Returning ancient books to Korea

Korean text French Library

Recently, I read this interesting article by the Yonhap News Agency in Korea about series of ancient books that finally were returned to Korea by Japan. During the annexation of Korea by the Empire of Japan, the books became the property of the Imperial family in Japan in 1922, though some books were allegedly taken by Ito Hirobumi as early as 1906. However, the good news is that starting earlier this year under the current prime minister, Noda Yoshihiko, the books started to return in small numbers. Japan, in trying to improve relations with South Korea, promised to return the rest of the books, and as of last week another 1,200 books have been returned.

These books are a collection of books from the Joseon Dynasty called the Uigwe (의궤) which is pronounced somewhat like “ew-gway”.1 The Uigwe books were a series of court ritual books that dealt with subjects such as festivals, dances, processions and other matters that were important at the time.

Similar books were looted from Korea in 1866 by the French military in a brief, failed punitive expedition against Korea. These books remained in a French national museum until recent efforts by a French-Korean scholar helped bring them back on loan from France.

While this may not change much in the short-run, I hope this trend of healing old wounds continues in the future. 🙂

1 The sound 의 is best pronounced like “oo”, but with your mouth smiling. Try it. There’s no analogy in English, but that’s how most textbooks say to pronounce it.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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