[Voice] How can Korea recover lost artifacts?

25 Jun 2013 9:59 AM | Anonymous

[Voice] How can Korea recover lost artifacts?

With more than 100,000 pieces scattered around the globe ...


Published : 2013-06-24 19:55
Updated : 2013-06-24 19:56

Korea’s long cultural history is an often invoked source of pride for its citizens. But such pride often comes tinged with a sense of regret: Much of what the nation identifies as its cultural heritage now rests far beyond its borders.

Like so many countries with a colonial past, Korea lays claim to a vast number of artifacts looted or otherwise removed from the Korean Peninsula throughout its tumultuous history. Almost 140,000 cultural properties were confirmed to be in foreign hands as of 2011, according to the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage, with tens of thousands more objects estimated to be still outside of the country. Despite ongoing efforts, the government had only been able to negotiate the return of some 10,000 artifacts as of last year. For many people interested in preserving the country’s cultural heritage, there remains much to do.

“Although it might be politically complicated, the government should put more effort in order to have better results for repatriations and preventing smuggling,” said Lee Hyun-joo, a former museum docent and Korean graduate student of museum studies at the University of Leicester in the U.K. “Because there is still a considerable number of lost Korean artifacts all over the world and sadly this is still happening.” 
The Gwaneum Bosal Buddhist statue, which was recently taken from Japan. (Yonhap News)

But the principle of returning objects of historical importance to their place of origin is not necessarily as uncontroversial as it might first appear. No more clearly has this been illustrated than in the ongoing dispute over the Geumdong Gwaneum Bosal Buddhist statue. The statue was stolen from Japan last October by Korean thieves, but Korea suspects it was looted from the country in the 14th century.

To many Koreans, the decision by a Daejeon court not to return the statue to Japan until it could be proven that it had not been originally stolen was obvious: It was nothing more than a piece of the country’s cultural heritage being returned to its rightful place.

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