The Tide Turns? Part 2

As noted in Part 1, the Hankyoreh newspaper affiliated magazine, Hankyoreh 21, has provided an important platform for scholars standing up to pseudo historiography. Preceding the Young Historians’ series, in June 2017, Hankyoreh 21 carried two important articles discussing the fallout from the National Assembly hearings, both authored by journalist Chin Myŏngsŏn (진명선). The first was titled, “A history of the plundering of ancient history written by political powers and pseudohistory” (2017.06.19 in Korean here). This was the first article to represent the position of scholars who had been working on the Northeast Asia digital historical atlas project prior to its cancellation. 

The second article titled “Colluders with pseudohistory”, was noteworthy for acknowledging the role of the Hankyoreh newspaper itself and other left-leaning ‘progressive’ media in having long given an uncritical platform to pseudo historiography (2017.06.26 in Korean here, featuring a photo of Yi Tŏk-il presenting at the National Assembly hearings). Indeed, in 2009 Hankyoreh newpaper had carried a ten part series (in eleven parts) by Yi, titled “Yi Tŏk-il blasts mainstream academic history” (2009.05.13 – 2009.7.22 in Korean). Evidenced by many of the readers’ comments, the subsequent shift by Hankyoreh 21 to a position critical of Yi and pseudo historiography has been interpreted by his followers and those on the ethno-nationalist left as a betrayal, and will likely only have strengthened their conspiracy beliefs.

The remainder of this post gives a summary of the first of Chin’s two articles.


Scholars from the Northeast Asia Historical Atlas project interviewd by Hankyoreh 21, Yi Sо̆k-hyо̆n (left) and Chо̆ng Yo-gŭn (right).

Hankyoreh 21 article: “A history of the plundering of ancient history written by political powers and pseudohistory” (2017.6.19.) by Chin Myŏngsŏn (진명선)

Chin’s article discusses the circumstances under which the Northeast Asia History Foundation’s (NEAHF) Northeast Asia Historical Atlas project was prematurely cancelled. The project had run from 2008 and had been due for completion in 2018. The article introduces the nature of the project and details the National Assembly special committee hearings noting the direct influence of Yi Tŏk-il and other pseudo historians on the mischaracterization of the atlas project.

According to Chin, the atlas project was established by NEAHF with an objective to replace the 1981 (sic) “Historical Atlas of China” (Wikipedia), compiled by Tan Qixiang (谭其骧 1911-1992) which has continued to be used in international scholarship and is the basis for claims that were promoted in the Chinese government’s recent Northeast Project. Scholars working on the Korean atlas explained to Chin that while the “Historical Atlas of China” consists of around 300 paper maps, the Korean atlas project had been constructed as an online database capable of producing an almost infinite number of maps; the basic maps they had submitted in 2015 to NEAHF for interim appraisal alone numbered some 714.

The article highlights treatment of Parhae’s territory as an example of how the Korean maps were both reflective of current research and could be beneficial to the representation of  Korean history. In contrast to the Chinese atlas that gives a limited territory for the state of Parhae, restricted to southeastern Manchuria and distinct from a separate Mohe polity to the north, the Korean atlas had been drawn to reflect more recent finds in Liaoning that have been taken to indicate Parhae’s territory to have extended westwards. The Korean map also incorporates the ethnic Mohe territories as a part of Parhae.


Left: “Historical Atlas of China” depicting Parhae in pink and the Mohe in mauve. Right: Parhae territory delineated in the Korean historical atlas maps.

They further highlighted that from an international perspective, the Korean atlas could have provided a more objective source on Northeast Asian historical geography, giving the example that, unlike the Chinese atlas, the Korean maps had marked Tibet as a historically distinct territory.

For Korean historical research, meanwhile, they note the atlas had for the first time, depitcted the more than 4,000 administrative myо̆n subcounty level districts with their boundaries drawn according to current research.

As evidence of the sophisticated nature of the project, Chin notes a high level of interest had been shown from US cartographers, including Harvard University’s World Map project. The Korean scholars had visited Harvard and were hoping to share their database with the World Map, which at the time had 164 maps for China, 26 for Japan but just seven for Korea.

However, during the interim appraisal in December 2015, NEAHF unexpectedly graded the Historical Atlas project a mere 14 points out of 100, resulting in its premature termination. The ostensible reason given for this inexplicably low appraisal was that the project failed to reflect “national identity” (국가 정체성) the sub-arguments being listed as follows:

  • Inappropriate representation of the Republic of Korea’s position, size and form.
  • Not all place names written in hangul script.
  • Dokdo island not always marked.
  • East Sea (aka Sea of Japan) not marked.

Chin explains that owing to the nature of the database which could produce desired information whenever relevant, such complaints were close to meaningless, and the maps submitted were in any event not final. Rather the motivation for terminating the project can be seen in points 1 and 3 which originate in the reductionist polemic of Yi Tŏk-il during the National Assembly committee hearings. (NB Yi’s accusations are presented also in his 2015 book, though the book itself is not mentioned in Chan’s article.)

Thus the charge of ‘inappropriate’ representation of Korea’s size and position refers to the refusal of professional historians to reflect the pseudo historiographical notion of Korea having been an ancient empire spread across the entirety of Manchuria. Pseudo historians in particular take issue with the locating of the Chinese Lelang commandery (108 BCE – 313 CE) at P’yŏngyang, arguin it to have been outside of the peninsula, in the region of modern Liaoning. In Chan’s article, the scholars note that maps marking Lelang, in any event, represented no more than one percent of the entirety of the database.

Yi’s complaint about the apparent absence of Dokdo, meanwhile, pertained to a map of Silla’s expansion in the years 551-600. Being both small and historically uninhabited, the representation of the far flung Dokdo rocks is clearly irrelevant for pre-20th century maps, however, during the hearings (and in his 2015 book), Yi highlighted this as core evidence for his conspiracy theory of the academic establishment constituting a ‘pro-Japanese cartel’, as if by leaving out the Dokdo rocks, they were implying they do not belong to Korea’s current territory.

Separate to Chan’s article, Ki Kyoung-ryang (기경량) of the Young Historians has argued in a blog posting that in Yi (2015) the NEAHF’s Northeast Asia atlas maps, which Yi (2015) reproduce without permission, appear to have been Photoshopped in order to remove Dokdo which was in fact marked (in Korean – the link is worth opening for the self-explanatory photos.) This is evident both by the otherwise odd positioning of Dokdo’s neighboring Ulleung-do island in the corner of a separate box, as well as a subtle change in colour gradient over the position where Dokdo would otherwise be.


Chin Myŏngsŏn  2017.06.19 <권력과 사이비 역사가 쓴 ‘고대사 침탈사’> (진명선 기자)

Chin Myŏngsŏn 2017.06.26 <유사역사의 공모자들> (진명선)

Yi Tŏk-il. 2015. Maeguk ŭi yŏksahak, ŏdi kkaji wanna 매국의 역사학, 어디까지 왔나 [Treasonous historiography, how far has it come?]. Seoul: Man’gwŏndang.


The Tide Turns? Part 1

The Tide Turns?
Towards a review of 2017 counter-critiques of
pseudo historiography of Early Korea

The following is a working draft, attempting to review several Korean language articles and books which appeared during the course of 2016-2017 all critiquing the same phenomenon of pseudo historiography pertaining to Early Korea and geographical Manchuria that has enjoyed a resurgence over the past decade. This first post is a brief introduction describing the historical and political context against which these critiques have been authored.


Map of ancient Chosŏn imagined as an expansive empire (Yi 2006)


In recent years pseudo historiography pertaining to Early Korea has come to reach epidemic proportions in South Korea. In the Post Truth era, it has enjoyed a resurgence and come to wield a political influence that has been manifest both in its immunity to legal or moral consequence of false allegations, and most critically, in the sudden withdrawal of South Korean government funding for long term projects led by professional scholars both inside and outside of Korea.

South Korean pseudo historiography of Early Korea principally originates in the colonial era popular historiography of Sin Ch’aeho, and the parallel early 20th century new religious movement of Taejonggyo. Sin Ch’aeho’s bombastic popular history writing famously recast the polity of  ancient Chosŏn – long regarded as the charter state of Korean history – as an empire spread across greater continental Manchuria, inclusive of the Korean peninsula, and possessing its own colonial territories along the east China seaboard. Taejonggyo has a similar conceptualization, but with more even more expansive geographical claims, active incorporation of mythical figures including Tangun and Chiyou, and a tendency towards textual fraud and apocrypha.

These two invented traditions – Sin’s empire narrative and Taejonggyo historiography – evolved in parallel but close proximity. Subsequently in South Korea during the Park Chung Hee era (1961-1979), they were further synthesized by a group of amateur Taejonggyo-ist amateur historians who published voluminous popular history books and lobbied the government with allegations against the academic establishment for refusing to accept their own false, and highly chauvinistic, conceptualizations of early Korean empire. To explain this lack of acceptance, the pseudo historians charged that establishment historians remained under the influence of colonial era Japanese historiography which had supposedly sought only to diminish the scale and depth of Korea’s early history to make the peninsula appear inferior and subordinate to early Japan.

While a full spectrum of pseudo historiographical schemes have evolved over the 20th century, with alternative iterations tending to emphasize long range migrations from Central Asia, from the 1980s onward it has been the Manchuria focused ‘Taejonggyo infused empire scheme’ that has been promoted most vociferously by pseudo historians and to the recent detriment of professional scholarship.

Notably, from the 1980s the Taejonggyo infused empire scheme was adopted by professionally trained historian Yun Naehyŏn who held tenure at Dankook University. From this time until the present pseudo historiographical schemes of early history have also been promoted by various other university professors whose own training and departmental affiliations have usually been outside of history, most notably several coming from sociology and economics departments.

From the 2010s, representation of the Taejonggyo infused empire scheme has been taken up by the figure of Yi Tŏk-il (이덕일 b.1961) who claims to hold a doctorate in history but works under the affiliation of his own private research institute, the ‘Hangaram history and culture research centre’ (한가람 역사문화 연구소). Yi is a prolific writer, authoring a constant stream of popular pseudo history books and newspaper columns. Utilizing the preexisting historiography of Yun Naehyŏn (b.1939) – which itself derives from the 1963 work of North Korean scholar Ri Chirin – and the anti-establishment polemics of the preceding amateur historians, from 2014 onwards, Yi has promoted the same conspiracy theory of a ‘pro-Japanese cartel’ occupying the history departments of South Korea’s top universities.

In no small part owing to Yi’s prolific output, both the Taejonggyo infused empire scheme and associated conspiracy theories have gained traction with the wider public, including politicians. This circumstance climaxed during 2014-2015, when accompanying the publication of, that which at the time was Yi’s most toxic book to date, “The colonial view of history within us” (Yi 2014), a cross-party group of National Assembly members formed the ‘Special committee for counter policies [against] distortions in Northeast Asian history (동북아역사왜곡대책특별위원회)’ and held a series of hearings targeting their own government funded Northeast Asian History Foundation (동북아역사재단 hereafter NEAHF), which had originally been established to counter nationalist historiography of China pertaining to the early Northeast Asian states of Koguryŏ and Parhae. These committee hearings were led by politicians strongly under the influence of Yi Tŏk-il’s polemics, and Yi himself attended two of the thirty-eight sessions held. The result of these hearings was to cause the withdrawal of government funding for two NEAHF flagship projects: the Early Korea Project (2006-2017) based at Harvard University, and a large scale Northeast Asian digital historical atlas project (동북아역사지도 2008-2015) based in South Korea.

In spite of the serious implication of these decisions, there was little immediate response from the academic community. Indeed, one of the charges and tactics of Yi Tŏk-il cum suis has been challenging establishment historians to public debate. Scholars have been reluctant to rise to this bait knowing that they cannot win the popular argument against a nationalist vision of the past. This foreknowledge is based on precedence from the 1980s when professional historians were compelled to attend public debates against the earlier pseudo history camp and experienced biased treatment from the adjudicators, a hostile reception from the public audience (including being shouted down), and subsequent misrepresentation in the press. The problem is that the pseudo historians have long utilized their reductionist accusation of establishment historians being pro-Japanese conspiratorial collaborators, and in the current day Post Truth environment and with anti-Japanese sentiment regularly stoked both by civil groups and the ROK government – through the issues of the comfort women and Dokdo island – there is little to indicate this would be easily overturned.

The recent National Assembly hearings were a cross-party initiative, but the period during which they were held was the height of the now disgraced Park Geun Hye administration (2013-2017), known for its policies of coercion and blacklists against public figures. Concomitant to the attacks on academic historians led by Yi Tŏk-il, who ostensibly identifies with the political left, the Park administration was pushing  its own policy to enforce usage of a single government authored history textbook for schools, a policy directly harking to the rule of her father’s era. The more recent Park era government policy has been led by a group of revisionist historians self-styled as the New Right. Their chief concern has been the revision of modern history towards positive reevaluations of South Korea’s succession of right leaning civilian and military presidents who ruled ROK throughout most of the 1948-1988 period: Rhee Syngman (r.1948-60), Park Chung Hee (r.1961-1979) and Chun Doo-hwan (r.1980-1988).

Concerned as it is with ancient history, the Taejonggyo infused empire narrative is not incompatible to the New Right historiography and in fact during the Park Chung Hee era, advocates of ancient empire had actively aligned themselves as anti-Communist patriots of the military regime. Indeed, on of the most prominent Taejonggyo promoters, An Hosang, had been South Korea’s first education minister under Rhee Syngman.

In recent years, Yi Tŏk-il may well have benefitted from similarly aligning with the Park Geun Hye administration and New Right in order to have the empire scheme of early history incorporated into the revisionist government textbook, similar to Yun Naehyŏn, Yi has long positioned himself as a people’s leftwing scholar holding ideals of pan-peninsular ethnic nationalism. These left wing credentials include having published columns in the Hankyoreh newspaper and accusing the Park Geung Hye administration of being pro-Japanese.

Yi was thus uncharacteristically silent on the most important historiographical issue of the moment – the government textbook – that became one of several rallying causes of the political left, helping fuel the historic nightly protests that led to the impeachment of Park Geun Hye.

During the period of the Park Geun Hye administration, professional historians working at universities consequently found themselves assailed on two fronts: from the left they were accused by Yi and amateur historians of being pro-Japanese for refusing to adopt the Taejonggyo infused empire scheme; from the right they were accused by politicians of being leftwing Communists – literally ‘red Commie bastards’ – owing to their resistance to the New Right’s government textbook project.  Hereafter, however, we will principally focus on the former of these issues.

It was not until 2016 and more concertedly in 2017 that academic historians finally responded to the impinging threat of pseudo historiography pertaining to early history. The first move came in 2016, when a group of younger generation scholars published a series of articles in the spring, summer and autumn editions of academic history journal Yŏksa pip’yŏng (역사비평) under the title “Early Korean history and criticism of pseudo historiography” (한국 고대사와 사이비역사학비판 – see my draft translations and summaries of those by Ki Kyoung-ryang, Wee Kaya, and Sin Gayeong). This new affiliation of scholars has since coordinated their activities under the group name ‘Young historians group/collective'(젊은 역사학자 모임 Hereafter Young Historians – note, there is no Communistic implication in the word that translates as group/collective).

The first full professor to break silence, meanwhile, was Song Hojŏng, history professor at Seoul National University of Education who specializes on the early history and prehistory of Korea, particularly on the state and associated historiography of ancient Chosŏn, and more recently the early continental state of Puyŏ. Song is one of very few academic historians to have earlier published a popular history work challenging pseudo historiographical interpretations of ancient Chosŏn and later mythology (Song 2004). He was also a contributor to the Early Korean Project volume on the Han Commanderies (Byington ed. 2013). Owing to his expertise, Song was called to testify during the National Assembly, but on account of his work on Chosŏn that argues against Taejonggyoist empire interpretations he has long become a regular target of ad hominem attacks by Yi Tŏk-il, and during later sessions of the National Assembly committee hearings he found himself increasingly on the defensive for his views.

In an interview given for a Hankyoreh newspaper article of 24 March 2016 titled “The political danger tied to the ‘early history craze’ centered on Yi Tŏk-il” (in Korean) written by Kang Hŭich’ŏl (강희철), Song was highly critical of Yi and noted that the government had been lending support to pseudo historians since 2013. He further emphasized that professional historians must show courage in arguing against the fallacies of pseudo historians such as to, “leave them no place left to stand”.

Perhaps owing to the political climate under the Park Geun Hye administration, aside from these comments by Song, notably no other former participant of the Early Korea Project has to date spoken publicly against the government support of the pseudo historians.

It was not until June of 2016 that a second professor of early history took up a bolder position against pseudo historiography including the first active defense of the Early Korea Project. In June, Shim Jae-hoon (심재훈) of Dankook University published an article in the journal Sahakchi (사학지 제52집) titled “North American research on early Korean history and the Harvard Early Korean Project”, in which he states:

“Staking my conscience as a researcher, I can state that the NEAHF’s support for the Early Korea Project was successful. However, it would seem that the unique hotheadedness and simmering disposition of Koreans and their inferiority complex concerning history, were all utilized to create a distorted media discourse {misrepresenting the work of the Early Korea Project}.” 필자는 연구자로서의 양심을 걸고 동북아역사재단의 ‘고대한국 프로잭트’ 지원은 상당히 성공적이었다고 단언할 수 있다. 그런데 한국인 특유의 조급함, 냄비 근성, 역사 왜소 컴플렉스 등이 복합적으로 작용하여 왜곡된 여론을 형성했던 것 같다.

Shim’s own research principally focuses on early Chinese history and so he had not been directly involved in the Early Korea Project. However, having studied in the US at Chicago University, Shim has a stronger command of English, and better knowledge of Western – principally US – scholarship than many of his Korean peers. Although published in an academic journal, Shim’s comments were picked up by media outlets and he has since posted regular public comments through his Facebook account.

In the same year he had separately published a well received popular history book titled, “Examining Korean history while immersed in early China” (Shim 2016). Part memoir of his academic career, including recollections of his experience studying in US, this book does much to introduce American scholarship on Northeast Asia to Korean readership. It also contains explicit criticism of Korean pseudo historiography, for example, pointedly noting:

“If bestsellers on Korean and ancient history stopped at making people feel good [about the past] there would not be a problem. However, it is a problem if those reading such books believe them to be actual history and become prisoner to an empty delusion. As for those who create such content, to say it coldly, regardless of their own intentions, they are actively deceiving society.” (Shim 2016:272)

From these tentative actions, led by the Young Historians and Shim Jae-hoon, a degree of confidence and momentum was established and sustained into 2017, a year which saw the publication of several further newpaper articles, together with three paperback books aimed at a popular readership, each criticizing the polemics and content of various aspects pertaining to the canon of Korean pseudo historiography.

