History buff discovered monument in JapanA monument erected during the Joseon Dynasty to celebrate a 400-year-old victory over Japan was returned to Korea last week, thanks in part to a historian dedicated to finding material from the country’s past.
Choi Seo-myeon, 77, discovered the Bukgwan Daecheopbi in 1978, when it was sitting abandoned in a corner of the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan. Mr. Choi, the chairman of an international research institute studying Korean history, was enthusiastic about spreading the word on the existence of the monument, which disappeared 100 years ago.
He found clues to the monument’s whereabouts in writings by Jo So-ang kept in the library of the Japanese parliament. Then a student in Tokyo, Mr. Jo wrote in a Korean student newspaper about his emotions upon finding the monument in the Yasukuni Shrine.
“Mr. Jo So-ang was indignant about the fact that the country (then called Joseon) was in decline and the monument dedicated to a victory in the Imjinwaeran (known as the Seven-Year War) was standing in another country,” Mr. Choi said.
When Mr. Choi discovered the monument beside a pigeon coop in the Yasukuni Shrine, officials said they knew it had been there for a long time, but did not know what it was or why it was there. Much of the inscriptions on the monument were incomprehensible due to weathering, so Mr. Choi compared it to old documents, and deciphered it with the help of Nosan Lee Eun-sang. The monument was erected in Gilju county in 1707 in the 34th year of the reign of King Sukjong to commemorate the victory of a local militia, led by General Jeong Mun-bu, over Japanese forces in Hamgyeong province.
In the middle of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, a Japanese officer stationed in Hamgyeong province told residents in the area that Japan was fighting Russia for Joseon’s independence, and that to improve relations between Japan and Korea the monument should be sent to Japan.
After discovering the monument, Mr. Choi called for its return, even gaining support from then-President Park Chung Hee. Japan responded by saying that the monument existed in what is now North Korea, and so could not be returned to South Korea.
“The monument’s return was not due to the efforts of religious or political leaders, as is thought,” Mr. Choi said. “North and South Korea agreed to put the monument in its original position, and based on this agreement, Japan acceded to the request.”
He added that there are plenty of monuments commemorating the Haengjudaecheop and Hansandaecheop battles. “Kings set them up to commemorate victories of forces led by aristocrats. But the people of the area set up the Bukgwan Daecheopbi of their own accord to celebrate the spirit of people who fought with their bare hands, which is meaningful.” The monument will be exhibited in the National Museum of Korea before being sent to North Korea.
by Yeh Young-june