[LETTERS to the editor]Don’t overlook historical context

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[LETTERS to the editor]Don’t overlook historical context

I really enjoyed learning about Korea’s efforts to recover cultural properties (“The battle to retrieve Korea’s old records,” Dec. 8).

The story about France invading Korea in 1866 and taking the uigwe, documents explaining royal protocol during the Joseon dynasty, was very informative ? at least so far as the article explained how Korea has been trying to recover those documents.

Unfortunately the article was somewhat misleading. In it, Hwang Pyung-woo, the chief of Cultural Action and head of the Korea Cultural Heritage Research Institute, is quoted as saying, “the French troops looted and massacred Koreans” in an “illegal” invasion.

The article never explains the nature of the so-called “illegal” invasion.

At first I had visions of Somali pirates in 19th century French navy gear attacking and looting whoever got in their way, for good reason or ill.

But then I turned to a book called “Korea Old and New: A History” to find the real story. Apparently, the French were somewhat miffed that the king of Korea was martyring a bunch of Catholics, including some French missionaries. That action compelled France’s reaction: their invasion of Korea.

I’m no expert, so I don’t know whether the invasion was illegal or not. And I don’t know whether France was justified in taking the Korean documents or not - or whether France is justified in trying to keep those documents even today.

But it is up to this newspaper to provide context and unravel complexities. It shouldn’t simply state that the French invasion was “illegal” and thus force readers sympathetic to Korea’s cause to thumb through history books to find the real story.

Brett Conway, lecturer, Hansung University
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