Owner puts price on ‘Hunminjeongum’

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Owner puts price on ‘Hunminjeongum’

After years of obstinately refusing to give up the “Hunminjeongum,” a nationally treasured document describing the Korean alphabet system, its owner finally gave in and decided to sell the centuries’ old document to the local government.

His asking price was 100 billion won ($87.2 million).

“When I discovered the ‘Hunminjeongum,’ the Cultural Heritage Administration announced that it was valued over 1 trillion won,” said Bae Ik-gi, 52, who resides in Sangju, North Gyeongsang.

“I think the government should pay me at least 10 percent [of the estimated amount]: 100 billion won,” the ancient artifact collector continued. “If the country offers me 100 billion won, I’m willing to donate it.”

Bae, who in 2008 reported to the state-run Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) that he had the sacred documents in his possession, was adamant that the country did not have the right to push him to give up his “personal property, which was rightfully claimed.”

Bae said he reported his latest decision to the CHA in July but has yet to receive a reply.

Written by court scholars during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the “Hunminjeongum” was published in the same year King Sejong (1397-1450) proclaimed the creation of the Hangul, the Korean alphabet system.

Roughly translated to “The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People,” the book is a guideline for the Hangul and contains two parts: the Yeui section, which explains why the Hangul was created, and the Haerye section, which details its principles, usage and examples.

The Yeui is replicated in several other ancient documents, but the Haerye is considered extremely rare. Bae’s document features the Haerye.

Another art collector discovered a copy of “Hunminjeongum” in 1940 and kept it in the Kansong Art Museum in Seoul, which he founded. The document was designated National Treasure No. 70 and registered on Unesco’s Memory of the World List.

After Bae came into possession of the document, he kept its whereabouts a secret due to pressure from the government. He said he decided to finally give it up because he feared for its condition. His house was partly burned down in a fire in March, during which he said the document had been affected.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN AND HONG GWEON-SAM [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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