The first book to appear in February 2017, was an edited paperback collating the articles of the Young Historians and published under the title “Early Korean history and pseudo historiography” (Young Historians 2017). From late July through to September, the same Young Historians members further published a series of articles in the newspaper affiliated Hankyoreh 21 magazine under the title “Real ancient history” (in Korean 진짜 고대사 to be discussed in a following post).

In September, professor emeritus of history at Korea University, Kim Hyŏn-gu, then published a book titled “Colonial historiography cartel” (Kim H. 2017) detailing the background context and court case in which he had sought the prosecution of Yi Tŏk-il for charges of defamation originating in Yi’s 2014 book, “The colonial view of history within us”.

The third book was released in November and is by Kim Inhŭi, a researcher affiliated with Chonbuk National University. Provocatively titled “Chiyou – an old disease of history” (Kim I. 2017) it details both the historical evolution of this mythical figure, as well as Chiyou’s recent utilization in both Chinese and Korean new religions and associated pseudo historiography. This work constitutes a timely case study of Korean pseudo historiography as Chiyou is closely intertwined with the Taejonggyo-ist empire narrative.

To be continued…

Following posts will introduce several of the Hankyoreh articles, including the Young Historian’s “Real Ancient History” series, together with Kim Hyŏn-gu (2017) and Kim Inhŭi (2017).


Byington, Mark E. (Editor). 2013. The Han Commanderies in Early Korean History. Cambridge: Korea Institute, Harvard University.

Kim Hyŏn-gu 김현구. 2017. Singmin sahak ŭi k’arŭt’el 식민사학의 카르텔 [Colonial historiography cartel]. Seoul: 이상미디어.

Kim Inhŭi 김인희. 2017. Ch’iu, orae toen yŏksa pyŏng 치우, 오래된 역사병 [Chiyou, an old disease of history]. Seoul: 푸른역사.

Ri Chirin 리지린. 1963.  Kochosŏn yŏngu 고조선 연구 [Research on Old Chosŏn]. P’yŏnyang: 과학원 출판사.

Shim Jae-hoon 심재훈. 2016. Kodae Chungguk e ppajyŏ Hanguksa rŭl paraboda 고대 중국에 빠져 한국사를 바라보다 [Examining Korean history while immersed in early China]. Seoul: 푸른역사.

Song Hochŏng 송호정. 2004. Tangun, mandŭrŏjin sinhwa 단군, 만들어진 신화 [Tangun, the invented myth]. Seoul: 산처럼.

Yi Tŏk-il & Kim Pyŏnggi. 2006. Uri yŏksa parojapki 1: Kojosŏn ŭn taeryuk ŭi chibaeja yŏtta 우리 역사 바로잡기 1: 고조선은 대륙의 지배자였다 [Correcting our history 1: Old Chosŏn were rulers of the continent]. Goyang-si: Wisdom House.

Yi Tŏk-il. 2014. Uri an ŭi singmin sagwan: haebang toeji mothan yŏksa, kŭdŭr ŭn ŏttŏk’e uri rŭl chibae haenŭnga 우리 안의 식민사관: 해방되지 못한 역사, 그들은 어떻게 우리를 지배했는가 [The colonial view of history within us: un-liberated history, how have they controlled us?]. Seoul: Man’gwŏndang 만권당.

Yi Tŏk-il. 2015. Maeguk ŭi yŏksahak, ŏdi kkaji wanna 매국의 역사학, 어디까지 왔나 [Treasonous historiography, how far has it come?]. Seoul: Man’gwŏndang.

Young Historians 젊은역사학자모임. 2017. Hanguk kodaesa wa saibi yŏksahak 한국 고대사와 사이비역사학 [Early Korean history and pseudo historiography]. Koyang: 역사비평사.

Sin Gayeong “Research on the Mimana Nihon-fu and colonialist historiography” 2016 – summary

Mimana map (Sōkichi 1913)

Map of Mimana’s territory according to Tsuda Sōkichi (津田左右吉 1873-1961), originally from 『満洲歴史地理』第壹卷 「朝鮮歷史地理硏究」(南滿洲鐵道株式會社 1913).

The following is a summary of points and information from a useful article by Sin Ga-yeong (신가영) concerning modern and current historiography on the topic of Mimana, again found in the same issue of Yeoksa-bipyeong (역사비평 ‘history criticism/review’, vol.114 spring 2016) as the articles by Ki Kyoung-ryang and Wee Kaya

Mimana is the Japanese pronunciation for 任羅, which in Sino-Korean is pronounced Imna (임나). For the sake of consistency I transcribe it throughout as Mimana, though it should be noted that in the original Korean, Sin uses Imna, even in the context of the exclusive Nihon Shoki term ‘Mimana Nihon-fu’ (任羅日本府, Sino-Korea: Imna Ilbon-bu 임나일본부) which most literally translates as ‘Mimana Japan administrative office/bureau’. However, the exonymic term 倭, found in Chinese and peninsular sources denoting the ancient Japanese people – both on the archipelago and peninsula – I transcribe with Sino-Korean Wae (왜) rather than Japanese Wa.

The article is subdivided into the following five sections, though I omit summary of the first as this is another recapitulation of the issue of pseudo historian Lee Deok-il, and in this case his mis-characterization of Kim Hyeon-gu’s works as constituting a continuation of the so-called ‘colonial view of history’, and the section 5 as this is a short conclusion. 

  1. Mimana Nihon-fu standing in court (임나일본부설 법정에 서다)
  2. Invasion and Resistance (침략과 저항의 이중주)
  3. The current situation of research on ‘Mimana Nihon-fu’ (‘암나일본부’ 연구의 현주소)
  4. Biases and misunderstandings concerning the ‘Mimana Nihon-fu’ (‘임나’에 대한 편견과 오해)
  5. In expectation of a dynamic history of early Korea-Japan exchanges (역동적인 고대 한일 교류사를 기대하며)

Numbers in square brackets correspond to the original endnotes. 


Research on the Mimana Nihon-fu and colonialist historical perspectives (‘임나일본부’ 연구와 식민주의역사과)

2. Invasion and Resistance (침략과 저항의 이중주)

Debates on the Mimana Nihon-fu concern not only the question of ancient Korea-Japan relations, but also research pertaining to Gaya history.

Edo period scholars utilized myths and legends from the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki to argue Japan’s control over the peninsula. An early example is Dai Nihon-shi ((大日本史 1720) which dated the establishment of the Mimana Nihon-fu to Empress Jingu’s conquest over the peninsular Samhan.

Empress Jingu’s legendary conquest continued to be raised during the 19th century in the context of the debates over whether to (re)invade Korea (征韓論). (p235)

“Mimana-kō” (任那考 ‘study of Mimana’) compiled by the 參謀本部 in 1882, argued that the Nihon-fu was established in the region of Gaya to administer peninsular polities. Research on toponyms premising Mimana as belonging to Japan was continued by scholars including Tsuda Sōkichi (津田左右吉 {1873-1961}), Imanishi Ryū (今西龍 {1875-1932}) and Ayukai Fusanoshin (鮎貝房之進 {1864-1946}). (p235)

In this way, colonial historiography was created in order to legitimize the invasion and colonization of Korea, and one of the most heavily researched areas was the Mimana Nihon-fu ‘theory’. (p235)

According to this theory, the Mimana Nihon-fu was established by Wae (the Yamato administration of ancient Japan) in the mid 4th century and it would rule over the south of the peninsula for more than two centuries.[5] This theory was most systematically laid out by Suematsu Yasukazu (末松保和 {1904-1992}).

[5] 末松保和 『任那興亡史』 大八州出版, 1949 (2nd edition 吉川弘文館 1956 – English title given as “The Rise and Fall of Mimana: Japanese-Korean Relations before A.D. 646”).

In addition to the Nihon Shoki Mimana references, they also interpreted similar references from the Gwanggaeto Stele Sinmyo and Yingle 10 year passages, as well as from the Songshu “Waeguo account” and the Chiljido (seven pronged sword) inscription as evidence of the Mimana Nihon-fu.

This Mimana research portraying early Korean history to have begun with interference from Wae influence constitutes is an archetypal example of the colonialist discourse of Korea being ruled from outside (타율성론 ‘discourse on heteronomy’) (p235-6)

Suematsu’s treatment remained the dominant theory included in Japanese textbooks until the 1960s, when it started to be challenged by North Korean scholar, Kim Seok-hyeong’s (1963) hypothesis that the Samhan and Three Kingdoms polities had ‘branch polities’ (分國) on the Japanese archipelago. [6]

[6] 『력사과학』 1963-1; 『초기 조일관계 연구』. These works argue that the namesake polities occurring in Nihon Shoki had crossed from the peninsula to the archipelago several centuries before Common Era (i.e. BC), and that the Mimana Nihon-fu was established by Yamato to rule over the region of modern Okayama prefecture, and so had no relation to peninsular Gaya.

Despite its various deficiencies, this work provided an opportunity for Japanese scholars to reexamine the question of the Mimana Nihon-fu. [7]

[7] A representative work negating Suematsu is Inoue Hideo’s (井上秀雄) 『任那日本府と倭』 (東出版 1973). This work argues that just as there were people from the Korean peninsula who had crossed to the Japanese archipelago, so there were Japanese Wae residing in the region of Gaya, and the Mimana Nihon-fu was established to administer those of mixed birth.

These new studies still largely treated the Gaya region as having been under Japanese influence but, for example, interpreted Gaya as a tributary state to Yamato, or as having been under Wae political and military influence. (p236)

South Korean postwar scholarship, meanwhile, sort to disprove the notion of the Mimana Nihon-fu.[8] (p236)

Amongst South Korean scholars, Cheon Gwan-u (千寬宇 1977, 1991) critically utilized the Nihon Shoki to revive the notion of an independent Gaya history. Cheon argued that the Nihon Shoki passages referring to the invasion and rule exerted over Gaya was a misappropriation of records originally brought to Japan by Baekje refugees, and that it had been Baekje which had subjugated Gaya. Thus the Nihon Mimima-fu had in fact been a Baekje military office. [9] (p236)

[9] 千寬宇 – 「復元加耶史(中)」 in 『文學과知性』29, 1977; 『加耶史硏究』, 一潮閣, 1991.

Building on Cheon Gwan-u’s hypothesis, Kim Hyeon-gu (金鉉球 1985, 1993) {who has been attacked by pseudo historians as promoting Japanese colonial historiography} argued that Baekje actively employed Wae mercenary soldiers in order to subjugate and administer the Gaya region. Thus the focus of ancient Korea-Japan relations was between Baekje and Wae mercenaries. [10] (p237)

[10] 金鉉球 – 『大和政權の對外關係硏究』 吉川弘文館, 1985; 『加耶日本府硏究: 韓半島南部經營論批判』, 一潮閣, 1993.

Archaeological discoveries from the 1980s have demonstrated a distinct Gaya culture undermining Suematsu’s hypothesis of Japanese control, although discoveries on the south coast also point to a Wae presence but these are best interpreted as evidence of exchanges. [11,12] (p237)

[11] From 1916 the Government General initiated archaeological investigations across the peninsula; that the Nakdong river basin region was a focal point for this research indicates they were trying to discovery the Mimana Nihon-fu. However, they produced no concrete findings, and Hamada Kosaku (濱田耕策) who participated in the surveys, admitted {later or at the time is unclear} that it was impossible to prove the existence of Mimana Nihon-fu through archaeology. (Ju Bodon 朱甫暾, 「日本書紀의編纂背景과任那日本府說의 成立」 in 『韓國古代史硏究』15, 1999).

[12] Eight Wae type tumuli have so far been identified in the Gaya region, however, their distribution is concentrated on the southern coast. By contrast, no Wae tombs have yet been found in Goryeong, Ham’an or Gimhae which are the regions associated with Gaya/Mimana that appear mostly frequently in the sources.

3. The current situation of research on ‘Mimana Nihon-fu’ (‘암나일본부’ 연구의 현주소)

Since 1980s research on Gaya has been primarily driven by archaeology.

The weakness of Cheon and Kim’s Baekje hypothesis is that the Nihon Shoki contains no mention of the Mimana Nihon-fu having been ruled by Baekje. There is no evidence of the Wae people receiving orders from Baekje or taking actions in a manner to Baekje’s advantage; if anything, it describes closer relations between the Gaya states and Silla. Whilst transferring agency from Japan to Baekje, the hypothesis still ignored the agency of the Gaya states themselves. (p237)

Consequently South Korean research has focused on Gaya’s external relations from two angles: 1) those between Baekje on one side and Gaya and Wae on the other, and 2) between the Gaya states and the Wae.[13] (p238)

One starting point is to note that the term ‘Nihon-fu’ (Japan office) itself occurs solely in Nihon Shoki and not even in the Kojiki. The Nihon Shoki references to Nihon-fu occur in entries for Yūryaku (雄略) year 8 (c.464), and Kinmei (欽明) years 2~13 ( c.541~552), during which period neither the term Nihon, nor fu was yet in usage. [14] Thus the term Nihon-fu was likely created during the compilation of the Nihon Shoki and opinions are divided on what alternative terms to use in scholarship, in turn dependent on interpretations. (p239)

[14] Ju Bodon 朱甫暾 (1999 – cf note 11) posit that during the compilation of Nihon Shoki, influential Baekje refugees created the Nihon-fu and notion that Japan had once directly administered Mimana in order to encourage the Japan emperor to lend them forces to restore Baekje.

There are two main interpretations of the fu. One is as some kind of office or bureau (기관/기구) operated by, or for, Wae people which would correspond to the later notion of a fu (governmental office). The other is as an envoy dispatched by the Wae royal house. In this second case the character fu is interpreted according to its vernacular Japanese reading as mikotomochi (御事持), and the original term for Mimana Nihon-fu is matched to the term 在安羅諸倭臣等 which also occurs in Nihon Shoki Kinmei 15, entry (欽明15年12月). [15] (p239)

In this way, the Mimana Nihon-fu is generally interpreted by South Korean scholars as a product of Gaya’s external relations. Even amongst those who argue for Baekje influence, it simply becomes an office administered by Baekje. It is either way accepted that during the first half of the 6th century either an office or envoy group (사신단) was present in the region of Alla {安羅안라} (Gaya), modern Ham’an, which could correspond to the Nihon Shoki references to a Mimana Nihon-fu. [16] (p239)

[16] The Mimana Nihon-fu is generally regarded to have been in Alla, however, there is a new theory that it also included the region of Dae Gaya (see Baek Seung-ok 백승옥 「’任那日本府’의 所在와 등장배경」 in 『지역과 역사』 36, 2015.

Present day scholarly debates on the Mimana Nihon-fu are no longer concerned with whether it was operated by Wae, or whether the Wae were ruling the south of the peninsula, rather they focus on how to understand the reality of Wae people who were active in the Gaya region regardless of whether the Nihon-fu existed or not. (p240)

Broadly, three main research foci have been pursued. The first looks at the relationship with peninsular Wae and the Yamato administration. In general the peninsular Wae are interpreted as having been dispatched by Yamato but that they were outside of Yamato’s direct administrative control and identified with Baekje or Gaya. They are alternatively interpreted as originating in the Kyūshū or Kibi (吉備) regions of Japan (distant from the Yamato court).

The second looks at the question as to how Wae people came to the Gaya region, with hypotheses including that they were dispatched from Baekje or requested by Alla. The third seeks to examine the relationship between the Wae people and the Gaya states, and what function the Wae played.

Currently Japanese interpretations are also similar. The Mimana Nihon-fu is no longer argued to have been an organ for military control, but more often than not, as a diplomatic or bureaucratic office of Yamato that sought to monopolize the introduction of the Korean peninsula’s advanced culture (선진문물) into Japan. [17] (p240)

The problem of the interpretation of the Mimana Nihon-fu stems in its original representation in the Nihon Shoki, which due to its own context – being compiled by Japanese at a later date – displays an attitude of superiority towards the peninsula.[18]

[18] That Mimana is also referred to in Nihon Shoki as 任那官家 shows that Mimana was regarded as under direct administration by the Japanese royal house.

The various Baekje sources cited within the Nihon Shoki (Baekje-gi 百濟記, Baekje-sinseon 百濟新選 and Baekje-bongi 百濟本紀) both will have displayed an original Baekje centered bias, and may also have been altered during their incorporation into the Nihon Shoki. (p241)

4. Biases and misunderstandings concerning the ‘Mimana Nihon-fu’ (‘임나’에 대한 편견과 오해)

Pseudo historians today conflate the notion of the Mimana Nihon-fu with the colonial era Government General (總督府) and therefore interpret any opinion that Mimana existed as a colonialistic view of history. (p242)

Consequently they use Nihon Shoki to argue that Mimana was located in Japan or Tsushima Island; one argument they promote is the fact that Mimamna continues to be mentioned after the 562 date of Gaya’s overthrow and therefore could not have been the same entity. [19] (p244)

[19] The Nihon Shoki references to Mimana occurring after its 562 overthrow are generally either taken to understand it as an office managing Japan’s relations with Silla, or simply as evidence that the Nihon Shoki compilers concept of Mimana was false.

However, these arguments ignore that the term appears in peninsular sources: Mimana/Imna Gara (任那加羅) is attested on the 414 Gwanggaeto Stele; as Mimana/Imna (任那) on the 924 Jingyeong pagoda text at Bongnim-sa temple (봉림사 진경대사보월능공탑비), and as Imna Garyang (任那加良) in the 1145 Samguk-sagi, thus demonstrating that Mimana/Imna was used on the peninsula additionally to Gara/Gaya.

Imna is also attested in multiple Chinese sources, including the “Wae” accounts in the Songshu, Nan Qishu, Liangshu, and Namshi (宋書,南齊書,梁書) and in the “Silla” accounts of Hanyuan and Tongdian (翰苑 通典). The Hanyuan (卷30:蕃夷部:新羅), compiled 620, in particular attests people of Silla recounting that both Gara and Imna were overthrown by Silla.[20]

Some pseudo scholars take the fact that Chinese sources refer to both Imna and Gara to argue that Mimana and Gaya were two distinct states, but in these cases they are likely to refer to two polities centered at Gimhae and Goryeong respectively, within the greater region that, from the time of the compilation of the Samguk-sagi came to be referred to as Gaya. (p245)

Sin Gayeong (신가영)

Doctoral candidate at Yonsei University department of history. Having majored in early Korean history, his recent interests concern the relations between the Gaya confederacy and Silla and Baekje.

