Sources: Choe Namseon’s “Bulham-munhwa-ron” – The great lineage of Joseon sindo 神道

Below is a translation of another representative chapter from Choe Namseon’s Bulham-munhwa-ron. This chapter was not so easy to render into English and so the translation should be understood only as giving the basic impression of what was originally written.

In addition to what’s already noted in the previous post, text struck through denotes words in the Korean translation which do not fit comfortably into English syntax.

There are two words I haven’t yet been able to translate, myeonpa (面怕) and joyeon (助緣) – any suggestions are welcome.

The term minjok (民族) translates as ‘ethnic group’ or ‘people’ as in ‘the Korean people’; in this sense it corresponds to the Latin gens.

Chapter 10: The great lineage of Joseon sindo (神道 ‘way of the gods’ / ‘divine way’)

Taigăr (대갈) representing the sky and Taigam (대감) its personification (인격형), and Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ) representing god and its personification of Părkăn-ai (ᄇᆞᆰ은애) are all originally religious [concepts]. In fact, from ancient times an extremely clear doctrine (宗旨) based on these was established and a theocratic (제정일치) world appeared; this formed a single expansive cultural area (문화권). [From this] sinseondo (神仙道 ‘way of gods and xian‘/’divine way of xian‘) was a Chinese development [whilst] susindo (隨神道 ‘following the way of the gods’) was a Japanese branching, however, it seems to have been what belonged to Joseon that was at the centre of its distribution and maintained a comparatively [more] pure true-aspect (진면목).

In Joseon, with Părk as the original root, [the term] also became Părkăn, and changed to Pukun (부군) or was simply called Pur (불). For a long it became buried and dropped out of people’s (世人) attention (주의), however, if one carefully investigates, the teaching (가르침의 모습) and tradition (法脈) [become] comparatively clear; at times like a great river, at times like an underground spring, it threads (관통) its way through Joseon history and its permeation within society can clearly be observed both in textual sources and actuality.

In textual sources, the [most] directly expressed extent evidence is the first section (서문) of the Nallang-bi stele (鸞郞碑) [inscription by] Choi Chiwon (崔致遠) recorded in the Samguk-sagi (Book 4, King Jinheung 37th year [576CE]).

“The country has a mysterious way (道) called Pung-ryu (風流). The root which bestowed this teaching is contained in the Seon-sa (仙史 ‘History of Seon [mountain sage/immortals]’) and so it includes the Samgyo ‘Three Teachings’ (三敎 [Taoism, Buddhism and Confucionism]) and enlightens (교화) all living things as it comes into contact [with them]. Further, entering at home [there is] filial piety, going out [there is] loyalty to the country and this is the true meaning of Confucius’s teaching; progressing through life without doing anything and teaching without words, this seems to be the primary root purport of Laozi; [finally] not behaving in any evil manner and holding aloft good actions, this seems to be the enlightenment (교화 [in the educational sense]) of [Buddha] Shakyamuni.”

 {NB The syntax of the follow paragraph is particularly garbled so the following is only an approximation of the meaning.}

Thus [he] transmitted the teaching (가르침의 양상). However, aside from this one passage, there are no other written sources that pass on the religious nature (상태 lit. ‘state’) [of Părk]; to be sure, together with the facts of Wonhwa (源花) introduced there [in the same entry of the Samguk-sagi {or in the Sillaguk-gi}], [implicit reference of Părk as the Hwarang order 花郞] was recorded in the text of the Xinluoguoji (新羅國記 K. Sillaguk-gi ‘Record of Silla’) [by] Ling Hucheng (令狐澄 fl.860?) of Tang [China]; // looking [only] briefly [at the original Xinluoguoji description] it may have seemed [to compilers or readers of the Samguk-sagi entry] that [Părk/Hwarang] was [just] a normal social institution for cultivation (교화) and with its name as ‘Pung-ryu’ it [seemed just one particular] religious group; // [consequently] it would have been easy [for readers] to have neglected the point that it was likely the highest religious order (宗門) in the country.

