The Tide Turns? Part V

“Colonial historiography cartel” (2017.9) by Kim Hyŏn-gu 김현구


“In the current day Republic of Korea a similar circumstance is occuring as that immediately after the [1945] liberation when formerly high ranking police officers of the Japanese colonial period, who had been tools doing the work of the Japanese empire arresting [Korean] independence fighters, became [ROK] military police and continued in persecuting independence activists. If the ghosts of [our independence] martyrs were here, would they not be vomiting blood [at this situation] from below the ground?” 일제 강점기에 독립투사들을 잡아들이면서 일제의 앞잡이 노릇을 하던 고등계 형사들이 경찰 간부가 되어 오히려 독립투사들을 핍박하던 광복직후의 사태가 지금 대한민국에서 벌어지고 있는 것이다. 순국선열들의 영령들이 계시다면 지하에서 피를 토할 일이 아니겠는가?  (Kim 2017:161)

Yi Tŏk-il’s conspiracy theory of a pro-Japanese cartel premises their motivation as the promotion of an interpretation of early Korean history that would actively diminish its supposed territorial greatness and antiquity, as imagined by ancient empire advocates. As presented in his 2014 book “The colonial view of history within us”, the three principal components of Yi’s ‘colonial view of history’ are:

  1. Locating the Chinese Lelang commandery at P’yŏngyang as an intrument of colonial control over the northern half of the peninsula.
  2. Locating the Japanese Mimana Nihonfu to the south of the Lelang, interpreted as having been a corresponding colonial administrator over the southern half of the peninsula
  3. Arguing the Three Kingdoms era polities of Koguryŏ, Silla, Paekche and Kaya to have only emerged in the 4th century CE, in contradition to the orthodox 1st century BCE dates given in the earliest extant Korean authored history, Samguk sagi (1145).

In Yi (2014) the complaint of Lelang is directed against scholar Song Hojŏng and the Early Korea Project’s 2014 Han Commanderies volume. In the case of the Chinese commanderies, in particular Lelang, both academic consensus and extensive archaeology have confirmed the location of Lelang as having been at P’yŏngyang.

Yi asserts the notion of Korean establishment historians promoting the Mimana Nihonfu hypothesis through active mischaracterization of Kim Hyŏn-gu’s lifetime scholarship on early Korea-Japan relations that had itself focused on criticism of the original colonial era Mimana hypothesis. In 2010, Kim authored a popular history book summarizing his research and arguments, titled “Is the Mimana Nihonfu theory a fiction?” (임나일본부설은 허구인가) and this is principally the work Yi (2014) mischaracterizes.

‘Mimana Nihonfu’ (Mimana Japan office) is a term uniquely attested in the 8th century Nihon shoki, but Mimana (K. Imna) alone, as well as Imna Kara (a variant of Kaya), are attested in various earlier sources including the Kwanggaet’o stele (414) and contemporary Chinese histories, as well as the later Samguk sagi. The colonial era interpretation of Mimana Nihonfu was to equate it to the Kaya states as an organ of archepelago Yamato control over the southern peninsular states of Kaya, Paekche and Silla. The finalized archetype of this interpretation is “A history of the rise and fall of Mimana” (1949 任那興亡史) written by Suematsu Yasukazu (末松保和 1904-1992).

In “The colonial view of history within us” Yi accuses Kim of actively promoting the Mimana Nihonfu hypothesis and explicitly denounces him as a ‘national traitor’ on a par to Yi Wan-yong (1858-1926), a figure known with the greatest infamy in Korea today as the minister who signed the 1910 treaty of annexation sealing Korea’s temporary fate as a colony to Japan. In October 2014, Kim Hyŏn-gu filed charges of defamation against Yi. Following an initial rejection the case went to trial and Yi was found guilty and sentenced to six months with a two year reprieve. However, following an appeal and a problematic second trial Yi was ultimately cleared in May 2017. With legal options exhausted and Yi seemingly vindicated, Kim’s “Colonial historiography cartel” (2017) seeks to lay out his case for the discerning public.

“Colonial historiography cartel” consists of two main components: a summary of the court cases with contextual information on Kim’s research and details of the arguments put forward, and a fierce counter attack against Yi Tŏk-il which, in a reversal of Yi’s own mantra, identifies Yi with a wider ‘cartel’ of actors promoting their conspiracy of colonial historiography.

Until the recent wave of critiques, when Korean scholars have previously sought to explain the fallacies and motivations of Taejonggyo-ist empire advocates, such as Yi, they have typically characterized them, semi-apologetically, as being overly zealous Korean nationalists. This caution has likely been calculated to avoid the risk of being denounced themselves as unpatriotic or pro-Japanese. However, rather than treating Yi as a misguided patriot, Kim (2017) seeks to turn the tables, not only defending the record of his own critical research on Mimana against Yi’s false accusations, but explicitly accusing Yi of having in his earlier works promoted core aspects of the Mimana hypothesis himself, and thus been guilty of the very crime with which he falsely accused Kim. “Colonial historiography cartel” seeks not only to clear Kim’s name in the public record, but to highlight Yi’s false credentials as a self-styled patriotic historian from which much of his public persona and political influence derives.

The timeline of the legal case is as follows with further details summarized after.

2014.10        Kim files charges of defamation.
2015.4.30     Rejected on the grounds of lack of evidence.
2015.5          Kim appeals the decision and the case goes to trial.
2016.2.5       Yi found guilty and sentenced to six months with a two year reprieve.
Yi appeals and the case goes to second trial.
2017.5.11     Yi found not guilty.

2014.10        Kim files charges of defamation

Kim (2017) provides four examples from Yi (2014) in which the arguments of Kim (2010) are actively misrepresented and six examples of defamatory ad hominem. P54-55

2015.4.30 Rejection on the grounds of “lack of evidence” p57

Three grounds for rejection:

  1. Plaintiff’s usage of ‘Japanese type’ (일본식) terminology.
  2. The frequency of citations from Nihon shoki.
  3. Usage of a map in which Kaya is marked as Mimana.

Based on the above three points, the Prosecutor’s office (서울서부지방검찰청) argued that even though, ‘on the surface’ Kim’s book indeed argues Paekche to have played the dominant role (in relations with Japan), Yi had expressed an opinion that Kim’s work could equally be interpreted as supporting the view that early Japan had ruled over the south of the peninsula.

Kim’s response is that the three points above are superficially based on the citations of Nihon shoki necessarily used within his work, rather than his own accompanying arguments.

2015.5    Kim appeals the decision and the case goes to trial. P60 (details of 1st trial 63-78)

The question of whether Yi was guilty of defaming Kim’s character hung on whether Yi’s characterization of Kim’s research was accurate. If so, then Yi’s accusations of Kim being a ‘pro-Japanese traitor’ could be accepted as Yi’s (patriotic) opinion. If not, then it would represent defamation based on false accusations. Consequently the case revolved around three accusations made in Yi (2014) against the content of Kim (2010), that:

  1. The Mimina Nihonfu is treated as fact.
  2. Paekche is treated as a suzerain state and colony of Yamato Japan through which Yamato governed the south of the peninsula.
  3. Kim believes the Nihon shoki to be factual and fails to criticize Suematsu Yasukazu’s Mimana Nihonfu hypothesis. P65

Kim (2017) responds that, to the extent these arguments exist at all, they are based on the fact that his 2010 book cites the Nihon shoki, and that Yi was unable or unwilling to distinguish between the citations and Kim’s accompanying critical analysis.

