Lee: On the return of the Outer Gyujanggak Library (2011)

During the Ceremony for the Return of the 297 Outer Gyujanggak Library’s Royal Protocol Books on June 11, 2011, Lee Myung-Bak, President of the Republic of Korea, addressed welcome remarks to Koreans in South and North Korea as well as abroad. The Royal Protocol Books of the Joseon Dynasty (Uigwe) were looted by a French military expedition in 1866 and remained at the National Library of France for 145 years. After more than 20 years of diplomatic negotiation, they were all returned to the Republic of Korea on a five-year renewal lease. The remarks made on this occasion suggest several critical points for Koreans in this return.

commented by Ji Young Park

Original text   Translation   Biographical note   Commentary   Sources and literature

외규장각 의궤 귀환 환영대회 환영사

source: Presidential Archive, National Archives of Korea (NAK), available online.

존경하는 5,000만 국민 여러분, 2,000만 북한 동포 여러분, 700만 해외 동포 여러분!

2011년 6월 11일, 1866년 강탈된 외규장각 의궤가 대한민국 품에 돌아왔음을 알리고자 합니다. 145년 전 힘에 의해서 빼앗겼던 소중한 국가 문화재, 세계적인 문화재가 매우 평화로운 협상에 의해서 오늘 돌아오게 된 것은 큰 의미가 있습니다.

이러한 국가적 보물이 돌아오게 된 것은 대한민국의 국력과 국민의 열정 덕분입니다. 국민 모두에게 진심으로 감사의 말씀을 드리고자 합니다. 또한 이를 위해서 오랫동안 애써 주신 각계각층 여러분에게도 감사의 말씀을 드리고자 합니다.

우리의 소중한 문화재가 프랑스에서 먼지에 쌓여 있던 것을 박병선 박사께서 1975년에 찾아냈습니다. 그 이래 많은 분이 의궤를 되찾기 위해 노력해 왔습니다. 22년 동안 협상을 끌어왔습니다.

지난해 서울 G20 정상회의에 참석한 사르코지 프랑스 대통령은 대한민국 소유인 대한민국의 문화재를 대한민국에 돌려주는 데 대해 협상을 하고 결론을 내 서명을 했습니다.

박병선 박사에게도 감사하고 20여 년간 협상해 온 관련 공직자, 외교관들에게도 감사합니다.

3주 전 제가 프랑스를 방문해서 사르코지 대통령을 만났을 때, 프랑스 내에서 많은 사람이 반대를 했지만, 환영하고 기뻐할 대한민국 국민의 입장에서 돌려주기로 했다는 이야기를 들었습니다.

반대를 무릅쓰고 의궤의 귀환에 힘써 주신 전 문화부 장관이며 하원의원인 자크 랑 의원에게 감사하며 파리7대학의 뱅상 베르제 총장에게도 이 자리를 빌려서 감사의 마음을 전하고자 합니다.

우리는 가난 속에서 살기 위해 힘썼습니다. 이제는 우리 고유문화와 문화재를 돌보아야 할 시기를 맞이했습니다.

문화재를 찾아 제자리에 돌려놓는 것은 역사 복원의 중요한 부분이라고 생각합니다. 오늘이 시발점이 되어 학계·종교계·문화계·시민단체 등 각계각층이 흩어지고 빼앗긴 우리의 문화재를 다시 찾아 역사를 복원하는 데 함께 노력합시다. 정부도 우리의 문화재를 찾는 데 최선을 다하겠습니다.

다시 한 번 국민 여러분께 감사의 말씀을 드리며, 오늘 기쁜 소식을 전해 드리게 된 것을 매우 의미 있게 생각합니다. 이 자리에 함께하신 모든 분에게도 감사의 말씀을 드립니다.


Welcome remarks at the Ceremony for the Return of the Outer Gyujanggak Library (Oegyujang-gak)’s Uigwe (Royal Protocol Book)

translated by Ji Young Park

Honorable 50 million fellow South Koreans, 20 million fellow North Koreans and 7 million overseas Koreans!

June 11, 2011, I would like to announce that the Uigwe of Oegyujangak, plundered in 1866, were returned to the arms of the Republic of Korea. It is highly meaningful that the valuable cultural assets of our nation and the world, which were forcefully taken away 145 years ago, in 1866, have been returned to us today through peaceful negotiation.

It is the developed national power of the Republic of Korea, and the passion of the people that made possible this return of a national treasure. I’d like to sincerely thank every Korean citizen. And I’d like to thank those from all walks of life for your long and hard efforts.

