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French expert on Korea dies at 67

Philippe Thiebault, who studied Korean philosophy in Korea for the past three decades, died of pneumonia and other complications on Saturday. He was 67.

Thiebault, a visiting professor at Seoul’s Sejong University, is especially recognized here for translating “Mongmin Simseo” ― written by Jeong Yak-yong (1762-1836), one of the leading scholars in the late Joseon Dynasty ― into French in 2007.

The book, whose title means “Admonitions on Governing the People,” describes the fundamental principles a governor should observe.

Born in France, Thiebault visited Korea in 1982 to study Chinese characters, and soon became fascinated by Korean philosophers Yi Hwang, Yi I and others. Staying in Korea since then, the scholar received a Ph.D. in Asian philosophy at Sungkyunkwan University in 1994. 
Philippe Thiebault (Yonhap News)
Philippe Thiebault (Yonhap News)

Along with “Mongmin Simseo,” Thiebault also translated into French a novel based on Jeong Yak-yong’s life and Yi I’s “Seonghak Jibyo (The Essentials of the Studies of the Sages).” He received the 11th Yulgok award for the translation of the latter series.

Also lecturing at Konkuk University and Hanyang University, the scholar taught Asian philosophy at the Sejong University Graduate School from 2007. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease for years.

Thiebault continued his effort to introduce Korean philosophy in his mother tongue until the end, translating Yi Hwang’s “Jaseongrok“ (“Book of Self-examination”).

Thiebault is survived by his wife and two adopted daughters. His body is to be flown back to France.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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