In the court case, Kim’s summarized his research and interpretations as follows. P64-65

  1. The core fallacy of Suematsu’s hypothesis was in claiming that Japan had ruled the south of the peninsula for 200 years, not whether the Mimana Nihonfu itself had existed or the question of how to characterize it.
  2. Korean historians have since rejected the reliability of Nihon shoki and refute the Mimana Nihonfu hypothesis.
  3. From this position, however, they take those passages of the Nihon shoki “favorable” (유리하다) to Korea, and after highlighting the question of reliability and cross referencing them with other sources, seek to discern those passages which may be reliable from those which are contradictory or false.
  4. Even while recognising that these passages may be reliable, they nevertheless reject that the term ‘Mimana Nihonfu’ itself was ever used.
  5. From 369 CE until the early 6th century, the region of Kaya on the Korean peninsula was not occupied by Japan, but administered by the Paekche Mok clan.
  6. Relations between the Paekche and Yamato courts was, nevertheless, very close, such that Paekche princes and princesses were married to the Wae imperial family (천황가) and the founder of the current Japanese imperial family was a Paekche prince.
  7. In practice the relationship can be characterized as Paekche transmitting more advance aspects of civilization (선진문물) to Japan while in return receiving Wae military support.

Citing multiple supporting passages from Kim (2010) the court rejected all three of Yi’s accusations as false. These are summarized in Kim (2017:66-74). In addition to the six month commuted sentence, Yi (2014) was banned from further publication (출판금지가처분).

Immediately following the guilty verdict and six month commuted sentence two articles appeared in newspapers in support of Yi. The first was part of a regular column in the Kyŏnggi ilbo newspaper by former 행자부장관 Hŏ Sŏnggwan (허성관) in which he criticizes the ROK prosecution (검찰) for, in his view, prosecuting those who would criticize ‘extreme right’ historians. The second was by former 참여정부 정책실장, Yi Chŏng-u (이정우), appearing in the Kyŏnghyang sinmun (2016.2.18 in Korean) under the title “Is Korea still a [Japanese] colony?” In response to these, the West Seoul court (서울서부지방법원) published the details of its verdict, which Kim (2017) reproduces pp77-78.

Yi appeals and the case goes to second trial. P79-94

Following an appeal by Yi and second trial, the first verdict was overturned. According to this second verdict, although Kim (2010) does not contain passages explicitly supporting Yi’s three accusations – as given in the first trial – the accusations themselves were not false statements (허위사실). P80 Two arguments given to support this verdict are as follows:

  1. Although Kim argues the rulers of Mimana to have been Paekche (and not Yamato), he treats all other aspects of Suematsu’s Mimana Nihonfu hypothesis, and the content of the Nihon shoki both as fact.
  2. Although on the surface, Kim appears to describe the relationship between the Paekche and Yamato courts as equal, in actuality he describes Paekche as though it were a suzerain state to Yamato. P118

In response to the first point, Kim notes that, in having accepted Yi’s fallacious arguments, the court had failed to understand the core problem of Suematsu’s interpretation. Rather than being the question of whether Yamato had controlled the south of the peninsula – as advocated by Suematsu – they instead follow Yi in equating any mention of the Wae or Mimana operating on the peninsula to Suematsu, and by extension Japanese colonial interpretations.  P124 On the second point, Kim again highlights the inability or unwillingness of the court (?재판부) to distinguish between citations from Nihon shoki and Kim’s own critical analysis. p104

The concluding justification given in the verdict is that Yi’s interpretation of Kim (2010) being “no different to Suematsu’s Mimana Nihonfu hypothesis” represents Yi’s ‘subjective opinion’ of Kim’s book based on his own reading, and is therefore not defamatory. P119


Kim’s counter case against Yi Tŏk-il

Throughout “Colonial historiography cartel”, Kim describes himself as someone who has devoted the past thirty years of his career as a professional historian working to disprove the colonial era Mimana Nihonfu hypothesis represented in the work of Suematsu. Already an emeratus professor, for Kim to end his career with his name and research having been actively besmirched by Yi Tŏk-il is understandably a both personally tragic and depressing irony. However, Kim (2017) not only details the post-truth, Kafkaesque legal case, but mounts an active counter attack against Yi Tŏk-il, denouncing him, not merely as a misguided Korean nationalist, but as a “historically unparalleled agent of colonial historiography” who in previous works has himself “openly marked [on maps] the [Japanese] Wae as occupying the southwest of the Korean peninsula”. 사상 유례가 없는 식민사학의 앞잡이 노릇을 하고 있고 버젓이 왜(倭)를 한반도 지도 서남부에 표기해 놓고 있는 이덕일 (Kim 2017:157)

To support this accusation, Kim cites extensively from two of Yi’s earlier works, “Riddles of Korean history 1” (1999 – 우리 역사의 수수께끼 1 coauthored with Yi Hŭigŭn 이희근) and “700 year riddle of Koguryŏ” (2000 – 고구려 700년의 수수께끼). In both cases Yi argued that the Wae referred to as active on the Korean peninsula – as attested on the Kwanggaet’o Stele and in both Nihon shoki and Samguk sagi – represent an original Japanese ethnic polity which was located on the southwest of the peninsula before crossing to the Japanese isles and going on to establish Yamato. In particular, Yi accepts the description of the Wae as having controlled the south of the peninsula and been the dominant power over Paekche and Silla. Yi’s argument precludes the Japanese colonial interpretations of the Wae invading the south of the peninsula from Japan – as the explanation is that rather the Wae came from the peninsula – but still premises the presence of the Wae as having formerly occupied the peninsula. Kim argues that this is therefore closer to Japanese interpretations, in particular Egami’s horserider hypothesis, and in contrast to the Korean academic consensus which rejects the dominance of ethnic Wae over Paekche or Silla. P18-20 He further highlights Yi’s then acceptance of the Songshu (宋書 478) Wae treatise which records an elaborate title bestowed on the Wae king in 438 indicating lordship over the Korean polities of Paekche, Silla, Mimana/Imna, Chinhan and Mohan (Mahan). Kim again notes that, in contrast to Yi (1999), Korean academic consensus rejects this source as ahistorical. P22 According to Kim, Yi (1999) further takes the keyhole shaped tombs found around Naju in South Chŏlla province as evidence of the Japanese Wae presense. Yi (2000) repeats similar interpretations and includes a map of the peninsula, reproduced by Kim (2017:24) in which Wae is marked as a distinct polity south of Paekche.

Ironically these earlier interpretations by Yi are more reasonable than Kim is willing to allow. However, the valid argument made by Kim, is that according to Yi’s recent ‘colonial historiography’ polemic – as adopted by both the National Assembly special committee leading to termination of the digital East Asian atlas project, and in the false characterization of Kim as a pro-Japanese historian – by accepting the Nihon shoki and other records without qualification and consequently reasoning the Wae to have been a dominant peninsular force over Paekche and Silla, Yi’s earlier interpretations, by his own current standard, are closer to the premises of colonial era Japanese historiography than Kim (2010). To highlight this, Kim presents in table format a comparison of Yi (1999 and 2000) to Kim (2010) subdivided into five topics. (Kim 2017:46-49)

  1. Which polity subjugated the 7 Kaya states.
  2. Which polity led the Wae forces as recorded on the Kwanggaeto Stele.
  3. The relationship between Wae, Paekche and Silla.
  4. Interpretation of the Songshu Wae treatise.
  5. Mimana/Imna and Wae.

The details of this table which contains direct quotes from the works in question is summarized below.

On which polity subjugated the Seven Kaya states:

Yi (1999:23)

  • As attested in Nihon shoki (신공49년 369) the force that, together with Paekche king Kŭnchogo, overthrew the Seven Kaya states and the remnant Mahan, was likely to have been peninsular Wae.