Wee Kaya “Is ‘the theory of the Han Commanderies’ location on the Korean peninsula’ a product of colonial era historiography?” 2016 – translation

The following is a translation of an article by Wee Kaya (위가야 Wi Gaya) found in the same journal as Gi Gyeong-rang‘s, Yeoksa-bipyeong (역사비평 ‘history criticism/review’, vol.114 spring 2016). Wee’s article focuses on the question of the Four Han Commanderies’ locations, and provides wider historiographical context of their historical-geography, serving to debunk the claim by populist ‘pseudo’ historians that the Commanderies’ location on the Korean peninsula was a modern conspiracy of Imperial Japan.

To aid readability, this translation is marginally freer in form but there is still some redundant repetition which seems to be a characteristic of Korean prose. For exact wording and full references, the original article should be consulted.


  1. Introduction – Pseudo historians question the Northeast Asia History Foundation’s view of history
  2. A history of the Four Han Commanderies
  3. Pre-liberation Japanese research on the Four Han Commanderies – combined examination historical geography and investigation of physical remains
  4. Pre-liberation Japanese research on the Four Han Commanderies, pseudo historiography and déjà vu (旣視感) of colonial historiography
  5. The ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory’ in the late Joseon dynasty
  6. ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory’ and the compulsive obsession of pseudo historians


Is ‘the theory of the Han Commanderies’ location on the Korean peninsula’ a product of colonial era historiography? (‘한사군 한반도설’은 식민사학의 산물인가)

  1. Introduction – Pseudo historians question the Northeast Asia History Foundation’s view of history

[Case 1]

On 24 March 2015, assemblyman Do Jong-hwan (도종환), belonging to the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (새정치민주연합 {the main left leaning opposition party, since renamed the Minjoo Party of Korea 더불어민주당}), argued that the location of the borders of Goguryeo during the period 120-300 CE given in the Northeast Asia History Atlas project (동북아역사지도), being compiled by the [South Korean government funded] Northeast Asia History Foundation (동북아역사재단 – hereafter NEAHF) with a planned publication date of 2019, are identical to those given in the Chinese Historical Atlas Collection (중국역사지도집) created as a part of [mainland] China’s [government directed] Northeast Project (동북공정). It has the region from the Chinese Liao River to the northwestern part of the Korean peninsula as belonging to Han China. The assemblyman further argued that the designation of regions on both sides of the Liao river belonging to Han China was in order to locate the [historical] Four Han Commanderies on the Korean peninsula. (“Suspicion that historical maps promoted by the NEAHF are copied from China’s Northeast Project” Gyeonghyang-sinmun, 2015.3.25)

[Case 2]

On 4 October 2015, assemblyman Lee Sang-il (이상일), belonging to the [ruling, right leaning] Saenuri Party (새누리당), claimed (지적하다 ‘to indicate’) that the NEAHF had included sources and maps containing content agreeing with China’s Northeast Project, in materials submitted to the US Congressional Research Service (의회조사국 CRS) [that were sent] in response to a request by the [Korean] Foreign Ministry. According to Lee, the NEAHF had sent maps to the US which limited the extent of Old Joseon’s territory to just one part of modern Liaoning province, and which accepted the [Chinese view] that the Four Han Commanderies established by Han emperor Wu in 108 BCE governed a portion of the Korean peninsula. Professor Bok Gidae (복기대) of Inha University (인하대) claimed, “Concerning the theory (이야기) that the Four Han Commanderies were located on the Korean peninsula, it is a fact that during the period of Imperial Japanese forced occupation {일제강점기 aka the Japanese colonial era 1910-45}, colonial scholars created it [in order to support the notion that] ‘Korea was a subject state to another country’. (“The Four Han Commanderies on the Korean Peninsula – distorted sources on ancient history sent to the US Congress” Jung’ang-ilbo newspaper, 2015.10.5)

2015 [witnessed] the unprecedented event of both ruling and opposition lawmakers criticizing with a single voice the abnormal circumstances of management of a government body. The body that was the object of this criticism was the NEAHF. They claimed that the NEAHF, which had been established in order to respond to historiographical distortions of nearby countries {China and Japan}, was engaged in activities against this purpose/mission (취지 ‘spirit of intent’). However, such criticism of the NEAHF was not limited to within the National Assembly.

[Case 3]

On 22 April 2014, the ‘Headquarters for the Citizens’ Movement for the Dismantling of Colonial Historiography’ (식민사학 해체 국민운동본부) requested a public audit (공익감사) of the NEAHF from the Board of Audit and Inspection (감사원). They explained the purpose of their request [with the following] “Contrary to the purpose of establishment, the Foundation as continuously posted opinions on its homepage that support the Northeast Project”. (“Jaeya historians request public audit of the NEAHF” Yonhap News, 2014)

In 2014, the ‘Citizens’ Movement for the Dismantling of Colonial Historiography'[1] charged (비난하다) that The Han Commanderies in Early Korea published that year by the Early Korea Project [based at] Harvard, US, and financially supported by the NEAHF, contained content identical to the colonial view of history (식민사관), and so requested the audit of the Foundation.[2] They argued that the NEAHF was continuously publicizing and reproducing content in line with the Chinese Northeast Project, and that the foundation (근간) for this was {paradoxically} in the historical perspective of historiography [produced by the colonial era] Japanese Government-General in Korea (조선총독부). Under this logic, they made the shocking accusation that, not only the NEAHF but also [the majority of] South Korea academic historians are both a silent cartel [pursuing] ‘traitorous historiography’ (매국의 역사학) as well as descendants of the [colonial era] Joseon History Compilation Committee (조선역사편수회).[3]

During the above cases, there was always the same [argument] mentioned as evidence to substantiate [the claim that] the NEAHF’s historiography has been following Imperial Japanese colonial historiography: that they published history books espousing (입각하다) the so-called ‘Han Commanderies Korean peninsula [location] theory'[4] (한사군 한반도설) which locates the commanderies (the Four Han Commanderies {as they are known in the orthodox historiographic tradition}) established by the Chinese Han [dynasty c.108 BCE] on the peninsula, and that they produced maps based on this. Why, then, is the ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory’ a problem for them?

With the political intention of making the start of Korean history [with the peninsula] as a colony, Imperial Japan created the ‘Han Commanderies = Korean peninsula theory’. Due to there inevitably being gaps in this political fabrication, with just a minor amount of source [based] criticism, the problems of the ‘Han Commanderies = Korean peninsula theory’ can be seen through. What’s more, aside from the Imperial Japanese colonial scholars, and Yi Byeong-do (이병도 {Lee Deok-il’s favourite target}), there are many other scholars expressing their own opinions. (Lee Deok-il, ‘Korea history: the truth they have hidden’ 『한국사 그들이 숨긴 진실』 2009, p51)

According to their arguments, it was only in the Japanese colonial era that the notion of a portion of the Four Han Commanderies (particularly Lelang Commandery) being located within the peninsular was determined. Japanese colonial scholars such as Tsuda Sōkichi (津田 左右吉) created the ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory’ in order to legitimize the [modern] reality of colonial rule by making Korean history start as a colony; at the time their arguments were refuted by nationalist historians (민족사학자) such as Sin Chaeho, and further back in time opinions of empirically minded (실학 silhak ‘practical learning’) mid to late Joseon dynasty scholars can also be identified [asserting] that Lelang and Daifang commanderies were located in Liaodong {outside of the Korean peninsula}. In spite of this, the logic of the Japanese colonial scholars was continued intact by their disciple Yi Byeong-do, and because current day academic historians who were taught by him (그와 학맥으로) have uncritically followed after, the result is that the Japanese logic is still being followed. [Lee Deok-il etc further] argue that because they accept the northern part of the Korean peninsula having been a past colony of China, [their historiography] simultaneously supports China’s Northeast Project.

If this were true, it could not but be a serious matter. It would mean that those who, following Imperial Japanese colonial historiography, would hand over historiographical jurisdiction (역사주권) of the northern part of the peninsula to China, are in control of South Korea’s field of academic history. However, this [line of argument] is merely their subjective opinion (주장), and not actual fact. This is because their ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory = colonial historiography’ equation has not been established.

In fact, the accusation of colonial historiography made against academic historians is nothing new. Ever since the history textbook crisis (파동) erupted in the 1970s, blind criticism by the so-called ‘jaeya historians’ towards academic historians has continued.[5] However, [counter] criticism of their irrational arguments was already established when [their opinions] were first presented.[6] The irony (역설) has also been pointed out that their nationalistic stance (국수주의적 태도) is just a reprint (再版) of the [same] ’empire view of history’ (황국사관) they go to such lengths to criticize.[7] The reason their research behaviour can be termed as ‘pseudo historiography’ due to their ahistorical opinions being at once irrational and containing [this] self-contradictory nature. However, their arguments have been continuously spread to the public through a portion of history book writers. What is worse, as shown earlier, the seriousness of the problem has reached a point that they have [been able to] obtain the sympathies/support (동조) from a portion of political authority and attack such state [funded] bodies as the NEAHF.

{I have significantly changed the wording of the following paragraph but the meaning remains the same.}

Through confirming that the ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory’ is not the product of Imperial Japanese colonial historiography, as the pseudo historians assert, this article will seek to demonstrate that the main evidence put forward when condemning academic historians as descendants of colonial historiography – the ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory = colonial historiography’ equation – cannot be established.

  1. A history of the Four Han Commanderies

The Four Han Commanderies (漢四郡) refers to the four commanderies (郡) established by the Chinese state of Han following the overthrow of Old Joseon (Wiman Joseon). According to the “Joseon account}” in the Shiji, Wiman Joseon was attacked by Han in 108 BCE and overthrown. Han established Lelang, Lintun, Zhenfan and Xuantu commanderies (樂浪郡·臨屯郡·眞番郡·玄菟郡) in the region [8], but 20 years after, in 82 BCE, Lintun and Zhenfan were abolished and the territories they had controlled were transferred to Lelang and Xuantu. In 75 BCE, unable to withstand the resistance of a rising power, regarded to be that of Goguryeo, Xuantu was moved towards the direction of [modern] Xingjing (興京) in Manchuria.

In addition to these four commanderies, one further Han commandery would appear in the space and time of Korea’s ancient history. This was Daifang commandery (帶方郡). Even after Lintun and Zhenfan were abolished and Xuantu relocated, Lelang continued, however, towards the end of the Later Han, with the rise in power of the [peninsular] Han (韓) and Ye (濊) peoples, Lelang lost administrative control of the southern part of the commandery. At this time the Daifang commandery was established in the southern part of Lelang by Gongsun clan who had emerged as an independent power in Liaodong.  Subsequently, in 313 CE, both Lelang and Daifang were overthrown by Goguryeo and Baekje respectively, and so the Han commanderies and [subordinate] counties disappeared from the space-time of Korea’s early history.

The above is a brief overview of the Four Han Commanderies’ (more accurately ‘Han commanderies and counties’ 한군현) history.[9] Of course, the names Lelang and Daifang continue to appear in Chinese histories even after [their historical demise]. And there are also records which locate them in Liaodong and Liaoxi {the region between Liaodong and Beijing}; these are used as the main evidence in support of the pseudo historians’ arguments. However, as in the case of Xuantu above, these records are the result of the commanderies and counties having been relocated; such relocated commanderies are termed ‘namesake commanderies’ (僑郡 ‘false[ly named] commanderies’).[10] There are many instances in which the error in the pseudo historian’s argument is primarily a product of their ignorance concerning the notion of ‘namesake commanderies’.

  1. Pre-liberation Japanese research on the Four Han Commanderies – combined examination historical geography and investigation of physical remains

Regarded as the first specialized history book of Joseon to be compiled with a modern methodology, Hayashi Taisuke’s (林泰輔 1854-1922) Chōsenshi (朝鮮史) was published in 1892.[11] However research by Japanese on Korean history had occurred before then; the fact that this was connected to Japan’s advancement [in modern times] onto the peninsula has already been confirmed.[12] The fact that Japanese research into Korean history was not unrelated to their present interests provides an important clue (시사점 ‘hint’) in understanding their research on the Four Commanderies. Thus, at the stage of Chōsenshi the nature of the Four Commanderies [administration] was understood as a vague form of the ‘loose-reign’ (羁縻jimi lit. ‘bridle and halter’) system, but from the second half of the 1900s with colonial rule in sight, it became defined (규정하다) as an [ancient] ‘colony’.[13] Combined with the negation of Dangun Joseon’s historicity, this created the notion of Korean history (역사상) beginning with Korea as a colony.

Together with this historical construct, research on historical geography was carried out in order to define the spatial boundaries of the Four Commanderies. Beginning with Naka Michiyo’s (那珂通世  1851-1908) “Study of Joseon, Lelang, Xuantu and Daifang” (朝鮮樂浪郡玄菟郡帶方考), Shiratori Kurakichi (白鳥庫吉 1865-1942)[14], Inaba Iwakichi (稲葉岩吉 1876-1940)[15], and Imanishi Ryū (今西龍1875-1932)[16] all published writings concerning the location of the Four Commanderies. In general, they all considered Lelang to have been centered at Pyeongyang in the Daedong-gang basin, and Lintun in the region of [modern] Gangwon and Hamgyeong provinces. Xuantu was first centered in the region of [modern] Hamheung before being relocated to north of the Yalu river. However, concerning the location of Zhenfan, their opinions were divided, some posited it as being north of the Yalu [17], whilst others considered it to have been in the south of the Korean peninsula with its southern border variously in [modern] Chungcheong or North Jeolla provinces.[18]

Although their opinions on the southern boarder were divided, they all at least agreed that the territory of the Four Han Commanderies covered the entirety of the north of the peninsula. Because their research was centered on critical [parsing] of limited textual sources, strictly speaking, they could not go beyond speculative deduction (추론). However, ancient remains and artefacts which were being uncovered (확인하다) at the time through archaeological investigation (고적조사 ‘survey of ancient remains/monuments’) provided physical evidence to supplement the textual deficiencies of the sources. And because the best results of the archaeology were related to the Lelang remains, from the commencement of archaeological investigations, the [scholarly] interest gradually shifted from the entirety of the Four Commanderies to Lelang.

Sekino Tadashi (関野貞 1868-1935), who was a professor at Imperial Tokyo University’s College of Engineering, is known as the person who led archaeological investigations in Korea during the Japanese colonial period (일제강점기). In 1902 and 1909 he visited Korea and surveyed [various] ancient monuments; during the second visit he excavated burial mounds at Seok’am-dong (석암동) in the Daedong-gang basin. At first he regarded them as Goguryeo tombs, but later revised his opinion to view them as remains of Lelang commandery.  Because of this, pseudo historians argue that Imperial Japan fabricated Goguryeo remains as Lelang remains in order to use archaeology as support for the ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory’.[19] However, as confirmed in recent research which has analyzed Sekino’s excavation reports in detail,[20] it is regard to consider his early view of the Seok’am-dong tombs having been Goguryeo monuments as the result of a preconception, based on lack of initial knowledge, that the Pyeongyang region had been the capital of Goguryeo for a longer period [than it historical was]. Additionally, at the time of his first survey in 1902, previous to the Seok’am-dong excavations, Sekino already regarded the Han Commanderies’ territory to have been centered on Pyeongyang extending south to the Han river[21]; that he, in spite of this, did not from the outset argue the Seok’am-dong tombs to have been Lelang monuments demonstrates, rather, that the first Lelang tomb excavations were [specifically] not carried out under any preconceived design purposed to create [evidence for] the ‘colonial view of history'[22], so it is difficult for this to stand as evidence of Imperial Japanese colonial historians (일제 식민사학) fabricating Goguryeo remains as  those of Lelang.

Between 1910 and 1915, under commission of the Chōsen Government-General Sekino surveyed the entirety of Korea. During this process, monuments were excavated that [further] demonstrated sites such as Toseong-ri earthen fortress near the Daedong-gang river to have been the center of Lelang; from the mid to late 1920s, the sites and artefacts identified through these surveys were accepted as the core evidence confirming Pyeongyang as the center of Lelang commandery.

  1. Pre-liberation Japanese research on the Four Han Commanderies, pseudo historiography and déjà vu (旣視感) of colonial historiography

Japanese research on the Han Commanderies was able to achieve a scholarly persuasiveness as it provided demonstrable proof both through critical analysis of the sources, and physical evidence confirmed through archaeological surveys. However, their research merely treated the nature of the Commanderies as colonies (식민지) and established their locations. Recent research has suggested (지적하다) that, “Treating what appears on the surface as a phenomenon of rule by a different people as a colony, was a deficient form of historical (몰역사적) analysis”, and that, “Behind this kind of analysis was lying a conscious sense both of superiority and discrimination, and it was premised on a colonial ideology that would aid the imperialist historical invasion (제국주의의 역사적 침략)”.[23]

Defining the nature of the Four Han Commanderies as having been that of a colony, [helped] proliferate the understanding that Korea had been a colony to a foreign country from early on, and was used as a result to legitimize the colonial rule [by] the Japanese Empire. According to Hatada Takashi (旗田巍), who in later days self-reflected on the Japanese research on Korean history, it was a reality that the [contemporary colonial] Japanese rule of Korea restricted their research attitude (자세); as a result, the notion of history they deduced (도출하다), was wrong/mistaken, and missed the truth of Korean history.[24] This is the reason that, under the analytical [framework] of colonial historiography (식민사학이라는 비판), Japanese research into the Han Commanderies could not be free.

However, the inclination (모습) to define the Han Commanderies as colonies, and focus only on establishing their locations is readily evident, too, within pseudo historiography. Behind their assertions that the Han Commanderies were (or have to be) located outside of the Korean peninsula, lies the compulsive obsession (강박) to reject the [possible] notion that Chinese colonial commanderies could have been located within our territory. It is on account of this that they [necessarily] regard any [possible] relationship between archaeological materials discovered in the north of the peninsula and the Han Commanderies as either willfully misinterpreted, or intentionally fabricated, by Imperial Japanese colonial historians (일제 식민사학). However, the same allegations can all be turned towards themselves.

