January 26, 2017

A South Koren court rules that a South Korean temple can keep a statue of Buddha that is known to have been stolen from a Japanese temple.

The statue was stolen by South Koreans in 2012...
But a South Korean temple, Buseoksa, which says the Buddha statue was made there in the 14th century, won a court injunction in 2013 preventing its return until it could be determined whether it had originally been brought to Tsushima legitimately.

The statue, of the Buddha in the lotus position, has been in the government’s custody since then, and on Thursday a district court in Daejeon, a city south of Seoul, ruled that it should be given to Buseoksa...

The temple’s chief monk, the Venerable Wonwoo, hailed the ruling as a milestone that should inspire South Koreans to try to bring home what he claimed were 70,000 ancient Korean artifacts that had been looted and brought to Japan.
So... steal things now, bring them back to their place of origin, and the fact of the known recent theft is overridden by the possibility that they were stolen long ago?

It's not quite that easy. There was some evidence that it was stolen — a document inside the statue showed its time and place of origin but not a record of transferring ownership, Japanese pirates were active at the relevant time and place, and there's some burn damage on the statue, possibly caused by pirates. The South Korean judge said that was good enough to rule that the statue belongs to the South Korean temple.

But what happens now? Venerable Wonwoo seems to be openly encouraging South Koreans to swipe their artifacts back from Japan. He's saying there are 70,000 of them. And yet the modern-day thieves still face criminal charges for theft. Buseoksa got to keep this statue. That doesn't mean the men who lifted it from Japan didn't face criminal charges.

I'm sorry, I just got distracted looking back at the story of why O.J. Simpson is in prison. But that happened in Nevada. I have no idea how a South Korean court would analyze such matters, nor do I have a good grasp of the current political sensibilities in South Korea about Japan.


robother said...

Hopefully, DNA swabs of the icon will allow authorities to track down the descendants of the Japanese pirates and bring them to justice (the "crimes of the father...").

Seriously, this sounds like the situation for which adverse possession and statues of limitation were created. At some point, ancient claims of justice have to yield to civil peace.

LYNNDH said...

What about items stolen during WWII by Japan and Germany? Should they be returned or stolen if not returned?

Fernandinande said...

South Korens in Action.

buwaya said...

Koreans have a tremendous chip on their shoulders about Japan. There used to be plenty of material on this in the now sadly defunct Marmots Hole blog.

Japan took over a very decadent Korean kingdom a bit after the turn of the last century, without a fight, or much of one. Nor was there much of a revolutionary or guerilla resistance, in spite of this being a theme in North Korean propaganda. It then tried to erase Korean culture by forcing everyone to learn Japanese, etc. This was complicated by extensive collaboration by the Korean elite, yet another long running theme.

Two extremely chauvinistic, inward oriented cultures (Korea was a "hermit kingdom"), in such a relationship aren't likely to get along, or forgive the various humiliations.

The offenses and resentments extended to the supernatural, the removal of shrines, the imposition of others, and even to Shinto ceremonials on Korean "sacred mountains" to bind the spirits of the land, and of course the reversal of these magic spells.

Upshot - the Koreans hate the Japanese far more than the Filipinos do, though the Japs were never as openly, physically cruel to the Koreans as they were to the Filipinos. Koreans are not good at forgiveness.

Paddy O said...

Ah, it's nothing.

Nonapod said...

At what point, legally, does an object go from being private property to being cultural property? How many generations need to pass?

Paddy O said...

The challenge is to become aware of how it hasn't changed possession at all. It is the same as it ever was, and is part of the one of us all. Can we really steal what we already possess? Can someone steal from us that which is not truly ours? Can we steal from our own being? Is that not just an expression of the constancy of suffering, not the experience of being stolen from but the assumption that we have that which can be stolen?

rhhardin said...

Politically the popular political move in Korea is bashing the Japanese over WWII.

They've erected a statue outside the Japanese embassy honoring Korean "comfort women" who were forced to sexually service Japanese soldiers.

The Japanese are miffed, the attitude being can't we put this shit behind us, in agreement with an deal reached a couple years ago by final payment to some comfort woman fund, the agreement itself having said it was a final settlement.

But popular opinion is a valuable thing.

There is no final as long as it works.

madAsHell said...

The Koreans should ask for reparations as well.
They could claim the Japanese discriminated against their skin color.

rhhardin said...