{Alternative interpretation of the latter part of the above paragraph.}

// [for the original author of the Xinluoguoji ] observing [only] briefly [the circumstances of Silla] it may have seemed that [the Hwarang he described] was [just] a normal social institution for cultivation (교화) and with its name as ‘Pung-ryu’ [to have been just one particular] religious group; //

{According to a footnote of the Korean translation, the Sillaguk-gi was a first hand account of Silla compiled by Gu Yin 顧愔 who was part of an official embassy in 768. This in turn was quoted from by Ling Hucheng and this, apparently is all that survived although it doesn’t say in which of his writings.}

In any event, through ethnic universalism and national veneration, at first it was a solemn (장엄) and large ritual (의식 or ‘consciousness’), but in later times for various reasons the old meaning (古義) was entirely lost, and because traditionally it ended at the succession of the physical form (형체) it subsequently became like an annual event and the [original] sacred meaning (진의) was increasingly obscured.

However, this [reference to] ‘wonhwa’ also, [represents just one] social application and one [particular] circumstance (상태) of ceremony, not the entirety [of Părk]. Further, the phrase ‘pung-ryu’, too, is simply phonetic with no relation to the characters’ (문장) meaning. It was only much later that I came to this idea (이에 생각이 미쳤고), and only on account of this did the beginning and end [points] of this research link together.

As it [otherwise] becomes to complicated, I will simply state the results of [my] investigation. Părk was practiced on the [Korean] peninsula since ancient times and gradually assumed a national hue; in Silla, from its foundation it was transmitted by a class of ritual [specialists] called Pak (朴 Bak). The ceremony (제사) was called Părkăn (ᄇᆞᆰ은) and the priests (祭司) Paksu (박수); [those] made leaders were [termed] Geoseogan (居西干), Chacha’ung (次次雄), Isageum (尼師今) and Maripgan (麻立干); [there was] the religious order (교단) ‘wonhwa’ (hwarang, Părkăne) and the era Părknui (불구내 bulgunae ).

Because society was centered around ritual (제사), at first the priests were the rulers, but together with the development of society, politics and religion became separated and the belief systems of pung-ryu (풍류 pur) or na’eul (奈乙 nar) became the independent religion; the [subsequent] development of this religion becomes gradually [more] noteworthy. Concerning doctrine, sacred texts (聖典) such as Sinji (神誌), Seonsa (仙史), Bisa (秘詞) and Book of Jeong Gam (鄭鑑의書 {refers to Jeonggam-nok 鄭鑑錄 ‘Record of Jeong Gam’}) were compiled. Concerning practice, [both] secluded mountain practice as well as temporary mountain pilgrimages occurred, [both] had music as one aspect. The societal activities of the Wonhwa (separately the guk-seon 國仙; later there is the name hwarang ) become visible, giving strength to Silla’s national circumstances (국가정세).

Later, [Părkăn] flourished (융섭) alongside the introduction of Buddhism, [with which] it synthesized; Părkăn sacred rituals (聖儀) were practiced under the name of Palgwanhoe (Joseon pronunciation ‘Parkwanhoi’) [which was based on] similar sounding characters. But as Buddhism flourished (융성) it [began] gradually to dominate and the famous mountains of superior topography (승지) that had been the spiritual grounds of Părk all became lands of garam [sangharama] (伽藍) and nan’ya [araṇya] (蘭若) [temples], the guksin (國神 ‘national gods’) and their sasa (社祠) shrines barely managed to maintain their remaining life within the shadow of the character bul (佛) [of Buddhism].

However, the reason [it] was protected by the state and [the fact it was a] custom which had permeated folk traditions {or had itself been permeated by folk} meant that it could not be entirely obliterated (소멸) by foreign ideos (사상). Consequently the Palgwan (八關) rituals of the courts of [both] Taebong (泰封 aka Later Goguryeo) which continued from Silla, and Goryeo which succeeded Taebong, were consistently held on a grand scale; when the sinsa (神事 ‘divine matters’) were increasingly neglected because of this kind of Buddhism, it was such that on several occasions the state issued royal decrees (칙명) admonishing this and giving warnings.

Towards the end of Goryeo Confucianism arose and following the success of the Yi dynasty revolution, a policy was taken to suppress [both] sin (神 ‘gods’) and Buddhism for the sake of plotting (도모) political stability. As a result, leaving aside [the similar circumstances of] Buddhism, sindo (神道 ‘the way of the gods’) was [now like] ‘a once mighty bow down to its last arrow’ (强弩?) appearing clearly lonesome. Further, during the period of Taejo, sinseo (神書 ‘divine books’) were burnt bringing the loss of much literature on this subject [of Părk]. Only fragments which prophesied the fate of the Yi dynasty such as the Book of Jeong Gam (鄭鑑의書) which had been the most powerful, were secretly transmitted, [albeit] with later corruptions in the text.