One [recent] pseudo popular history book has argued that, in order for the Imperial Japanese colonial historians to assert the notion of Korean history with Korea beginning as a colony, they forced the interpretation of an earthen fortress site on the Daedong-gang to have been the administrative seat of Lelang and before that the capital of Wiman Joseon, Wanggeom-seong, despite the site lacking sufficient earthworks (지형상 ‘topography’) to have been a capital site.[25] However, if one consults the original excavation report the book cites, following mention of the problem of the earthworks, it says:

However, this is not such a difficult problem. When constructing a town {i.e. the commandery seat}, the [incoming] Han Chinese, who [as a culture] had themselves arisen in the Yellow River basin, would have selected flat land corresponding to important transport routes, and surrounded it with a fortified wall for defensive purposes, but they would not have chosen an especially precipitous location as [the preceding capital site of] Joseon [had been]. (朝鮮總督府 『樂浪郡時代の{sic.ノ}遺跡』, 古蹟調査特別報告書 ‘Special report on the survey of ancient sites – remains of the Lelang period’ Chōsen Sōtokufu, Vol 4,1927,p21)

Thus the problem was resolved. In spite of this, the popular history book in question, leaves out this subsequent passage and so creates the distorted impression – indeed fabrication – that even the Japanese themselves had been unable to accept the earthen fortress site as that of the Lelang commandery seat but had in spite of themselves forced the interpretation.[26]

Pseudo historians reject colonial historiography and criticize it more aggressively that than anyone else. However, the foundation of their logic and research methodology, follows in the same mode to the very thing they criticize to such degrees. We may in fact be facing a variant species of colonial historiography, one that criticizes [the original] colonial historiography with the voice of current colonial historiography.

  1. The ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory’ in the late Joseon dynasty

{The terms ‘early’ and ‘late’ divide the Joseon dynasty into two unequal halves, divided by the late 16th century Japan invasions.}

The Japanese were not the first to locate the Four Han Commanderies within the Korean peninsula. Strictly speaking, various annotations to the Chinese histories recording the Goguryeo capital of Pyeongyang to have been Chaoxian {Joseon} county, [seat] of the former Lelang commandery, constitute the original (원조) ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory’. Based on these, early Joseon dynasty texts such as the Sejong Sillok and Goryeo-sa geography treatises, and the Sinjeung Dongguk Yeoji-seungnam (신증동국여지승람) all located the Han Commanderies on the peninsula. These early Joseon geographies all located Lelang commandery in the region of Pyeongyang and Lintun commandery in the region of Gangneung.[27]

This understanding of the Han Commanderies’ locations continued into the 16th century with Bak Sang’s Dongguk-saryak (동국사략), and with the compilation of Han Baek-gyeom’s Dongguk-jiriji (동국지지) in the 17th century, concerted research on historical geography that critically examined (비정하다) the location of the commanderies was realized. Han Baek-gyeom located Chaoxian (朝鮮縣) and Dongyi (東䁢縣) counties, the commandery seats of Lelang and Lintun, at Pyeongyang and Gangneung respectively; he regarded Xuantu commandery to have been centered on the [former polity] of East Okjeo, in the region of Hamgyeong-do province. He was also the first to identify the location of Zhenfan, which until then had remained unknown; taking its central Zha county (霅縣) as having been located on [the former polity of] Maek-guk (貊國) he posits its territory to have been centered on Gangwon-do province extending into Hwanghae-do.

Han Baek-gyeom’s location of Zhenfan on the Korean peninsula was the beginning of what is known as the ‘southern location theory of Zhenfang’ (진번군 재(在)남설). However, whilst largely following Han Baek-gyeom on the other commanderies, Yu Hyeong-won’s Dongguk Yeojiji (동국여지지) located Zhenfan within the borders of Liaodong; opinions that located the Zhenfan outside of the peninsula were continued into the 18th century by scholars such as Yu Deuk-gong, Jeong Yak-yong and Han Jinseo. Of course, they still all located Lelang, Lintun and the first Xuantu within the peninsula, and in this there was no large difference to Han Baek-gyeom.

Yu Deuk-gong Sagun-ji {四郡志} Jeong Yak-yong Abang gang’yeok-go {我邦疆域考} Han Jinseo Haedong-yeoksa sok jiriji {海東歷史續地理志}
Compilation date 1795 1811 1823
Lelang Between the Han river (한수) and Gwanseo (Pyeong’an-do) Pyeong’an-do and Hwanghae-do Former [Old] Joseon land; after the incorporation of Lintun , territory extended north to the Yalu, south to the Han, and east and west to both coasts.
Xuantu Hamgyeong-do Hamgyeong-do Hamgyeong-do
Lintun Gwandong (Gangwon-do) Gyeonggi-do, western outskirts Centered on Gangneung-bu, the region east of the Daegwan-ryeong (대관령) pass.
Zhenfan Beyond the Yalu, Xingjing (興京) North of the Yalu, south of Xingjing and around the Tongjia river (佟佳江) Southeast of Xingjing around the Pozhu river (婆猪江: same as Tongjia river)


However, separate to these scholars, there were also others who located Lelang and the other commanderies in the regions of Liaodong and Liaoxi. These arguments primarily relied on the Liaoshi geography treaties and later treaties that were based on it. However, the fact that the Liaoshi contains many errors had already been highlighted (비판이 이루어졌다) by Jeong Yak-yong and Han Jinseo etc. In his Balhae-go, Yu Deuk-gong had originally based the historical geography [sections] on Liaoshi, but when he later discovered the mistakes, he carried out large scale revisions and authored a revised Balhae-go (the “Geography” 지리고 section of which is entirely changed in structure and content).[28]

There was also one scholar who argued that Lelang and Daifang commanderies had been in Liaodong based on [his own] unique interpretation of the sources. In his [collected works] Seongho-saseol, Seongho Yi Ik argued that the central Lelang county  of Chaoxian was located in Liaodong but that it extended to the Korean peninsula including [up to] the west of Pyeongyang. Yi regarded both Lelang and Xuantu commanderies to have been in Liaodong based on the record that when Wei (魏) general, Guanqiu Jian (관구검), invaded Goguryeo, he [is said to have] departed from Xuantu and retreated to Lelang. Yi further viewed Lelang and Daifang as having been in Liaodong based on the record of Goguryeo attacking Xi’anping, Liaodong, killing the Daifang commander (대방령) and capturing the wife and child of the Lelang governor (낙랑태수). That most of the toponyms recorded in the Goguryeo invasion route by Sui emperor Yang are located to the west {i.e. north} of the Yalu is also taken as evidence for Yi’s opinion.[29] However, both Jeong Yak-yong and Han Jinseo refuted [this latter point] on the grounds that it would be reasonable to assume that the Daifang commander and Lelang governor’s wife and child could have been caught by the Goguryeo military when transiting through Xi’anping, travelling eastwards from Liaodong to Lelang to take up their posts. The question of Sui emperor Yang’s invasion route was also addressed (비판) by Jeong Yak-yong.[30]

It seems there were no particular criticisms made of Yi Ik’s argument concerning the invasion route of Guanqiu Jian. Perhaps for this reason, recent pseudo historians have a tendency to borrow the authority of Yi Ik’s name in order to prove that Lelang was in Liaodong.

Early on, in Seongho Yi Ik’s ‘Joseon Four Commanderies’ article, “Cheonji-mun” section of Seongho-saseol, after examining the routes of advancement and withdrawal of Youzhou cishi (유주자사) {幽州刺史 ‘regional inspector’} Guanqiu Jian {d.255}, Yi concludes that Xuantu and Lelang were in Liaodong. According to the Samguk-sagi, Guanqiu Jian set out from Xuantu, attacked Goguryeo, then withdrew to Lelang. Consequently Yi Ik explained that both Xuantu and Lelang commandery were in Liaodong, “As he set out from Xuantu and withdrew to Lelang, it can be known that both commanderies were in Liaodong.” …This critical identification (비정) of the comandery positions has been entirely ignored. This is because the [notion of the] ‘Four Han Commanderies having been located in the northern part of the peninsula’ has been transformed into a dogma by the Imperial Japanese colonial historians and their Korean disciples. (Lee Deok-il, ‘Korea history: the truth they have hidden’ 『한국사 그들이 숨긴 진실』 2009, pp59-60)

However, Yi Ik made an error by misinterpreting the recorded circumstances and this has been followed by the pseudo historians without examination. The event described by Yi Ik is recorded in the Samguk-sagi ‘Goguryeo annals’ entry for the 20th year of King Dongcheon {246 CE}. The course of events unfolded in the following order: 1) Guanqiu Jian invades [Goguryeo] from Xuantu (This is the 3rd Xuantu commandery which had been relocated westwards owing to Goguryeo attacks; it was located in modern Fushun {抚顺} municipality, Liaoning province, China) → 2) Goguryeo army is defeated → 3) Hwando-seong fortress (Ji’an county, Jilin province, China)  is overthrown → 4) King Dongcheon flees to South Okjeo (Hamheung) → 5) the tide of war changes [in Goguryeo’s favour] following Yuyu’s desperate sacrifice (분전) → 6) the Wei army withdraws to Lelang (Pyeongyang vicinity). Thus there is no problem with the Wei army route setting out from Xuantu and withdrawing to Lelang.

More than anything, the reason that arguments for Lelang and Daifang being in Liaodong could not but be the target of criticism by Jeong Yak-yong and others is that such an interpretation cannot be made for the following sources which would have been known to most Joseon dynasty scholars.

In Han (韓) there are three groups/types (種). The first is Mahan (馬韓), the second Jinhan (辰韓) and the third Byeonjin (弁辰). Mahan is to the west, and has 54 statelets; to the north is Lelang and to the south Wae (). Jinhan is to the east, and has 12 statelets; to the north it borders YeMaek (濊貊) Byeonjin is south of Jinhan, and also has 12 statelets; to the south is Wae. In total there are 78 statelets. Baekje (伯濟) is one of them. (Hou Hanshu book 85, Dongyi account, 75, “Han”)

Han () is to the south of Daifang (帶方); east and west are sea, and to the south is Wae (). In all directions it measures 4,000 li. There are three groups/types (種). The first is Mahan (馬韓), the second Jinhan (辰韓) and the third Byeonhan (弁韓). (Sanguozhi, book 30, Weishu 30, Wuhuan Xianbei Dongyi account, 30, “Han”)

In the Jingchu (景初) reign era (237-239 CE) emperor Ming (明帝) secretly dispatched Daifang governor (대방태수) Liuxin (劉昕) and Lelang governor Xianyu Si (鮮于嗣), to cross the sea and pacify the two commanderies. (Sanguozhi, book 30, Weishu 30, Wuhuan Xianbei Dongyi account, 30, “Han”)

Hou Hanshu and Sanguozhi both record the location of the Samhan {the Three Han} as south of Lelang and Daifang. If Lelang and Daifang were located in Liaodong then according to this, the Samhan {Mahan, Jinhan and Byeonhan/jin} would have to be in the sea. Concerning Wei emperor Ming dispatching the Lelang and Daifang governors by sea to pacify the two commanderies, there would be no reason to cross the sea to pacify commanderies in Liaodong. Further, as demonstrated in Samguk-sagi passages which describe Lelang having been to the east of Baekje, with Baekje centered in the region of modern Seoul, subsequent records of conflict between Lelang and Baekje prove that Lelang was adjacent to Baekje and not far away in Liaodong. Arguments relying on just one or two sources that appear to stand out, and which are presented without considering the wider historical circumstances lack persuasiveness. This is the reason such scholars as Jeong Yak-yong could not but criticize the notion that Lelang and Daifang were located in Liaodong.

It can be said that the [various] opinions on the Han Commanderies being located on the peninsula, Liaodong and Liaoxi underwent the first stage of ordering [and critical examination]  (일단의 정리) by the empirically minded late Joseon dynasty scholars. They approached the question of the commanderies’ locations from such a variety of angles (관점) that it has [recently] been observed that nearly all possible arguments (논리) for deducing the location of the commanderies made in later times {i.e. 20th century} first appeared during the latter half of the Joseon dynasty.[31] Locating all the commanderies except for Zhenfan on the peninsula – the ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory’ – was one amongst them. The view point developed (심화되다) by Yu Deuk-gong, Jeong Yak-yong and Han Jinseo were critically re-interpreted by Japanese scholars in the process of substantiating that the Han Commanderies were a colonial space (식민지 한사군의 공간). The ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory’ is simply an academic theory, the validity of which has been [widely] recognized through its long course of development starting with the [Chinese] annotations to the Chinese dynastic histories locating the commanderies on the peninsula, followed by the empirically minded scholars of the Joseon dynasty who researched historical geography, and arriving at the Japanese historians – it thus cannot be described as a construct (산물 ‘product’) of Imperial Japanese colonial historiography. Consequently the ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory = colonial historiography’ equation cannot be made.

  1. ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory’ and the compulsive obsession of pseudo historians

Up until here we have demonstrated that ‘Han Commanderies peninsular [location] theory’ is not, as argued by pseudo historians, a construct of Imperial Japanese colonial historiography, and so the above equation cannot be made {written Korean is excruciatingly repetitive}. If this is so, what then is the reason for pseudo historians to try to such an extent to expel the Han Commanderies from the Korean peninsula?

In June 2015, an article was published in the journal Gukbang yeon’gu (『국방연구』 ‘national defence research’) vol.58/2 titled “Examination on the position of Wiman Joseon’s {capital}, Wangheom-seong, considered through the military tactics of Han China – implications regarding China’s justification for preemptive rights to interfere [on the peninsula] in the event of a North Korean crisis” (「漢나라 군사작전으로 본 위만조선 왕험성 위치 고찰 – 북한 급변사태 시 중국의 연고권 개입 명분에 대한 함의」). It was written over the course of two years’ research by Dr. Bak Seong-yong etc of Inha University’s International Relations Research Center. The authors argue that when various points such as the joint army and naval strategy, the problem of supplies, and the campaign departure points, are collectively considered, the location of Wiman Joseon’s capital, Wangheom-seong, would be best viewed as having been on the Liaodong peninsula or Hebei province, rather than Pyeongyang on the Korean peninsula.[32]

The research results of this article are not simply limited to bolstering the logical foundation for competing hypotheses to the theory that Wangheom-seong was located in Pyeongyang – namely the Liaodong and Liaoxi location theories. [In] critically analyzing (비정하다) the territory of Old Joseon through analyzing the campaign route of Han China from a military strategy dimension based on the Shiji record, various weaknesses in the logic of the theory that China’s colony of Lelang existed in the region of North Korea have been discovered. Consequently, we cannot but doubt the evidence [put forward] as arguments for China’s preemptive rights to the region of North Korea – that it was a Chinese feudality from the time of Gija Joseon [contemporary to] the establishment of Zhou, and that Goguryeo was founded under the cultural influence of [having been] a Chinese colony following the overthrow of Wiman Joseon. This logical conclusion (논리적 추론) will function as a historical resource with which the Korean government and international community can refute the appropriateness (정당성) [of Beijing’s arguments] should they, in the event of a North Korea crisis, assert the authority for the Chinese army to cross the Korea-Manchuria border, the Yalu, and invade/occupy [the region of] North Korea north of the Cheongcheon-gang river under the justification of restoring former territory (고토).[33]

Debating the validity of the arguments [put forward in the article] is outside of my abilities so we can but wait for a repeat debate (재론 {unclear why he uses this word}). In spite of that, the reason for mentioning this article is because, I believe that the line, “will function as a historical resource with which to refute arguments for China’s preemptive rights, in the event of a North Korea crisis” provides a clue as for the reason that pseudo historians are so devoted to removing the location of the Han Commanderies to outside of the Korean peninsula. An argument of a similar vein can also be identified in a popular history book written by a pseudo historian.

If the Wiman Joseon capital was located in the region of Pyeongyang, as is the official opinion of the NEAHF, then the Republic of Korea would no longer have any grounds to argue against China’s Northeast Project. Instead, they would have to argue ‘It is true that in the past the northern part of the Korean peninsula was the territory of Chinese history, but because it is now our land, we cannot relinquish it’. (Lee Deok-il, ‘Korea history: the truth they have hidden’ 『한국사 그들이 숨긴 진실』 2009, p28)

The emotion that they both share is the anxiety with China, during its Northeast Project, asserting sovereignty over the northern part of the peninsula based on history. This anxiety is born from a position that equates the territory of ancient states with that of current day (현대) nation states. That is to say, they do not comprehend ancient history as ancient history. Because they analyze ancient history from an entirely current day perspective, they view the Han Commanderies’ commandery-county [based] system of rule as having been the same as the colonial rule of modern states (근대국가), and because of this they believe that to expel the commanderies’ territory from the peninsula is both a form of historical analysis benefiting the current day Republic of Korea, and the way to protect our territory. However, [given that] the current day People’s Republic of Mongolia cannot argue sovereignty over the entirety of the Eurasian continent based on the conquests of Genghis Khan and his descendants, I believe that this example sufficiently demonstrates that the concern of China asserting sovereignty over northern Korea based on the Han Commanderies having been located there, is nothing but empty worry (기우). However, this is not to say that in historical analysis the historian’s reality must not be reflected, and that such analysis should be negated. The classical adage that ‘history is a dialogue between the past and present’ is still valid. However, a clear distinction must be made between the reality in which a historian lives being reflected in their work, and [purely] in service to the demands of a historian’s reality (in this case the territorialist demands of the present day state) devoting oneself to the writing of history that would [seem to] be advantageous. Unfortunately, the article from one corner of academia and the writings of a pseudo historian examined above clearly fall into the latter category.

The history of historiography testifies to the existence of  groups who, through similar viewpoints as these pseudo historians, have taken up (접근) ancient history [and in so doing] provided historical legitimacy (당위성) to the [contemporary] realities of expansionist policies (침략정책). The colonial historians who served the territorialistic thirst (욕망) of Japanese imperialism [were such]. [Consequently, the fact] that the [Korean] pseudo historians view history through a similar frame to the Imperial Japanese colonial historians, who they criticize to such an extent, tells us that they, too, are another example.

At times the arguments of pseudo historians – projecting on to [our] cognition of ancient history, current day demands to write advantageous history  – have led to entirely absurd incidents. Leading the van in popularizing pseudo historical arguments, Lee Deok-il (director of the Hangaram History and Culture Research Centre 한가람역사문화연구소), wrote the following when fiercely criticizing the NEAHF’s Northeast Asian Historical Atlas (동북아역사지도) project for reflecting the same [content] as China’s Northeast Project.

