[KS] Obituary of Daniel Bouchez (1928-2014), former priest and leading figure of Korean studies in France and Europe

Isabelle Sancho isayulgok at gmail.com
Sat Apr 26 07:12:10 EDT 2014

*Obituary of Daniel Bouchez (1928-2014), former priest and leading figure
of Korean studies in France and Europe*

Dear colleagues,

It was with deep sadness that the French Korean studies heard of the
passing away of Daniel Bouchez, which happened on Thursday, April 17, just
before Easter. A solemn, beautiful, and intensely moving memorial service
took place on Thursday 24 at the funeral home of Essonne, in Avrainville
near Paris. It gathered together his bereaved family, many of his close and
distant relatives, colleagues in Korean studies, and friends of all ages.
It was followed by the burial at the cemetery of Saint-Michel-sur-Orge, in
the outlying Parisian suburbs, where he had been living for half of his

In his will written in 2008 and addressed to his son, Daniel Bouchez said
that he did not want to have a religious funeral but that the words ‘former
priest’ should appear in his death notice.

Daniel Bouchez, a former Catholic missionary in South Korea and a founding
figure of modern French Korean studies, was born in November 1928 in
Armentières in the far northern part of France into a family of the
industrial bourgeoisie. Right after his studies in a religious secondary
school, he planned to take holy orders. He studied philosophy at the
University of Lille and then theology at the Institut Catholique of Paris
in the mid-nineteen-fifties. He had been ordained a Catholic priest, at
Easter, in the beginning of the fifties and initially wanted to become a
missionary in China. For that purpose, he studied one year in Rome where he
won a first prize in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. But
it turned out that his initial plan had to be given up, following the
advent of the People’s Republic of China. It is then by chance, and thanks
to a random human encounter, that he unexpectedly turned towards a barely
known country at that time, emerging from the trauma of war: Korea. As a
language lover, young Daniel Bouchez used to enjoy reading ancient Greek
philosophy directly in the original and was also strongly aware of the
importance of mastering languages in missions of evangelization. Even
though such an attitude was not shared by his hierarchy, he decided to
learn Korean before his departure. At first he turned to Professor Charles
Hagenauer, a Japonologist from the Institut National des Langues et
Civilisations Orientales who was known to have some command in Korean, but
he quickly took the initiative to go and study at SOAS for one year in
1956, when he heard that, for the first time, classes of Korean language
would be taught. From 1958 to 1970, he lived and worked as a missionary in
Korea. He taught theology at the Catholic Seminary of Seoul as an assistant
professor and then as a professor, and taught himself both Korean and
Classical Chinese. Within three years, going against the great reluctance
and strong criticisms expressed by his direct superiors, he soon gave up
teaching theology in Latin and was finally able to explain St Thomas
Aquinas in fluent Korean to his Korean seminarians. This experience of
being a missionary in Korea, however, progressively undermined his
religious faith. Besides, as his childhood friend René Knockaert said at
his funeral, he found in Korea what he had certainly not expected to find
in the first place: human love. In 1970, after a long and extremely
difficult process of soul-searching that he did not conceal afterwards, he
made the decision to defrock, came back to France with Min Yong Ui
(Dorothée) and married her. In the years that followed, they had a son they
chose to call “Gift from God”, Theodore.

So from 1970 onwards a new and radically different life started for Daniel
Bouchez, who was then in his early forties. In spite of many difficulties,
among which terrible financial constraints, he worked very hard to enter
French academia and teach about his passion, Korean language and
literature. While teaching, he prepared and obtained a doctoral degree in
Far-Eastern Studies at the University of Paris 7 in 1975. In his jury sat
Professor Jacques Gernet, now a well-known honorary professor of Chinese
History from the Collège de France. His dissertation, entitled « *Les
Pérégrinations de Dame Xie dans le Sud*: étude sur un roman coréen » (The
journey of Lady Xie to the South: a study of a Korean novel) was published
later under the title « Tradition, traduction et interprétation d'un roman
coréen, le *Namjŏng ki* » (Tradition, translation and interpretation of a
Korean novel, the *Namjŏng ki*) in the *Mémoires du Centre d'études
coréennes*, vol. V, at the Collège de France in Paris in 1984.

