Korea Fails to Honor Heroine of Quiet Research

      November 05, 2009 12:15

      Park Byeng-sen, a bibliographic expert who discovered the "Jikji Simche Yojeol," the world's oldest movable metal print book at a library in France, is battling terminal cancer in a hospital in Korea. Park lived alone in France for more than 50 years and dedicated her entire life to researching ancient Korean books. As a result, she is said to have problems paying her hospital bills.

      Korea's pride in being the first country to invent movable metal print is entirely due to Park's efforts. After receiving a Ph.D. in history in France, Park began working at the national library in Paris in 1967, where she discovered the dust-covered "Jikji Simche Yojeol." The book, printed by the Buddhist monk Baekun in 1377, is an anthology of the teachings of the Buddha for meditation. At a global symposium of Asia experts in 1972, Park proved that it was printed 78 years earlier than Johannes Gutenberg's 42-Line Bible printed in 1455. Her findings gained international recognition

      In 1978, Park discovered 298 volumes of the Oegyujanggak archive of the Chosun Dynasty at a storage section of the national library in Paris. Outlining court rituals and protocols, they were looted by French soldiers in 1866. And for 10 years after she quit the library in 1980, Park visited the place every day and compiled a list of the 298 texts and translated them. Koreans found out about Park's tenacity, which led to a nationwide movement seeking the return of archive. That paved the way for former French president Francois Mitterand to indefinitely loan one text of the series to Korea when he visited in 1993.

      Park, who single-handedly pursued her mission without any help from the Korean government, said, "I did this because I enjoy it and do not expect any sympathy." She says her dream is to live just one more year so that she can complete her research on the historical background surrounding the French invasion of Korea's Ganghwa Island in 1866.

      An honorable society is one that is capable of recognizing and properly treating people like Park, who quietly devote themselves to important causes.

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