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Seowon, Confucian Academies of Korea

Date of Submission: 09/12/2011
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Korea to UNESCO
Ref.: 5648
Word File Word File

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The sole responsibility for the content of each Tentative List lies with the State Party concerned. The publication of the Tentative Lists does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the World Heritage Committee or of the World Heritage Centre or of the Secretariat of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Sosu Academy

151-2 Naejuk-ri, Sunheung-myeon, Yeongju-si City Gyeongsangbuk­do Province

N36 55 32 E128 34 48

 Namgye Academy

586-1 Wonpyeong-ri, Sudong-myeon, Hamyang-gun County, Gyeongsangnam-do Province

N35 32 56 E127 47 1

 Oksan Academy

7 Oksan-ri, Gyeongju-si City, Gyeongsangbuk-do Province

N36 0 42 E129 9 47

 Dosan Academy

154 Dosanseowon-gil, Dosan-myeon, Andong-si City, Gyeongsang­buk-do Province

N36 43 38 E128 50 35

 Pilam Academy

378 Pilam-ri, Hwangnyong-myeon, Jangseong-gun County, Jeollan­am-do Province

N35 18 38 E126 45 10

 Dodong Academy

35 Dodong-ri, Guji-myeon, Dalseong-gun County, Daegu Metropoli­tan City

N35 42 3 E128 22 18

 Byeongsan Academy

31 Byeongsan-ri, Pungcheon-myeon, Andong-si City, Gyeongsang­buk-do Province

N36 32 26 E128 33 9

 Donam Academy

74 Im-ri, Yeonsan-myeon, Nonsan-si City, Chungcheongnam-do Province

N36 12 31E127 10 51

 Museong Academy

500 Museong-ri, Chilbo-myeon, Jeongeup-si City, Jeollabuk-do Province

N35 36 8 E126 59 2

Seowon, the submitting property, refers to private Confucian academies in Korea established dur­ing the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) to serve memorial rites for noted Confucian sages as well as to educate the youth of the dominant ideology. Seowon, the local footholds of Joseon’s neo-Con­fucian literati class, also served as the venue for discussion on state affairs and social management of the era. Seowon embodies the quintessence of the literari class, who governed Joseon society based on Confucianism, containing the key to understanding the Confucian culture of Joseon and the ruling class with the ideology.

Korea saw its first Confucian academy in 1543 (the 38th year of King Jungjong) when the then Magistrate of Punggi County, Ju Se-bung, built Baegungdong Seowon in Sunheung. In 1550, Baegundong Seowon was recognized by King Myeongjong and was awarded the nameplate of Sosu Seowon, becoming the first of many seowons to be recognized by the King. Currently, 637 academies remain in the Republic of Korea, and the nine properties among them, now submitting for nomination, are those in best condition with good management system, having high signifi­cant value as important historic sites.

The nine academies included in this nomination are these: Sosu Seowon (in Yeongju); Namgye Seowon (in Hamyang); Oksan Seowon (in Gyeongju); Dosan Seowon (in Andong); Pilam Seowon (in Jangseong); Dodong Seowon (in Dalseong); Byeongsan Seowon (in Andong); Donam Seowon (in Nonsan); and Museong Seowon (in Jeongeup).

Each of the nine seowons has the following characteristics.

Sosu Seowon, built in 1543, was the first seowon to be established in the Joseon Dynasty. It was established to revere An Hyang, the first person to import Confucianism into Korea from China in the late Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The surrounding landscape of Sosu Seowon shows the typical seowon location, and is representative of the code of rituals and formalities of ancestral rituals.

Namgye Seowon was established in 1552. It is the first seowon to apply the typical Joseon Dynasty seowon spatial arrangement of placing the teaching area in front and the ritual area in the rear. It is representative of a seowon’s function as a core venue for social education of its locals.

Oksan Seowon built in 1573 is known for its unique building arrangement. The entire layout conforms to the strict formality of Confucian decorum, taking the geometric style, but its main buildings stand facing the west instead of the south, the direction usually favored by Koreans, considering the harmony with its surrounding area. Along with its original purpose for education, the academy still functions as a major venue for clan activities of the descendents of the sage revered here.

Dosan Seowon was built in 1574 to honor Yi Hwang, the foremost Korean Confucianist phi­losopher of the age. It was constructed on the hill behind Dosan Seodang, a community school where Yi studied and taught disciples. The academy had its strength in the lecture of Neo-Confucianism.

Pilam Seowon, which exemplifies the architecture of Confucian academies constructed on the flat ground, was built in 1590. The academy functioned as a stronghold of the local politics that was connected to the central political arena, as well as a place for serving deceased scholars.

Byeongsan Seowon was established in 1613. It is noted for a picturesque landscape formed by the Nakdong River flowing in front and Mt. Byeong lying beyond the river. It displays the most typical architectural style of Korean Confucian academies, which seeks the “unity of heaven and human beings (天人合一)” ideology.

