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S. Korea celebrates return of ancient Korean books from France

All Headlines 14:59 June 11, 2011

INCHEON, June 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Saturday celebrated the return of ancient Korean royal books from France with a procession, traditional ceremonies and performances that involved more than 1,000 officials and local residents.

The celebrations came after the final batch of the 297-volume "Oegyujanggak" books arrived in South Korea late last month. The texts, featuring protocols of royal ceremonies and rites from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), were looted by French troops in 1866 when they invaded Ganghwa Island in retaliation for Koreans' persecution of French Catholic missionaries.

The books had been kept at an ancient royal library, known as Oegyujanggak, on the island located west of Seoul from the late 18th century.

The celebrations took place in and around the site of the ancient library, starting with a 1-kilometer procession from Ganghwasanseong Fortress to Oegyujanggak that reenacted the books' transfer to the library in the 18th century. More than 500 people took part in the parade, including residents of the county of Ganghwa, located on the island, as well as soldiers, students and actors. They escorted palanquins carrying copies of the ancient books, as the original texts are now being stored at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul.

The procession was followed by an enshrinement ceremony for the books and a special Confucian rite.

"The people of Ganghwa and I think it is very meaningful to be holding a ceremony to mark the return of the Oegyujanggak books," Ahn Duk-soo, governor of Ganghwa County, said in his opening remarks. "I hope that this will be a chance to heighten the historicity of Ganghwa."

Lee Jeong-shim, a 68-year-old resident who took part in the celebrations, said it was her first time seeing such a large event take place in her area.

"As a local of Ganghwa, I feel very proud," she said.

The royal texts were flown back to South Korea in four separate installments since April after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, agreed in November to transfer the books on a renewable lease.

Seoul had long sought to retrieve the Oegyujanggak books. One of the books was returned to Korea on a permanent lease basis in 1993 by then-French President Francois Mitterrand, but the other volumes had remained in the European nation.


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