Kim (2010:50)

  • The Nihon shoki record concerning the subjugation of the 7 Kaya states refers to Paekche and has no relation to the Yamatao regime. 야마토 정권이 가야 7국 평정 이하의 작전 주체가 될 수 없다는 것은 군데의 집결지를 보더라도 알 수 있다.

On which polity led the Wae forces as recorded on the Kwanggaet’o Stele:

Yi (2000:19-20, 42)

  • In response to Koguryŏ’s southward expansion, Paekche, Wae and Kaya formed an alliance. The subsequent Stele entry for the year 404 (Yŏngnak 14) records that Wae formed an alliance with Paekche and raided Koguryŏ’s Taebang (帶方) region, confirming that the main force which fought northwards against Koguryŏ was the Wae.

Kim (2010:167)

  • The Wae referred to on the Stele as fighting with Koguryŏ was actually an alliance of Paekche, Wae and Kaya, led by Paekche. The Wae were involved in return for the transmission of advanced culture from Paekche.

On the relationship between Wae, Paekche and Silla:

Yi (2000:13-14)

  • In Samguk sagi, both Paekche Annal King Asin year 6 (397) and Silla Annal King Silsŏng year 1 (401), record instances of princes being sent as hostages to the Wae state, demonstrating that at the time the Wae were a powerful polity whose influence extended over Paekche and Silla.

Kim (2010:144)

  • The relationship between Paekche and Yamato can be characterized as one in which Paekche transmitted advanced civilization and Yamato provide military support. In short, Yamato were mercenaries.

Kim (2010:169)

  • Most of the references to Wae in Samguk sagi show that they were close to Paekche and hostile to Silla. Similarly on the Kwanggaet’o Stele, Wae are described as helping Paekche against Koguryŏ and Silla.

On interpretation of the Songshu Wae treatise:

Yi (1999:27)

  • The Songshu entries for the years 420-479 attest the Wae’s presense on the peninsula.

Yi (1999:12-15)

  • If only symbolically (형식적), through conferring the title of ‘Wae, Paekche, Silla, Mimana, Chinhan and Mahan’ the Southern Song acknowledged the Wae’s past presense on the peninsula.
  • If only symbolically, the Wae were able to assert their jurisdiction over the south of the peninsula.

Kim (2010:177)

  • A generation after Wae had militarily supported Paekche, the Wae came to be regarded (by history) as the main force.
  • Consequently the five Wae kings (recorded in Songshu) who at the time supported Paekche against Koguryŏ from 438 onwards later came to be regarded as the leaders (of the campaigns) over Paekche.

Concerning Mimana/Imna and Wae:

Yi (2000:107-108)

  • The Kwanggaeto Stele records the region to which the Wae army retreated as being Imna Kara. This is related to the Mimana Nihonfu and suggests that Imna Kara was under Wae influence.

Kim (2010:83)

  • All of the references to Yamato being in control of the south of the peninsula, in fact refer to Paekche’s control of Imna/Mimana.

Kim (2010:95)

  • The Nihon shoki references seeming to describe Yamato controlling Mimana in fact all refer to Paekche.


Pseudo historiography network

In the two final chapters, Kim (2017) details further individuals and organizations either directly associated with Yi Tŏk-il, or sympathetic to his conspiracy narrative.

Ch’oe Chaesŏk 최재석

  • Retired sociology professor of Koryo University.
  • Known for authoring several amateur works on early Korea-Japan relations.

[Ch’oe works include:

Ch’oe Chaesŏk 崔在錫. 1990. 百濟의 大和와 日本化過程. Seoul: Ilchisa 一志社.
Ch’oe Chaesŏk 崔在錫. 1999. 古代韓國과 日本列島. Seoul: Ilchisa 一志社.

These works argue Yamato Japan to have been founded by Paekche immigrés. They adopt the revisionist hypothesis of North Korean historian Kim Sŏk-hyŏng, according to which Nihon shoki references to Mimana and Three Kingdoms’ era Korean polities refer to Korean colonies located in Japan.]

  • Holds a grudge against Kim Hyŏn/gu and professional historians for rejecting his papers from academic journals.
  • He consequently published his work as non peer-reviewed books.
  • In his 2011 autobiography “Reversed fortunes” (역경의 행운) Ch’oe accused Kim of being pro-Japanese. Therein two of his arguments are:
  1. Kim’s earlier work on early Japan-Korea relations – originally his doctoral dissertaion completed in Japan and written in Japanese – “Research on foreign relations of the Yamato regeme” (大和政権の対外関係研究, 1985) actively omits Korea from the title.
  2. When completing his doctorate in Japan, Kim’s supervising professor was Mizuno Yū (水野祐). Mizuno believed that Korea had been a colony of early Japan from the 1st century and so Kim must be maintaining the opinion of his former supervisor.
  • Kim dismisses both of these conspiracy type arguments as absurd. In particular he highlights that his interpretation of Mimana and early relations differed from his supervisor, Mizuno, but that Mizuno had nevertheless accepted the logic of his argumentation and awarded him the doctorate. (Kim 2017:138)

[Ch’oe (2011) and his earlier works are cited by Yi (2014), so this is likely the source of Yi’s accusations against Kim.]

Hwang Sunjong 황순종

  • Hwang is a civil servant who had graduated from Seoul National University as an ecnomics major. (Kim 2017:140)
  • In 2016 during the court case against Yi, Hwang published a book titled “There was no Mimana Nihonfu” (임나일본부는 없었다).
  • The book is published by Mankwŏndang 만권당, who were the publishers of Yi (2014) and (2015).
  • Various passages from Hwang (2016) are either similar or identical to written arguments Yi had submitted to the Mapo police station (마포경찰서) in 2014 at the beginning of the defamation case.
    • Kim (2017:142-143) includes five examples of near identical content.
    • This includes a shared error in which both Hwang and Yi claim Kim (2010) equates Mimana to the region of Kimhae {corresponding to Tae Kaya, the more powerful of the Kaya polities}, when Kim (2010) states multiple times that Mimana was in the region of Koryŏng.
  • Hwang (2016:30) asserts that locating Mimana in the south of the peninsula is equivalent to the ‘colonial view of history’ which, according to Kim, should again implicate Yi’s earlier books which do likewise.

To Chonghwan 도종환

Kim (2017:148) highlights the case of To Chonghwan’s statements made in 2017.6.6 as candidate to become the current minister of culture wherein he claimed that Japanese still equate the Mimana Nihonfu to Kaya, and that current Korean research on Kaya is being funded by Japan.

Hŏ Sŏnggwan 허성관

  • A member of Yi Tŏk-il’s Hangaram History and Culture Research Centre (한가람역사문화연구소), formerly held high positions in the civil service as 해수부장관, 행자부장관, 광주과기원장.
  • As noted above, in his own column in the Kyŏnggi ilbo newspaper (허성관 칼럼) 2015.12.8 (in Korean), Hŏ repeated Yi’s accusations against Kim.

Yi Chŏng-u 이정우

  • Economist and professor emeratus at Kyungpook National University (경북대학교).
  • Kim argues Yi Chŏng-u had merely read Yi (2014) yet demonstrates ingnorance of basic concepts of the dispute such as muddling the notion of Mimana Nihonfu as the object of control, rather than the organ through which control of the greater region was administered. (Kim 2017:154)

Lawyers Pak Ch’anjong and Yi Sŏk-yŏn 박찬종·이석연

  • Provided free counsel to Yi Tŏk-il during the first trial.
  • Pak Ch’anjong had previously been a presidential candidate.

