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Looted Historical Record Returns Home to SNU

Jun 01, 2006

Return from Tokyo a Boon to Restoration of Other Assets

The return of the history records of the Choson Kingdom (1392-1910) to its home from Japan will lead to the restoration of other Korean historical treasures scattered all over the world, a chief official responsible for the restoration project said yesterday.
``Having this opportunity is a good start; we'll take more active steps to recover our cultural treasures from other countries such as France,'' said Lee Tae-soo, the head of Seoul National University's delegation for the restoration of the books during a news conference at Seoul National University.

The 47 books, part of ``The Annals of the Choson Dynasty,'' which were taken to Japan 93 years ago, will be returned to Korea from Japan before July 19 at the latest.

The books' homecoming was agreed to by Tokyo University, which has preserved them, and Seoul National University, which manages Kyujanggak, a Choson Kingdom library that contains other parts of the royal records as well as other historical materials.

``Tokyo University decided to donate the books to celebrate the 60th anniversary of our university and the 230th anniversary of Kyujanggak,'' said Lee.

The two universities also agreed to use the terms ``donation'' and ``restoration'' for the return of the books and not to describe Japanese taking them as ``seizure,'' Lee said.

But the Buddhist-led committee for the restoration of the Annals of the Choson Dynasty, which had been working on the restoration, voiced their concern about how the books are to be returned.

``This is something to be celebrated, but we should consider whether the procedure to have them back as a donation is appropriate,'' the committee's official statement said.

The committee, which consists of representatives from civic groups and local Buddhist circles as well as politicians, wants the Japanese government to admit the historical records were seized by them during the Japan's colonial rule.

``The Annals of the Choson Dynasty'' are a series of books covering the 472 year history of the kingdom with descriptions of kings from Taejo to Choljong as well as cultural, social and political issues.

Because of fear of their loss, all the annals were originally preserved in four different spots after a Japanese invasion in the 16th century _ temples in Mt. Taebaek, Mt. Choksang, Mt. Odae and Kanghwa Island.

The books to be returned are part of the records that were previously preserved in Mt. Odae in Pyongchang, Kangwon Province. They were in the care of the nearby Woljong Temple, when in 1913, Masatake Terauchi, the first Japanese governor-general of Korea, who later became Japanese prime minister, took the records from their place of safekeeping.

Since then, Tokyo University has preserved a total of 760 books, but most of them were lost when a cataclysmic earthquake occurred in Kanto in 1923, which left only 74 of the original texts.

The university sent 27 books to the former Seoul National University in 1932, and the rest of them will be returned next month.

June 1 2006