Getting back the looted cultural assetsPlundering other country’s cultural assets is trampling a victim country’s national pride and cultural values as well as taking away its wealth.
I have once visited a Tokyo museum when I was an elementary student. At the side of an exhibit hall where Japanese swords were displayed, I saw a very familiar piece: a sword from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The Tokyo museum just had explained it as a “sword of Joseon” with no explanation about what century it was from, at which war the sword was used, to whom it belonged and what historical significance was attributed to the sword.
Unesco has established the “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property” in 1970 and the Unidroit Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects in 1995. The conventions claim that all nations have the rights to possess cultural assets that represent their own cultural heritage, because cultural assets play as a vital role in comprehending their origins and cultures. And cultural property repatriation holds a special meaning for the recipient country’s national identity.
Despite lots of efforts to retrieve cultural assets, the results were mostly unsuccessful. Regaining the books of “Oegyujanggak” from France was a result brought by an individual’s life-staking endeavor, not the government’s effort.
According to the Unidroit Convention, efforts to recover our cultural assets hold a special meaning related to a nation’s identity. Until now insufficient research and investigation and a lack of budget and manpower have made us be passive in repatriating our cultural property overseas. We should make efforts to reconstruct our national identity with the government’s active assistance.
I believe enhancing national status requires people’s interest and pride in culture and history, more than the growth of the nation’s economy. I’ll be waiting to see the news about the recovery of the “Sword of Joseon” that is still looking on its home country from the side of Tokyo.
*Student at Mokdong High School
By Cho Hyung-yoon