Thursday, April 10, 2014

National Library Week: the Colorful History of Korea's Old Libraries

This is a picture of me standing outside of one of Korea's oldest libraries. This is the Outer Kyunjanggak Library, located on Ganghwa Island, which is on Korea's western coast, not far from the city of Inchon, where General Douglas MacArthur infiltrated the North Korean supply line during the Korean War in 1950, turning the tide of war. This particular area of Korea has historically been a landing ground by various invasion forces in its long and turbulent history. This particular island saw Japanese invasions, Mongol invasions, French invasions and even a minor skirmish between Civil War battle-hardened soldiers and Korean troops. This particular library is actually a rebuilt replica of the original Kyunjanggak Annex, which held many records, archives and books of the Choseon Dynasty (line of Korean monarchs). This annex does not contain any books; most are actually kept at Seoul National University as well as in other locations throughout Korea for research purposes. The original annex was looted and burned to the ground by French forces in an expeditionary battle. Although the French were defeated, they were able to retreat with many of the library's possessions, including the Uigwe, which are volumes full of royal "how-to" instructions, records and decrees of the Choseon monarchs and one of Korea's most prized possessions. For many years, this set has been sitting in French museums, and only until recently have the governments of both countries come to an agreement to return the volumes to Korea.

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