Politically in Japan it's popular to bash the US forces still stationed there.

The Osprey is the target of choice, the Japanese having official safety concerns over the aircraft, there being no reality to it but it's the current favored object.

Also moving the US forces from airfield A to airfield B to be constructed, over the opposition of residents of B, the US position being tell us what the hell you want won't you.

Constant political battle over US forces, being the goal of the ones battling.

Ann Althouse said...

"At what point, legally, does an object go from being private property to being cultural property? How many generations need to pass?"

But which culture?

If something was made in Korea, should Japan have to give it back?

Look at the arguments about the Elgin Marbles.

Bob Boyd said...

The Venerable Wonwoo.
That's awesome.

rhhardin said...

China ran an anti-Japanese campaign a few years ago, for some domestic purpose; Japanese businesses in China were torched.

rhhardin said...

Korea is cabbage, if I remember right.

Fernandinande said...

Nonapod said...
At what point, legally, does an object go from being private property to being cultural property? How many generations need to pass?

The same issue comes up with Amerindian "cultural artifacts", which become "communally-owned" at some point. If you see "stolen", as in "Hopi representatives contend the items were stolen at some point, and wanted the auction house to prove otherwise", "stolen" could mean someone bought them from an individual Amerindian before NAGPRA was passed (1990)...and now no individuals, Amerindian or otherwise, can own them. Sounds unconstitutional. Probably is.

Gabriel said...

I think it's important to consider context here.

The Ear Tomb is a building in Kyoto that stores the ears of Koreans killed during the Japanese conquests in the sixteenth century. They stopped collecting entire Korean heads after they got 160,000 because it was inconvenient to ship and store them.

That's just one of the many, many rotten things done to Koreans by Japanese over the last 500 years. It's a long-standing and on going issue. It's not like Koreans remembered just now that their country had been looted and their people massacred 500 years ago. It's been an ongoing thing between the two countries.

In 1990 a Korean Buddhist monk named Pak Sam-jung traveled to Kyoto and, with the support of a private local organization, concluded a ceremony in front of the tomb to comfort the spirits residing there and guide them home to Korea. Over the next six years the Japanese organization that hosted this event spearheaded a drive to get the mimizuka itself sent home, submitting a petition bearing twenty-thousand signatures to Kyoto city officials, and pledging to bear the cost of excavating the contents of the tomb and shipping them to Korea, together with the nine-meter-high earthen mound and the stone pagoda on top. When Pak Sam-jung returned to Kyoto in 1996, the tomb's return seemed imminent. "These noses were cut off as trophies of war for Toyotomi Hideyoshi," he announced upon leaving Seoul. "They have been there in Kyoto for four-hundred years. It is now our duty to see them returned to Korea to assuage the grief of the 126,000 people whose remains are buried there."

In the end the necessary permission to move the mimuzuka was not forthcoming from the Japanese government. It was decided that, as an officially designated national cultural asset, the tomb should stay where it was. It remains in Kyoto to this day, little known and not often visited, and not well marked for tourists. It is just west of Kyoto National Museum and Toyokuni Jinja, the Shinto shrine dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who was deified as a kami after his death. Funding from the government is insufficient to care for the site, so the work is done by local residents, who volunteer to cut the grass and tidy up the grounds.

Larry J said...

When I visited the Parthenon, I was told that if I wanted to see much of the ruin's sculptures, I should visit the British Museum. The taking artifacts from one old culture to another country has been going on for a long, long time. That's why you can see ancient Egyptian obelisks in Istanbul, Turkey and Rome, for example. If we tried to enforce returning artifacts to their country of origin, we might as well close most of the world's museums.

Gabriel said...

Look at the arguments about the Elgin Marbles.

When the original culture still exists, to which artifacts could be returned, they probably should be.

I remember the Kennewick Man controversy well. I thought the arguments that Kennewick Man was part of the cultural history of current tribes to be unconvincing, given 10,000 years and the number of migrations that had happened in that time. There are cultures in the world that have disappeared and there's no harm in leaving their artifacts where they are, and there are artifacts that could never be traced by now anyway, and so no harm in leaving them where they are.

But when you've got documentation about what happened--especially as recently as the Elgin marbles--I think it's a little different. It wasn't okay for the Germans to loot Europe's art and that was 80 years ago.

Scott said...

Koreans have a tremendous chip on their shoulders about Japan. There used to be plenty of material on this in the now sadly defunct Marmots Hole blog.


