Saturday, December 3, 2011

Persistent Patriot-- Dr. Park Byeong Seon

The Korean scholar Dr. Park Byeong Seon (Lugalda) was written up in the Korean press for her lifework: finding the books taken from Korea by the French in the 19th century, and having them returned to the country. She died last month in France, at the age of 85, after a lifetime studying Korean antiquities. 

The editorial in the Peace Weekly recalls that she was treated coolly by the French and was considered a nuisance by some in our society. But she nevertheless devotedly continued with her studies.
 
It was Lugalda who discovered the oldest extant moveable metal type book in the French National Library. The book, referred to as Jikii, an anthology of the teachings of Buddhism to be used in meditation, was printed by a Buddhist monk in 1377. Prof. Park proved it was printed 78 years earlier than the Gutenberg Bible, which was printed in 1455. Her work has been officially recognized by the Korean government and she has received many awards for her achievements. She will be buried in the Korean National Cemetery.

She graduated from Seoul National University in 1950 and went on to work in her field of history because of the request of her professor. In 1955 she continued her study of Korean antiquities in France, where she received her doctorate and went on to lecture at the Paris University and to work as a librarian in the National Library. Before her death, she did see the return of many of the books taken by the French troops in their invasion of Korea in 1866, which was a great consolation for her many years of work.
 
The books--297 were returned--dealt with the protocol for royal funerals, weddings and other ceremonies during the Chosun Dynasty which ruled the Korean peninsula from 1392 to 1910. She learned of the looting of the books by reading the history of the Church of Korea by Claude-Charles Dallet, and made it her lifework to find and return those books to Korea. After retiring from her salaried work, she spent her later years in full-time study of Korean antiquities.
 
In 1972 she became a French citizen to facilitate her work, but never forgot she was a Korean; she had great love for her country. She is quoted as saying, "In France, I'm considered an enemy and hated. In Korea, I'm considered a nuisance for continuing to ask for the return of those books, but never for one moment have I regretted what I have been doing. I have seen it as my mission from God."
 

 Funeral Mass was offered at the chapel of the Paris Foreign Mission Society, which she often visited. Her books and over 200,000 dollars were donated to the Catholic University of Incheon.

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