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Fabricating Authenticity: “Koreanness” and Hanbok Rental in Seoul’s Palaces
Hanbok, or traditional Korean dress, has long been considered one of the iconic symbols of Korean culture and identity. Worn only occasionally by Korean nationals for special occasions such as weddings and funerals, in recent years the clothing has been placed in a new context: tourists visiting the major palaces in Seoul can rent hanbok to wear as a special tourist experience. Many who do so use it as an opportunity to take pictures and post on social media. This phenomenon has resulted in debates about the true “Koreanness” of these experiences. Many Koreans lament the loss of authenticity which results from altering hanbok, not only for convenience in the rental process but also to cater to modern styles. Others appreciate that hanbok rental makes the Korean tradition more visible to a wider audience. The tourists themselves, the majority of whom are not Korean nationals but hail from countries across the world, mainly Chinese-speaking countries in Asia, see hanbok rental as a way to augment their travel and add an extra element of “Koreanness” to their trip, thereby making their tourist experience more authentic. Using ethnographic data collected from interviews and observations of Chinese-speaking tourists to Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul, this research explores the different levels of authenticity experienced both by Koreans and foreign visitors who, through wearing hanbok at the palace, fabricate their own definition of authenticity during their experience in Korea.
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