Having served in Korea for a year in 1996, I can attest there is exactly zero love lost in South Korea about Japan. The Japanese occupation of Korea 1910-1945 is a real sore point, especially since there was and to a degree still is a lot of Japanese prejudice toward Koreans. When some of the colloquial terms for Korean in Japanese have the connotations of 'cockroach', 'retarded monkey', and 'kimchi bastard' for three, you have a racial problem. Which the Koreans rather enthusiastically return in kind, a really good way to get beaten bloody in Korea is to imply that they are Japanese.

One of the prevalent rumors was that the US forces in Korea were there in part to keep Korea and Japan from going to war over a few minor disputes. Pirate raids, taking sexual slaves in WWII, maritime borders, anti-Korean pogroms in 1923. You know, minor stuff.

Gabriel said...

@Larry J:If we tried to enforce returning artifacts to their country of origin, we might as well close most of the world's museums.

Rome would be well supplied, probably have more than it knew what to do with.

It's not that we have to force very artifact back to where it came from. Where's the harm in returning things when politely asked for them back.

Of course nations and cultures could voluntarily allow museums in other countries to house their artifacts. The key word is "allowed". No reason for museums to close, they can house lots of things from their own country. Museums tend to be in places with plenty of culture of their own.

Hagar said...

Well, I kind of wish the Europeans had "stolen" more of the old Middle East marbles, etc., before the present lunatic jihadists arrived on the scene.

Quaestor said...

Look at the arguments about the Elgin Marbles.

Lord Elgin rescued the Frieze from a largely indifferent native culture and an occasionally lunatic overlord culture. The Greeks didn't care and the Ottoman's wanted some cash. Now the Greeks want it back on the grounds that the Turks couldn't legally transfer the Marbles. To me the pro-Greek ownership argument is specious. The Parthenon belonged to Athens, but Athens basically extorted the financing of its construction from the weaker members of the Delian League, so who really owned it? Was the Parthenon itself stolen property? Augustus allowed the "city fathers" of Athens to deduct a maintenance allowance for the Acropolis temple precinct from their annual tax bill in return for a cut of the offerings collected from Athene's supplicants. Consequently, the Parthenon remained in good repair even though Athens itself suffered a steep economic decline compared to her traditional rival, Corinth, and that upstart polis known as Byzantium. So who owned the Frieze in AD 1? It seems to me Rome had some claim as well as Athens. After Constantine the Great made Christianity the official faith of the Empire, the Parthenon was made over into a church. Interestingly the cult statue of Athene had been missing for about a century before the temple's rededication. The Greek Christians did not deface the Frieze despite its pagan themes, though they did remove the paint and the gold leaf from the reliefs. In the 15th century, the conquering Turks adopted the Parthenon as a mosque. Thankfully the Turks were more respectful of Classical culture than ISIS has been, and they left the Frieze as they found it. According to Islam, a mosque is a place of worship, a law court, and an arsenal. Consequently, the Turks also used the Parthenon to store the gunpowder for their cannons. The Turks had control over the site for more than two hundred years when during the seige of Athens in 1687 a stray shot from a Venetian mortar detonated the stored powder in the temple/church/mosque, largely destroying it. When Thomas Bruce, British consul to the Sublime Port, visited the site he was dismayed to see the Acropolis was still in the same condition as when the Parthenon blew up a century before. It was clear to him the Athenian Christians didn't give a shit, and it was also clear there was smoldering hostility to pagan antiquities among the local Muslims, Wahabism having recently infected the local preachers. So Elgin made a deal. Some say he stole the Frieze. I say he rescued it.

Given their historic indifference regarding the Acropolis and the air pollution in Athens, the Greeks should leave the Marbles where they are and raise a statue to Lord Elgin.

Given their behavior in Korean before and during WWII, the Japanese should leave their Buddha where he is and raise a statue to Douglas MacArthur.

Hagar said...


and the rape and murder of Queen Min.

ken in tx said...

My father was in the Navy at the end of WW II. Part of my father's tour, his ship was used to ferry Korean slaves from Japan back to Korea. Outside of Korea, it is not well known that the Japanese used Korean slaves. It was not just 'comfort girls'. They back-filled their industrial base with slaves because they had drafted most of their own men. There were thousands of them.

I had a Korean professor in college. He remembered the Japanese occupation of Korea, and hated the Japanese.