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France agrees to return Korean royal Uigwe books

Further coverage of France’s decision to return numerous disputed manuscripts [1] to South Korea.

UPI [2]

World News
France will return Korean kings’ books
Published: Nov. 12, 2010 at 9:54 AM

SEOUL, Nov. 12 (UPI) — France will return a royal library its invaders stole from Korea in the 19th century, President Nicolas Sarkozy said Friday.

The Uigwe books, royal records from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), were taken by a French force that seized a Korean island in 1866 in reprisal for persecution of French Catholic missionaries. The books are at the National Library of France.

Sarkozy, in Seoul for the Group of 20 summit, said France will return the manuscripts to South Korea on a five-year renewable lease.

“We have agreed (on a plan) in which the lease of the documents will be rolled over every five years,” he told Yonhap.

The Uigwe books recorded and illustrated rituals and practices of the royal court. The Japanese took some of them during their 1910-45 rule of Korea, but have promised to give them back.

The books’ whereabouts were a mystery to Koreans until 1975 when a Korean bibliographer at the Paris library discovered 298 of them. South Korea has been trying to recover them for 35 years.

Yop Hap News [3]

2010/11/12 20:05 KST
(G20) Chronology of events on Korean royal Uigwe books in France

SEOUL, Nov. 12 (Yonhap) — The following is a chronology of events leading up to the French agreement with South Korea on Friday to return the stolen Korean Uigwe books.

October 1866 — French troops invade Korea’s western Ganghwa Island in retaliation against its persecution of French Catholic missionaries residing in the Asian country. In the first-ever armed encounter between Korea and a Western power, the French naval troops set fire to a royal library on the island after looting away hundreds of Uigwe books and large amounts of silverware there.

1975 — The collection of Uigwe, mistakenly classified as Chinese, is discovered by a Korean librarian, Park Byeng-sen, at the National Library of France.

July 1992 — The South Korean embassy in France sends an official request to France for the return of Uigwe to Korea.

September 1993 — French President Francois Mitterrand visits Seoul and gives back one of the stolen books. France was competing with Japan and the United States to sell its high-speed train TGV technology to South Korea. France later won the train bid.

2001 — Diplomatic talks fall through due to disputes over the manner of the books’s return.

February 2007 — A Seoul-based civic group, Cultural Action, files a lawsuit with the Paris administration court demanding the French library return Uigwe to Korea.

December 2009 — The French court rejects the Korean civic group’s demand, saying the royal texts are now part of the “national property” of France. The French court does, however, acknowledge for the first time that the royal texts had been illegally looted.

March 2010 — The Korean government asks for the return of the 297 Uigwe books on a permanent lease scheme. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner promises “every possible cooperation” during his meeting with President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul.

Nov. 12, 2010 — France agrees to return Uigwe to South Korea. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agree on a five-year renewable lease scheme on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Seoul.

Yahoo News [4]

Japan agrees to return royal documents
AAP November 9, 2010, 2:45 pm

Japan has agreed to return more than 1,200 Korean royal documents and other books seized during Tokyo’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

The move came three months after Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologised to South Korea for the suffering caused by Tokyo’s 1910-45 colonial rule. Kan also said in August that Tokyo would return some Korean cultural artifacts, including historical documents, that it acquired while ruling the peninsula.

Seoul and Tokyo had reached the deal over Joseon Dynasty’s royal documents and other books and agreed to sign a formal treaty in the near future, the ministry said in a statement on Monday night.

The Joseon Dynasty ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910.

Japan’s move, which could return 1,205 volumes of books to South Korea, is expected to boost cultural exchanges and co-operation between the two countries, the statement said.

Books to be returned include 167 volumes of Uigwe, a collection of documents detailing court protocol for royal ceremonies and rites with illustration, the ministry said.

Japan returned a total of 1,432 items of cultural assets to South Korea in 1965 when the two sides normalised their diplomatic relations, the ministry said.

Japanese leaders have repeatedly apologised to South Korea, but many older Koreans still harbour deep resentment against Japan over the colonial rule. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were forced to fight as front-line soldiers, work in slave-labour conditions or serve as prostitutes in brothels operated by the Japanese military.
Despite their troubled history, Seoul and Tokyo remain closely tied economically and are key US allies in the region.