Tan Qixiang’s (谭其骧) Chinese Historical Atlas Collection (중국역사지도집) showed the [Chinese] Han Gaogouli-xian (K. Goguryeo) county as [extending across] the region of Manchuria and North Pyeong’an-do province; the [NEAHF’s] Northeast Asian Historical Atlas copied from this. However, laughably, Tan Qixiang’s Chinese Historical Atlas Collection marked Goguryeo as a ‘commandery’ (jun 郡) on a map said to be of Western Han (202 BCE – 8 CE). There is no Gaogouli commandery in the Hanshu geography treatise. There is only the Gaogouli-xian of Xuantu commandery, one of the Four Han Commanderies. Why did Tan Qixiang’s Chinese Historical Atlas Collection draw a Gaogouli commandery not present in the Hanshu geography as [extending across] Manchuria and North Pyeong’an-do? This is a component of the Northeast Project seeking to transform Goguryeo history into Chinese history. Only by explaining Goguryeo as having from the beginning been a subordinate Han commandery, can they incorporate all of Goguryeo’s history into China’s. (‘Traitorous historiography, how far has it come?’ 『매국의 역사학, 어디까지 왔나』 만권당 2015, p133)

Tan Qixiang’s (谭其骧) Chinese Historical Atlas Collection was first published in 1982. If we follow Lee Deok-il’s argument, then China was already from the 1980s, pursuing the fabrication of history in order to incorporate Goguryeo within their own state history, through activities such as fabricating the ‘Gaogouli commandery’ which does not exist. And then, unaware of this, Korean academic historians [simply] copied the map. If this were true, then Chinese historians are highly cunning, and Korean historians quite pathetic, and it would have to be said that Lee Deok-il was superior. However, his argument is false.

The map that Lee Deok-il is referring to is the “Western Han Youzhou cishi-fu {幽州刺史部}” map, included in the Chinese Historical Atlas Collection, vol. 2, pp27-28. This map not only shows regions [directly] administered by the  Chinese Han (漢) but also areas populated by other peoples (종족 ‘stock/races’) in the surroundings, and Goguryeo is labeled as one of these. However, because Tan Qixiang regarded the Goguryeo homeland (거주기) as the same as where Xuantu commandery was established, the labels are close to one another. Unable to distinguish this, Lee Deok-il took the jun (郡 ‘commandery’) character of Xuantu-jun and applied it to Goguryeo creating [himself] an administrative region named ‘Gaogouli commandery’.


“Western Han cishi-fu ” map, included in the Chinese Historical Atlas Collection, vol. 2, pp27-28. Outlines have been added to Goguryeo (高句丽) and Xuantu commandery (玄菟郡) to aid the reader. {Figure from Wee Kaya’s paper shows clearly that the 郡 ‘commandery’ character is aligned with Xuantu, and not Goguryeo.}


What has caused us to reach such a circumstance, where someone who has received a doctorate in history makes such a beginner level error, presenting it to the public and bringing shame (망신살) on himself? As I lack the ability to look into another’s mind, I cannot be certain, however, I believe the cause is found in the perspective and attitude to examining history – that the [historical] understanding is buried in a current day perspective, and that the analysis serves [only] the demands of [present] reality (현실적 요구). To Lee, China’s Northeast Project was a conspiracy to support an expansionist policy of present day China by incorporating Korean history into the space and time of Chinese history. Consequently, his interest was purely focused on looking for evidence that would clearly expose the conspiracy, and to create an [alternative] notion of history that could smash this conspiracy. However, he believed by chance (albeit wrongly) that he had found the evidence of a ‘Gaogouli commandery’ fabricated by China in order to include Goguryeo history as Chinese history,

This attitude towards historical analysis appears as a commonality amongst the many arguments asserted by Lee Deok-il and other pseudo historians who share similar standpoints. However, this is a form of compulsive obsession that makes their historical analysis both narrow minded and irrational. As long as they fail to throw off this compulsive obsession, the day when the label ‘pseudo’ can be removed from their historical research, however much they seek to deny it, remains far off.

Wee Kaya (위가야 Wi Gaya)

Wee completed his doctorate at the history department of Sungkyunkwan (성균관대학교). Having majored in early Korean history, his interests pertain to the history of Northeast Asian relations focused on Korean and Japan. Published papers include, “A re-examination of Baekje’s territorial expansion [under] King Onjo – focusing on the subjugation of the Biryu group, and the annexation of the Mahan polity”, and “Ikeuchi Hiroshi’s identification of the position of Daifang commandery and its nature”

(「백제 온조왕대 영역 확장에 대한 재검토 – 비류집단 복속과 ‘마한’ 국읍 병합을 중심으로」, 「이케우치 히로시의 대방군 위치 비정과 그 성격」).

Notes {NB only notes containing additional prose information are translated}

[1] This organization was formed on 19 March 2014 at a launch held in a National Assembly meeting room in Yeouido {Seoul}. Joint chair persons present included: former National Intelligence Service director, Lee Jongchan (이종찬); Galilee church (갈릴리교회) priest, In Myeong-jin (인명진), and former director of Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, Heo Seonggwan. Head of the ‘History of the Great Korean independence movement’ (대한독립운동총사) compilation committee, Kim Byeonggi, and director of the Hangaram History and Culture Research Centre (한가람역사문화연구소), Lee Deok-il, also participated. (「재야사학계 ‘식민사학 해체 국민운동본부’ 발족」 Yonhap News 2014.3.19)

[2] In response to this, the Board of Audit and Inspection confirmed the fact that the NEAHF had supplied funding to the Harvard University Korea Institute on two occasions without following a [proper] review process, and requested care from them. However, concerning the concrete research results, the Board judged that it was a matter for academic historians to debate. (「동북아역사재단 연구심사도 없이 25만 달러 ‘펑펑’」 Yonhap News 2015.2.9)

[3] Similar arguments appear repeatedly in books authored by Lee Deok-il, a member of the organization,  ‘The colonial view of history inside of us‘ (『우리 안의 식민사관』 만권당 2014), and ‘Traitorous historiography, how far has it come?’ (『매국의 역사학, 어디까지 왔나』 만권당 2015).

[4] Strictly speaking, it should be termed ‘theory of the Han Commanderies being located on the Korean peninsula’ (한사군 在한반도설), rather than ‘Han Commanderies Korean peninsula [location] theory’ (한사군 한반도설). However, as this article aims to critically examine the pseudo historians’ arguments, it adopts the term they use.

[6] Between 17-23 November 1978, historians led by Choe Yeong-hui (최영희), director of the National History Compilation Committee (국사편찬위원), published a series of five articles in the Gyeonghyang-sinmun newspaper under the title “This is ancient Korean History” (「이것이 한국 고대사다」). These history essays were composed with the objective of both highlighting the irrationalism of the jaeya historians’ arguments, and introducing academic historians’ research to the general public. The criticisms they made then are still valid.

[8] The commanderies of Lelang, Lintun and Zhenfan were established in 108 BCE, the same year Wiman Joseon was overthrown; Xuantu commandery was established one year later, in 107 BCE.

[17] The view of Naka Michiyo and Shiratori Kurakichi.

[18] Inaba Iwakichi viewed Zhenfan’s southern border reaching to Chungcheong province, whilst Imanishi Ryū tried to make it reach North Jeolla province.

 [19] Lee Deok-il, ‘The colonial view of history inside of us’ 『우리 안의 식민사관』 만권당 2014

[25] Lee Deok-il, ‘Korea history: the truth they have hidden’ 『한국사 그들이 숨긴 진실』 2009, pp27-8.

[26] In this report, the capital of Wiman Joseon, Wanggeom-seong {王儉城 sic. 王險城 Wangheom-seong}, and the Lelang commandery seat were regarded as being in separate places; it speculated that the high, precipitous area in the vicinity of Mokdan-dae and Eulmil-dae in the north of Pyeongyang, was the site of Wanggeom-seong {sic.}. (朝鮮總督府 『樂浪郡時代の{sic.ノ}遺跡』, 古蹟調査特別報告書 ‘Special report on the survey of ancient sites – remains of the Lelang period’ Chōsen Sōtokufu, Vol 4,1927,p25) Not only is this not mentioned in the popular history book which quotes from the same report, the book distorts the report to make it seem as if it treated the two sites as having been the same place.



Ki Kyoung-ryang “Pseudo historiography and history fascism” 2016 – translation

The following is a translation of a recent article by Ki Kyoung-ryang (기경량 Gi Gyeong-ryang), published in the journal Yeoksa-bipyeong (역사비평 ‘history criticism/review’, vol.114 spring 2016).

I’ve translated it in full because it provides useful context both to the ongoing history textbook dispute, as well as the wider phenomenon of populist pseudo history in South Korea. Concerning the former, the issue has arisen with a concerted attempt by the now beleaguered Park Geun-hye administration to enforce usage of a single, government authored textbook in place of the current system in which schools can choose from a range of textbooks that need only be approved by the Ministry of Education. In Korean, the term for this is guk-jeong-hwa (국정화) which literally means ‘national government-ization’, and which, for want of a better term, I hereafter translate as ‘nationalization/nationalized’ or ‘government authored’.

For ease of reading, I also regularly translate the term ‘academic field of history’ (역사학계) referring to the academic establishment, as ‘academic historians’.

Throughout the text I include the original endnote numbers where references are given, however, as these sources are all in Korean, the references themselves are not translated and those interested should consult the original article. Only the sections of footnotes containing additional prose information are translated.

Pseudo historiography and history fascism (사이비 역사학과 역사 파시즘)

  1. Nationalization (국정화) of Korean history textbooks and history fascism

On 12 October 2015, the Park Geun-hye government publicly announced a change in course [regarding] the nationalization of Korean history textbooks. Many people thought this was a sudden measure and were shocked, but this was a plan that had been in progress since the beginning of the [Park] administration in 2013. 2013 was the year in which the release of a textbook containing the New Right’s (뉴라이트) view of history had been a major social issue. The Korean history textbook published by Gyohak-sa which at the time had received full government support, recorded a 0% selection rate and was entirely ignored by schools (일선 교육 현장). The reason was the unreliability (부실함) of the content and excessive right-wing view point. The government realized that, within the competitive set-up (경쟁구도) under the system of government approval [of textbooks] (검인정) it was beyond expectations to enlarge the influence of [this] textbook which projected their own view point, and so they changed direction and came to  play the card of nationalization.

On the 10th [December 2013] the minister for the Ministry of Education, Seo Namsu, revealed that in the process of reviewing (고시) the revised bill for the 2015 education curriculum the question of Korean history textbook nationalization could be raised for public discussion (공론화). [In this way] he sparked the public discussion pertaining to the ‘return to national history textbooks’ (역사국정교과서 회귀) which has continuously been raised by the prime minister, Jeong Hong-won, and other ministers of the ruling party. (…) Seo said, “Related projects are already underway, aiming for a general review of the revised bill for the education curriculum in 2015.” (Gyeonghyang-sinmun 2013.12.10. p1, underlining by the quoter {i.e. by Gi Gyeong-ryang})

The justification for pursuing nationalization has been that the content of current history textbooks is excessively left-wing and cannot be accepted, and that academic historians (역사학계) who (currently) control (제시하다 ‘to show’) the narrative criteria and direction of the textbooks are overwhelmingly left-wing and so cannot be expected to self-purify (자정작용) themselves. Looking at this opinion from the opposite side, it would mean that the great majority of academic historians disagree with the pronouncement (규정 lit. ‘stipulation’) that the Korean history textbooks [already approved] under the government approval system are left leaning, and that those arguing about the left-wing [influence] are, even within the academic field of history, an extreme minority. In spite of this, the government has mobilized state authority and solely supported the minority opinion; it has further expressed the will to make it the standard/orthodoxy (정설화).

The government, politicians of the ruling party and a portion of scholars attached to them [all] support (웅호하다) the transition [to] a nationalized Korean history textbook; if we look at the language they use (구사하다) it is extremely violent. With exaggerated self-conviction and political bias, they make the majority of academic historians out to be ‘absolute evil’ and ‘the enemy’ and block the possibility of any alternative opinions; on these points they exhibit strong aggressiveness and an exclusionary nature. In order for a minority group to monopolize the rights to historical interpretation, they mobilize state power, denounce the entirety of academia with the image of being ‘abnormal’ and ‘leftist’, and incite the masses; on these points it is possible to call this ‘history fascism’. However, this is not the only form of ‘history fascism’ that is threatening our nation’s historiography. There exists an attack on academic history from another direction, the roots of which are very deep.

The other ‘history fascism’ – addressed in this article – takes ancient Korean history as its main research object; it refers to a series of irrational behaviour strangely preoccupied (이상 집착하는) with the past power and territory of the nation. This will be referred to as ‘pseudo history’ (saibi 사이비 역사학). It is true that it can feel aggressive (넌폭하게 느껴지는 측면) applying the label of ‘pseudo’ to historical research where the possibility exists for a variety of interpretations. In spite of this, the reason to use this kind of terminology is because it is judged that these [pseudo historians] have already exceeded the boundaries (범주) of academic scholarship.

Even until the mid 1970s, it was possible to forgive (이해해주다 ‘be understanding of’) [this pseudo historiography] as the ‘excessive ethnic nationalism’ of amateurs unfamiliar with [historical] methodology. However, from the mid 1970s onwards they began [more] concerted popular activism, indiscriminately pouring out baseless conspiracies and accusations against academics; later they eventually even created and disseminated the false history book, Hwandan-gogi. They tried to fabricate a historical source which had absolutely no acceptance in academic territory, and they focused their energies on using this for popular incitement (대중선동); on these points we cannot but judge that they had lost even the minimum [standard] of scholarship (학문성).

The problematic points of the Hwandan-gogi, a clearly apocryphal book (위서 ‘fake book’), have been examined multiple times by academic scholars (학계) [such that] the process of fabrication and its true nature (실체) have been nakedly exposed.[2] In the past, the pseudo historiography based on the Hwandan-gogi was referred to as ‘jaeya history’, however, recently the term ‘yusa historiography’ (유사 역사학) has been proposed.[3 – see notes] This is a translation of ‘pseudo history’ with the meaning of fake history. In understanding the concept of ‘pseudo history’, there is the term ‘pseudo science’ providing [a point of] reference. This is a term referring to a series of saibi pseudo sciences (似而非科學) such as the ‘theory of perpetual motion’ which ignores the conservation law of energy, and ‘creation science’ which negates the theory of evolution; it is also translated as yusa science (類似科學) and ui’sa science (擬似科學).

However, there is an aspect in which the translated term ‘yusa historiography’ fails to intuitively transmit [the notion of] ‘something (존재) which impersonates in a similar manner to, but is in fact not, historiography’ [which is] the original meaning of [English] ‘pseudo history’. [That is], for laymen (대중들) first encountering the term, it could be easily misunderstood as meaning ‘historiography of a similar form’. Consequently, here we will use the term saibi historiography which is the same notion as yusa historiography but [in Korean] more intuitively indicates the objects true nature.[4 – see notes]

  1. The emergence and activities of pseudo historiography

In order to examine the initial emergence of pseudo historiography it is necessary to go back to the early 1970s. On 11 May 1972, following the president’s directive (제창) ‘let’s find the nationality of education’, the Park Chung Hee government established the ‘Committee for Strengthening National History Education’ (국사교육강화위원회) under the Ministry of Education (문교부).[5] They declared they would implement history education centered on the minjok (ethnie). According to this, a concrete policy was announced both that there would be questions on national history as an independent subject in the university entrance examination, and that national history education would also be made compulsory at universities.

In October of the same year, Park Chung Hee constructed the system of a single dictatorship by establishing the Yusin Constitution. On 23 June 1973 another policy was announced, declaring that the national history textbook which, since the establishment of the Republic of Korea, had been under a system of inspection and approval, was to be nationalized (국정화).[6] The official justification was a scheme to enable students to ‘develop juche (주체 ‘having the self as subject’ {this is the same term as used in NK’s Juche ideology}) consciousness and a correct view of history’, and to fix the disorder of the entrance examination arising from there being a large number of textbooks. However the main objective was the promotion and legitimization of the newly launched Yusin system [of dictatorship].

The reaction of academic historians and educators to the national history textbook nationalization measures was extremely negative. The reason was the standardization of history education.[7] However, ignoring the academic establishment’s public opposition (반대여론), the government distributed the government authored national history textbooks (국정 국사 교과서) to educational establishments (교육 현장). This caused waves (파문) from an entirely unexpected direction.

On 25 July 1974, the Hanguk-sa godae-hakhoe (‘academic association for ancient Korean history’ – chairman An Hosang) which was a jaeya history group, released a written statement. They said that the government authored national history textbook restricted Dangun to mythology, thus reducing the extent (범위) of Korean history, and was forcing a history education that continued the imperial Japanese colonial [era] view of history. On 26th, the following day, a ‘national history textbook evaluatory meeting’ (국사 교과서 평가대회) was held at the central headquarters of the National Reconstruction Movement (재건국민운동 중앙본부), designed to publicly criticize [the textbook].[8]

An Hosang was the first minister of the Ministry of Education, and the person who under the Rhee Syngman administration created (제시하다) the governing ideology of ilmin-juui (‘one-minjok-ism’ 一民主義). He was also the originator of the ‘nation protecting student groups’ (학도호국단) which were criticized for being modelled after the Hitlerjugend (나치의 유겐트). He had majored in philosophy in Germany and received a doctorate, but he had not majored in history. However, he had a deep interest in Dangun and Old Joseon, and on account of this had joined the Daejonggyo [church] at an early age and held a belief in Dangun throughout his life. Later on, towards the end of his life, in 1992 he was to rise to the highest position of Daejonggyo, that of chongjeon’gyo (총전교).

At that time, the Old Joseon section of the government national history textbook said, “Dangun means ‘head of sacrificial rites’ (제사장) whilst wanggeom refers to a political leader (군장), so Dangun Wanggeom was a tribal chief (족장) from the an [early] theocratic period (제정일치시대)”.[9] An Hosang and others expressed strong dissatisfaction with this kind of history textbook content. To them, Dangun was the progenitor of the Korean people and the origin of a great ideology (사상 lit.’thought’), who should be revered (경배하다). Consequently they could not accept the description of Dangun as one primitive society tribal chief.

On 8 October 1975, An Hosang and others formed the Guksa-chatgi-hyeop’uihoe 국사찾기협의회 ‘Association searching for national history’) and launched an attack on the current academic history establishment from all directions. In their journal, Jayu (자유 ‘freedom’), they continuously published articles criticizing the history establishment, amongst which personal attacks close to swearing (욕설) were frequent. In particular, on 29 November 1978, they filed an administrative lawsuit (행정소송) against the state requesting revisions to the national history textbook which gave a large shock to the academic establishment.[10]

The academic historians did not remain silent either. On 23 November 1978, representatives from ten academic history associations gathered and released a warning statement urging the suspension of all activities that misled citizens through the un-scientific opinions of the Guksa-chatgi-hyeop’uihoe.[11]

These jaeya persons who are members of the Guksa-chatgi-hyeop’uihoe have gone around promoting the [following] fanciful opinions which are beneath common sense: 1) Chinese characters were made by Koreans, 2) Confucius and Mencius were descendants of the Baedal race (배달겨레 {an invented term from Hwandan-godi referring to ancient Koreans}), 3) Baekje controlled the central and southern parts of China for 400 years, and 4) Fabricated artefacts were buried in the tomb of King Muryeong [discovered in 1971 in] Gongju in order to distort Baekje history. [We] deplore that this phenomenon is an embarrassment exposing the backwardness of Korean culture.

