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Epitaph plaque for wife of first Korean diplomatic minister in US returns to Korea

By Kim Hae-yeon

Published : Oct. 31, 2023 - 14:16

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Epitaph plaque crafted in 1892 for Madam Jo, the wife of Park Chung-yang, the first Korean minister sent to the US (CHA) Epitaph plaque crafted in 1892 for Madam Jo, the wife of Park Chung-yang, the first Korean minister sent to the US (CHA)

The epitaph plaque for Madam Jo (1841-1892), the wife of Park Chung-yang (1841-1905), the first Korean diplomatic minister sent to the US in 1887, has been brought back to Korea and returned to their descendants, the Cultural Heritage Administration announced Tuesday.

Professor Emeritus Mark A. Peterson from Brigham Young University, who owned the artifact for more than 40 years after purchasing it in an antiques store, donated the epitaph plaque to Park Chan-su, the current head of the Bannam Park Clan, at the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation's office in Seoul on Monday. Park Chan-su is the great-grandson of Diplomatic Minister Park Chung-yang and currently works as a professor at Korea University.

The epitaph plaque, dedicated to Madam Jo, a member of the Yangju Jo Clan, whose full name is not specified, is a typical late Joseon period artifact and was created in 1892. It encapsulates Jo's family in 122 characters on a single ceramic plaque.

Madam Jo had two daughters and a son, and was laid to rest in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, in 1892. In 1921, her tomb was relocated to Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province, for a joint burial with her husband. The condition of the burial suggests that the epitaph was damaged and taken away. The source of the damage remains unknown.

Peterson, a scholar of Korean history who earned his doctorate in East Asian studies from Harvard University, discovered the piece at an antiques store in Insa-dong in Seoul. He acquired the epitaph plaque for academic purposes and utilized it in his lectures.

Mark A. Peterson, a professor emeritus at Brigham Young University, holds a special lecture at the Old Korean Legation Museum in Washington on Nov. 17, 2022. (CHA) Mark A. Peterson, a professor emeritus at Brigham Young University, holds a special lecture at the Old Korean Legation Museum in Washington on Nov. 17, 2022. (CHA)
(From left) Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation Chair Kim Jung-hee, professor emeritus Mark A. Peterson and professor Park Chan-su, head of the Bannam Park Clan, pose for a photo at the OKCHF's office in Seoul on Monday. (OKCHF) (From left) Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation Chair Kim Jung-hee, professor emeritus Mark A. Peterson and professor Park Chan-su, head of the Bannam Park Clan, pose for a photo at the OKCHF's office in Seoul on Monday. (OKCHF)

In July 2022, the scholar expressed his intention to return it to the descendants through his YouTube channel, "Frog Outside the Well," which deals with Korean history and culture. An employee of the OKCHF's US office, who viewed the video, reached out to Peterson, as well as to Park's descendants, and both parties agreed to the donation.

"During the time when Professor Peterson purchased the epitaph, which was sometime between the late 1970s and early 1980s, such epitaph plaques with cracks were not as highly regarded in Korea." A senior researcher at the OKCHF told The Korea Herald on Tuesday. "We are delighted that this scholar, who holds a profound appreciation for Korean history, recognized its value and preserved it safely until the decision to make the donation."

Prior to the donation, the epitaph plaque was on display at a special exhibition until May at the Old Korean Legation Museum in Washington. The Bannam Park Clan expressed their gratitude for Peterson's donation and announced their plans to publish a comprehensive history book on the clan, including the contributions of women in the family.