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Buddhist monk leads return of royal seals

By Kim Tae-gyu, The Korea Times, April 16, 2014

Seoul, South Korea -- After learning that U.S. authorities had confiscated nine stolen Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) seals late last year, Buddhist monk Hye Moon started a campaign to get U.S. President Barack Obama to bring them to Korea.

Many expressed skepticism, but he silenced doubters once and for all as Obama is expected to return them during his visit to Korea next week.

“Last year, many said that I was crazy because they believed U.S. President would never accept such a request. But he is expected to do so and I am glad,” said the 41-year-old.

“It seemed an impossible target at first. But I have never doubted that single-minded efforts would eventually bear fruit.”

According to presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook, there is a high possibility that Hye Moon’s dream will be realized.

“Seoul and Washington have closely cooperated for the return of the seals and the necessary procedure is underway,” Min said.

The nine are composed of three state seals, which Joseon kings used on diplomatic and other significant documents, and six ceremonial ones, which royal families used in rituals.

Hye Moon majored in history at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul and once studied to pass the bar exam.

After entering a Buddhist monastery in 1998, he was made aware that a lot of Korean cultural properties were smuggled out of the country during Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) and the Korean War (1950-53).

To restore looted Korean cultural properties from overseas, he founded a cultural entity in 2006 and has been in charge of it since.

Thanks in no small part to his efforts, Japan returned the annual records of the Joseon Kingdom in 2006 and a pictorial ritual book in 2011. Toward that end, Hye Moon visited Japan more than 40 times.

“There are still many properties of our ancestors, which we should retrieve. I will do my best to recover them in the not-so-distant future. I ask people to join us,” Hye Moon said.

In particular, he is focused on a royal helmet and armor from the kingdom, and an artifact enshrining relics of Buddha and famous Korean monks. The Tokyo National Museum holds the former while the latter is retained by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

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