CedarBough T. Saeji (University of British Columbia, Vancouver)

4 May 2018


This lecture can be roughly divided into two areas of content, according to the following questions:

  • What can we learn about the Joseon dynasty from Korea’s mask dance drama tradition?
  • In the present day, how is the heritage of the Republic of Korea being protected?

Cultural heritage might look like a beautiful object in a museum, a majestic palace, or a unique ritual, but it is so much more. It organizes regional and national identity, promotes patriotism, and provides a link to the past. Among the rich cultural heritage items that originated in Korea, the mask dance dramas provide a particularly comprehensive view into Joseon dynasty life. The dramas are a comprehensive art form encompassing costume, mask making, acting, music, and dance. Beyond artistic merit, the dialogues refer to events in Korean history and the concerns that organized the existence of the lower classes on the peninsula. Religious ideology, class struggles, marriage disputes, and daily chores all make an appearance within the raucous, ribald, and at times racy dramas. I will use videos from performance, photos, and snippets of dialogue to show not only the acted-out struggles of the Korean poor, but also how their stress was relieved through parody, satire, and slapstick.

What happened to the mask dance dramas after Japan colonized Korea? What is their condition today in a divided Korea? In order to answer these questions I will familiarize the participants with how rich cultural heritage is being protected in the Republic of Korea through comprehensive heritage legislation. Heritage legislation resulted in a structural organization of Korean heritage that I will introduce to familiarize the audience with the entire gamut of heritage types and examples of each. However, beyond providing organization, these national laws have also had a large impact on the arts —at times good, saving them from extinction, and at times unintended. Through stories from my research, I will demonstrate the double-edged sword of protecting tradition.


CedarBough T. Saeji is Korea Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the Asian Studies program of the University of British Columbia, Canada. Her previous research has appeared in Asia Theatre Journal, Acta Koreana, Journal of Korean Studies, and several edited volumes and reference projects. She is currently finishing a book on Korean mask dance dramas.