In 1975, Dr. PARK Byeong-sen discovered that our precious cultural assets were gathering dust in France. Since that time, many people have attempted to retrieve the Uigwe. We have been negotiating for 22 years.

Last year, French President Sarkozy, who attended the 2010 G20 Seoul Summit, negotiated, concluded and signed the agreement for the return of this Korean cultural asset, which belongs to the Republic of Korea.

I thank Dr. PARK Byeng-sen and the other officials and diplomats involved, who negotiated for more than 20 years.

When I visited France and met President Sarkozy three weeks ago, I heard that he decided to return them, despite opposition in France, because he took into account the views of Koreans, who he believed would welcome this with joy.

I would like to express my gratitude to representative Jack Lang, former French Minister of Culture, for his efforts in bringing the books home despite opposition, and I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Vincent Verger of Paris Diderot University (Paris VII).

We have fought poverty in the past, and now the time has come for us to preserve our own traditional culture and heritage.

Finding and returning cultural assets to their place is an important part of the restoration of history. Starting today, let us all work on this together: academic institutions, the religious community, cultural actors and NGOs, to retrieve our stolen relics scattered around the world, and restore our history. The government will do its best to restitute our cultural heritage.

Once again, I thank you, my fellow Koreans, and I think it is a great honor to be giving you this joyful news today. And I would like to thank everyone who joins us here.

Thank you.

Biographical note

Lee Myung-bak, born in 1941 in Osaka, served as President of the Republic of Korea from 2008 to 2013. Previously to this role, he worked as CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction and served as Mayor of Seoul (2002–2006). He was the president of Korea during the long negotiations of the Royal Protocol book restitution, achieving an agreement with Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of the French Republic, at the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit on November 11, 2010, to return the documents on a five-year renewable loan basis.

Commentary – Korean President welcomes home the returned

The Royal Protocol Book (의궤儀軌, Uigwe) which was produced between the 17th and early 20th centuries records royal rituals such as birthdays, funerals, weddings and royal processions of Joseon Dynasty (1394–1910). Written and drawn entirely by hand, the proceedings of every royal event were transcribed in prose and illustrated in detail. Their meticulous depiction of royal court rites provides a vivid account of Joseon dynasty culture, a unique form of documentary heritage that was listed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World program in 2007. Among books, one superior copy was made only for the king, and five to nine additional copies were reproduced and kept in various libraries in the country. In 1782, the Outer Gyujanggak Library (외규장각外奎章閣, Oegyganggak) was built on Ganghwa island, considered by Koreans to be a naturally secured place, and housed most of the royal viewing copies, along with other important documents. The French military took several hundred royal protocol books from this library in 1866. From the 1990s onwards, these books, known as the Oegyusanggak books (외규장각도서) in Korea and les manuscrits coréens in French, were the object of restitution negotiations between the Republic of Korea and France. From the Korean President’s welcome remarks addressed to the Korean people, several key points of this 20-year-long return procedure of these books can be extracted: plunder, passion of the people, negotiation and national power, these describe the Korean perspective on this dispute and its conclusion.

From October 11 to November 12, 1866, Admiral Roze of France’s 2nd Empire led 800 troops in an attack on Ganghwa Island on the pretext that Korea had executed seven French Catholic missionaries, but also in order to ultimately force a commercial treaty between two countries. When the French naval forces retreated without result, they had destructed and set fire to government offices, and seized a number of royal books including the protocol book from the Outer Gyujanggak library. Prior to this expedition, more than 5,000 books were known to be stored in this library, however, there is no conclusive inventory to date specifying what the French looted during this military expedition.

For a long time, in Korea, these books were thought to have been destroyed by fire during the military expedition or scattered and lost in France during the Second World War. In 1975, a Korean librarian at the Bibliothéque nationale de France (BNF), Park Byeong-seon, who was looking for the protocol books plundered from the Outer Gyujanggak library of Ganghwa, reported to Korea that she found some Royal Protocol Books in the Versailles annexes of BNF, where damaged books are stored. These books, mistakenly classified among the Chinese collection, were lying, forgotten, in the French National Library (Yu, 2013 and Oe, 1978). This discovery of the Korean books in France prompted a movement in Korean civil society calling for their restitution to Korea. When the diplomatic negotiation reached an impasse in the mid-2000s, a Korean TV program and NGO launched a fund-raising campaign to put an advertisement in the French newspaper Le Monde to put pressure on public opinion in France, and filed a lawsuit for their return in the French courts in 2007 (Park, 2014).