However, during the Yi dynasty the Buddhist term palgwan [used] since early Goryeo, changed its makeup (얼굴 모습) to the Confucian term bukun (Pukun) [whilst] the old appearance (모습) of the sinsa shrines were preserved throughout [the country] by government offices (官府) and station inns (驛院). Concealed by the deep myeonpa (面怕), Pukun-harmöi (부군-할머이) fortunately continued the public/official (공적) belief [system] and in the form of Purki (呼旗 {hogi }) and Pukun-kut (府君굿 {bu’gun-gut }) the national Palgwanhoe has maintained the reverence of the people (민중적) until today.

Consequently, national instability and social discontent were treated as joyeon (助緣) and the phenomenon of belief (religious behaviour) arose connected to such [texts] as Book of Jeong Gam. [A picture of] the ideal world of ‘South Joseon’ (南朝鮮) was drawn, and all manner of big and small [events like] ripples [across] (波紋) were transmitted through history. Within this meaning, whilst in actuality having disappeared (망실), approaching the modern era the Way of Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ道) can be seen to have [undergone] a spiritual revival and has formed the core of [our] minjok‘s way of life with a vigour it previously had lacked.

For example, [amongst] Donghak (東學; later [named] Cheondo-gyo and Sicheon-gyo), Heumchi-gyo (吘哆敎 우치교; later Tae’eul-gyo 太乙敎), Bocheon-gyo (普天敎) and other similar religious groups that have appeared with various names, there is not one that is not based on this [Way of Părk]. The reason that such [new religions] as these have been easily established and that they (오느 것이나) have developed to a considerable degree is not due to the personality of the founder (敎祖) or the profundity of their [particular] doctrines, but [because] they have caused a response in the Joseon minjok’s single traditional spirit/soul (정신) that lay submerged in the people’s (민중) hearts, transmitted from ancient times. In truth, the ‘Way of Părk’ never died, it is living in the present and is the reality [of the] currently active generation (일대 현실). [Just] the people (민중) are not so conscious [of it in] themselves.

Source for the translation:
Choe Namseon 최남선, translated by Jeon Seonggon 전성공. 2013. 불함문화론ㆍ살만교차기 (최남선 한국학 총서8). Seoul: Kyung-in Publishing 景仁文化社.

See also a translation of the concluding chapter.


Sources: Choe Namseon’s “Bulham-munhwa-ron” – last chapter

The following is a translation of the concluding chapter of Choe Namseon’s Bulham munhwa-ron (不咸文化論 불함문화론 ‘discourse on Bulham culture’) completed in December 1925 and first published in August 1927. The original was written in Japanese whilst this translation is based on a modern Korean translation. Trusting that the Korean translation is faithful to the Japanese, hopefully not too much will be different. For the most part, my translation aims to reflect the Korean syntax as closely as possible at the expense of more natural English; only when the syntax becomes impossibly garbled do I try to break down the sentences. In the original Korean, most paragraphs are made up of just one or two long sentences.

Sino-Korean hanja (漢字) characters in parenthesis are either present in the Korean translation or added by myself; obviously the original Japanese would always have used characters, though it would be interesting to know if any had furigana or special readings attached. Hangul (한글) words in parenthesis are left in by myself, either when the hangul form of the word is important or if the English does not so directly or exactly translate the original Korean word (or to prove what was originally written!) It seems the premodern Korean hangul vowel known as arae-a (아래아 ‘lower a‘) cannot be rendered in hangul unicode, the syllable block is broken up with the arae-a appearing as an interpunct.

Romanization of Korean words which do not match the Revised-Romanization system (e.g. Părk and Taigăr) are original to the Korean text.

For a good discussion of Choe Namseon’s historiography, namely his influential analysis of Dan’gun and the Bulham hypothesis, see:

Allen, Chizuko T. 1990. “Northeast Asia Centered Around Korea: Ch’oe Namsŏn’s View of History.” Journal of Asian Studies 49.4:787-806.

Bulham is a classic in the genre of hyperdiffusion theories popular at the time and periodically so since. The initial inspiration and term ‘bulham’ (不咸) Choe seems to have acquired from Shiratori Kurakichi (白鳥庫吉 1865-1942) who as early as 1900 had suggested it as a Chinese transcription of ‘Burkhan’ attested as an oronym (mountain name) in the Shanhaijing (山海經).

Anyway, here’s the translation.

Chapter 18: The Bulham Cultural Region and its Linchpin (楔子)

The above is an insufficient inquiry, but [from it we] could get a general view of [just] how deep roots the Părk centered culture existed with and over [just how] expansive a region it [was spread].

