[KS] Koguryo part of China?
byington at fas.harvard.edu
Sat Jan 3 00:18:17 EST 2004
I would like to offer some additional comments on this very interesting
thread. First, the provincial museum of Jilin (and all other museums in
that province) presently give Koguryo's dates as 37 BC to 668. It does not
surprise me to hear that the signs read 37 BC to 427 when Gari Ledyard
visited in 1986 - this, I believe, was a conscious gesture to North Korean
sensitivities. As noted in a previous posting, the fact that Koguryo
territories straddled the current Yalu River border between China and
North Korea, making Koguryo into an minority nationality of China's
distant past involved some problems. If Koguryo was part of China, what
message does that send to Pyongyang today? For a while scholars in China
tried to skirt the issue by offering a kind of compromise, first proposed
in 1981 (I believe) by none other than Tan Qixiang, of Fudan University.
Tan suggested that Koguryo be considered part of China's history from 37
BC until 427, and as part of Korean history afterward, when its capital
was in P'yongyang. I strongly suspect that the museum placards that Prof.
Ledyard saw were a reflection of these times, when academic interchange
between China and North Korea was more frequent. By the early 1990s, and
especially after the explosive exchange between Chinese and North Korean
scholars in 1993, such a compromise was probably no longer seen as
necessary. By about 1995 (by my own observations) there was no longer much
of a North Korean academic presence in Jilin Province.
As John Jamieson has pointed out, part of Koguryo (Gaogouli) was a part of
what is now the PRC, and its place in the regional history of Dongbei must
of course be acknowledged. But I would suggest that there are some
qualitative differences in the ways that Koguryo is understood in China
and in the Koreas. First, and not surprisingly, Koguryo's significance in
Chinese history textbooks is limited primarily to the regional history of
the Northeast. Students studying Chinese history in Yunnan would probably
never have heard of it (so I assume - please correct me if I'm mistaken).
Second, regional identity notwithstanding, I would estimate that nine out
of ten people on the streets of Changchun would offer only a puzzled
expression if the name Koguryo were mentioned (not including ethnic
Koreans, of course). South of the Yalu one would be hard pressed to find
anyone with more than a grade school education who couldn't tell us
something about Koguryo. In China, only if one goes to Ji'an or Huanren,
sites of old Koguryo capitals, would the majority of the population likely
know what Koguryo was. Koguryo is, in short, part of the regional history
of the Northeast, but, I argue, it is not significantly implanted in the
cultural identity of the average Han Chinese in the Northeast.
All of this might suggest only that Koguryo is a more significant
component in Korean national sentiments than in Chinese, and given
Koguryo's place in Korean historiography, this is not surprising. But I
think there are several levels to the Chinese treatments of Koguryo, and
it may be useful to distinguish between Koguryo as part of the regional
history of the Northeast, and a primarily political element, associated
with territorial concerns, that underlies much (but not all) of what is
currently written about Koguryo in Chinese newspapers and academic journals.
(I do not, however, suggest that Korean treatments of Koguryo are free of
political elements!) I also stand by my original statement that the arguments
offered for proving that Koguryo was a minority nationality of early China
(as opposed to its being part of the regional history of Dongbei) are both
defensive and historically weak - one need only read the many papers on the
topic written by Sun Jinji and Zhang Boquan, the two most vocal and articulate
proponents of the "Chinese Koguryo" position, to illustrate my claim.
What many find objectionable in this is the insistence of some Chinese
scholars of "proving" that Koguryo was Chinese - not just a state that
once occupied part of what is now Dongbei, but an indivisible part of
early China. This view results in a denial of the Korean association with
Koguryo, and its "proving" necessitates a serious warping of history. Why
don't these scholars (and, again, not ALL Chinese scholars hold this view!)
simply admit that Koguryo was its own state, that Koreans also view it as
part of their own past, but since its history is part of the history of the
Northeast, it belongs also to the regional history of a part of China? Part
of the answer is that Koguryo must take its place with all other ancient
neighboring states and peoples in the current view that makes those
states and peoples out to be minority nationalities of early China.
Another reason, closely associated with the first, is that a solid claim
(loudly stated, if not convincingly proven) to Koguryo and its territories,
at least those north of the Yalu, are viewed in China as necessary to ensure
the security of its borders in the Northeast. A simple recognition of
Koguryo as part of the regional history of the Northeast would not
accomplish this objective.
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