Go to contents

Korea Asks France to Return Looted Ancient Books

Posted February. 22, 2010 08:55,   


Korea has officially asked France to return ancient Korean books looted in the 19th century by French troops, a Korean government official said yesterday.

France took the books from Oegyujanggak, the royal library of the Joseon Dynasty, after a French warship invaded Gangwha Island of Korea in 1866.

“We’ve held direct negotiations with France to get back the Oegyujanggak books,” the official said. “We’ve decided to request the permanent lease of the books since the French government wanted us to make a written request.”

Seoul had initially requested a long-term lease. A permanent lease has an indefinite period renewable every four years and is seen as a compromise. Koreans want the prompt return of the books but French domestic law does not allow the surrender of the books’ ownership, the official said.

“In return for the permanent lease, Korea will send artifacts on display at the National Museum of Korea in an exchange display with a French museum,” the official said. “We’ll replace a Korean artifact with another every year to prevent our relics from being taken hostage.”

The Korean government is positively considering this plan because it is in line with the Korean museum’s cultural exchange program aimed at promoting Korean culture abroad through exchange exhibitions.

The Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry in Seoul will convey Korea’s official stance on the matter to the French government early next month after consultations with Korea’s Culture, Sport and Tourism Ministry and the Cultural Heritage Administration.

Based on bilateral negotiations, Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan will discuss the matter with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner next month in Seoul.

spear@donga.com zeitung@donga.com