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 Sunhong 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’o 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 Sunhong 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.