Joseon era cultural artifact repatriated from France after more than 150 years

By Shim Woo-hyun

Presumed destroyed, royal document purchased after discovery on French auction site

  • Published : Jan 31, 2018 - 17:56
  • Updated : Jan 31, 2018 - 17:56
A royal document from the Joseon era has returned to South Korea, the Overseas Cultural Heritage Foundation said during a press conference at the National Palace Museum of Korea in Seoul on Wednesday.

The OCHF, an affiliate of the Cultural Heritage Administration, said that the document returned home on Jan. 20, 152 years after it went missing. It added that the royal document has been handed over to the National Palace Museum of Korea. 

The royal document dedicated to Crown Princess Hyomyeong in 1819 to celebrate her wedding with Crown Prince Hyomyeong is written on a set of six bamboo slips. (Yonhap)

The returned artifact is a document written on a set of six bamboo slips, dedicated to Crown Princess Hyomyeong in 1819, also known as Queen Sinjeong, on the occasion of her wedding with Crown Prince Hyomyeong, who died in 1830 at the age of 20.

The document was originally kept at the royal library called Oegyujanggak on Ganghwa Island, an annex to the royal Gyujanggak library in Seoul. It went missing after the French invasion of Gwaghwa Island in 1866. French troops had seized royal books and a vast number of other royal artifacts, burning those that they could not take.

The royal document dedicated to Crown Princess Hyomyeong could not be traced, and it was thought to have been burnt along with other documents and artifacts, until the OCHF found the item on the website of French auction firm Tajan.

“The foundation saw the royal document on the France-based auction house’s website, while monitoring overseas auctions,” an official of the foundation said. “The foundation undertook a series of processes to identify the authenticity of the document,” the official added.

After the foundation confirmed the artifact’s authenticity, it asked the auction firm for a private sale, to prevent a bidding war.

The foundation negotiated with the owner of the document and later agreed to pay some 250 million won ($234,000) to purchase the item. Riot Games Korea, the Korean subsidiary of the US-based games company that developed “League of Legends,” provided the funds for the purchase. The company has been funding the Cultural Heritage Administration since 2012.

By Shim Woo-hyun (