Professor: France holds more stolen Korean relicsA Korean professor teaching in France said yesterday he has discovered a list of additional Korean cultural properties believed to be stored in the National Library of France.
Li Jine-mieung, professor of Korean history at Jean Moulin University Lyon 3, said the catalog lists three marble plates and a book made of jade apparently stolen from the 19th-century Joseon Dynasty royal library called Oegyujanggak.
Korean historians believe the French military looted the library during their invasion in 1866. Li said the list was titled Collections Coreennes, or Korean Collection.
The French national library already possesses texts on royal protocol, the “Uigwe,” which were discovered in the French national library in 1975. Li said his list includes the Uigwe’s 297 volumes and other relics already confirmed to be in the library. One of the Uigwe volumes was returned to Korea under a 1993 agreement.
Li said he obtained the list from the descendants of Pierre-Gustave Rose, who was the French Navy admiral at the time of the invasion. Li said he believes Admiral Rose compiled a short list of these artifacts and handed it over to the French national library, and then the library presented him with a copy of a more detailed catalog.
“I am certain the marble plates and the jade book are in the library [along with other artifacts],” Li said.
The Uigwe books have been a thorny diplomatic issue between the two countries. Li suggested that as Korean activists and the government try to retrieve stolen relics through various channels, they should present the latest list to the French government and demand the library reveal any additional items in its possession.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was scheduled to arrive in Seoul today for a two-day visit. He and his Korean counterpart, Yu Myung-hwan, will discuss the issue of the royal texts, the Foreign Ministry has said.
Jack Lang, former French culture minister, told Korean correspondents in Paris yesterday that he was optimistic that the two countries would eventually resolve the contentious issue.
He said the most important thing was for the two countries to have respect for one another and reach the appropriate resolution.
Lang said President Nicolas Sarkozy hopes to find a solution and there may be technical and legal measures to that end. He didn’t elaborate further.
Li’s discovery comes just two weeks after the Korean government asked France for a permanent lease of the Uigwe. Earlier this year, a local civic group called Cultural Action appealed a French court’s rejection last December of its request for the return of these ancient works.
The court ruled the relics had been in French possession for more than a century and regardless of how they were acquired, they remain French national property.
Under a permanent lease, Korea would borrow the books in question and in return would send other Korean artifacts to the French museum for display.
By Yoo Jee-ho [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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