Donam Seowon was built in 1634. Kim Jang-saeng enshrined in this academy was one of Joseon’s great scholars in the study of ritual. Seowon served as the cradle for discussion of the study of ritual in the Joseon Dynasty.

Museong Seowon was established at the center of a village in 1696 by a magistrate who wished to promote learning among the locals. It was known for its social education programs that emphasized rituals and music, the key elements which Confucianists should keep in mind by themselves at all times.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Seowon played an important role in establishing the teacher-student lineages of Neo-Confucianism in Korea, by function­ing as a major venue for transmitting Neo-Confucian truth and teaching in Joseon society. In the academies, the “Study of Ritual” of Chinese scholar Zhu Xi was transformed fit for Korean society, based on which the country’s own theory of ritual was established and developed thereafter. Seowon also internalized the tradition of moral philosophy that put its priority on perfection of character. It understood knowledge as a medium for realizing benevolence, a universal value, not for attaining a mere political power or worldly interests. They initiated and developed communities of knowledge joined by the neo-Confucian literati class in Joseon society. For individuals, it was the place to realize virtue in their minds and at the same time, to practice common virtue of the nation. The selection of sites of those academies were focused on the appropriateness of the land for practicing the “overcoming oneself to recover decorum (克己復禮)” and “unity of heaven and hu­man beings (天人合一).” They feature unique landscapes in both their interior and exterior spatial arrangements along with their surrounding nature.Seowon is known for its rituals that keep taking their original form with high formality almost unchanged up to date, comparing with those other Confucian academies around East Asia. Seowon also took the major role in networking human resources and cultural activities in the region thereof. The circulation and diffusion of books and other publications were also centered in these acad­emies, and each academy still houses the old printing woodblocks and published books. The academies are equipped with a wealth of intangible cultural heritage that display their his­tory, education, rituals and documentary culture. They also identify the literari class’s erudition and practice of virtue as well as history of the local and entire Korean culture.

ii) Since the establishment of neo-Confucianism in Joseon society, seowon had taken and re­tained its unique architectural style, highly suitable for diffusion of neo-Confucianism in the rural areas of Korea.

iii) The architectural style of seowon shows a testimony to the typical private education of Joseon society.

iv) The architectural style of seowon is distinct in its unique spatial composition being in har­mony with nature. The front landscape of a seowon is typical of Neo-Confucian scenic beauty, reflecting the “unity of heaven and human beings” ideology, a concept that emphasizes the inseparable relationship between humans and nature.

vi) As the center of local culture and society, seowon produced a wealth of collections of literary works and publications. They served as the gathering place of intellects, where public opinions and sentiments were concentrated; as the place for social education, where rituals and lectures were provided; and finally, as libraries and publishers for local society.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


Confucian rituals were formalized and practiced in seowon. As each academy has been managed at the national lev­el as a state-designated Historic Site, the submitting buildings and their sur­rounding areas have successfully kept their authenticity until today. Seowon also played a pivotal role in social education based on which the spirit and culture of Neo-Confucianism were widely disseminated and established in Joseon so­ciety. The rules of decorum, the core value of Neo-Confucianism, were put in practice in various rituals of memorial rites, lecture and everyday life performed in seowon.


The original roles of seowon ranging from memorial rites to lecture and social education have con­tinued up until today by local Confucian scholars still living in the nearby areas. Also, the land of properties and their surrounding landscape have been kept in good condition under the systematic management of the government.

As the properties have been designat­ed and managed at the national level, each site has its surrounding protected area sufficient to preserve the core property. To avoid any damage derived from negative impacts of uncontrolled development and deterioration, the Korean government has established national and public management sys­tems for effective protection of the properties.

Comparison with other similar properties


The submitting nine Confucian academies of Korea are regarded particularly best-preserved among those of its kind still remained in Korea. Compared to others located across the country, the nine academies reveal their obvious excellence in terms of outstanding universal value, authenticity and integrity.


Confucian academies were first built in China. Chinese academies are known to affect the similar institutions in its neighboring countries such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam, but the tradition in Japan and Vietnam has almost been cut off as of today. What makes the nine Korean Confucian academies distinctive compared to the equivalent of those in China are as follows:

Compared to Chinese academies that focus on lecture and study, Korean seowon puts their priority on social education and memorial rites for sages.

The Confucian memorial rituals especially for great scholars keep their original form only in Korean academies, while the tradition has already ceased in China.

Through these rituals, Korean seowon reveres the deceased sages’ erudition and virtue, behavior and righteousness and played a significant role in social education to establish and disseminate the Confucian spirit and culture, which highly values the rules of decorum.

The spatial composition of Korean seowon does not accord to that of China, adopting its own type of layouts in harmony with nature.

While the Chinese buildings of seowon are arranged in strict symmetry, Korean seowon makes full use of their natural topographical features in laying out the buildings with high flexibility.