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Hangeul handbook ‘Hunminjeongeum’ to be sold as limited edition NFT
















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Hangeul handbook ‘Hunminjeongeum’ to be sold as limited edition NFT

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A page of the 15th century manuscript
A page of the 15th century manuscript “Hunminjeongeum Haeryebon,” a handbook of the Korean writing system, Hangeul / Courtesy of CHA


By Park Han-sol

Copies of a priceless manuscript detailing the origins and workings of the Korean writing system, “Hangeul” will be sold as limited edition NFTs (non-fungible tokens), making this the first National Treasure of Korea to be put up for sale as a digital token. But the sale could stir up controversy over whether or not it should be allowed.

The Kansong Art Museum in Seongbuk District, northern Seoul, which stores the “Hunminjeongeum Haeryebon,” an illustrated handbook of the Korean writing system, stated Wednesday that it “plans to mint the 15th century manuscript as an NFT with serial numbers and sell it to a limited number of 100 buyers.” Each will be sold for 100 million won ($87,000).

NFTs are one-of-a-kind tokens that can represent any unique digital asset from artworks to, in this case, a national treasure that can be bought and sold virtually. It proves that only the buyer possesses the original image, with information about each transaction tracked and maintained in the blockchain.

The Hunminjeongeum Haeryebon, published in 1446 during the Joseon Dynasty when King Sejong proclaimed the creation of Hangeul in an attempt to replace Chinese characters, explains the linguistic principles on which Hangeul is built and has therefore been one of the most important pieces of cultural heritage in the country.

While most copies of the handbook were lost during the 1910-45 Japanese colonial era, the first original copy was found in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, in 1940 and was later purchased by Chun Hyung-pil (1906-1962), whose pen name was “Kansong.” Since then, the manuscript has been stored in the collection of the Kansong Art Museum.

The art museum claimed that its unprecedented decision to turn the Hunminjeongeum Haeryebon into an NFT was partially fueled by its current financial problems. The first private museum in Korea, established in 1938, put two precious Buddhist sculptures up for auction last year, which were subsequently bought by the National Museum of Korea.

The museum added it will use the money raised from the sale for its operating expenses and to fund research into cultural assets. This can also serve as a chance to “share the precious cultural property with the general public, especially the younger generations interested in NFT,” Chun Young-woo, president of the Kansong Art and Culture Foundation, said in an interview with the Seoul Economic Daily.

The museum’s announcement is expected to stir up controversy over the commercialization of the manuscript, which possesses historic significance.

An official from the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) explained that the state-run organization will review the case based on relevant laws as this is one of the very first attempts to turn a cultural asset into a digital token, adding that it will look into how the scanning and digitation process can affect the manuscript’s condition.

The Cultural Heritage Protection Act stipulates that any act that can affect or alter the current condition of a state-designated cultural heritage, including “taking a rubbed copy, a photoprint, or a photograph” requires permission from the CHA administrator in advance.

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