Goguryeo controversies

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The Goguryeo controversies are disputes between China and Korea on the history of Goguryeo, an ancient kingdom (37 BC – 668 AD) located in present-day Northeast China and two thirds of the Korean Peninsula. At the heart of the Goguryeo controversy is whether Goguryeo is a part of Chinese history exclusively, Korean history exclusively, separate from both, or shared by all. During the 1980s, Chinese scholarship was liberated from the strictures of the Maoist era, and social scientists began studying the history of Goguryeo, challenging the conventional view that Goguryeo was exclusively part of Korean history. In 2002, the Northeast Project conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), which claimed Goguryeo as a Tungusic ethnic state since it was founded by the Tungusic Yemaek and populated by Tungusic Mohe people and part of Chinese regional history since Tungisic ethinicites like Manchus, Xibe, Oroqen, and Nanai are citizens of China, sparked a major academic and diplomatic controversy, as Korean experts on Goguryeo history accused the Chinese government of using history for political purposes. In response, in 2004 South Korea established the Goguryeo Research Foundation (renamed the Northeast Asian History Foundation in 2006), and summoned its Chinese ambassador[clarification needed]. In 2007, the Northeast Project ended, and the study of Goguryeo history in China has dramatically declined.[citation needed] Nonetheless, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences continues to disseminate its much criticized historical perspective on its homepage.

Various analyses of the controversy have focused on external motivations for the reevaluation of history, including Korean irredentism towards adjacent Chinese territory, the possibility of North Korean collapse, and the challenge to China from transnational separatism. Nationalist historiography has inflamed both sides of the debate, as Korean nationalism treats the themes of a powerful Korean Goguryeo and independence from China as central, while Chinese nationalism stresses the inviolability of its territory and the unity of its ethnic groups. Some scholars have also criticized the projection of modern-day national identities onto ancient peoples.

History of the dispute[edit]


As neighboring areas, northeast China and North Korea have both laid claim to the history of ancient kingdoms that occupied the region. The interpretation of history in this region has implications for contemporary territorial sovereignty.[1][page needed] During the heyday of Maoism, the Chinese government line was that the history of Goguryeo (Gaogouli in Chinese) was Korean history.[1][page needed] However, there was almost no research published in Goguryeo from China at the time, and China had a motivation to say so, because of its good relations with North Korea.[2][page needed] Since the 1980s, government control over scholarship liberalized, and more than 500 books about Goguryeo-related topics were published since then, comprising 90% of China's research since 1949.[1][page needed][2][page needed] During this time, some scholars such as Tan Qixiang questioned the state's old interpretation of history, arguing for the study of all polities within China's territory as part of Chinese history. Jiang Mengshan proposed a "one history, dual use" (一史两用, yīshǐ liǎngyòng) system whereby Goguryeo would also be considered part of China's history,[3] arguing that the kingdom's capital, for 460 out of 706 years, lay in modern northeast China, and that three-quarters of its population were not ethnic Korean.[1][page needed][2][page needed][4][page needed] He related ancient identities to modern-day peoples by suggesting that "the people of Buyeo and Goguryeo had the same lineage as the Chinese in the Northeast region, while the Korean people were a part of the Silla lineage."[5][page needed]


Another faction of historians, led by Sun Jinji (孙进己, Sūn Jìnjǐ) and Zhang Bibo (张碧波, Zhāng Bìbō), of the Heilongjiang Academy of Sciences, criticized Tan and put forth the thesis that Goguryeo should be regarded as local Chinese, and not as Korean history.[clarification needed] They cited the traditional view in Chinese historiography that Korea was founded by the Chinese prince Jizi, as well as Goguryeo's status as a tributary to ancient China. These revisionist scholars, mostly from northeast China themselves, established the Northeast Project of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2002 to investigate this view.[1] The establishment of the Northeast Project marks the beginning of the modern Goguryeo controversy. However, the Northeast Project cannot be equated with the study of Goguryeo, because it studied more topics than Goguryeo, including the history of the Russian Far East, the Bohai Kingdom, economic history, and local histories in ancient China and Korea.[2]

China asserted that Goguryeo was an ethnic Tungusic state and in modern-day China, Tungusic ethnicities like Manchus, Xibe, Oroqen, and Nanai are citizens of China and viewed as part of China's multi-ethnic historical civilization. The Tungusic Yemaek founded Goguryeo and it was also populated by Tungusic Mohe people.