On both the Korean and French sides, the decision to return these books was dismissed as political showmanship because its procedural milestones were strongly linked with summit meetings. The negotiations can be summarized as a confrontation between the »inalienabilité« of national collection in French law and the unconditional redemption of looted cultural assets demanded by Korean nationalist emotion. In 1991, the Gyujanggak of Seoul National University asked the Korean government to lodge a demand for restitution with the French government. And during France’s first presidential visit to Korea in 1993, President Francois Mitterrand brought two books from France, delivering one of them to the Korean president, Kim Youngsam, during the summit banquet, and promising that all books would ultimately be returned to Korea.

However, this marked the beginning of a long dispute over restitution. This transfer of this book prompted strong opposition from the BNF and other French cultural institutions. Korean media published this news with bold headlines of »Return«, while a TGV high-speed rail contract was concluded at the same time as full-fledged diplomatic negotiations started. Combined with the eventual use of the term »lease«, the result was that Korean public opinion branded the French liars and the Korean government a traitor (Kim 1999).

In 2008, the two countries resumed the negotiating process, and in 2010, President Lee Myungbak and Nicolas Sarkozy agreed on the five year-renewal lease. Between March and May 2011, 297 books were delivered to Seoul and housed in the National Museum of Korea. Despite criticism of the contract method employed by both countries, they realized the objective to end the dispute in the name of national interest (Falleti 2010).

In the president’s remarks, the growing national power of the Republic of Korea was mentioned as one of the forces behind this return. A wide-spread myth in Korean society concerning the return is that France accepted the restitution of the Royal protocol book as a condition for the TGV purchase. Also, Korean negotiators calculated that the French government could oppose the return no longer, as the economic relationship between France and Korea was becoming ever closer. Therefore, from a Korean perspective, the return of a cultural property which was plundered while Korea was weak would not only serve the cause of justice, it would be a historical victory for Korea.

Nevertheless, in these politically shaped remarks, some important facts of the return were subtly concealed rather than addressed. One is a particularity of the Royal protocol book which helped ease its repatriation from France. While these books are generally referred to as cultural property, the protocol book was especially eligible for restitution because it is a manuscript containing the historical records of a political culture and is thus strongly related to identity. This was one of the arguments upheld by Nicolas Sakozy and Jack Lang in persuading their compatriots (Guerrin 2010; Salzmann and Berger 2010). The other is that this return is not a permanent repatriation, but a loan. This was never mentioned in the president’s remarks. The »loan« format was a result of extensive negotiation and offers a realistic solution for both countries, but without publicly sharing this contractual fact, the old dispute of ownership would always leave room for retrieval.

Dr. Ji Young Park is PostDoc Fellow in the translocations research cluster at Technische Universität Berlin.

Sources and literature

Sébastien Falletti: »Le cadeau royal de la France à la Corée«. Le Figaro, 12 November 2010, available online.

Michel Guerrin: »Inquiétude après le départ des manuscrits coréens«. Le Monde, 24 November 2010, available online.

Changho Kim: »월요인터뷰 : 외규장각 도서반환 한국대표 한상진씨« [Monday Interview: Sanjin Han, the Korean representative of the Outer Gyujanggak Return negotiation]. Joongang Ilbo, 05 April 1999, available online.

Youngil Oe: »江華島史庫문서 파리서發見« [Discovery of Ganghwado Royal Archive ‘s documents in Paris]. In: Kyunghyang Shinmun, 28 October 1978, available online.

Hŭng-sin Pak: 외규장각 의궤의 귀환 [Return of Royal protocol book of the Outer Gyujanggak], Seoul 2014.

Jean-Loup Salzmann and Vincent Berger: »Il faut rendre les manuscrits coréens«. La liberation, 01 December 2010, available online.

Pong-nyŏl Yu: 돌아온 외규장각 의궤와 외교관 이야기 [Returned Royal protocol book of the outer Gyujanggak and a diplomat story], Seoul 2013.

Recommended citation:
Lee: On the return of the Outer Gyujanggak Library (2011), commented by Ji Young Park, in: Translocations. Anthologie: Eine Sammlung kommentierter Quellentexte zu Kulturgutverlagerungen seit der Antike, https://translanth.hypotheses.org/ueber/gyujanggak, published 02.10.2018.

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