Seongnam city mayor Yi Chaemyŏng 이재명

  • Seongnam city mayor and presidential candidate for the Minju party.
  • Following Yi Tŏk-il’s acquittal, Yi Chaemyŏng Tweeted a message congratulating Yi and stating, “We must always uproot pro-Japanese [elements] that have infiltrated our society.” 우리 사회 곳곳에 침투한 친일 세력들 언젠가 반드시 뿌리를 뽑아야지요. 이덕일 소장님 무죄판결 출하하고 환영합니다 (Kim 2017:156)

Internet group ‘Righteous Army Division for history’ 역사의병대 (website in Korean)

Korean ‘internet cafe’ whose name evokes the ‘righteous army’ term used to refer to the peoples resistance against the 1592 Hideyoshi invasion of Korea, and subsequently to resistance fighters based in Manchuria during the Japanese colonial period. (Kim 2017:156)

  • The group’s website lists Kim Hyŏngu and Song Hojŏng among ‘7 enemies of history’.
  • Two members of the Young Historians Collective, Sin Gayeong (신가영) and Ki Kyoung-ryang, are included among the ‘next generation of 7 enemies of history.

‘Headquarters of the people’s movement for the dismantling of colonial historiography’ (식민사학 해체 국민운동본부)

  • Established 2014.3.19. (Kim 2017:158)
  • High profile actors include: former 국정원장 Yi Chongch’an, Kallilli Church (갈릴리교회) pastor In Myŏngjin and Hŏ Sŏnggwan.
    • Yi Chongch’an is the grandson of independence activist Yi Hŏeyŏng (李會榮 1867-1932), known for resisting the Japanese annexation of Korea and helping establish the Sinhŭng military academy (신흥무관학교) in Manchuria.
  • Appointed Yi Tŏk-il as head of their academic committee (학술위원장직).

Misahyŏp association 미사협

Misahyŏp is an abbreviation for ‘Association for correct history heading to the future’ (미래로 가는 바른 역사 협의회).

According to Hŏ Sŏnggwan’s Kyŏnggi sinmun column (2017.6.5 in Korean), Misahyŏp claims to represent some 140 smaller history groups.


The Tide Turns? Part IV

Activities of the Young Historians
(Part 2 of 2)

3) Hankyoreh 21 series “Real Ancient History” (2017.7.26 – 2017.9.6)

“Real ancient history” (진짜 고대사 in Korean) was a series of seven articles, six written by members of the Young Historians affiliation and one further article by Kim Taehyŏn, a founding member of the ‘Manin mansaek researcher network’ (만인만색연구자네트워크) that was separately established in November 2015 to oppose the imposition of a single government authored textbook.

Representing a further distillation of key themes treated in the Young Historians’ book, each of the seven articles addresses one of a canon of topics regularly appearing in the works of pseudo historians. Authorship of the individual articles and their main topic area are as follows.

2017.07.26    Wi Kaya 위가야                      Mimana-Kaya
2017.08.08    An Chŏngjun 안정준              Kwanggaet’o Stele
2017.08.09    Ki Kyŏng-nyang 기경량         Lelang Commandery
2017.08.16    Ki Kyŏng-nyang                    Commandery archaeology
2017.08.23    Kang Chinwŏn 강진원           Hongshan Culture
2017.08.29    Kwŏn Sŭnghong 권승홍        SK establishment historiography
2017.09.06    Kim Taehyŏn 김대현             1970s pseudo historiography and Hwandan kogi

Below are summary points from each article. I have taken the liberty of reducing the arguments to two components: the ‘pseudo claims’ the article addresses and the core point of ‘refutation’ made by the authors: this is not the structure of the original articles which are written free form. Accompanying pictures are principally from the original articles.

Article 1. “There are not even proponents of the Mimana Nihonfu theory in Japan” (임나일본부설 추종 학자 일본에도 없다) Wi Kaya 2017.07.26


Pseudo claims:

  • Equating the Mimana Nihonfu (任那日本府) with Kaya was a colonial era Japanese conspiracy.
  • Current day establishment historians who reference Nihon shoki are pro-Japanese.


  • There are no longer even Japanese scholars who support the view of Mimana having been an early Japanese organ of colonial control.
  • SK scholars’ work on Mimana has worked to stress peninsular agency of Paekche and Kaya.
  • The equation of Mimana/Imna to Kaya, is independently attested in early Chinese and Korean sources and so is not a Japanese invention.

This first article contextualizes the question of Mimana against the context of comments made the previous month by assemblyman To Chonghwan, who had been a leading participant of the National Assembly hearings and was at the time of the article a candidate for the position of Minister of Sport and Culture, to which he has since been appointed. To Chonghwan was a vocal opponent to the government authored textbook policy, but was apparently sympathetic to Yi Tŏk-il’s anti-Japanese conspiracy narrative. On 6 June 2017, To was quoted by Hankyoreh newspaper stating:

“In the Mimana Nihonfu theory the Japanese equate Mimana to Kaya. There is much research written by Korean scholars promoting this opinion which has been funded by the Japanese..” 일본이 임나일본부설에서 임나를 가야라고 주장했는데, 일본의 연구비 지원으로 이 주장을 쓴 국내 역사학자들 논문이 많으며

“There is a dispute over Kaya history because there are Korean scholars who think the Japanese theory is reasonable”. 가야사에서 일본 쪽 주장이 일리 있다는 국내 학자들이 있어서 쟁점이 생긴 상황

Wi argues that this polemic is borrowed from Yi Tŏk-il’s 2014 book in which, on the topic of Mimana, Yi targets the work of scholar Kim Hyŏn-gu, wilfully mischaracterizing his research as affirming the Mimana Nihonfu theory and denouncing Kim as a promoter of the ‘colonial view of history’. The details of this claim and Kim’s counter arguments are addressed in his own book, “Colonial historiography cartel” discussed in the following post.

Wi’s article provides an overview of the history of research on Mimana, including the following.

Suematsu Yasukazu (末松保和 1904-1992)

“A history of the rise and fall of Mimana” 『任那興亡史』(1949)

  • Japanese authored work archetypal of the colonial era interpretation in which Mimana is describe as the office through which Yamato Japan administered the south of the Korean peninsula as a colonial possession.

Kim Sŏkhyŏng (金鍚亨 1915-1996)

“History of early Korea-Japan relations: Yamato and Mimana”『古代朝日関係史大和政権と任那』(1966, Japanese translation 1969)

  • Kim Sŏkhyŏng was a former student of Suematsu. Later moved to North Korea.
  • Kim (1966) introduced revisionist argument that all of the Nihon shoki references to Korean polities, in fact, refer to Korean enclaves in Japan.
  • This triggered a re-assessment of the orthodox Mimana hypothesis among Japanese scholars.

South Korean scholars

Ch’ŏn Kwan-u “Restored Kaya history”『復元加那史』(1977)

Kim Hyŏn-gu “Research on foreign relations of the Yamato regeme”『大和政權の對外關係硏究』(1985)

These works:

  • Accept the presence of Mimana on the peninsula.
  • But seek to re-attribute control of peninsular Mimana from Japan to Paekche.
  • Argue Nihon shoki to have been compiled under influence of Paekche immigré refugees

As highlighted by Wi, a core counter argument to the pseudo historians’ claims that the Mimana hypothesis was invented by colonial era historians is that Mimana/Imna is independently attested in both early Chinese and Korean sources.

  • One example given by Wi is the is the Chingyŏng Taesa stele text (眞鏡大師塔碑 erected 924) composed by a descendent of famed Silla general Kim Yusin. Kim Yusin was of the Kŭmgwan Kaya (modern Kimhae) royal lineage, and on the stele the Taesa claims to be a descendent of the Imna (Mimana) royalty.
  • Mimana can therefore neither be a colonial era invention as claimed by Yi (2014), nor located within Japan as revisionist Korean historians from Kim Sŏkhyŏng have argued.