In 2003, China applied with UNESCO to register the Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom within its territory as a World Heritage Site. In December of that year, the South Korean government published a report denying that Goguryeo could be considered part of Chinese history, and giving directions to Korean civil society groups on how to counter Chinese claims.[2] Korean nationalists groups and the South Korean popular press in South Korea expressed outrage over the Northeast Project,[2][6] and some commentators suspected, that because the CASS receives government funding, the Chinese government might support the Northeast Project.[1] However, the CASS's Center for Borderland History and Geography Research is underfunded, understaffed (containing only 21 researchers), and not self-sufficient; government subsidies came in response to the extremely low salaries in CASS's history and philosophy departments, in contrast to the more lucrative fields of economics and law, and the money given does not match the high strategic value of borderland research.[2] Historically, the CASS has produced research that disagreed with or is critical of government policies.[2] Other, still more moderate voices in Korea pointed out that several official publications in China refer to Goguryeo simply as Korea's history.[1] Chinese scholars who disagreed with Sun and Zhang's "Chinese local history" view were interviewed by South Korean newspapers.[7] The negative press coverage over the Goguryeo issues increased the incidence of Sinophobia in South Korea,[2][8] and has possibly influenced South Korea's security strategy to become more pro-American and anti-China.[9]


In March 2004, the South Korean government established the Goguryeo Research Foundation to publish research conducive to its view of Goguryeo as part of Korean history.[10] In April, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs deleted references to Korea's premodern history on its website, prompting South Korea to summon its Chinese ambassador.[2] In August 2004, China sent its Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Dawei to Seoul to defuse tensions.[2] China recognized Korea's concerns and pledged not to place the Northeast Project's conclusions in its history textbooks, and both South Korea and China expressed the desire not to see the issue damage relations.[11] However, China's expressed concerns about Korean irredentism towards northeast China were not addressed by the South Korean side.[2] In September, the South Korean government declared the 1909 Jiandao Convention, which ceded Korean claims to northeast Chinese territory, invalid. In 2005, South Korea conducted joint research projects with North Korea on Goguryeo relics near Pyongyang. Meanwhile, Chinese social scientists continued to publish research articles on the ancient Northeast Asian polities, including Guchaoxian (Gija Chosun), Fuyu (Puyo), Goguryeo, and Bohai, which Koreans exclusively considered their own.[2] In 2006, South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun protested this research at the 2006 Asia–Europe Meeting. That year, his government renamed the Goguryeo Research Foundation to the Northeast Asian History Foundation, expanding its mandate. In 2007, the Northeast Project concluded, but neither China nor South Korea has changed its view of Goguryeo history after the dispute. In China, the diplomatic imbroglio meant that research on Goguryeo has become taboo, and former Chinese Goguryeo researchers have diverted their time and resources to other areas.[2]

Japanese and North Korean views[edit]

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Japanese Empire differentiated Goguryeo from the other Three Kingdoms of Korea to claim Japanese (Wa) influence in the non-Goguryeo kingdoms of Baekje and Silla in order to justify its colonization of Korea. In order to demonstrate their theories, they moved a stone monument (棕蟬縣神祠碑), which was originally located at Liaodong, into Pyongyang.[12]

Meanwhile, North Korea has glorified Goguryeo's independent qualities as part of their Juche ("self-reliance") ideology, identifying itself with Goguryeo, while equating South Korea with Silla, and the United States with Tang. North Korea narrates their national history to conform it to Juche, by denying any indication of foreign occupation of the Korean peninsula, such as the existence of any Chinese commanderies there.[13] North Korea's state run media has denounced Chinese claims as “a pathetic attempt to manipulate history for its own interests” or “intentionally distorting historical facts through biased perspectives” in North Korean media.[14]

Speculative motives[edit]

Much of the scholarship on the Goguryeo controversy has focused on China's strategic intentions towards the Koreas, and presumptively overlooked the validity of Chinese scholars' historical claims.[2] Yonson Ahn, a Korean scholar who has studied Korean comfort women and historical debates in Korea and Japan,[15] writes that historians such as Quan Zhezhu, Sun Jinji, Kim Hui-kyo, and Mark Byington "perceive the launching of the Project as a defensive reaction to preserve China’s own territorial integrity and stability."[15] Various explanations advanced for China's interest in northeastern history include: South Korean irredentism over Jiandao (Gando in Korean),[1] privileges granted by South Korea to Koreans in China,[1] and the possible collapse of North Korea.[16][17][18] Modern Chinese nationalism, which in contrast to Korean nationalism, is not based on a "pure blood line" and instead stresses unity in diversity and a supraethnic "Chinese people" or Zhonghua minzu. China also has an interest in promoting stability and the territorial status quo in its border territories, in order to tackle the advanced cross-border problems of drug trafficking, fundamentalist religious proselytism, ethnic separatism, and illegal immigration.[2] An interpretation which suspects aggressive Chinese motivations is inconsistent with China's own "peaceful rise" rhetoric and with its record of peacefully settling 17 of 23 of its territorial disputes with substantial compromises.[2]

