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The price of the Hunminjeongeum script

Posted April. 12, 2017 07:03,   

Updated April. 12, 2017 07:17


Though the meaning was tainted by the Mir Foundation, the term “Mir” meaning a dragon was first used in the Hunminjeongeum script. It contains other beautiful Korean words such as Mirinae, Sinaburo and Ssamzi. The script, a guidebook on the pronunciations of Korean alphabets, was first discovered in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, in July 1940. It is said that a man sold the script to Jeon Hyeong-pil known for his pen name Kansong, a cultural heritage collector, at 8,000 won with a brokerage fee of 1,000 won. Back then, 1,000 won was worth a decent house in Seoul.

A posting on the website of the Cultural Heritage Administration surprised the world in July 2008 as Bae Ik-gi, an old book collector living in Sangju, North Gyeongsang Province, wrote that he discovered the Hunminjeongeum script in his house. An expert from the administration visited his house and found that it was real. Sometime later, Bae was sued by Cho Young-hoon, an artifact collector, for an alleged theft. Bae was ruled innocent in 2014, but the ownership belonged to Cho who won a civil lawsuit in 2011. Cho donated the script, which he did not have in his hands, to the administration.

Bae unveiled on Monday the copy called the Sangju version in a photo in nine years. The bottom of the book was burnt due to fire at his house in 2015. He ran for the National Assembly as an independent candidate with a pledge that he would add the copy to the National Treasure list. The other copy called the Kansong version is No. 70 of the National Treasure list. Though four pages in the front and one page on the back are missing in the Sangju version, it has researchers’ footnotes, which are academically valued unlike the Kansong version.

When Bae submitted his property list to run for office, he tried to book the value of the Sangju version at one trillion won. However, the Fair Election Commission rejected it. He said that he would give it to the state in return for 100 billion won (87.3 million U.S. dollars) two years ago. “The ownership lies in the government and there is no reason to pay for it,” the Cultural Heritage Administration said. “If Bae takes the ownership back after a lawsuit, we could discuss it whether it be sales or not.” It is doubtful whether a man who does not take good care of the valuable cultural asset and grasps it tight to sell it at 100 billion won (87.3 million dollars) or 1 trillion won (873 million dollars) deserves to become a lawmaker.