[KS] Chinese sources for claims on Koguryo in English

Mark Byington byington at fas.harvard.edu
Thu Dec 2 12:21:10 EST 2004


The short answer to your question is no, there is nothing in English (to
my knowledge) that offers any kind of historical support for the claim
that Koguryo was a Chinese state. There are many reasons why this is so,
and the long answer follows below.

First of all, there is no single argument in support of this claim, but
rather a number of individual arguments from individual scholars, based on
interpretations of historical documents, theories on ethnicity and nation,
and so on. Furthermore, there is really no "official" argument upheld by
the PRC government (though many people appear to believe that there is).
The government "view", as best as can be discerned, is simply that Koguryo
was a Chinese state, regardless of what argument is used to arrive at that

The concern among South Koreans that China has an official argument, or at
least an official conclusion, regarding Koguryo's alleged Chinese-ness
originated with some of the publications of China's Northeast Project,
which is a five-year project established in February 2002 to promote
scholarly work on many facets of the history of the Northeast and to
compile data and scholarship pertaining to the Northeast in general. The
Northeast Project is funded by government agencies, including the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences and the provincial governments of the
Northeast. The mission statement of the Northeast Project is very frank
when it announces that the purpose of the Project is to provide funding
and venue for academic work for its own sake, as well as to provide
historical arguments that might one day be used for more immediate
political ends. There are several publications put out by the Project on
the subject of Koguryo (though these represent only a small fraction of
the overall work of the Project), and some of these offer various
arguments for Koguryo's having been a Chinese state.

None of the arguments for Koguryo's Chinese-ness included in the
publications of the Northeast Project are new. They represent the ideas of
prominent scholars whose work had been circulating for many years before
the Northeast Project began - it just so happened that as prominent
scholars, their work was naturally included among the publications of the
Project. There are several entirely different approaches found in these
publications, and no evidence that the authors worked together on the
arguments they employ. Their views do not represent the majority of
scholars in the Northeast, though they have been relatively effective at
swaying opinion since their conclusions that Koguryo was a Chinese state
are comforting in certain circles.

If these ideas have been around for so long, why have people in South
Korea become upset about them only since last December? The primary reason
for this is the fact that until the South Korean media grabbed hold of the
story last December (due to the UNESCO matter), practically nobody in
South Korea knew (or cared) what Chinese scholars had been saying about
Koguryo. Since the issue has become known in South Korea only recently,
people tend to perceive only the most recent iteration of these Chinese
Koguryo arguments - namely, those published in the papers of the Northeast
Project. This brings me to the secondary reason for special concern over
the most recent series of events, which is the fact that the Northeast
Project is government funded, and this creates the impression that the
views regarding Koguryo published in the papers of the Northeast Project
somehow now represent the "official" view of the Chinese government (this
is a mistaken impression, though the potential admittedly exists that the
PRC might one day choose to fall back on one of these arguments for
political purposes).

However, it is not clear to what extent the Chinese government has
declared its "official" position regarding Koguryo, and in any case the
general idea that ancient states that once occupied lands now governed by
the PRC are to be viewed as ancient Chinese states is not at all new. I
might add here that, as alluded to above, many in South Korea believe that
the publication of academic arguments by the government-funded Northeast
Project represents the escalation of those arguments from the academic
realm to the political realm - but they seem not to understand that in the
PRC no such academic projects can exist except under government auspices.
The government, however, does not tell the scholars what to write, what
conclusions to reach, or what arguments to use.

The gist of the above is simply that there is no single argument
representative of the Chinese position, and the Chinese government has
moreover been cautiously vague about its "official" stance regarding
Koguryo's Chinese-ness. Another reason you have not seen any
English-language treatments of the various arguments published by the
Northeast Project is that China (including the government and individual
scholars) seems uninterested in convincing the outside world that Koguryo
was a Chinese state. The government and those scholars who insist on the
Chinese Koguryo position are interested, first and foremost, in the
internal security of the PRC, especially its border regions. I have
already discussed the reasons for this on the present forum and will not
reiterate them here.

While there are no English translations of the various Chinese
publications that treat Koguryo as a Chinese state, I have presented a
number of papers on different aspects of Chinese scholarly views toward
"ancient minority nationalities" within the overall context of Chinese
historiography. Two of these papers are supposedly scheduled for
publication in Korea in the next few months, one possibly appearing in the
"Koguryo yongu" series published by the Koguryo Research Institute. These
papers might give you an idea of how these views regarding Koguryo fit
within the larger realm of historiography in Northeast China, though this
may not be what you are looking for.


Mark Byington

On Thu, 11 Nov 2004, Dennis Lee wrote:

> Dear List:
> I know this topic has been rehashed repeatedly, but has anything scholarly been published in English supporting the Chinese claim on Koguryo? I have found things written in Chinese on Gaojuli, but nothing in English other than English versions of Chinese newspapers. If anybody can help point me in the right direction that would be great.
> Also for those who are interested,  the Institute of Koguryo Studies has put out a brochure pushing the Korean side of the argument.
> Thanks!
> Dennis Lee

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