November 24, 2011 12:00
The Korean-born French historian Park Byeng-sen, who played a central role in France's return to Korea of looted royal texts, died at a hospital in Paris on Tuesday. The 83-year old had been suffering from cancer. She was single and devoted her entire life to the study of Korean history.
Working as a librarian at France's national library for 13 years starting in 1967, Park discovered in its archives the "Jikji Simche Yojeol," the world's oldest metal print book and proved that it was created 78 years earlier than Johannes Gutenberg's 42-Line Bible.
She also discovered ancient Chosun Dynasty texts titled "Oegyujanggak" that were looted in a botched French invasion of Korea 145 years ago. The royal texts, which details royal ceremonies and rites of the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910) returned home in the form of a permanent loan earlier this year.
Park underwent surgery for rectal cancer in Korea in January last year and returned to Paris 10 months later. She then went to work on the second edition of her book on the French invasion of Korea.
The funeral will be held at the Paris Foreign Missions Society on Friday morning. Memorial altars will also be set up at the Korean Cultural Center in Paris, the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, and the Early Printing Museum in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province.
The Paris Foreign Missions Society was the origin of a group of missionaries who were executed in Korea in 1866 for proselytizing. The executions triggered the French invasion of Ganghwa Island later that year, where French troops looted the archive.
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