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French culture minister says to consider lending 'Jikji' to S. Korea

09:33 November 18, 2021

PARIS, Nov. 18 (Yonhap) -- The French culture minister has said she will actively consider lending "Jikji," the world's oldest existing metal-printed book made in ancient Korea, for exhibitions in South Korea, Culture Minister Hwang Hee said.

France's Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin made the remarks in response to Hwang's request to lend the item during their talks in Paris, Hwang told South Korean correspondents in Paris on Wednesday (Paris time).

Hwang said he brought up the topic while discussing cultural cooperation between the two countries at Bachelot's office on Monday.

Bachelot, however, was concerned about the possibility of seizure when "Jikji" goes to South Korea, and Hwang explained that Seoul will guarantee it will not happen.

The French minister then said South Korea, in that case, may ask for working-level consultations with the National Library of France, which holds "Jikji."

South Korea's Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Hwang Hee (L) speaks during a meeting with his French counterpart Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin at her office in Paris on Nov. 15, 2021 (Paris time), in this photo provided by the South Korean culture ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The book, written by Ven. Baegun about the Zen teachings of great Buddhist priests, was printed by his two disciples at Heungdeok Temple in Cheongju, 137 kilometers south of Seoul, during the Goryeo Kingdom in 1377. This was 78 years before the Gutenberg Bible, the earliest substantial book printed using metal type in Europe.

"Jikji" consists of two volumes but only one book of the second volume currently exists and is housed in the French library. In 2001, "Jikji" was confirmed by UNESCO as the world's oldest book printed with movable metal type and was included in its Memory of the World Program.

Earlier, the Cheongju city government asked the French national library several times to lend "Jikji" but was rejected each time. Since it is not a looted cultural property, South Korea cannot demand its return.

The book was known to have been acquired by Collin de Plancy, the first French minister to Korea, between the late 1880s to the early 1890s, when he served in the country. The book later went to French collector Henri Vever when it was up for auction in Paris in 1911 and was donated to the French national library in 1952.

Hwang was to return home Thursday, wrapping up his six-day visit to France.

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