He then became a renowned specialist, acknowledged both in South Korea and
abroad, of pre-modern Korean literature. During his late but prolific
career as an international specialist of Korea, he published and presented
a number of studies that are still regarded as references. His main focus
of study was Kim Manjung金萬重 (1637-1692) and his novels, *To the South*
ki *南征記) and *Dreams of nine clouds* (*Kuunmong* 九雲夢). As the co-author and
adapter –rather than a translator– of the monumental *History of Korean
literature* by Cho Dong’il, published in French in 2002 by Fayard, he
contributed to a better understanding of Korean literary tradition in
France and Europe. Besides, he had been continuously and consistently
working to make the important works done by Maurice Courant (1865-1935),
the founding father of French Korean Studies and Professor of Oriental
languages at the University of Lyon, known and available. He successively
published, with useful and carefully written introductions, in the first
volumes of the series* Cahiers d'études coréennes *at the Collège de France
the following works of Maurice Courant: the *Études coréennes* (1983), *La
Corée ancienne à travers ses livres* (reprint of the Introduction of
the *Bibliographie
coréenne* first published in 1894), and the *Répertoire historique de
l'administration coréenne*. The latter work, which consistently translates
the administrative structures and nomenclature of the Chosŏn state into
French equivalents, is without precedent in either English or Modern

Beyond his scholarly achievements, Daniel Bouchez was an influent and
active figure of the Korean Studies in France and Europe. He was among the
founding members and used to be the President of the AKSE (Association of
Korean Studies in Europe) and the AFPEC (French Association of Korean
Studies). He was also the founder and Director of the “Unité de Formation
et de Recherche (UFR)” (teaching and research unit) « Asie Orientale » at
the University of Paris 7 from 1988 to 1990. He used to teach some classes
at the EPHE (École Pratique des Hautes Etudes, IVth section: section of
historical and philological sciences) and was hired as a Researcher (1972),
then as a Director of Research (1990) at the CNRS (French National Center
for Scientific Research). From 1995 to 1997, he acted as the representative
of the EFEO (École Française d’Extrême-Orient) in Seoul. Finally, he was an
honorary Associate of the Center for Korean Studies and the joint-lab
“China, Korea, Japan” of the EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in Social
Sciences). In 2007, he was made a Knight of the National Order of the
Legion of Honour –the Order being the highest decoration in France – for
his ‘eminent merits’ and his contribution to the knowledge of Korea in

Beside his academic career as a Koreanist, Daniel Bouchez, certainly
following the principles of his favorite gospel, the Gospel According to
Luke, had been devoting significant personal time helping refugees in
France. He had been working for many years for the OFPRA (Office Français
de Protection des Réfugiés et Apatrides), and from 2001 to 2003, he was the
President of the ASIRE (Association pour l’Accès aux Soins et l’Insertion
des Réfugiés et des Exclus).

Many of today’s Koreanists in France have been his students, colleagues,
and friends. As a man of his generation and socio-cultural background, and
because of the complexities of his personal trajectory, Daniel Bouchez
generally reflected the image of a quiet, serious, and composed man. Yet he
was always very helpful, considerate, and supportive of anybody studying
Korea. As a person, he could be very warm and kind, often full of wit and
humor. Even after his retirement, he kept attending international
conferences, talks, and any Korea-related events regularly. He will be
greatly missed.

I personally feel deeply grateful to his unfailing support. I had not been
fortunate enough to count myself among his students or close friends, but I
am fully aware that I have greatly benefited from his knowledge and
intellectual keenness during the defense of my doctoral dissertation. Now
that I have been hired at the CNRS as a specialist of pre-modern Korea, as
he had hoped, I hope I will be able to follow in his footsteps in the

I shall conclude with a beautiful phrase, a true alexandrine (French verse
in twelve syllables) that, according to his son and friends, Daniel Bouchez
liked to say about his life: *La vie est un hasard dont on fait un
destin*[“Life is a game of chance that one turns into a destiny”].

Isabelle Sancho

Permanent Researcher at the CNRS

Director of the Center for Korean Studies (CRC), joint-lab “China, Korea,
Japan”, EHESS
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