On the other hand, some Chinese scholars perceive the Korean nationalistic sentiments of some Koreans in both North and South Koreas as threatening to its territorial integrity. In fact, there are proponents in both the Korean liberal and conservative camps advocating for the “restoration of the lost former territories.”[19] Chinese scholars are afraid of border changes when the North Korean government collapses. Because there are more than 2 million ethnic Koreans living in China's Jilin province, China fears that they might secede from China and join a newly unified Korea.[20]

On the whole, the Goguryeo controversy is more significant to Koreans than Chinese. Reasons for this imbalance include the fact that in modern Korean nationalism, Goguryeo's history is presented as a contrast to Korean history in the 19th and 20th century, where it was a "feminine and helpless victim of imperialism". Another founding tenet of Korean nationalism is to establish cultural independence from China. For example, in the 20th century, Koreans switched the central figure in their founding myth from Jizi, a Chinese human sage, to Tangun, a god.[2]

Arguments for Goguryeo being a part of Chinese history[edit]

Among the arguments that some Chinese scholars use for its claims on Goguryeo:

  • Goguryeo kings actively sought and accepted a tributary relation with Chinese dynasties.[21]
  • Goguryeo was founded by the Tungusic Yemaek peoples and was also populated by the Tungusic Mohe (Malgal) peoples, an ancestor of modern-day Tungusic Manchus, who are citizens of China, and ruled China's last dynasty;[original research?][22]
  • Goguryeo was established in Northeast China, the homeland of Tungusic ethnicities, and that two-thirds of its territory was in present-day China, and Tungusic ethnicities like Manchus, Evenks, and Oroqen are Chinese citizens.
  • That after the end of Goguryeo, some of its people were assimilated into Han and other ethnicities of China;[23]
  • That some remains of the tombs purported to be of Goguryeo in Ji’an are not Goguryeo’s but are those of the Han or Xianbei (Sonbi) ethnicities of China.[24]

Arguments for Goguryeo as a part of Korean history[edit]

Korean historians generally make these arguments:[25]

