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.]


1 thought on “The Tide Turns? Part IV

  1. Pingback: The Tide Turns? Part III | Koreanology

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