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

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

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

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

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

Pseudo historiography and history fascism (사이비 역사학과 역사 파시즘)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. The emergence and activities of pseudo historiography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Why did pseudo historiography first emerge?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

  2. Pingback: Sin Gayeong “Research on the Mimana Nihon-fu and colonialist historiography” 2016 – summary | Koreanology

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