  • The places that the Four Commanderies of Han occupied were originally places of native Korean people. The Chinese commanderies were later taken over by Goguryeo, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea.
  • Goguryeo is a country founded by Buyeo people, one of the major ancestors of Korean people. Both Goguryeo and Baekje are successor nations of Buyeo. The fact that large numbers of Goguryeo people were assimilated into China does not necessarily make it Chinese as many were also assimilated into other dynasties at the time.[26]
  • Goguryeo lasted about 700 years while no Chinese dynasty concurrent with Goguryeo's rule lasted for more than 500 years. It was Imperial China's tributary only during some of its existence. More important, being a tributary of Imperial China doesn't make it Chinese.  Many East Asia dynasties and kingdoms, like Silla, Goryeo, Japan, Ryukyu etc., had tributary relationships with Chinese Dynasties during some time of their existence.
  • Many of the customs (Ssireum, traditional dance, musical instruments (e.g. Janggu),[27] clothing (e.g. traditional Korean hat),[28]  etc. depicted in Goguryeo murals are present in some form in Korean culture today.
  • Goguryeo traditions such as ondol,[29] Korean fortress,[30] fermented foods (e.g. doenjang, jeotgal, etc., as mentioned in Records of the Three Kingdoms),[31] onggi,[32], etc. are central mainstays of Korean culture.
  • Only Southern Koreans from the Jeolla and Gyeongsang regions were descendants of Samhan, which is south of the Geum River. There are more Koreans descended from inhabitants outside Samhan and Silla, i.e., north of Geum River. Many Koreans are descendants of people outside Samhan (especially people that have families originated from Norther Korea), i.e. Goguryeo[citation needed], but we cannot state that the North Koreans are Chinese while they share the same language and culture with South Korea.
  • Korean scholars believe that the people of the 3 kingdoms of Korea shared a common ancestor; the Yemaek tribe, distinct from the Tungus, Mongol and Turkic tribes.  Because of this common ancestry, Goguryeo is distinctly Korean.[15]
  • The view that Goguryeo is Chinese contradicts with Chinese history records of the past Chinese dynasties - which considered it a part of the cultural Sinosphere, but was a separate and foreign political entity.
  • Goryeo was founded by Wang Geon, who was descended from a noble Goguryeo family. Goryeo considered itself to be the continuation (successor state) of Goguryeo, and had ambitions to reclaim former Goguryeo territory as evidenced by Seo Hui who told the Liao dynasty "Our country is in fact former Goguryeo, and that is why it is named Goryeo and has a capital at Pyongyang. If you want to discuss territorial boundaries, the Eastern Capital of your country is within our borders."[33]
  • The word "Korea"  comes from the word Goryeo, one of Goguryeo successor states and the shortened form of the word Goguryeo by King Jangsu of Goguryeo in the 5th century AD.
  • Legacy of names. Joseon ("Gojoseon") is considered the first Korean kingdom. After the collapse of Goguryeo, the Tang emperor gave to the last ruler of Goguryeo Bojang of Goguryeo the title "King of Joseon" named after the original Joseon kingdom showing that the Chinese themselves considered Goguryeo and Joseon the same lineage.  Goguryeo was succeeded by Goryeo ("Later Goguryeo") which was succeeded again by "Joseon".
  • Goguryeo was also succeeded by Balhae. Balhae was destroyed by the Liao dynasty, but the last crown prince of Balhae and most of the nobility merged with the Goryeo royal family thus uniting the two successor dynasties of Goguryeo.[34]
  • Legacy of royal tradition. The title Daewang (Taewang) "Great(est) King" is a Korean title that originated in Goguryeo and continued to be used in Goryeo and Joseon as a posthumous title until the end of Joseon dynasty.[35]
  • Foreign contemporaries regarded and treated Goryeo and Joseon as the same country as Goguryeo. Kublai Khan regarded Goryeo as the same country as Goguryeo. At the end of the Mongol invasions of Korea after seeing the Goryeo crown prince come to concede after decades of fighting, Kublai Khan was jubilant and said "Goryeo is a country that long ago even Tang Taizong personally campaigned against but was unable to defeat, but now the crown prince comes to me, it is the will of heaven!"[36][37][38] During the Mongol invasions of Japan there was a Japanese saying "The Mongol ("Mukuri") and Goguryeo ("Kokuri") ghosts are coming!" treating Goryeo as the same country as Goguryeo.[39] Choe Bu of Joseon in 1488 who was stranded in Ming China was asked by a Ming government official "What special skills does your country have that it was able to defeat the Sui and Tang dynasties armies?" Choe Bu replied "Goguryeo had strategic experts and powerful generals who were skilled in military and had soldiers who served their superiors to the death. Therefore, Goguryeo is a small country but defeated the Tianxia's one million soldiers two times. Now, Silla, Baekje, and Goguryeo have become one country, we have abundant products  and large land, riches and powerful military, and immeasurable numbers of loyal and wise scholars." [40][41]

Foreign arguments[edit]

Finnish linguist Juha Janhunen believes that it was likely that a "Tungusic-speaking elite" ruled Goguryeo and Balhae, describing them as "protohistorical Manchurian states" and that part of their population was Tungusic, and that the area of southern Manchuria was the origin of Tungusic peoples and inhabited continuously by them since ancient times, and Janhunen rejected opposing theories of Goguryeo and Balhae's ethnic composition.[42]

Validity of claims on ancient history[edit]

Nationalistic scholars in China and Korea analyze empirical evidence through the lens of nationalism and ethnocentrism. Yonson Ahn and Lim Jie-Hyun believe that projecting modern concepts of national territory and identity onto ancient nation states is self-serving.[15]

Chinese claims on Goguryeo history tend to be centered on territory: because Goguryeo and Parhae shared territories with modern-day China, it is therefore Chinese. Korean arguments tend to stem from ancestry, a common bloodline.[15] Both philosophies contradict the exclusivity claim that many scholars try to make for either Korea or China because Goguryeo possessed territories that now are within the borders of North Korea as well as China, and descendents of Goguryeo people live in both Korea and China.

According to Korea scholar Andrei Lankov:[43]

There is no doubt that the present-day dispute represents a case of retro-projection of modern identities. The real-life Koguryoans would have been surprised or even offended to learn that, in the future, they would be perceived by Koreans as members of the same community as their bitter enemies from Silla. Describing Koguryo as Chinese or Korean is as misleading as, say, describing medieval Brittany as French or English or Irish.

Controversy over Goguryeo history illustrates the rigidity of national history in East Asia. The strong distinction between "self" and "other" drives many scholars to accept only exclusive possession of history and its artifacts. Disputes over such claims are often laden with terms like "stealing."[15] Many scholars focus on pure Chineseness or Koreaness, a perspective that ignores the permeability of ancient borders and the abundant cultural exchange that occurred.

Recent developments[edit]

The Chinese city of Ji'an has built a Goguryeo museum within walking distance of the Yalu River. One of the major Goguryeo steles is displayed there.[44]

See also[edit]

Similar articles:



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