Royal treatment for Korean books taken by French troops

Thu Apr 14, 2011 11:26am EDT
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SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - A collection of centuries-old Korean royal documents, taken by French troops when they invaded an island off the peninsula nearly 150 years ago, are being returned to Seoul after a presidential agreement.

The Oegyujanggak books contain rare hand-written stories and pictures of major royal events that took place in the last Joseon Dynasty from 1392-1910.

"It's been a long and difficult process to retrieve Oegyujanggak," said Culture Minister Choung Byoung-gug at the National Museum of Korea, which will store the books.

The 297-volume set was stolen by French soldiers in 1866 when they invaded Kangwha Island in retaliation for Korea's persecution of French Catholic missionaries. The books were then kept at the National Library of France.

Seventy-five books arrived back in Seoul Thursday, and the rest would be returned by the end of May in three further shipments.

Seoul had long sought to retrieve the books, which dictate the protocols of royal ceremonies and rites. One of the books was returned to South Korea in 1993 by then-French President Francois Mitterrand.

Current President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to return the remainder of the texts during a meeting with South Korea President Lee Myung-bak on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Seoul last year.

"These books should provide an invaluable opportunity for children to study our history," Choung said, who hailed the determination of the two leaders to build a new future between their nations.

"I expect that this would have a positive influence on our efforts to also retrieve our cultural relics that have been taken away from us against our will."

(Reporting by Yerim Kim; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

<p>Workers and officers push one of several containers containing Korean royal books, Oegyujanggak, at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul April 14, 2011. REUTERS/Kim Ju-sung/Yonhap</p>