And consequently in the Shanhaijing (山海經) wherein one would think that [Părk/Bulham] had not been transmitted after the Qin [dynasty – due to its lack of explicit mention], the name Bulham (Părkăn) is [instead] recorded [as] ‘Dae’in’ (大人) and ‘Baek-min’ (白民), whilst in the Hanshu (漢書), that which in present day Joseon [aka Korea] is called baeksan (白山 ‘white mountain’) is mentioned as Bun-ryeo-san (分黎山; Păr); [these both] show that through textual sources also the longevity (오래됨) of ‘Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ)’ and ‘Părkăn (ᄇᆞᆰ은)’ can be observed.

In the Weishu (魏書), the record of the beliefs of the Wuhuan (烏丸) people states that when a human dies their soul (혼백) returns to a spirit-land (靈地) called Jeok-san (赤山 ‘red mountain’), and that they send off the deceased to Jeok-san furnishing them with dogs and cows. Through this abbreviated (간략형) [notion of] Jeok-san or Daegal (Taigăr), and its correspondence both in name and actuality with [mountains] such as Tae-san and Geumgang-san, the universalism of the ‘Daegal (Taigăr)’ belief [system] can be appreciated.

The foundation myth of the Mongols recounts that a blue wolf (蒼浪) who had received the celestial mandate (天命 lit. ‘command’) and his wife, a white deer (白牝鹿), resided in Burhan (不兒罕山) mountain and [there] gave birth to the country’s founder; the foundation tale of the Manchu, meanwhile, tells of the strange (기이한) exploits of the red fruit of Bulhūri lake (布勒瑚哩地) beneath the Bukūri mountains (布庫哩山) to the east of Jangbaek-san [長白山 Ch. Chángbáishān, aka K. Baekdu-san 白頭山] mountain, [and so we cannot but] be surprised at the universalism of these [myths] possessing the traditional philosophy (사상) of the lineage of Bulham culture.

In Mongolian, gods and Buddhas (神佛) alike are called burikan (부리칸) or burhan (부르한) (burkhan); in every house of the Oroqen people (鄂倫春人) they set up a sacred alter (神壇); in Sollon (率倫人 Ch. Lǜlún) people’s homes they worship ‘borohan’ (보로한); amongst the Gilyak there is the name bad (바드) for mountain gods (山神); [thus] together with Joseon’s veneration of Bugun (府君; Pukun or Taigam), Japan’s various schools of different types of Shintō, and Ryukyuan worship in front of the sun (in Ryukyuan language ‘sun’ is fi or pi ), it can be surmised that the various ethnic groups and states of the east have tacitly developed (자라다) within a shared culture up until the present. How can the explication (자아냄) of the scholarly interest in Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ) thought simply stop with history? As one who is [trying to] vaguely explicate on Asian-ism, or as that spiritual (정신적) support, there is the need to look into (돌아보다) this [further].

In short, an ethnic group (민족 minjok) who possess a Părk based belief [system] and social organization is distributed in a line [starting from the region between] the Caspian Sea and the Tian Shan mountains which [constitute] the northeast branch of the Pamir mountains; [this line then] follows the Altay mountains, the Sayan mountains and Yablonoi mountains, and then incorporates the Xing’an and Taihaeng mountains to the south, and I’yeok (夷域 ‘yi territory’), Joseon, Japan and Ryukyu to the east. Leaving aside [the question of] the racial (종족적) relationship [between them], culturally they form a [long] chain of connections.

[Along this chain] some division emerged between [those more] civilized and [those more] primitive (야만) [depending on] the period of migration out of the original homeland (본원지) and environmental conditions (제약) in the [various] places of settlement. However, taking the legends that had diverged from the original same root as the history of the founding of [their individual] countries and transmitting them in a fragmentary fashion, [they] preserved a single culture (문화적 현상 lit. ‘cultural phenomenon’) [unified] by a single belief [system] that was both universal and strong and constituted its [own] root of origin. Because it was originally based on an immovable conviction, a model for the best way of living, even whilst being constantly oppressed by stronger cultures [they] successfully maintained a living lineage (계통적 생명) across east and west and throughout past and present.