Article 2. “The political, all too political Kwanggaet’ Stele” (정치적인, 너무나 정치적인 광개토왕비) An Chŏng Chun 2017.08.02


An’s article discusses the 414 Kwanggaet’o Stele, focusing on the Sinmyo year (辛卯 391) entry:

The people of Paekche and Silla originally belonged [to Koguryŏ, to whom they] came and paid tribute.

而倭以辛卯年來 渡海破百殘□□□羅 以爲臣民
But in the Sinmyo year, Wae came across the sea and defeated Paekche [and Sil]la, making them {their} subjects.

Pseudo claim:

  • The Sinmyo year (391) entry on the Kwanggaet’o Stele recording a Japanese Wae invasion of Paekche and Silla was falisified by Japanese military historians.


  • Evidence for the hypothesis that the stele text had been altered has been proven false.
  • The text should be accepted as unaltered, but should be interpreted as an original exaggeration by Koguryŏ propagandists who wanted to exaggerate the threat of Wae in the south for dramatic effect.
    • The accompanying claim that Paekche and Silla were subordinate to Koguryŏ is patently false.


An summarizes the background of the current day interpretations.

1883 Stele rediscovered by Sakō Kagenobu (酒匂景信 1850-91).

  • Sinmyo year entry used to support Mimana hypothesis.

1930s Chŏng Inbo (1893-1950) tried to refute this by arguing the grammatical subject of the passage to be Koguryŏ rather than the Wae.

1972 Zainichi Korean Yi Chin hŭi (이진희) argued the inscription had been altered by the Japanese military.

  • This is the source for current day pseudo conspiracy theories.

1981 This hypothesis was refuted by Chinese scholar Wang Jianqun 王健群.

Wi thus asserts that the Japanese distortion hypothesis has long been negated but that it remains a conspiracy hypothesis peddled by pseudo historians. He argues such an approach is no better than early Japanese interpretations.

An asserts the content of the stele text should be accepted, but interpreted critically as contemporary Koguryŏ propaganda. He cites the work of another zainichi scholar, “A created ancient past” (만들어진 고대, 2001) by Yi Sŏngsi (이성시 Waseda University), as representative of this approach.

Article 3. “Lelang commandery was located at P’yŏngyang” (낙랑군은 평양에 있었다)
Ki Kyŏngnyang 2017.08.08


Pseudo claims:

  • The Han Commanderies, particularly Lelang and (post-Han period) Daifang, were never located on the Korean peninsula, but rather in the region of (eastern) Hebei, or even further to the west.
  • The P’yŏngyang location theory was invented by colonial Japanese scholars.
    • Anyone promoting it is therefore furthering colonial Japanese historiography.
  • There is no evidence of the commanderies having been located on the peninsula.


  • There was already a pre 20th century tradition of locating Lelang at P’yŏngyang.
    • Examples include both Samguk sagi and Chŏng Yak-yong’s Abang gang‘yŏggo (我邦疆域考).

[Here it should be noted, that pre 20th century Korean scholars’ acceptance of P’yŏngyang as the location for Lelang is explained by pseudo historians as owing to traditional Sinocentricism (사대주의). This explanation originates with nationalist historian Sin Ch’aeho whose colonial era writings blame much of Korea’s contemporary misfortunes on the pre 20th century elite’s supposed cultural subordination to China, which Sin traces to Silla’s overthrow of Koguryŏ.

The Chŏng Yak-yong example is pertinent as Yi (2014) falsely claims Chŏng to have located Lelang in Liaodong.]

  • Chinese sources contemporary to the period of the commandery – Sanguozhi and Hou Hanshu – give the location of Lelang and Daifang relative to other Korean peninsular polities.
  • In particular, the Samhan are described as south of Daifang, making it impossible for Lelang or Daifang to have been on the eastern Hebei coast.

[Yi Tŏk-il has been unable to explain this, but instead argues that the Samhan were never located on the peninsula and that the Samhan themself are another colonial era conspiracy to reduce the early foundation dates for the southern Three Kingdoms era polities of Paekche, Kaya and Silla. This may in part be inspired by Sin Ch’aeho who had claimed the names of the original Samhan to have been derived from continental Manchurian polities that, according to Sin’s scheme, were later forced to retreat into the Korean peninsula.]

  • ‘Primary sources’ cited by Yi Tŏk-il are actually later annotations to Hanshu and Hou Hanshu so are not primary.
  • References to Lelang and Daifang being located in Liaodong and Liaoxi found in later Chinese sources (including annotations to earlier works) refer to contemporary circumstances of Lelang and Daifang communities who had relocated after the commanderies’ historical existence came to an end c.313 CE.
    • This is the concept of kyoch’i (僑置 교치).


Article 4. “A false frame established by falsehood” (가짜가 내세우는 ‘가짜’ 프레임)
Ki Kyŏngnyang 2017.08.14


Pseudo claims:

  • All archaeology associated with the Lelang commandery at P’yŏngyang was fabricated.
  • The Old Chosŏn capital of Wanghŏm-sŏng (王險城) was located in Liaoxi (current day eastern Hebei).


  • There is overwhelming archaeological evidence of Lelang at P’yŏngyang, including not only the results of Japanese colonial era excavations but many subsequent excavations by North Korean archaeologists.
  • By contrast, there is no archaeological evidence of Wanghŏm-sŏng having been located in Hebei.
  • What has been fabricated at P’yŏngyang is the more recent Tangun tomb.
    • North Korean authorities have been motivated by an ethnic chauvinism similar to that of South Korean pseudo historians.

Ki’s second article provides a counter argument to one of the central conspiracy premises held by empires advocates: that the artefacts produced by Japanese colonial era excavations at P’yŏngyang were largely fabricated. Such artefacts include: roof end titles carrying the name of Lelang (樂浪禮官·樂琅富貴), and seals (封泥) identifying 23 of Lelang’s 25 subordinate counties. The claim of fabrication was first made at the time by Chŏng Inbo and, needless to say, is repeated in Yi (2014).

Ki highlights, however, that since the colonial era, North Korean archaeologists have excavated some 2,600 tombs which – to outside observers, at least – are clearly Chinese Han in construction style, containing in particular a large number of Chinese lacquerware items. Yi Tŏk-il has argued these were just tombs of Chinese prisoners of war held by Koguryŏ, which is also the current North Korean explanation.

Ki also highlights the Lelang census tablets (戶口簿 45 BCE) unearthed from a P’yŏngyang tomb, the discovery of which occured around 1992 but, no doubt owing to the implications of such a find, was not acknowledged until 2006. Constituting near irrefutable proof for the P’yŏngyang location of Lelang, Yi Tŏk-il has nevertheless variously argued that the tablets were either buried with a Lelang defector (locating Lelang in Hebei), or that they are again Japanese forgeries. Not mentioned by Ki, in Yi (2014) he even suggests that they were forged by North Korea in order to confuse South Korean scholarship and keep it inferior to that of the North!

Ki goes on to argue that, by contrast, there is no archaeological evidence for Wanghŏm-sŏng having been located in Hebei. He also makes the argument that, according to the logic of colonial era ManSen-shi (滿鮮史 Manchuria-Korea history) historiography – a colonial era paradigm that grouped the two regions as one in order to justify Imperial Japanese expansion from Korea into Manchuria – if Lelang (as the successor to the Chosŏn capital of Wanghŏm-sŏng) could have been located deeper into Liaodong or China, it would have served to justify contemporary Japanese expansion, so there would have been less motivation to fabricate its location at P’yŏngyang. [A similar argument, not mentioned by Ki, is why the Japanese did not also fabricate archaeology for Mimana, which they similar sought to locate, but in contrast to Lelang failed to discover.]

