A historian’s final wishDr. Park Byung-seon, a Korean-born historian who had long worked at the National Library of France in Paris, recalled the thrilling moment when she found the royal protocols of the Joseon Dynasty in a dark basement: “The moment I opened the book, I shivered, with the strong scent of ink percolating through my nostrils. While I was looking at it absentmindedly, a librarian approached me and asked, ‘Are you sick?’ That was the most unforgettable moment in my life,” she said.
Park passed away at a Paris hospital yesterday. She was 83. We extend our deepest condolences to her family and friends. May she rest in peace forever.
The royal books were looted by the French Navy during its invasion of Ganghwa Island in the West Sea in 1866. Thanks to her miraculous discovery, the treasure was safely returned to Korea last April, 145 years after it was taken.
Park’s death - which took place only seven months after the return of the royal protocols - bears testimony to her fate as a scholar who was determined to see the texts return to her homeland. Park also made a great contribution to the country in 1972 by proving that “Jikji” (“Anthology of Great Buddhist Priests”) is the first book printed by movable metal type in the world. Park wrote books on the French invasion and our history of the independence movement against imperial Japan.
She grieved over our contract with France, which must be renewed every five years, when the French government returned the Oegyujanggak Uigwe books. We should never forget her wish that Koreans do their best until the term “lease” finally disappears in the contract.
At the same time, the government must devise long- and short-term measures to recover our artifacts by finding out exactly what’s been lost to other countries. Officials in our embassy and cultural center in Paris should feel ashamed for neglecting their duties.
The return by next month of the Joseon royal protocols held by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan was also made possible thanks to persistent efforts of civilian groups to take them back.
We heartily support the proposal that Park be buried at the National Cemetery. If Park, a winner of our national medal of honor, cannot qualify as an outstanding contributor to the state or society - according to the decree on the cemetery - who else can qualify? We believe that her French nationality should not be an obstacle. It is our turn to fulfill her wish.