Heritage for identity and as diplomacy: the case of Korean martial arts

Eugenia Rozenfeld, Guy Podoler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the context of the legitimacy battle between the two Koreas, a tension exists between utilising cultural heritage to serve the interests of the two respective national-identity projects, and, at times, negotiating it to express the single Korean nation. The theoretical framework we adopt to explore this condition relies on two ideas: heritage as a building block of national identity and ‘heritage diplomacy’. By analysing the interplay between the place of martial arts in constructing identities and their ‘heritage as diplomacy’ practice, we make three contributions: we offer a hitherto unexplored angle on Korean identity-formation processes and inter-Korean relations; we introduce a unique case study pertaining to the involvement of non-Western states in heritage diplomacy; and, we contribute to the scant literature on intangible heritage in heritage diplomacy. More than a sports-diplomacy tool, the case of martial arts reveals the seemingly paradoxical nature of inter-Korean cultural heritage politics: the struggle to reinforce separate Korean national identities by resorting to the same heritage concomitantly contributes, in several ways, to the idea and sense of Korean ‘oneness’. The paper also maintains that such inter-Korean collaborations are advantageous in the growing competition among Asian nations for UNESCO’s recognition of cultural heritage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)828-843
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Cultural Policy
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Heritage diplomacy
  • North Korea
  • South Korea
  • intangible heritage
  • martial arts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science


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