Saturday, January 16, 2010

Manuscripts Taken from Korea by France

In the year 1866 seven French Missioners were martyred, two were bishops, along with over a thousand Catholics. This was the last persecution of Catholics and was the the persecution that provoked the French naval forces to invade Kangwha as a punitive measure against Korea. The French forces attacked and occupied the island for about 6 weeks in the autumn of 1866 and burnt down the royal achieves that were kept on the island. They took back to France some of the manuscripts that were in appearance of better quality; these are now in French possession and they refuse to return them. They are called the Oekyujanggak manuscripts: Having to do with the protocol and rites in the Joseon Dynasty.

The Peace Weekly had an editorial on this dispute with France. Many civilian groups are working for the return of these manuscripts and the weekly is asking the government to keep pressing France. The editorial mentions there is a great deal of double talk on this whole issue on the part of the French.

The news reports say the French government admits that the books were confiscated by the French while occupying Kangwha and that it was an "unfortunate confiscation," but the French government can't return the books because they are now part of France's national assets.

The books were found in the French National Library in 1975 by a Korean professor, living in France, who was working in the Library . Up until that time France wasn't even conscious of their existence.

The Catholic Church in Korea does feel a responsibility to show concern for the taking of these manuscripts by the French and is hoping that they will accede to the requests of Korea.The reason for the occupation of Kangwha was because of the persecution of the Catholics and the killing of 7 French citizens, members of the Paris Foreign Missionary Society. The Paris Foreign Missionary Society has given all their material they had accumulated during the many years of persecution, to the Church in Korea and without any conditions on their part. The German Benedictines also did the same. France has agreed to digitize the books but the return of them is more to the point.

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