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8th-century Korean Travel Journal to Go On Display

Posted June. 30, 2010 13:02,   


An eighth-century travel journal written by the Venerable Hyecho, a Buddhist monk from Korea’s ancient kingdom of Shilla, will be on display from December at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul.

"Wangocheonchukgukjeon (The Memoir of the Pilgrimage to the Five Regions of India)" will be featured at the exhibition “Silk Road and Dunhuang” to be co-organized by the museum and The Dong-A Ilbo. The relic is housed at the French National Library in Paris.

The museum said Tuesday that the library will lend the journal to Korea for its first public display.

Hyecho (704-787) wrote the travelogue in 727 after traveling five regions in ancient India. The first travel journal written by a Korean, it has high academic and historic value with detailed descriptions of politics, culture, economy and customs of India and Central Asia in the eighth century.

"Wangocheonchukgukjeon" is considered one of the world’s most famous travelogues along with “The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions” by the seventh-century Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang; "The Travels of Marco Polo" by the Italian explorer in the 13th century; and "The Rihla (Journey)" by Berber Moroccan scholar and traveler Ibn Battuta in the 14th century.

The Korean journal is a scroll containing a manuscript of 227 lines and 5,893 Chinese characters, and measures 28.5 centimeters long and 42 centimeters wide with a combined length of 358 centimeters.

It was discovered by French scholar Paul Pelliot in February 1908 at the Dunhuang cave in China. At the time, he acquired 24 boxes of ancient documents and sent them to France. They were reported to the academic world in May 1909.

In December the same year, Hyecho’s travelogue turned out to be among the documents. In 1910, Japanese Buddhist scholar Junjiro Takakusu identified Hyecho as a Buddhist monk from the Shilla Dynasty.

Min Byeong-chan, head of the museum’s display department, said, “It has never been on display since it was sent to France,” adding, “What is especially significant is that the journal will be on display for the first time in a special Silk Road exhibition that will also debut in Korea.”

The exhibit “Silk Road and Dunhuang” will run from Dec. 18 through April 3 next year and mark the 90th anniversary of The Dong-A Ilbo. The event is among exhibitions of world civilization the museum has prepared since 2008.

Along with the travelogue, 200 artifacts including a bronze carriage statue housed by 10 Chinese museums will be on display.

The National Museum of Korea will prepare a separate space for Hyecho to provide details of his travels.