Monday, February 22, 2010

Korea asks France to return Joseon relics

Memory damaged or just populist politics?

Korean martyrs. Faith and war, when Koreans massacred their own
Christians and French missionaries.

The French campaign against Korea of 1866, known as
Byeonginyangyo (Korean: Western Disturbance of the
byeong-in year (1866), refers to the French occupation
of Ganghwa Island in retaliation for the execution of
French Jesuit priests and thousands of the converts.

The Confucianist establishment, including the Joseon
Dynasty rulers, did not embrace Christianity. The
largest massacre of Catholics was carried out in 1866,
under Daewongun, while he served as regent for King
Gojong. In the Catholic Persecution of 1866, nine French
missionaries and Korean converts, numbering in the
thousands were killed. The killings in 1866 attracted
the attention of the French, who began to visit Korea
seeking retaliation for the murder of their priests.

French campaign against Korea, 1866

The first French missionary to Korea, Father Philippe
Maubant, arrived in the country in 1836. After that
date, missionaries would continue to come to Korea from
China, often at great risks. In September 1846, the
French Admiral Jean-Baptiste Cécille sailed to Korea in
order to obtain the release of an imprisoned Korean
priest named André Kim, but Kim was soon executed. In
1847, after various involvements in Vietnam and Okinawa,
Cécille again sailed to Korea to try to infiltrate some
missionaries, but his ship ran aground and he had to be
rescued by a British ship.

In 1866, reacting to greater numbers of Korean converts
to Catholicism as well as the humiliations suffered by
China at the hands of Westerners during the Opium Wars,
the Korean court clamped down on the illicit French
missionaries, massacring French Catholic missionaries and
Koreans converts alike.

French frigate "La Guerriere" commanded by Admiral Roze.
Source "Soie et lumieres" Christian Polak of Seric K.K.

That same year France launched a punitive expedition
against Korea, invading and occupying portions of Ganghwa
Island in the fall of 1866. At the first battle, the
Korean infantry division lost heavily, and General Yang
Heon-su concluded that only a large cavalry division
could stand up to French firepower. An ambush by Korean
forces on a French party attempting to occupy the
strategically located Cheondeung Temple on the island‘s
south coast resulted in French casualties. French
realization that they were far outnumbered and outgunned
forced them to abandon the island and their expedition.
The entire incident later became known as the byeong-in
yang-yo, or foreign disturbance of the byeong-in year

France and Korea established their first official
relations in 1886 after a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce
and Navigation was signed between the two countries. In
1887 , France sent its first official representative,
Victor Collin de Plancy along with his translator,
Maurice Courant. Courant would later be known as the
"father" of Korean studies in France. In France, the
first records of a Korean living there permanently, Hong
Jong-u, who arrived there not too long after official
relations were established. Arriving in Marseille in
1890, he will spend a few years working in France in a
museum where he would be very helpful in establishing the
first Korean Art and Culture section. Yet, it would not
be until the 1900 Paris World's Fair Exposition
Universelle that Korea would be "introduced" to the
French public.

Partners with time

Today both countries have excellent relations. On the
matter of North Korea, France is one of the few European
countries to not have official diplomatic relations with
the DPRK. France supports the Six-party talks as well as
the role of the IAEA in finding solutions to the nuclear
issue on Korean peninsula. Korean Foreign Minister Yu
Myung-hwan will welcome French Foreign Minister Bernard
Kouchner next month in Seoul.

One issue still divides both countries. A total of 297
ancient books that dictate the protocols of royal
ceremonies and rites of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910)
were taken by the French military from a library on
Ganghwa Island off the country’s west coast during an
1866 invasion after the massacre of French priest by

A single book was returned to Korea on a permanent lease
in 1993 by France’s then-President Francois Mitterand.
At that time in 1993 this issue created a stir of anger
in France as actress Sophie Marceau had taken the side of
Korea, while the actress was on a guests' list of
Mitterrand during the official visit in Korea, prompting
strong remarks from officials and the press on the tune
of " what the hell does she know about history"...

Not only France. Japan's Imperial Household Agency holds
hundreds of historic books of Korea's Joseon Dynasty
(1392-1910), according to South Korean government survey.
The books have been stolen by Japan's Government General
of Korea during Japanese colonial rule of the Korean
Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Similar calls were made for
a collection of documents known as the Royal Protocols of
the Joseon Dynasty, confirmed to have been kept by the
Imperial Household Agency.

Under a Unesco convention signed in 1970, cultural
properties obtained through illegal means since that year
are subject to restoration, but those obtained prior to
the convention - regardless of how they were acquired -
can lawfully be registered as national properties by the
country that possesses them, as are the Korean texts at
France’s national library, according to officials at
Seoul’s foreign ministry. There are approximately 7,000
South Koreans living in France, more if one recounts
Korean French adoptees, and 6,000 French people living in
South Korea.

Korea's memory troubled by 40 years of dictatorship

Lee Han-yeol

On this picture a fellow Yonsei university student holds
Lee Han-yeol, injured in the head by a tear gas shell
used by riot police during a demonstration at Yonsei
University in Seoul against the military dictatorship of
then President Chun Doo-hwan in Seoul June 9, 1987. Lee
Han-yeol's injury became a trigger for mass rallies all
around ROK South Korea. Lee died in hospital on July 5th
1987 after the military regime gave in to democratization
demands on June 29, following mass pro democracy
demonstrations across the country ending Chun Doo-hwan

All of these events happened prior to the Olympic Games
of 1988. As I reported for the French national radio, I
can testify that at that time the Korean police and thugs
with them shot at students and journalists without
warning. I was myself shot at during a demonstration
during the democratization with my colleague Roberto
near the Lotte Hotel, down town. We saved a Korean
demonstrator life who fell in the staircase while the
police ran behind kicking viciously all witnesses. I'll
write about these historic events related to Asia post
80's I have been following in a book to come.
(Reporter's notes and SK media).

I spent exciting professional time working in ROK first
during the democratization that crumbled the US sponsored
military dictators Chun Doo Hwan and Noh Tae Woo, and
often visited Korea during the olympic games, and
witnessed the prowess of Koreans during the Asia Football
world cup of 2002, and am a watcher of technologies
blossoming of Korean's way of life. Last but not least,
I'm still very found of Sorak-san chain of mountains
which I toured with my KBS and Seoul national university
rumbling 's friends. I even witnessed bears over there
but did not see any of them eating any roots or garlic,
just fresh flesh hunt in the wild mountains, not so far
from the North...

Sources: archives of Korean newspapers, reporter's notes)

A VDO about Korea Joseon dynasty

Seoul today

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