Ki goes on to contrast the pseudo historians’ conspiracy of Lelang archaeology having been fabricated with the more obvious case of North Korean authorities fabricated excavation and ‘restoration’ of Tangun’s tomb. Details noted by Ki include:

  • North Korea claimed the supposed skeletal remains of Tangun (and his wife) dated to c.3000 BCE.
  • They thereafter proclaimed the Taedong river as the centre of a Northeast Asian civilization.
  • This necessarily made P’yŏngyang the capital of ancient Chosŏn.
  • They therefore suggested the Wanghŏm overthrown by Han China to have been a secondary capital located near the Liao river, which became Lelang. [This is, in fact, Sin Ch’aeho’s original explanation.]


Article 5. “Korea and China share the same national self-conceits” (한국과 중국, ‘국뽕은 통한’) Kang Chinwŏn 2017.08.23


Kang’s article addresses competing claims to the Neolithic Hongshan Culture (紅山文化) by both Chinese and pseudo Korean historians. In this case there is both a common claim by Chinese and pseudo Korean scholars exaggerating the significance of Hongshan, and then competing claims to jurisdiction over perceived heritage.


Common Chinese and Korean pseudo claim:

  • The Hongshan Culture of Inner Mongolia was a 5th civilization of the ancient world.

Chinese pseudo claim:

  • Hongshan gave rise to northern Chinese civilization.

Korean pseudo claim:

  • Hongshan is the origin of Korean Northeast Asian civilization.
    • Jade boar rings (玉豬龍) are bear designs, not pig/boar, and are thus connected to the Tangun tradition.
    • ‘Goddess’ masks correspond to the she-bear (熊女) of the Tangun story.
    • Piled stone tomb design is similar to {much later} Koguryŏ tombs.


  • There is no evidence Hongshan was comparable to other ancient civilizations.
    • Hongshan lacks evidence of: writing, urban settlements, and metallurgy.
    • There is no indication of state formation processes.
  • Korean attempts to link Hongshan with Tangun and ancient Korea are no different to, and equally as conceited as, Chinese attempts to link it to ancient China through the Yellow Emperor.
  • Korean claims also risk reversal by China, who through their own claim to Hongshan could argue Koguryŏ and Korea – as supposed descendents of Hongshan – to belong to ancient Chinese civilization.

Article 6. “Does the historical establishment still appear pro-Japanese” (아직도 역사학계가 친일로 보이나요?) Kwŏn Sŭnghong 2017.08.30


From left: Sin Ch’aeho, Yi Pyŏngdo and Yi Kibaek

Pseudo claim:

  • South Korean establishment historians starting from Yi Pyŏngdo have continued only to pursue Japanese colonial historiography.


  • Establishment historians have actively sought to overturn colonial historiography.
  • In particular they have worked to negate Japanese ‘stagnancy’ (정테성론) and ‘heteronomy’ (타율성론) characterizations of Korean history through the ‘internal development theory’ (내재적 발전론).

To support these refutations, Kang’s article provides an overview of colonial era and subsequent South Korean historiography, summarized as follows.

Colonial era

  • ‘Stagnancy’ was first countered by Korean Marxist historians, with Paek Nam-un (白南雲 1894-1979) arguing for the emergence of feudalism in Silla, and Yi Ch’ŏngwŏn (李淸源) highlighting Mongol period powerful Koryŏ families (known as 權門勢族) as major landowners.
  • Heteronomy was first countered by ethno-nationalist historians, Sin Ch’aeho and Chŏng Inbo by asserting there had been an ancient Korean empire. [Needless to say this is not relevant to refuting pseudo claims!]

South Korean historiography

Yi Pyŏngdo (李丙燾 1896-1989) established source based positivism (실증).

Emergence of ‘internal development theory’ (내재적 발전론)

Yi Kibaek (李基白 1924-2004) contributed with scheme ‘성읍국가 – 얀맹왕국 – 왕족 중심 중앙집권적 귀족국가’.

Kim Yongsŏp (金容燮 b.1931) sought to highlight early ‘sprouts of capitalism’ (자본주의의 맹아) to counter the Japanese characterization of economic backwardness.

Establishment of ‘Minjung’ peoples’ historiography (민중사학)

Criticisms of internal development theory for trying to match Korea to Western notions of modernity.

21st century

  • Today the field is broadly divided between those working to revise the internal development narratives, and those searching for alternatives to both colonial and internal development theories.
  • Historians are looking for alternative subjects to transcend the minjok (ethnic nation).
  • This all continues and the field of history has been widened as a result.

Article 7. “Theirs is not a truly ethno-nationalist historiography but rather Cold War anti-Communist” (‘민족사관’ 아니라 ‘반공-냉전사관’ 이다) Kim Taehyŏn 2017.09.06


Pseudo claim:

  • Our historiography is positively ethno-nationalist (민족사학), in contrast to the pro-Japanese establishment historiography which is anti-Korean.


  • Pseudo historiography is not sincerely ethno-nationalist.
  • The immediate predecessors of the current day generation of pseudo historians were those of the 1970s, who were former Japanese imperialists turned pro-Park Chung Hee anti-Communists.
    • Their notion of ethnic nationalism (민족사학), was not that of the anti-Japanese March 1st uprising of 1919, but rather conceived itself as the antithesis to Marxist historical materialism (유물사관).
    • Their ethnic nationalism entirely ignored North Korea.
  • Hwandan gogi (桓檀古記) is a fake text authored during the same era.

In the final article of the series, Kim Taehyŏn traces the immediate origins of current day pseudo historiography to the journal Chayu (自由 ‘freedom/liberty’ est.1968.6) which was the shared forum for an influential group of 1970s era pseudo historians.

Kim highlights the right wing Japanese collaborationist background of Chayu‘s chief editor, Pak Ch’ang-am (朴倉岩 1923-2003):

  • Former lower ranking officer of the (Japanese) Manchukuo Army.
  • 1953 graduated from US military training (미국특수전학교)
  • Awarded for participation in Park Chung Hee’s 1961 coup.
  • Adopted the style name Manju (滿洲 Manchuria).
  • In the editorial to the first edition of Chayu Pak states the magazine was founded to strengthen anti-Communist spirit.
  • From 1976, Chayu became the mouth piece for the ‘Association for the pursuit of Korean history’ (국사찾기협의회) an association of influential pseudo historians established in October 1975.

Alongside this topic, Kim discusses the Hwandan kogi, which today constitutes the main scripture of Taejonggyo who regard it as an authentic  source of ancient history. Kim highlights that Hwandan kogi was first published by Yi Yurip (李裕岦 1907-1986) in 1979, but that extracts with differences to the final text had previously appeared in Chayu during the preceding decade, demonstrating the process of its recent authorship. He notes also that this supposedly ancient text contains a poem by Yu Ŭngdu (? 柳應斗 1847-1914) and that it cites from another apocryphal text Ch’ŏnbugyŏng (天符經) all undermining its authenticity.

[Concerning the main argument of this article – that the Park Chung Hee era pseudo historians were anti-Communist rather than sincerely ethno-nationalist – it should be noted that while, in particular their political lobbying activities have set a pattern for Yi Tŏk-il, their writings were not the origin of current day empire or pan-Altaic type interpretations but only an intermediary stage (though they have been directly influential on current day new religiongs of Taejonggyo and Jeungsando). While they professed anti-Communism, one of the most influential and notably right leaning members, An Hosang (安浩相 1902-1999), openly cites Ri Chirin’s work. (An 1979) The introduction of Ri (1963) to South Korean scholarship is usually traced to Yun Naehyŏn, who in the process was accused of plagiarism. The Taejonggyo-ist aspects of Yun’s work – which have been passed on to Yi Tŏk-il – owe much to An Hosang. However, as both Yun and Yi have self-identified with the more typically ethno-nationalist, or pan-Korean, political left, the question raised in this article by Kim concerning the political leanings of those during the Park Chung Hee seems only an attempt to undermine Yi’s leftist credentials. Both Yun and Yi in any event, trace their lineage to Sin Ch’aeho and Chŏng Inbo, principally via Ri Chirin.