Professor Kim Won-yong, who excavated the tomb of King Muryeong, candidly expressed the following, “The constant arguments [made by] jaeya persons are so absurdly fanciful that up until now academics have not involved themselves with them, however their journal Jayu, published through an education and arts promotion fund (문예진흥기금) is distributed throughout the country and is greatly misleading citizens such that academics can no longer watch on, and so have taken a stand.” (Gyeonghyang-sinmun 1978.11.24 p5)

During this period An Hosang and others expressed a number of unconventional opinions based on chauvinism. A particularly notable one was their theory of the tomb of King Muryeong having been fabricated (조작설). The tomb of King Muryeong is a Baekje tumulus discovered in 1971. Untouched by robbers, it was excavated [revealing it] as it had been from Baekje times, and so a large number of artefacts such as golden crown(s) and earrings were recovered. In particular, a gravestone inscribed with the name of the entombed was unearthed which attracted extraordinary interest from scholars. However, to those who had hypothesized Baekje as a ‘great empire’ with a territory expanding to China and Japan, the scale of the tomb and quality of unearthed artefacts was unsatisfactory. Thus, even concerning the greatest archaeological excavation for South Korean academia since [the 1945] liberation, they demonstrated an unconventional (비상식적) attitude, [expressing] embarrassment (치부하다) and disregard [on the accusation] of it being fabricated.[12 – see notes]

Whilst refuting such absurd (터무니없다) opinions of the pseudo historians, the academic historians made efforts to introduce their position and research results to the common public, including through a regular series in the pages of the Gyeonghyang-sinmun newspaper entitled “This is ancient Korean history” (이것이 한국고대사다). However, it was not a situation that could be resolved through this [limited] level of response.

On 26-27 November 1981, at the beginning of Chun Doo-hwan’s 5th Republic, a public hearing on the Korean history textbook was held at the National Assembly Mungong committee (문공위원회 ‘culture and public [information] committee’). This was following a citizens’ appeal (청원) from An Hosang and others. The National Assembly Mungong committee [hearing] hosted a debate between An Hosang (Guksa-chatgi-hyeop’uihoe chairman), Bak Si-in (Seoul National University English literature department) and Im Seungguk (chairman of the Hanguk-jeongsa-hakhoe {‘society for correct Korean history’ 한국정사학회}) [on one side], and representing academic historians [on the other side], Kim Won-yong (Seoul National University department of archaeology and art history), Kim Cheol-jun (Seoul National University department of Korean history) and Lee Ki-baik (Sogang University history department).[13]

The arguments put forward by An Hosang’s side were as follows: in the Korean history textbook, the history of Old Joseon does not acknowledge or seek to restore the more than a millennium [of history] that was removed by Japanese [colonial scholars]; Dangun and Gija were historical personages, and the territory [of Old Joseon] extended to [modern] Beijing; Wanggeom-seong was located in Liaoning province of China, whilst the Lelang Commandery was in the vicinity of Beijing; from 3rd~7th centuries, Baekje governed the East China Sea coast from Beijing to Shanghai; at one period the border of Unified Silla was Beijing; Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla created Japanese culture; the Jurchen {founders of the Jin dynasty 1115-1234 and ancestral to the Manchu} were also ethnically Korean (우리의 종족 ‘our race’).

The academic historians responded to this with the refutation that the ‘colonial view of history’ (식민사관) had already been largely overcome, and that the content of the textbook was loyal to facts. They further noted that the [historical] sources presented as evidence by the side of the appeal, were either lacking in reliability or contained errors in the analysis of the Chinese language {in which the premodern sources are all written}. More than anything else, they pointed out that the appeal side possessed a dangerous view of history, and they argued (강변하다) that the ’empire view of history’ (황국사관 {regarding one’s country as an ancient and divine empire, rather than the act of colonial imperialism}) that had falsely created Japan’s sense of superiority was ultimately the cause of its defeat, and should be taken as a lesson [not to do the same].

Which side could be said to have won at this two day public hearing? The journalists that attended generally judged that the opinions of the academic historians were more persuasive.

On this day of the public hearing, concerning the arguments put forward by each side, those of the defendants (피청원 ‘the objects of the appeal’ {i.e. the academic historians}) stood out as more organised and logical than those of the appeal side. This seemed to be because the appeal side was not comprised of specialist historians. Those who followed the first day of the public hearing tended towards the opinion that the arguments of the appeal side were weak. (Gyeonghyang-sinmun 1981.11.27. p3)

However, the response from the National Assembly members who were hosting the public hearing was quite different. They showed much greater agreement (호응) and support for the arguments of the ‘jaeya scholars’, whilst taking a continuously antagonistic (적대적) attitude towards the academic historians.

Then it was the turn for Professor Lee Ki-baik’s response. He began by stating (전제하다) that he was unfamiliar with the method of giving responses in the National Assembly, and would not use the name of the senator/assemblyman (의원) who had asked the question, Gang Gi-pil, and apologised for knowing his name. In response to this, senator Gang, explicitly {verbally} attacked him, saying “Here is the National Assembly chair of [this] meeting (회의장). My name is written on this name plate. I do not know if your eyesight is poor, but if you simply look in this direction when a national assemblyman is speaking you should be able to guess [his name] through various means of scholarship (학문에서 여러 가지로). In consideration of Professor Lee’s honour/reputation (명예) I will not say anything more, but hope you will consider various matters…” Building on this [antagonistic] atmosphere, [when] senator Im Jaebong took his turn to speak, he turned to professors Kim Won-ryong and Lee Ki-baik, and proceed on a long speech in an admonishing tone, saying that their attitude (태도) towards the National Assembly was inappropriate and that if they conducted historical research with such an attitude there would be no need to even look at their results (안 보아도 뻔하다), and that he hoped they would correct this attitude (자세 lit. ‘posture’). (Guksa-gyogwaseo padong [‘Korean history textbook waves’], {publisher} Hye’an, 1999, p91)

On account of the high-handed attitude of the assemblymen, the academic historians were forced to undergo humiliation (수모) for the first time in their lives.

On 25~26 February 1987, towards the end of the Chun Doo-hwan administration, a large academic conference was held in the main lecture hall of the {government funded} Jeongsin Munhwa Research Institute ({韓國}精神文化硏究院 ‘research institute for Korean spirit and culture’ {since renamed as 한국학중앙연구원 Academy of Korean Studies}).[14] Since the jaeya scholars’ attacks against the academic establishment were continuously strengthening, the Jeongsin Munhwa Research Institute organised the conference with the aim of bringing scholars from both sides together and to try to come to some scholarly agreement (lit. ‘arrange/tidy’ 학문적으로 정리를 해보다). Even there, at the main debate on the second day the [following] occurred.

On this day {yesterday} there were 15 scholars on the podium of the main debate, with more than 800 in the audience… Then a group from the audience approached the podium and let loose a torrent of abuse, saying such things as, “Professor Lee’s arguments are plagiarized from imperial Japanese colonial scholars such as Suematsu Yasukazu (末松保和) and Imanishi Ryū (今西龍)”… Having quietened the emotional members of the audience, the debate got underway, however, around half the professors including Professor Lee had already left, and in a bewildering atmosphere for the chair, a group of the audience grabbed the microphone and continued to harangue (성토하다 ‘to arraign’) the academic historians. (Dong’a Ilbo [newspaper] 1987.2.27. p6)

A dangerous (험악하다) atmosphere rarely seen at normal academic conferences developed (연출되다). According to another witness (증언), [amongst] the listeners, “A fight broke out for the microphone, and those unable to take the mic stood up and shouted at the presenters on the podium; a group [then] pushed towards the podium causing pandemonium (난장판).”[15] Contrary to the original intention of harmonizing (조율하다) the positions of academic and jaeya historians, the academic conference ended in disastrous [scenes] of verbal abuse and physical violence (실력행사). This experience was an important cause for the further severance in dialogue between both sides.

  1. Why did pseudo historiography first emerge?

Given all this, how did the view of history and logic of the pseudo historians who profess (주장하다) the actuality of a grand ancient history – [that others] term ‘ethnonationalist’ (minjok-ju’ui 민족주의) or jaeya historiography – first emerge (등장)? If we search for the roots, we arrive at the colonial historiography of the ‘period of forced occupation under the Japan Empire’ (일제강점기 {pithier in Sino-Korean, this is the current SK term to describe the Japanese colonial era without using the word ‘colonial’ – even if the associated historiography is still qualified as such! Hereafter the phrase will be rendered as ‘Japanese colonial era’}) The Japanese era colonial historians undertook an operation to legitimize Japan’s control of Joseon. Within this process, various theories were developed (고안되다), the main ones being: shared Japan-Joseon origins (일선동조론), stagnancy [of Joseon’s socio-cultural development towards modernism] (정체성론), and heteronomy (타율성론 ‘rule by others’). Amongst these, the rise of pseudo historiography was closely related to a ‘theory of [Koreans’] peninsular nature’ (반도적 성격론) associated with the heteronomy discourse.

The heteronomy theory argues that Joseon {i.e. Korean} history lacked its own self-identity (juche-seong 주체성 ‘having the self as subject’) and [instead] was [characterized by a] heteronomous nature. In particular, it highlighted (착안하다) Joseon’s peninsular location, and based on [notions of] geographical determinism presented (제시하다) a theory of [Joseon’s] peninsular nature. According to this explanation, on account of Joseon’s history having unfolded on a peninsular enclosed (끼다) by the main continent and ocean, its history could not but be passive, stuck in a crevice of confrontation between continental and maritime powers {i.e. China and Japan respectively}. This was a projection onto premodern [Joseon history] of the experience and perspective of modern Japanese who had [recently] gained influence over Joseon through the [First] Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars.

The opinion that peninsular history is [inevitably] inferior and heteronomous [to other geographical regions] is easily disproven through the examples of Rome or Spain which both began on peninsulas but developed into states dominating (주도하다) European history. It is true that geographical factors have an important influence on historical development, but they are not everything. It can be said that the most basic and effective counter-argument to the ‘theory of peninsular nature’ is to expose the irrationalism in arbitrary utilization of geographical determinism.[16]

However there was an attempt to resolve the problem from another direction. This was to argue that Korean history was not a peninsular history but had unfolded on the continent. In order to negate the ‘inferiority’ of Korean history, the proponents [of this line] made ceaseless efforts to search for the space in which our ancient history unfolded, not on the ‘peninsular’ but on the ‘continent’. However, these [arguments] were fundamentally limited by the fact that they [still] accepted the false premise (명제) of the imperial Japanese view of history that ‘peninsular history is inferior’.

In the end, far from overcoming the theory of peninsular nature, these attempts were nothing more than its internalization, but despite that, the act of describing a ‘once great {in size} and mighty homeland’ (조국) which had existed in the ancient past remained sweet and alluring. Ultimately, even whilst on the surface [seeming to] aggressively criticize and reject colonial historiography, they ended up giving birth to a strange chauvinism that simply re-appropriated (자기화하다 ‘to make one’s own’) that [same] colonial historiography.

The characteristics of pseudo historiography [include] emphasizing the superiority of our minjok, a preoccupation with [the notion of having possessed] a vast ancient territory, and [various] conspiracy theories. Concerning the almost total lack of textual or archaeological evidence to support their [idea of] history (역사상), they argue that this was because [such evidence] was concealed or destroyed (제거되다) either by the Japanese or by ‘colonially minded [Korean] historians’ (식민사학자) who constitute the mainstream of current day [Korean] academia. And concerning the voluminous sources [that serve as] counterevidence to negate their opinions, they argue that these were fabricated, again, either by the Japanese or ‘colonially minded [Korean] historians’, and so reject even their being mentioned [as evidence in academic discussion] (거론). [Consequently], under this thought construct, any kind of discussion or scholarly examination [of their arguments] (검증) is impossible.

[The motivation] running through [all of] the pseudo historiography [includes both] the confirmation of one’s self-identity (주체성) through being a member (일원) of a great minjok, and the desire to be a constituent element (구성원 ‘member’) of a powerful country (강대국), even if only in the very distant past. In order to highlight the superiority of [their own] minjok, they both denigrate (비하하다) and actively utilize feelings of enmity against other minjok; they denounce the entirety of the professional academic field of history as ‘colonially minded historiography’; on these points, they demonstrate an archetypal fascist aspect. If this is the case, why was it An Hosang, who played a decisive role in the rise of pseudo historiography, began his activities specifically from 1974?

This is related to the nationalization of the Korean history textbook by the Park Chung Hee administration. Immediately following the distribution of the government authored history textbook, An Hosang opened a barrage of criticism, however his focus was not on ‘nationalization’ [itself]. Actually, it seems nationalization of the textbook was not a big problem for him. It was rather the ‘content’ that was the problem. Emphasizing ‘education with nationality’, the Park Chung Hee administration had, in their own way, made a textbook that stressed [the notions of] ‘minjok‘ and ‘nation’. However, to An Hosang, who was both a devout believer in Dangun and had a fascist side (면모) to himself, even this ridiculously failed to match his criteria.

Further, even whilst ensuring a monopoly on specific historical interpretations suggested by the state, the nationalization of the Korean history textbooks also gave [those government authored interpretations] a superior authority. The structure (구도) under the [previous] system of [privately authored textbook] inspection (검인정체제), in which various historical interpretations coexisted, was smashed, and [in its place] a single ‘national history’ acknowledged by the state was made official through the [conventional] standard of historical analysis. It appears that this unification (단일화) of the ‘national history’ presented a large stimulus to people such as An Hosang who had their own unique idea of history extremely different to others.

As soon as the nationalization of the history textbook was implemented, An Hosang and others began desiring the ‘nationalization’ of the [kind of] history [only] they believed in. In order to realize this desire, [An] mobilized all of his own social capital and strength from his former position as head of the Ministry of Education, and [with it] implemented the attacks and assertion of pressure on the existing academic field of history. The rise of pseudo historiography was essentially both a reaction and side effect to the new circumstances (또 다른 형태) brought about by the 1974 nationalization of history textbooks.

  1. The popularization and perverse (도착적) reception of pseudo historiography

By means of continuous publicity and agitation over several decades, pseudo historiography has succeeded at wide popularization. For example, the red devil emblem of the national football team’s official support group, ‘Celestial King Chiu’ (치우천왕), is influenced by the fake history book created by the pseudo-historians, Hwandan-gogi (환단고기). Pseudo historical content naturally appears in various [popular] media such as novels, comics and television dramas, however, a number of astronomers in broadcasts and books have also introduced astronomy records found in apocryphal texts as though they are ‘fact’; in this way the shadow of pseudo historiography is thickly cast across our society.[17] Recently, at a certain newly popular religious organization, whilst utilizing methods to expand their influence broadcasting on cable television, related [pseudo historical] contents is being regularly broadcast.[18 – see notes]

And recently, the seriousness of the problem has become clear with traces of pseudo historiography having appeared even in the president’s speeches. In her 2013 Liberation Day address, President Park Geun Hye was criticized (구설수에 오르다) for quoting from the Hwandan-gogi.[19] The passage quoted by the president is [supposedly] of a late Goryeo scholar, Yi Am, saying, “The country is like the body, history like the soul”, however, this section of the Hwandan-gogi (1979) is from a copied and altered section of Bak Eun-sik’s Hanguk-tongsa (1915 {韓國痛史}). President Park has repeated the same quotation at other events including on 13 October 2015 at a private meeting of top ministers (수석비서관회).[20]

Looking from the perspective of pseudo historiography being accepted by the general public, a particular point is confirmed. Despite [such historiography] being a doctrine and opinion based on fascism, it is not only the conservative right, but often also those terming themselves as progressives who readily accept it.[21 – see notes] This is caused by the fact that on the surface [this] pseudo historiography professes ‘ethnic nationalism’ (민족주의 {popular with the SK left-wing movement}) and ‘anti-colonialism’. Because they denigrate mainstream academic historians as pro-Japanese (친일파), and position themselves as the polar opposite (대척점), it is easy for them to attract the sympathies (공감대) of those who are conscious to the issue of purging (청산) pro-Japanese elements {i.e. the SK left}. On the other hand, it would also seem that, to the extent that even those who term themselves as progressives easily align themselves with such [pseudo historical] opinions, Koreans’ thinking (사고) is of a weak disposition (취약한 구조) to chauvinism.

The person who has most recently served as the vanguard in spreading pseudo history is the famous popular history writer, Lee Deok-il (이덕일). Continuously publishing such books as “Old Joseon were the rulers of the continent” (『고조선은 대륙의 지배자였다』, 위즈덤하우스 2006) “The colonial view of history inside of us” (『우리 안의 식민사관』 만권당 2014), and “Traitorous historiography, how far has it come?” (『매국의 역사학, 어디까지 왔나』 만권당 2015), and actively giving public lectures, he has been propagating the content of pseudo history. The content [of his works] largely follows the arguments of An Hosang etc from the 1970s onwards with nothing particularly new. However, his popular influence is significant and so the [accumulative] ripple effect [of his works] should not be ignored.

Lee Deok-il has recently challenged (문제제기 lit.’raised as a problem’) the Northeast Asian Historical Atlas (동북아역사지도) project undertaken by the government run institute, the Northeast Asia History Foundation (동북아역사재단). Although he has indicated various issues such as the labelling/marking (표기) of Dokdo, the core matter can be said to be his dissatisfaction with the position of the [Han Chinese] Lelang Commandery – established in the centre of Old Joseon following its overthrow [in 108 BCE] – being located at Pyeongyang.

On 17 April 2015, at a ‘special committee for counter policies [towards] distortions of Northeast Asian history’ the research director (책임자) for the Northeast Asian Historical Atlas, Im Gi-hwan (임기환, Seoul National University of Education, [department of] history education) and Lee Deok-il were invited for questions and answers (문답), however the atmosphere was close to a repeat of the 1981 public hearing that had been organized by the National Assembly Mungong committee. Regardless of political affiliation, the National Assembly senators maintained a supportive (호의적 ‘good willed’) attitude towards Lee Deok-il, who represented the pseudo historiography arguments; the newspapers and broadcasters then reported [only] the one-sided and sensationalist (자극적) opinions of Lee Deok-il’s side, that the Northeast Asian Historical Atlas project reflects distorted opinions of China and Japan.[22 – see notes]

The result [of this looks set to be], either the scrapping of (무산) the Northeast Asian Historical Atlas compilation project itself, in which over the past eight years several tens of historians have participated, and which has received funding of 4,700 million won of tax [payer’s money], or else the danger of having to accept (도출하다) a distorted product that in part would be reflecting the absurd opinions of the pseudo historians. If this ultimately comes to pass then Korea will become an international laughingstock, and the scholarly reputation of academic Korean historians would be greatly harmed.

