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Oh, Goguryeo!

Posted August. 18, 2007 03:03,   


Two books, which manifest the potential of Seo Gil-su, director of the Goguryeo Institution and a professor at Seokyeong University, have been released simultaneously. One contains study results of French and Russian scholars who introduced Goguryeo to Europe, and the other is the first-ever translated version of “The introduction to the history of Goguryeo in ancient China” which played a critical role in China’s Northeast history project that began in 2002.

Publishing the two books was a tall order in that it needed a high level of proficiency in French, Russian, and Chinese. But his distinguished language ability allowed him to do the difficult job. He was even appointed as director of “Universala Esperanto Asocio” thanks to his self-taught Esperanto. Though two books were written by the same author, they present different points of view on Goguryeo.

First, “Goguryeo study by European scholars at the end of Korean Empire” is the translated version of two scholars’ papers, Maurice Courant and Edouard Chavannes. They were born in 1865 and studied at the same college.

Courant is well-known in Korea as a person who introduced to Europe “Jikji,” the world’s first book published using a metal printing method. He also presented the Gwanggaeto Stele to Europe in 1898. He wrote a paper titled, “Goguryeo’s tombstones engraved with Chinese characters,” which is the first research on the tombstone of King Gwanggaeto the Great.

Inspired by Courant’s study, Chavannes, who entered academia earlier than Courant, launched a field investigation on Goguryeo relics, including the Gwanggaeto Stele, for the first time as a European scholar. In a five-day, on-the-spot survey on Goguryeo’s fortresses in 1907, he discovered mural paintings of Goguryeo. He released “The report on the relics of Goguryeo, Korea’s ancient kingdom,” based on this exploration.

Though their studies had some errors, they completed an astonishing job in reflecting historical facts. When translating the content of the Gwanggaeto Stele into French, he said that he used Korean pronunciation since it was about Korean people and places. When an ancient map was drawn of Asia, Korean pronunciations of Chinese characters were employed, rather than those of Chinese.

Chavannes shared the same perspective on Goguryeo as Courant. He saw the history of Goguryeo as Korea’s. He expressed his regret when he saw historic remains of Goguryeo damaged amid indifference of the Chinese. He reported that there was additional architecture on the mausoleum of King Jangsu, and assumed that “Taewangneung,” a mausoleum of the Great King, was that of King Gwanggaeto the Great from the beginning when it was discovered.

On the other hand, “The history of Goguryeo written by the Chinese,” the translated version of “The introduction to the history of Goguryeo in ancient China,” features Chinese scholars who distort existing history research for political purposes.

Ma Dazheng, who has spearheaded the Northeast Project, set the direction of the project in the preface, saying that “Goguryeo was the state founded by the minority… Goguryeo should be distinguished from Goryeo and Joseon.” He also elucidated at the end of the book, “We should challenge prevailing and authoritative opinions and contend with them. By doing so, we can make a breakthrough and expand our horizons,” directing other Chinese historians to ignore conventional studies that run counter to his view.

Yang Baorung, who was in charge of research on ethnic minorities of Northeast Project, used pure sophistry that “Wang Geon, the founder of the Goryeo, was a descendant of the Chinese,” making it clear from the outset that the Northeast Project was to distort history. Yi Darung insisted that Korea’s ancient kingdoms of Gojoseon, Buyeo, Goguryeo, Shilla, and Baekje were also established by the ethnic Chinese. He also made an outrageous argument that Baekje was founded by Buyeo descendants who also set up Buyeo and Goguryeo, and that the reason “Jinhan,” the predecessor of Shilla, was called “Qinhan” was because it was founded by a person from Qin, one of China’s ancient kingdoms.

Professor Seo, who also translated a book authored by the same Chinese historians last year, said, “From those books, I found that the Chinese planned to take our ancient history as theirs with the Northeast Project.”