An Hosang. 1979.  Paedal tong’i nŭn tong’i kyŏre wa tong’a munhwa ŭi palsangji 배달·동이는 동이겨레와 동아문화의 발상지. Seoul: Paek’ak munhwasa 백악문화사.]

The Tide Turns? Part III

Activities of the Young Historians
(part 1 of 2)


From left: Wee Kaya, Ki Kyoung-ryang and An Jeongjun (source)

This and the following post provide a brief, non-exhaustive survey of the Young Historians’ publications during 2016-2017. During this time, there were three main joint publication events: their papers appearing in the journal Yŏksa pip’yŏng, their book which collates the same papers together with some additions; and their 7 part series in Hankyoreh 21. This post gives an overview of the articles and the book, the next post covers the Hankyoreh 21 series.

As there is repetition between these works, I have summarized the content of their arguments in most detail in the Hankyoreh 21 series, on the premise that they would have focused on core topics for popular exposure.

Consequently, in this post, for the journal articles I principally seek to provide only bibliographical data, and for the book focus on the “Box Talk” sections interspersed among the articles.

1) Yŏksa pip’yŏng articles – “Early Korean history and criticism of pseudo historiography” (한국 고대사와 사이비역사학비판)

Nine scholars affiliated to the Young Historians group individually heralded their new organization with articles spread across the 2016 spring, summer and winter editions of the quarterly journal Yŏksa pip’yŏng. Additionally, the 2017 spring edition contained a themed section titled “Fake history and fake texts” (위사(僞史)와 위서(僞書)) which included five further articles by scholars not directly affiliated with the Young Historians, but that continue the criticism of pseudo historiography by focusing on the topic of apocrypha (false ancient texts).

The titles and contemporary authors’ affiliations of all these articles are as follows.

2016 Yŏksa pip’yŏng Vol.114 Spring[1]
“Early Korean history and criticism of pseudo historiography – part 1”

Pseudo historiography and history fascism[2] 사이비 역사학과 역사 파시즘 (translated here
Ki Kyoung-ryang 기경량 – Lecturer at Kangwon National University

Is the theory of the Han Commanderies’ location on the Korean peninsula a product of colonial era historiography” ‘한사군 한반도설’은 식민사학의 산물인가 (translated here)
Wee Kaya 위가야 – PhD from Sungkyunkwan University, history department

Current day research on the Lelang Commandery” 오늘날의 낙랑군 연구 (summarized here)
An Jeongjun 안정준 – PhD from Yonsei University, history department

2016 Yŏksa pip’yŏng Vol.115 Summer[3]
“Early Korean history and criticism of pseudo historiography – part 2”

Colonialist historiography and the heteronomy within ‘us’” 식민주의 역사학과 ‘우리’ 안의 타율성론
Kang Jinwon 강진원 – Lecturer at Seoul National University, Korean history department

Research on the Mimana Nihonfu and colonialist historiography” ‘임나일본부’연구와 식민주의 역사관
Sin Kayoung 신가영 –  Doctoral candidate at Yonsei University, history department.

Could the Han Commanderies have been located in the Luan river basin, after all?” 한사군, 과연 난하 유역에 있었을까?
Lee Jeongbin 이정빈 – Research professor at Kyunghee University

2016 Yŏksa pip’yŏng Vol.117 Winter[4]
“Early Korean history and criticism of pseudo historiography – part 3”

Symbol of ethnonationalist historiography – reconsidering Sin Ch’aeho
민족주의 역사학의 표상, 신채호 다시 생각하기
Kwon Soon-Hong 권순홍 – Unaffiliated (PhD Sungkyunkwan University)

Tangun: history, myth, and the ethnic nation” 단군: 역사와 신화, 그리고 민족
Lee Seung-ho 이승호 – Lecturer at Dongguk University, history department

False imaginings within ethnonational[ist] history textbooks: focusing highschool textbooks of the 4th and 5th national curriculum periods” 민족의 국사 교과서, 그 안에 담긴 허상: 4·5차 교육과정기 고등학교 국사 교과서를 중심으로
Jang Miae 장미애 – Lecturer at Catholic University of Korea

2017 Yŏksa pip’yŏng Vol.118 Spring[5]
“Fake history and fake texts”

The crisis in the study of early history and the specter of colonial historiography” ‘고대사파동’과 식민주의 사학의 망령
Cho In Sung 조인성 – Professor at Kyunghee University, history department

Background and origins to the construction of Hwandan kogi” 『환단고기』의 성립 배경과 기원
Lee Moon-young 이문영 – Editor, novelist, and long time critic or pseudo historiography.

Book of Veles as Russian literary forgery and 21st century history disputes of Eurasia” ‘벨레스서’로 본 러시아의 위서와 21세기 유라시아 역사분쟁”
Kang In Uk 강인욱 – Professor at Kyunhee University, history department

From criticism of false texts to research of false texts: comparison of Japanese and Korean false texts” 위서 비판에서 위서 연구로: 일본 위서의 검토 및 한국 위서와의 비교
Kim Shiduck 김시덕 – Professor at Seoul National University, Kyujanggak.

On false texts” 위서(僞書)를 말하다
Park Chihyŏn 박지현 – Researcher at Chungnam Institute of History and Culture (충청남도약사문화연구원)


2) Young Historians’ book: “Early Korean history and criticism of pseudo historiography” 한국 고대사와 사이비역사학비판 (2017.2)

The Young Historians’ book is divided into three parts. The first two contain the previous nine articles with one extra by Ki Kyoung-rang. Additionally, each chapter article is followed by a shorter ‘Box Talk’ section which briefly discusses related subtopics or common hypotheses of Korean pseudohistory.

Ki Kyoung-rang additional chapter article is “Are the Tangun Chosŏn period records of astronomical observation true?

The Box Talk sections are summarized below.

Box Talk sections

Does pseudo historiography exist only in Korea?” (Ki Kyoung-ryang)

  • Brief summary of Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions (2011) by Ronald H. Fritze.
    • Five core characteristics of pseudo historiography suggested by Fritzes closely match the methodology of Korean pseudo historians.
    • Summarized by Ki, these are: 1) Cherry-picking evidence, ignoring evidence which does not match their theory, 2) making use of earlier scholarship which has since been disproved, 3) failing to distinguish between remote ‘possibility’ and actual ‘likelihood’, 4) arguing over basic facts (e.g. whether a given event occurred or not, or whether a certain place or special individual existed or not), and 5) ignoring greater bodies of evidence that point to a rational likelihood and consensus interpretations, while focusing on the one or two exceptions that support their pseudo hypothesis.

Is the Great Wall of China a symbol of national disgrace?” (Kang Jinwon)

  • Remains of a long wall fortification, known as the Taeryŏnggang-jangsŏng, run for between some 164-238km along the Taeryŏng river, a tributary flowing south into the Ch’ŏngch’ŏn river in North Korea.
    • Chinese scholars argue this to be an extension of the wall recorded in Shiji as terminating in Liaodong (around modern Liaoyang). Korean’s are against this interpretation as it implies military penetration into presumed Old Chosŏn territory.
    • It is also unlikely to be Chinese because it is built on the east side of Taeryŏng river.
  • However, even if it were Chinese built, this need not be interpreted as humiliating. Rather it could be positively interpreted as reflecting the strength of Old Chosŏn, such that China could not advance any further.
    • Makes analogy to circumstance of Hadrian’s Wall.