During the active promotion of [textbook] nationalization, the governing party claimed that 90% of academic historians are left-wing.[23] Members of the New Right (뉴라이트) affiliation (계열), with whom they closely associate, also criticize [the academic establishment] as being excessively biased towards ethnonationalism (민족주의) and [statist] nationalism (국수주의). Conversely, pseudo historians such as Lee Deok-il denigrate them all as ‘traitorous pro-Japanese historians’.[24] If we combine these views, then our country’s academic historians are [apparently] a bizarre group (기상천외하다), being at once ‘pro-Japanese, nationalist and left-wing’. It hardly needs to be said that these opinions are [nothing more than] absurd slander (중상). We should take note of the extremism and irrationality [inherent in this strategy] of driving out all academic historians by [mischaracterizing them] either as a left-wing organization or as colonially minded historians, [done] in order to impose (관철시키다) on ‘Korean history’ (국사) their own biased notion of history.

In one quarter {namely the Korean left}, there are voices of concern that the modern and recent history sections of the textbook being promoted by the government will contain excuses and praise for ‘pro-Japan[ism] and dictatorship’. There is a high possibility, [therefore], that if only to dilute this criticism, the government will [seek to] strengthen the nationalistic perspective in the descriptions of ancient history. A policy to increase the descriptions of ancient history and Goguryeo in the new government textbook has already been reported.[25 – see notes]

[Concerning the process of writing the textbook] there is already enough possibility being demonstrated amongst national assemblymen and high ranking civil servants sympathetic to the pseudo historiography, of an intention either to involve pseudo historians in the compilation process, or [in any event] to include their opinions without careful examination. If these attempts were to be fully realized, then the ancient and modern history sections of the textbook would take on a chimera like aspect in which two entirely different forms of history fascism would coexist.

Present day Korean historiography is in a state of crisis, being assailed from two directions, ‘unjust interference by state authorities’ and ‘attacks from pseudo historiography’. How to maintain balance between these [forces], escape the political waves (파고를 헤치다) and proceed is the heavy task placed before historians.

Ki Kyoung-ryang (기경량 Gi Gyeong-ryang)
Lecturer in the history education department of Gangwon University. Having majored in Goguryeo history, his current research interest is on the nature of Goguryeo’s royal capitals (王都). Published papers include {in Korean}, “Royal tombs and the system of tomb guarding during Goguryeo’s Gungnae-seong period”, “The nature of Goguryeo steles at Ji’an and the reorganization of the system of tomb guarding”, “The notion of minjok in Korean history and its application” (「고구려 국내성 시기의 왕릉과 수묘제」, 「집안고구려비의 성격과 고구려의 수묘제 개편」, 「한국사에서 민족의 개념과 그 적용」).

{NB Most of the notes are Korean language bibliographical references – only those portion of the notes containing additional prose information are translated below}

[3] Jaeya (在野) is a term meaning stuck in a grass plain, commonly used to refer to pseudo historians who lack academic qualifications relating to the study of history. However, those who practice pseudo historian are not necessarily limited to the jaeya [camp]. There are also those holding a qualification related to history such as Yun Naehyeon who majored in ancient history, and Sin Yongha who has majored in modern history and sociology, as well as those most recently active such as Bok Gidae (archaeology) and Lee Deok-il (modern Korean history). Consequently, the term jaeya does not wholly cover the [broader] categorization of pseudo history.

[4] The phrase sa-i-bi (似而非 Ch. shi er fei) comes from the “Jinxin” section of  Mencius (Mengzi 孟子:盡心篇). Whilst citing Confucius’ criticism of [ostensibly] moral men (명마가), referred to as ‘the good careful people of the villages’ (鄉原), [Mencius] explains that Confucius referred to them as ‘a semblance which is not the reality’ (비슷하지만 아닌 것), thus warning of saibi.

{Translated terms are taken from Legge, available on the Chinese Text Project dateabase,}

[12] Contributing various articles to the Gyeonghyang-sinmun newspaper, Mun Jeong-chang (문정창) was the head of leading pseudo history group, Hanguk-godaesa-hakhoe (한국고대사학회 ‘association for ancient history’). He argued (지적하다 ‘pointed out’) that because Baekje was a large empire, the royal tombs had to be [much] larger [than] the tomb of King Muryeong and should contain 3~4 chambers whereas it only contained one; he also argued that the mortuary stele unearthed from the tomb of King Muryeong had simply been placed in the tomb of a prince by Tang generals as a joke (장난을 쳐놓다) whilst robbing the tombs following Baekje’s overthrow. Naturally [Mun] provided no rational evidence to support this.

[18] As shown in the broadcast listings of ‘Sangsaeng broadcasting’ STB, the religious cable television channel operated by {the new religion} Jeung San Do (甑山道), such programs as ‘Hwandan-gogi book concert‘ (환단고기 북콘서트) and ‘Hwandan-gogi recital from memory contest‘ (환단고기 암송대회) are used as their main content. Repeatedly broadcast, the lecturer who appears in ‘Hwandan-gogi book concert’ is An Gyeongjeon (안경전), the highest leader of Jeung San Do, who in 2012 published an annotated edition of Hwandan-gogi (published by Sangsaeng-chulpan 상생출판). It can be said that in this religion Hwandan-gogi has become scripture.

[21] Such media outlets as The Hankyoreh newspaper (한겨레신문), Sisain (시사인) and Pressian (프레시안) who profess a progressive [outlook] have all published articles which, without exception, uncritically accept the arguments of pseudo historians… In addition to the media, there are individual ‘progressives’ spread over a wide number of fields, such as teachers, labour activists, writers, politicians and scholars, too many to enumerate, who accept pseudo history. Korean pseudo historiography has [this] peculiarity of being widely spread, neither distinguishing between left-wing or right-wing, nor between progressive and conservative.

[22] …There were a large number of media reports. Of note is that these kinds of media reports were concentrated immediately following the publishing of Lee Deok-il’s book, “Traitorous historiography, how far has it come?” (『매국의 역사학, 어디까지 왔나』 2015.8.15). Essentially the national assembly members and media marched to the tune of Lee Deok-il’s marketing strategy, whereby he sought to increase the sale of his new book through stimulating the public with his irresponsible arguments.

[25] In “Traitorous historiography, how far has it come?” (『매국의 역사학, 어디까지 왔나』), Lee Deok-il criticizes the South Korean academic field of history as “traitorous historiography surpassing the colonial view of history” (page 6). This occurs not once, but throughout the 400 page book, he refers to the academic field either as ‘colonial historiography’ or ‘traitorous historiography’.

Sources: the Shiji 史記 “Account of Chaoxian” 朝鮮列傳

The following is a draft translation of the “Account of Chaoxian” (K. Joseon) found in the Shiji (史記 c.87 BCE), the earliest of the 25 Dynastic Histories of China. This is the earliest detailed attestation of the ancient and enigmatic state known as Chaoxian/Joseon, which Koreans have long regarded as the “earliest Korean state” (also referred to in Korean sources as Old Joseon – a term helping distinguish it from the later Joseon dynasty 1392-1910, but actually already attested in the earlier Samguk-yusa 三國遺事 c.1280s).

The Shiji account principally deals only with the final Chinese Han invasion of Chaoxian which resulted in its overthrow and the establishment of the Four Han Commanderies; in premodern, orthodox Korean historiography this period was termed Wiman Joseon (衛滿朝鮮). Wiman Joseon is the last of three Joseon periods, the first being the mythical Dan’gun era (not attested in any Chinese sources), and the second being the semi-legendary Gija Joseon. The 195 BCE usurption of Gija Joseon by Wi Man, is attested in the later Sanguozhi (三國志 C3rd CE) specifically quoting passages from the now lost Weilüe (魏略). Much controversy surrounds Wiman Joseon and the subsequent Han Commanderies, mainly owing to modern post-colonial sensitivities.

In the Shiji account below, Wi Man (衛滿 Ch. Wei Man) is identified only as Man (滿), whilst the Four Commanderies are not named; the latter were added in the subsequent Hanshu (漢書 96 CE) “Chaoxian Account” whilst Man’s surname, Wi/Wei, is first attested in surviving Weilüe passages cited in the Sanguozhi.

Excluded here, the Shiji account much later had many annotations added which date to the early C5th CE and the C8th; these are potentially valuable but should be treated with caution because they represent later tradition (I may add them in the future, or as a separate post).

Japanese colonial era (1910-45) archaeology identified the Lelang Commandery as located in the vicinity of modern Pyongyang, however, no definite archaeology specific to the preceding Wiman Joseon state capital of Wangheom-seong (王險城 Ch. Wangxian-cheng – referred to in earliest Korean sources as Wanggeom-seong 王儉城) has been found.

It should be emphasized this translation is imperfect and some passages are potentially ambiguous or, in any event, difficult to decipher.

Shiji Book 115 

“Account of Chaoxian” No.55 [of the liezuan ‘biographic’ accounts]


The Chaoxian king, Man (滿), was originally a person of Yan (燕). From the time of its consolidation/flourishing, Yan attacked and subjugated Zhenfan and Chaoxian {真番·朝鮮 or ‘Zhenfan Chaoxian’} placing officials [there] and constructing fortifications. Qin overthrew Yan and subjugated [this] Liaodong outer frontier (外徼) {or ‘and made it subordinate to the Liaodong outer frontier}. [When] Han arose, [they found] it distant and difficult to defend so they reestablished the old Liaodong defences, making the Pei-shui (浿水) river the border and subordinating Yan. The Yan king, Luwan (盧綰) rebelled and went to the Xiongnu. Man [also] fled; assembling a group of one thousand, [he/they] bound their hair (魋), put on barbarian clothes and went east beyond the defences. Crossing the Pei-shui they resided in the upper and lower defences (鄣) of the old Qin ’empty land’ [zone]. Gradually [Man] conscripted and subjugated the barbarians of Zhenfan and Chaoxian, and refugees from former Yan and Qi (齊), who made him king and established the capital at/of Wangxian (王險).


Only at the time of [Emperor] Xiaohui (孝惠 r.195-188) and Empress [dowager] Gao (高后 {his mother}) did all-under-heaven {i.e. China} first become stable; the Liaodong governor made an agreement with Man, making him an ‘outer vassal’ to defend {against?} the outer barbarians and thwart border raids. All of the barbarian chiefs wanted to enter [China] and pay court to the Celestial Son; it was not prohibited. Hearing [of this] the Emperor granted permission. Consequently, Man obtained military might and resources, overthrew those small border states; Zhenfan and Lintun all came and submitted. The territory [acquired] extended a thousand li.


[Power] passed to Man’s son and then his grandson, Youqu (右渠 K. Ugeo). [The number of] fugitives enticed from Han greatly multiplied. [Youqu] never paid court [to the Emperor]; further, various states bordering Zhenfan sought to send a letter to the Celestial Son, but it was blocked [by Youqu]. In the second Yuanfeng (元封) year (109 BCE), Han [sent] She He (涉何) to remonstrate Youqu, but Youqu refused to acknowledge the imperial command. [She] He departed and reached the border; just before the Pei-shui, he sent his servants to stab and kill the one seeing him off, secondary Chaoxian king, Zhang (長 K. Jang). Crossing the river, he galloped to the defences. Finally he returned [to the capital] and reported to the Celestial Son, “I have killed the Chaoxian leader”. The emperor praised his name and did not reprimand him; he appointed He as Eastern Liaodong duwei (都尉 ‘commandant’). Regarding He an enemy, Chaoxian dispatched soldiers who killed He in a surprise attack.


The Celestial Son recruited criminals to attack Chaoxian. That autumn he dispatched Tower Ship General, Yang Pu (楊僕), who from Qi (齊) crossed the Bohai sea, and General of the Left, Xun Zhi (荀彘), who [with] fifty thousand men set out from Liaodong to attack Youqu. Youqu sent out soldiers to resist at a narrow location. Left general zuzheng (卒正 ‘sub general’) Duo (多) led troops from Liaodong and prematurely set them loose [to attack], but these were defeated and scattered; Duo fled back [where], convicted by law, he was beheaded.


Leading seven thousand, the Tower Ship General arrived first to Wangxian. Guarding the fortress, Youqu observed that the Tower Ship army was small; he went out and attacked the tower ships. The Tower Ship army was defeated and scattered. Losing many, general Yang Pu hid in the mountains for more than ten days; gradually he searched out the scattered soldiers and regrouped. The Left General {Xun Zhi} attacked Chaoxian’s Peishu west army, but was unable to break them and move forwards.


Considering the two generals to have failed in achieving [any] gain, the Celestial Son thereupon had emissary Wei Shan (衞山) go with military strength to parley (諭) with Youqu. In an audience with the emissary, Youqu shook his head apologizing, “I wanted to submit, but worried the two generals would deceive and kill [your] vassal. Now, seeing [your imperial] insignia, I request to submit.”


[Youqu] sent the crown prince to go and apologize, and offered five thousand horses and military rations. More than ten thousand armed soldiers [accompanied the crown prince]; when they were just about to cross the Pei-shui, the emissary and Left general became suspicious that they could revolt, and so told the crown prince because he had already submitted, he should order the men not to carry weapons. The crown prince was also suspicious that the emissary and Left General would cheat and kill him, so in the end he did not cross the Pei-shui and returned home. Shan returned and reported to the Celestial Son. The Celestial Son had Shan put to death.


The Left General broke the [Chaoxian] Pei-shui army and went forwards reaching to below the fortress {presumably Wangxian-cheng}, where he surrounded the northwest. [Meanwhile] the Tower Ship [General] also went to meet up, and camped {lit. ‘resided’} south of the fortress. Youqu firmly defended the fortress and after several months it had not surrendered.


The Left General, originally [as] shizhong (侍中), was favoured by the emperor; he led soldiers of Yan and Dai (代), and being fierce they sensed victory and the army became arrogant. The Tower Ship [General] led soldiers of Qi (齊); travelling by sea, they had already suffered many defeats and losses. When they first battled Youqu they had been humiliated and lost soldiers, so the [remaining] soldiers were all afraid; the general was ashamed. They surrounded Youqu but always maintained peace.


The Left General suddenly attacked. Thereupon the Chaoxian high minister (大臣) secretly sent emissaries to privately negotiate a surrender to the Tower Ship [General]; they returned with a message but it was not yet decided. The Left General and Tower Ship [General] set a time for battle [against Chaoxian], but the Tower Ship [General] wanted to quickly conclude [the secret] agreement [with Chaoxian] and did not rendezvous. The Left General also sent emissaries seeking the possibility (? 閒卻) of Chaoxian’s surrender, but Chaoxian did not accept; [their] hearts were [already] on the side of the Tower Ship [General]. Consequently the two generals did not cooperate {lit. ‘get along/be in harmony’} with one another. The Left General thought to himself, “The Tower Ship [General] has the crime of previously losing [many] soldiers, and now he is being privately amicable with Chaoxian; further, Chaoxian does not surrender.” He was suspicious of a plot but did not dare to declare it.


The Celestial Son said, “The generals are unable to lead. Previously, emissary Wei Shan negotiated Youqu’s surrender and Youqu sent the crown prince, but Shan was unable to exclusively decide things (?剸決) and plans were misunderstood between [him] and the Left General, and so the [negotiated] agreement [with Chaoxian] was suddenly terminated. Now the two generals have surrounded the fortress, but they are again discordant and a resolution will not be found any time soon.”


[Thereupon] he dispatched Jinan governor, Gongsun Sui (濟南太守公孫遂) to rectify the situation and manage matters appropriately (有便宜得以從事). [When] Sui arrived, the Left General told him, “Chaoxian has been on the verge of capitulation for a long time. That they have not surrendered is due to [our own] circumstances.” And he told of the Tower Ship General’s multiple failures to rendezvous. He spoke his thoughts to Sui, “Now matters are such, if we do not capture [the Tower Ship General], I fear there will be great harm caused; not alone, but combined with Chaoxian, the Tower Ship [General could] destroy our army.”


Sui agreed with this, and with [the authority of] his imperial insignia, he summoned the Tower Ship General to the Left General’s camp where they plotted; thereupon the Left General ordered his men to arrest the Tower Ship General, and they merged the two armies. Upon reporting this to the Celestial Son, the Celestial Son had Sui put to death.


The Left General had already merged the two armies and quickly attacked Chaoxian. Chaoxian minister Luren (路人), minister Han Yin (韓陰), Nixi minister San (參), and general Wang Jia (王唊) plotted between themselves, saying, “At first we wanted to surrender to the Tower Ship [General], but he is now captured; the Left General has alone merged [the armies] and escalated the war. We are unable to assist, but the king will not accept surrender.”

Yin, Jia and Luren all fled and submitted to Han. Luren died on the road.


In summer of the 3rd Yuanfeng year (108 BCE), Nixi minister San had men kill Chaoxian king Youqu, and [then] came and surrendered, but Wangxian fortress [still] did not capitulate. The high minister of the late Youqu, Chengsi (成巳) again rebelled and attacked [Han] officials (?吏 {perhaps better read as ‘troops’}). The Left General had Youqu’s son, Changjiang (長降) and minister Luren’s son, Zui (最) inform the people [of Chaoxian’s surrender] and execute Chengsi. Thus, finally Chaoxian was pacified and became the Four Commanderies (四郡).


[The following] enfeoffments [were bestowed]: [former Nixi minister] San became lord of Huaqing (澅清侯), [former minister] Yin became lord of Diju (荻苴侯), [former general] Jia became lord of Pingzhou (平州侯), and Chang[jiang] became lord of Ji (幾侯). Taking into account his father’s death, Zui had considerable merit and so became lord of Wenyang (溫陽侯).


The Left General [was] summoned and arrived; for quarreling over merit, acting jealously and acting contrary to the plan, he [was] executed and his body displayed in the market. The Tower Ship General, too, should have been executed for sustaining great losses when, [with his] troops having reached the mouth of the Lie (洌) [river], he should have awaited the Left General but instead took it upon himself to let loose [his army, however, he was partially] redeemed/ransomed and [instead] was made a commoner.


