'ong-do, to preserve duplicates of the records. During the Japanese invasions of 1592 and 1597, Shillokchong as well as the archives in Songju and Ch'ungju were burned down; only the archives in Chonju escaped destruction. In 1603 and 1606, duplicates of the records were deposited in the reconstructed Shillokchong and in newly built archives on Mt. Manisan on Kanghwado Island, on Mt. Myohyangsan in P'yong-an-do, and on Mt. Taebaeksan in Kyongsang-do.
.Since the 1960s, the Korean government has financed a 26-year project to translate these valuable annals into contemporary Korean in han-gul script. In 1993, the result of the project was published, and in 1995 it was issued on CD-ROM, making it available not only to scholars but to the general public. Thanks to the CDROM, many scholars who had been hindered because of the Chinese characters can now easily study the records. For example, one scholar is writing a history of Korean arts based on materials excerpted from the Choson wangjo-shillok.
.Koreans must make other valuable national documents such as the Tripitaka Koreana and Chikchi shimch'e yajol(The Selected Teachings of Buddhist Sages and Son Masters), the earliest extant book printed by movable type, more accessible so that they, too, can become part of the world's cultural heritage. Also, Korea's should establish an institute devoted to the preservation and restoration of the rare books stored in the Kyujanggak, the National Library, university libraries and other places.