What is the truth of Paekche’s expansion to Liaoxi?” (Jang Miae)

  • The hypothesis that Paekche held territories in the region of Liaoxi (modern eastern Hebei, western Liaoning) is not widely accepted by Paekche historians but it has been included in the national curriculum since 1973.
  • The hypothesis is based on Chinese histories only of the southern dynasties, namely Songshu (宋書 488) and Liangshu (梁書 636).
  • It ignores the geopolitical realty of Paekche, in that it would not have been able to conduct a major sea campaign against the Former Yen and Former Qin polities while simultaneously struggling to contend with Koguryŏ.

“Where was the heartland of Old Chosŏn?” (Lee Jeongbin)

  • Three theories: Liaoning location, P’yŏngyang location and movement from Liaoning to P’yŏngyang.
  • Supports the movement theory based on distribution of bronze daggers.

Did Wi Man cross the Yalu eastwards or southwards?” (Wee Kaya)

  • Discusses identification of the Paesu (浿水) river which is recorded in the Shiji as having been crossed by (Wi) Man and marking the boundary of Chosŏn.
  • Conventional identification of the Paesu is as either the modern Yalu or Ch’ŏngch’ŏn rivers but pseudo historians argue it to be a river in western Liaoning or Hebei.
    • They argue it cannot be the Yalu or Ch’ŏng’ch’ŏn because Shiji describes Wi Man going east, whereas to cross these rivers into the peninsula one is going south.
    • However, ‘going east’ refers to Wi Man’s broader journey, and more crucially the southern side of the Yalu has regularly been referred to as the eastern bank, rather than south, e.g. in the regional term Kangdong (江東) ‘east of the river’.

Nihon shoki – the Infinite Challenge history book for historians of early history” (Sin Kayoung)

  • Nihon shoki was compiled with political intentions of the 8th century in order to exaggerate the Japanese imperial house. Therefore it contains distorting aspects, especially with regards to the portrayal of its early and foreign relations.
  • However, Nihon shoki also contains import factual information and details missing from Samguk sagi, so if treated cautiously, it is a valuable source.

What is the ’45 BCE [Lelang] census’” (An Jeongjung)

  • Overview of the Lelang census tablets discovered in a P’yŏngyang tomb in the early 1990s but not announced until 2006.

Were Koguryŏ, Paekche and Silla not on the Korean peninsula?” (Ki Kyoung-ryang)

  • Critiques 1994 pseudohistory book “Koguryŏ, Paekche and Silla were not on the peninsula” (고구려백제·신라는 한반도에 없었다) written by a retired meterorologist, Chŏng Yongsŏk (정용석), who, comparing records of natural events recorded in Samguk sagi tries to argue the three polities could not have existed in close proximity, or on the peninsula.
    • A flood is recorded in the Silla annal for a given year but not the corresponding Paekche annal. Ignores possibility of local flooding.
    • Claims Samguk sagi records volcanic eruption of Toham-san (吐含山) when there are no volcanos on the peninsula. The original text, however, is less explicit (吐含山地燃 ‘the ground of Toham-san caught fire’)and might be the product of natural gas catching alight.
    • Ignores that later Korean sources such as the Chosŏn Sillok also record natural events including earthquakes.

Did Kija Chosŏn exist?” (Lee Seung-ho)

  • Most scholars today reject the ‘Kija going east to Chosŏn’ legend as a Han period invention to support their establishment of the commanderies in 108 BCE.
  • There is no archaeological evidence – such as Zhou period Chinese bronzes – found in Liaodong or beyond to support the presence of a Chinese polity prior to the commanderies.

Sin Ch’aeho criticizing Sin Ch’aeho” (Kwon Soon-Hong)

  • In 1914 August-October Sin Ch’aeho visited Huairen (懐仁縣) in Manchuria and briefly worked as a teacher at Tongch’ang school. There he is believed to have joined Taejonggyo and written a history textbook for the school.
  • This text is thought to be the second of Sin Ch’aeho’s three main history works, Chosŏn sanggo munhwasa (朝鮮上古文史) as it demonstrates aspects of Taejonggyo influence.
  • However, in his third major work, Chosŏn sanggosa, thought to have been written around 1924, Sin explicitly criticizes recently authored apocryphal texts that are a part of Taejonggyo, Ch’eonbugyŏng (天符徑) and Sam’il sinji (三一神誌).
  • Sin is still revered by Taejonggyoist pseudo historians, but he can thus be seen to have been critical of their apocryphal texts.


Part 3 of the book is based on a colloquium held at Kyunghee University  18 August 2016. It contains a brief critical response to the Young Historians’ articles by Korea University researcher Kim Hŏnju and a follow up discussion. The two main topics raised by Kim concerned the suitability of the designation ‘pseudohistory’ and how best to address the challenge it presents.

Kim Hŏnju “The meaning and limits in the notion of ‘Pseudohistory’, and the dilemma of ‘correct history‘” (YH 2017:277-284)

  • The Korean term used by the Young Historians for ‘pseudo’, saibi (似而非) originates in Mencius.
  • While Korean ‘pseudo history’ is methodologically flawed, the designation ‘pseudo historiography’ fails to address the nationalistic motivations of ‘pseudo historians’ which they trace themselves to Sin Ch’aeho.
  • Sin Ch’aeho sought to revive ancient history against the context of the colonial era and nationalist revitalization movement.
  • This circumstance is entirely different to the 21st century but pseudo historians maintain the colonial framing of Sin.
  • By focusing only on methodological shortcomings of pseudo historians, critiques ignore that it is not the content so much as the spirit of Sin Ch’aeho that pseudo historians are promoting.
  • Evidence based argumentation (실증) adopted by Yi Tŏk-il, is secondary to the narrative of continued Japanese influence on South Korean historiography, which matches the reductionist polemic holding currency among those who identify as political ‘progressives’, namely: “Colonial era → failure to purge Japanese collaborators and influence → [perceived] contraditions of current day South Korean society”.
  • It is more important to have a designation addressing this aspect rather than methodology. Therefore ‘chauvinist historiography’ may be more appropriate.

In response Ki Kyoung-ryang and Wee Kaya both emphasized that, although provocative, ‘pseudo’ (사이비) is the most accurate qualifier to describe the phenomenon in question. While ‘chauvinist’ is not inaccurate, ‘pseudo’ makes clear that their methodologies are flawed to the extent that they are not pursuing history, the clearest example being their willingness to use apocryphal texts such as Hwandan kogi, or nevertheless forcing artificial interpretations of authentic sources to support their hypotheses. (YH 2017:286-287)

Although this phenomenon should be described as pseudo historiography, they equally stress that academic historiography has internal contradictions that must continuously be addressed. These pertain firstly to the assumption of historians that they have successfully ‘overcome’ the influence of colonial era Japanese scholarship, the problem being that while they may have achieved this within their academic world, it has not be well communicated to the general public. (YH 2017:302) The second, problem is that the method by which this ‘overcoming’ was pursued was to emphasize the ethnic nation (minjok) and narrative of developmentalism even within early history, but the assumptions of early nationhood and a developmental path to modernity on which they are premised are now being  challenged. (YH 2017:298, 300)


[2] The original articles contain English translations of the title and abstract, but here I have retranslated the titles directly from the Korean. The Romanization of the personal names follows those used by the authors.




The Tide Turns? Part II

As noted in Part I, 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 I

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.

Continue to Part II.

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.