The Grand Historian {i.e. Shiji compiler Sima Qian} says, “Youqu relied on the strategic [defensive] geography [of Chaoxian] and so discontinued the country’s sacrifices [to heaven] {or ‘paying court to China’}. She He made false merit and so was the primary cause for the outbreak of military hostilities. The Tower Ship [General] was narrow [minded] and in the face of difficulty, he acquired fault (離咎); regretting his loses in foreign lands (番禺), he was consequently viewed with suspicion. [Left General] Xun Zhi fought over meritorious accomplishment, and together with [Gongsun] Sui, [was] executed. The two generals both incurred dishonour; none of the [Han] commanders (將率) were [made] lords.

Sources: Sin Chaeho – ‘History of Ancient Joseon Culture’ (on the Sam’rang 三郞 > Jo’ui 皂衣 / hwarang lineage)

Sin Chaeho (1880-1936) is popularly regarded as the father of modern nationalist historiography and is remembered as one of the few early modern intellectuals who refused to submit to, or accept, the Japanese colonization of Korea, devoting his life to the Korean resistance movement in China, ultimately to die in a Japanese prison in Dalian.

Below is a translation of the second installment/chapter of Sin Chaeho’s Joseon-sanggo-munhwa-sa (朝鮮上古文化史 ‘History of Ancient Joseon Culture’) which was originally serialized in the Joseon-ilbo newspaper in 40 installments between 15 October ~ 3 December 1931, and then 27-31 May 1932). This work was the immediate follow up to his better known magnum opus, Joseon-sanggo-sa (朝鮮上古史 ‘History of Ancient Joseon’) in which he argued the legendary state of Old Joseon to have been an ancient continental empire responsible for most of Chinese civilization.

Forgetting that, this self-contained chapter is both interesting in itself and highly representative of Sin’s creative, nationalist historiography; today his emotive writing is largely dismissed for its obvious methodological weaknesses but it remains influential on the public imagination and popular history books of a certain persuasion. There was also no small creative genius at work.

In this chapter he seeks to establish the ‘lost history’ of the Goguryeo hwarang order – attested only as a Silla institution – projecting shared origins back to folkloric legends of the ancient Sam’rang (三郞) associated with the Dan’gun myth, and tracing their subsequent decline and remnants through to the modern era.

As well reflected in this chapter, Sin’s core historiographical strategy was to blame Korea’s contemporary predicament under Japanese colonization on the preceding centuries under Sinocentric Neo-Confucian dogma which had consequently weakened Korea’s independent spirit; a key element of this explanation was a conspiracy style theory that the compiler of the Samguk-sagi (1145), Kim Busik,  had actively created an anti-nativist pro-Chinese history, and sought to destroy all alternative histories after its completion. It should be stated that this theory involved a large degree of oversimplification and active mischaracterization of Kim Busik and the Samguk-sagi but, again, has remained highly influential in the popular imagination.

The translation below is based on a modern Korean edition (referenced below), which translates Sin’s ye olde early C20th mixed-script Korean into easier-to-read contemporary Korean.

Sin Chaeho, Danjae 단재 신채호; Bak Gibong 박기봉 (translator). 2007. 『조선상고 문화사』 [Joseon sanggo munhwasa]. Seoul: 비봉출판사 [bibong-chulpansa].

This chapter may also be interesting to compare with that of Choe Namseon who also sought to place the Hwarang in a broader diachronic perspective.

History of Ancient Joseon/Korean Culture – Chapter 2: The Sam’rang (三郞) tour (巡遊) and transmission of Seon-gyo (仙敎)

According to legend, Sam’rang-seong (三郞城 ‘three lad fortress’) on Mani-san (摩尼山) mountain, Ganghwa-do island, was constructed by three sons of Dan’gun; the Jecheon-dan (祭天壇 ‘celetial rites altar’) is where Dan’gun performed sacrificial rites to heaven. It is truly wondrous (기이하다) that the small fortress and [its tradition] have been transmitted over four millennia.

The poem Sam’rang-seong by Yi Sukcheom (李叔詹) of the Goryeo dynasty [contains the line] “Fishermen and firewood collecting children still call it the Old Celestial Capital” (漁樵猶說舊天京); that they referred to this lonely and remote place as a ‘celestial capital’, holding it in such regard is still more wondrous.

All that remains of the Sam’rang’s history is the construction of this fortress, however, during Silla and Goryeo, they erected Sam’rang-sa (三郞寺) temples and worshipped them; this too is still more wondrous.

However, it is not simply because of the fortress that the name of the Sam’rang was transmitted. If it had been only because of the fortress, how would they have come to be worshipped and held aloft in this way? Although it is not recorded in previous histories, it must be because the Hwarang (花郞) of Silla and Seon’in (仙人) of Goguryeo all traced their origins to the Sam’rang.

There is also no one of recent times who knows the origins of the Jo’ui (皂衣); only the circumstances (사실) of the Hwarang are recorded in the Samguk-sagi as follows.

“In Silla they were concerned that it was not possible to identify men of talent, so they organized them into groups for recreation. After observing their behaviour and righteousness, they would select them for employment. Choosing boys of beautiful appearance, they adorned them and called them Hwa’rang (花郞 ‘flower lad’)… By these means they could distinguish between good and bad persons.” {Samguk-sagi “Kim Heum’un-jeon” 金歆運傳 account}

On account of this passage, people are led to believe that the Hwarang were [the product] of a Silla [Confucian style] civil service examination (科擧法), but this is because we have been deceived by Kim Busik {金富軾 1075-1151 – Samguk-sagi compiler} and so do not know the true identity (참모습 lit. ‘true shape’) of the Hwarang.

The Hwarang [tradition] had [in fact] been both the soul of religion and the heart of national purity (國粹) passed down from the time of Dan’gun, but despite this, around the end of Silla and beginning of Goryeo they were obliterated by Confucians and even their history was lost.

According to the Yeoji-seungnam (輿地勝覽 {late C15th geography – still extant}), “The stele of the Sa-rang (四郞 ‘four lads’) was smashed to pieces by Ho Jongdan (胡宗旦) and only the turtle support stone (龜趺) remains.” Through this the obliteration of the Hwarang by Confucians can be openly (正面) observed. According to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “Because Seongjong (成宗 r.981-997) liked Chinese customs (華風) and hated worship, Yi Jibaek (李知白) sought to revive Hwarang groups/gatherings (花郞會).” {source??} Through this the obliteration of the Hwarang by Confucians can be indirectly (反面) observed.

In the case of Samguk-sagi (三國史記 ‘history of the Three Kingdoms’) compiler, Kim Busik, we can know that his extreme [anti-Hwarang] bias was even stronger than that of Seongjong or Ho Jongdan.

At the time of compiling the so-called ‘History of the Three Kingdoms’, he [actively] omitted facts concerning the Hwarang and their origins. In the Goryeo-sa ({高麗史 ‘history of Goryeo’ 1451} written a hundred years after Kim Busik’s Samguk-sagi ), Yeong-rang, An-rang, Nam-rang and Sul-rang (永郞·安郞·南郞·述郞) [who comprised] the Sa-rang (四郞), were elevated as the ‘Four Sages’ (四聖), however, Kim did not even transmit this fact [of their existence]. The fact that whenever the ‘way of the Hwarang’ (花郞의 道) was lectured upon, there would be several thousand listeners is recorded in the Joseon dynasty Jeompilje-jip (佔畢齊集 {collected works of Kim Jongjik 金宗直 1431-92}) which was compiled three hundred years after Kim, however, Kim wrote nothing about the influence exerted by the Hwarang. Throwing away the Seon-sa (仙史 ‘history of the seon ‘ {attested in Samguk-sagi entry for King Jinheung 眞興王 year 37}) in which the origin of the Hwarang was recorded, he barely quoted a few opening lines from Choe Go’un’s (崔孤雲 {Choe Chiwon 崔致遠}) Nallang-bi (鸞郞碑序) stele text; omitting the holy accomplishments (聖蹟) of two hundred Hwarang, he described only the military achievements of four or five such as Sadaham (斯多含 {general who effected the military subjugation of Dae Gaya – modern Goryeong – in 562}). This is sufficient to see his inner hatred of the Hwarang.

Why is it, then, that Kim recorded even a few lines in the Samguk-sagi ?

It is for no other reason than that at the time, foreigners (Chinese) [already] knew many stories of the Hwarang and Tang Chinese recorded them in such works as Dazhong-yishi (大中遺事) and Xinluo-guoji (新羅國記) {both by Ling Hucheng 令狐澄}; inside of Korea the Hwarang stelai could be smashed and works such as Hwarang-segi and Seon-sa could be destroyed, but that which was transmitted in foreign lands was beyond Kim’s control {능력 lit. ‘ability’}. Also the Hwarang history which had been recorded by foreigners was rough and the words close to ridicule, so even if they were transmitted they would not be a match for Confucians’ [historiography] so Kim considered there to have been no necessity [to include] these matters and omitted all facts concerning the Hwarang. For this reason, the Korean records {역사 ‘history’} of the Hwarang were not included and only those in foreign counties were included in an abridged fashion, and this is what we read today.

Ah, how sad! The stories of the Hwarang appearing in the Samguk-sagi which are read by us Hwarang descendents today, is that which was contemptuously recorded by the brushes of Chinese. How can we know the true identity of the Hwarang from this?

Concerning the Jo’ui (皂衣) of Goguryeo, Kim Busik quoted the Suishu (隨書) and simply observed that there were Jo’ui seon’in (皂衣仙人 – also called Yeseok seon’in 翳屬仙人) in Goguryeo; the [Samguk-sagi] “Myeong’rimdapbu-jeon” (明臨答夫傳 account speaks of Yeonna-jo’ui Myeong’rim-dapbu (椽那皂衣明臨答夫), but it does not say what the Jo’ui were.

{NB Myeong’rim-dapbu is attested with the title of Jo’ui, not in his biographical account, but in the Goguryeo Annal entry for King Chadae 次大王 year twenty [165], where he is recorded as assassinating the tyrant king on behalf of the people.

{Yeseok seon’in 翳屬仙人 is attested in the Samguk-sagi treatise for Goguryeo titles, where, in the next sentence, citing the Xin-Tangshu, Jo’ui are described as seon’in 仙人. The actual Xin-Tangshu entry is “帛衣頭大兄,所謂帛衣者,先人也”.}

However, the Gaoli-tujing (高麗圖經 {still extant first hand account of Goryeo by Xu Jing 徐兢 1091-1153 who visited in 1123}) records, “The Jaega-hwasang (在家和尙 {lit. ‘at home monks’ i.e. who have not left their families for a temple}) neither wear gasa (袈裟) Buddhist robes, nor maintain precepts (佛戒); wearing white ramie clothes, they bind their wastes with black silk.[..] Residing in common houses {민가, original just has ‘home/room’ 室} they have families. They always put their energies into public projects, such as cleaning the roads, or repairing drainage systems. If war occurs they take their own rations and form units; in war they are all brave and always lead the van. In actuality they are former convicts and so have shaven heads; because this is similar to Buddhists they are called Hwasang (和尙).”

{Original passage from Gaoli-tujing 


Jaega-hwasang do not wear gasa and do not maintain precepts. Wearing white ramie clothes, they bind their waists with black silk. They walk barefooted, though some wear shoes. Constructing their own homes, they take a wife and raise children. They devote themselves to [such public tasks as] carrying items for the authorities, sweeping the roads, repairing the drains, and fixing and building the city walls and homes. If there is a nearby alert, they form groups and set out; although they are not familiar with galloping [a horse] they are quite strong and brave. When they go on military expeditions, they prepare their own rations so they are able to go to war without being a cost to the state. [I] have heard that the Khitan’s defeat by Goryeo people was precisely thanks {lit. ‘reliant’} to this group. They are actually convicted criminals. The Koreans {lit. 夷人 ‘Yi barbarian people’} shave their beards and heads and call them Hwasang.}

These are the remaining tradition (遺風) of the Goguryeo Jo’ui (皂衣 ‘black clothing’). They were called Jo’ui because they wore [the same] black silk around their waists; in Chinese histories they are also referred to as Baek’i (帛衣 Ch. Boyi ‘silk clothing’). And because seon’in believe in a different doctrine (敎) to Buddhism, they were referred to as Jaega-hwasang.

Thus the Jo’ui of Goguryeo were the martial soul (武魂), no less so than the Hwarang of Silla. With a firm belief in the state (국가) they regarded life and death lightly; they sacrificed their bodies for the common good (公益) without concern for worldly matters or renown. During peace time they trained their bodies through labour; because their bodies were in oil (?? 몸을 기름에 있어서는) they prioritized (위주) health and bravery and so were brave when at war. Because Myeong’rim-dapbu led such a group, he was easily successful in [his] regional revolution.

After visiting Goryeo and observing and hearing of these such matters, [Gaoli-tujing author] Xu Jing recorded them; how is it possible that during the same time Kim Busik could not have read or heard of the Hwarang’s history?! In order to [force] citizens to wear the tinted glasses of Confucians, he omitted all of Silla’s Hwarang history except a few lines recorded by a foreigner; concerning the Jo’ui he merely cited the Suishu and recorded just the name.

If we first look at {unreferenced} research concerning this, in Goguryeo history, seon’in (先人 ‘forebears’) were referred to as seon’in (仙人 ‘Daoist immortal/faerie’); both terms are phonetic [Sinic] renderings for the pure Korean (우리말) term seonbi (선비 {conventionally a word for ‘scholar’}). In the [Samguk-sagi] Silla music treatise (樂志), Hwarang are termed as Do’ryeong (徒領), which is a phonetic rendering of the Korean term do’ryeong (도령 ‘young man’). In later times the social status of Seon’in (先人) sunk and so the term for them was changed to Jaega-hwasang, whilst the name seonbi was taken by Confucians [to refer to themselves with the common meaning of ‘scholar’].

Also, in later times, the Hwarang became officials (벼슬아치) responsible for all genres of music and thus were [merely] in charge of one giye ‘artistic skill’ (技藝 ) of gamu ‘song and dance’ (歌舞 – {original annotation} giye was a subdiscipline 科 of gamu or hak’ye 學藝). The term do’ryeong-nim (도령님) was stolen by the [Confucian] yangban literati [as the respectful term for address of an unmarried yangban]. The social status of Jo’ui sank earlier than Hwarang and so at the time of Xu Jing, it was already a figurative term for formerly convicted criminals.

Concerning both the Hwarang (i.e. gwangdae {廣大 a non-reverential term for ‘public entertainer’}) who remain in the Eight Provinces [of Korea] today, and the Jaega-hwasang who remain in North Hamgyeong-do province {far northeastern Korea}, not only are their roots not known to others, but even they have forgotten the fact that they were once the heart (중심) of the state; for these circumstances the crime of the ruling classes including the monarchy, and of historians is great.

How could we in times subsequent to Kim Busik discover the facts about the Hwarang and Jo’ui that he failed to record? [How can we] find their origins? If we gather the remaining fragmentary accounts from the ‘old records’ (古記 {an uninformative term often used in the Samguk-sagi}) and search between the lines (反面) of the Samguk-sagi, then we can [at least] obtain something similar.

The line recorded in the Goguryeo history {SS Goguryeo annal} “Pyeongyang was the home of Seon’in Wanggeom” (平壤者仙人王儉之宅) would have been the first line of the Silla’s Seon-sa (仙史). Idu (吏讀文) script which uses Chinese characters for their phonetic value, was first created during the time of Buyeo and Goguryeo; at that time, a character would be used either for its beginning or end sound value, and two or three characters would be combined to create a single [syllable] sound. Both seon’in (先人) and seon’in (仙人) use two characters to form the seon [syllable] in seonbi.

During Silla, [phonetic] idu developed to a relative degree, however, it was only fully used for [verbal] endings, e.g. wi-ni 爲尼 → hani 하니, wi-ya 爲也 → haya/hayeo 하야·하여, but nouns most often used Chinese characters for their semantic value. As a result Saro (斯盧) was changed to Silla (新羅 {‘new net’?}), whilst monarchal titles geoseogan (居西干) or nisageum (尼師今) were changed to dae-wang (大王 ‘great king’). The Hwarang also developed at this time, and Seon-sa was written.

In later times, the [rendering of the] noun seon’in (先人 ‘forebear’) was dropped and only seon’in (仙人 ‘faerie/immortal’) was used; thus Seon’in Wanggeom (仙人王儉 ‘faerie Wanggeom’) is the same as [*]Seon’in Wanggeom (先人王儉 ‘forebear Wanggeom’) who was Dan’gun (檀君), none other than the founding ancestor (始祖) of the Jo’ui seon’in (皂衣先人).

The name Hwarang, too, was originally not hwarang; [rather], because it was seon’in (先人 ‘forebear’) the history of their origin was named Seon-sa (仙史 ‘faerie history’). As a result, even the “Hwarang-gi” (花郞記) record in the Samguk-yusa says Great King Jinheung (眞興王 {r.540-576}) worshipped sinseon (神仙 ‘holy faeries’) and created the Hwarang, but this misunderstood that the creation of the Hwarang was [itself an act of] venerating the sinseon.

However, subsequently due to concern for terms [phonetically rendered] such as seon’in and sinseon being confused with Chinese Xianjiao (仙敎: 道敎 Dao-jian {i.e. Daoism}), specific nouns such as gukseon (國仙 ‘nation faerie’) and hwarang (花郞 ‘flower lad’) were created, where the seon of gukseon is the phonetic rendering of the seon (先) of seon’in (先人 ‘forebear’), whilst the rang of Hwarang is a semantic rendering of seon’in.

However, those reading history in later generations have always confused this distinction. Thus in entries in Yeoji-seungnam for Gangneung (江陵) and Yang’yang (襄陽) which include poems and such by literati composed after observing the remains associated with the Four Hwarang Sages (四聖), they conflate them with Daoist notions of alchemy (金丹) or ‘the soul’s liberation from a corpse [to become a Daoist immortal]’ (尸解), and gukseon are understood as a school of Daoism.

Even if one explains that the seon (仙) of Seon’in Wanggeom is the seon of gukseon, of seonbi and our seon-gyo (仙敎 ‘seon religion’), and not the xian of Chinese Xianjiao (仙敎), who today would believe this?! Ah, that the downfall of the nation (國粹) has come to this!

Sam’rang (三郞), too, previous to Goguryeo would definitely have been called the Sam-seon (三仙) or Sam-seon’in (三仙人), and not Sam’rang, but in Silla with seon’in being called rang (郞) they were changed to Sam’rang, and the Sam’rang-sa temple was constructed in which they were worshipped.

Consequently, Dan’gun was the first seonbi appearing in the Seon-sa (仙史), whilst the Sam’rang are the first do’ryeong. Sam’rang-seong was a fortification constructed by the Goguryeo Jo’ui who, during a ceremonial tour/pilgrimage (巡禮) of the country (국토) found the site suitably strategic for the nation’s defence.