The lineage of Bulham (Părkăn) culture constitutes a northern lineage of eastern culture that contrasts with the two southern lineages of China and India. [Amongst both] the peoples (minjok) and countries that belong to this [northern] lineage, until a certain period [we can say] they had no special [individual] histories, [and] a feeling (감정) has flowed [across place and time] of such shared commonality and correspondence that it has constituted its own distinctly colored (특색) [cultural] area. Corresponding to [the original] Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ) and [since] protected within Taigăr (대갈), both [their] actual and ideal way of living (생활) is to obtain comfort and satisfaction. Consequently, that which constitutes [both the] clear[est] proof, and [represented] an extremely important opportunity (계) [for maintaining Părk] has been [the legends of] Dan’gun and Buru (夫婁), and the teaching of ‘the Way of Pung-nyu’ (風流道) [which all belong to] Joseon history.

Today in East Asia, the northern people’s source of branching and [their] constituent cultural content (문화 구성 내용) still belongs to virgin territory [in] scholarship and it is difficult to suddenly grasp the truth and details [of it all], however, it seems [now in this writing] through [our] investigation of this Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ) philosophy, we have glimpsed the broad outline of the original source. Having pursued (더듬다) this, recently I am thinking that perhaps based on this a true explanation of the ancient culture of East Asia has been achieved.

[On the basis of] comparative research of religion and language, and [utilizing] anthropology and folkloristics, [Dan’gun is] thought to be the secret key to East Asian culture [and so] whenever I see Dan’gun slandered by those who cannot know, relying on ignorant (一知半解) uninformed (상식적) scholars [as they do], I feel nervously troubled (아슬아슬) and frustrated. And when East Asian culture is discussed, whenever I see [they] treat everything as pertaining either to Chinese or Indian [cultural] spheres and speak as though attributing value [only] to these, I cannot help but lament that the lack of progress in Oriental Studies owes to these preconceived notions (기존 인식) and preconceptions.

Recently a research tradition in the humanities (인문 과학) and folkloristics has gradually gained popularity (성행) and a new scholarly paradigm (신국면) is opening up. For the sake of the original (本地) truth of East [Asian] culture which [has been] being buried, I am truly delighted and cannot welcome [this development] enough. Consequently [it] must be said that expectations for the immediate future lie solely in this direction. We [Japanese and Koreans] are [merely] one inconspicuous part (일면) of East [Asian] culture, or [even of] all humanity; the focus of that comprehensive observation can be understood as Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ) ideology. If the secret of this ideology is [further] developed by many intelligent scholars, and its structure and nature becomes clearer, it will herald in an enormous new light which can illuminate [wider] human culture.

Source for the translation:
Choe Namseon 최남선, translated by Jeon Seonggon 전성공. 2013. 불함문화론ㆍ살만교차기 (최남선 한국학 총서8). Seoul: Kyung-in Publishing 景仁文化社.

 See all a translation of Chapter 10: The great lineage of Joseon sindo (神道).

Is Korean an Altaic language?

Typologically: yes. Genetically, no.

Typology refers to the structure of a language and, as is well known, modern Korean shares similar grammatical characteristics to Japanese and Mongolian as well as other more geographically distant “Altaic” languages such as Turkish, including a basic subject-object-verb word order, polysyllabic root structure and suffix based agglutinative morphology (the last being where grammatical particles and verb conjugations are directly attached to the end of, or come after, words).

However, the sense in which the Altaic language “family” was originally conceived and is still commonly thought of, is as a genetic language group equivalent to Indo-European or Sino-Tibetan and implying that the associated Altaic languages share a hypothesized common ancestor, known as a “proto” language, in this case “proto-Altaic”.

Why can’t the Altaic languages be considered a genetic language family?

In the case of defining a genetic language family, identifying basic vocabulary with shared etymologies (“cognate words”) between the candidate languages is more indicative and assertable as proof than typological similarities in grammar (the primary shared characteristic of the Altaic languages). The fundamental weakness of the Altaic language hypothesis is simply that the languages involved do not share very much basic vocabulary at all.

How are language families determined and what is Korean if it is not Altaic?

The complete vocabulary (“lexicon”) of any modern language can be understood as having been built up in layers over time in a manner similar to archaeological strata. Any language may include layers of foreign vocabulary such that the given language as a whole becomes a mix of more than one language family (or, in the case of English for example, a mix of separate branches of the same Indo-European). Out of this, the genetic family a language is ideally associated with is the oldest recoverable layer.

As is commonly known, the modern Korean language is in fact Sino-Korean and likely has been since the political formation of historical Korea. At least half, if not more, of the lexicon is “borrowed” Classical Chinese and on top of that, there is now much modern English vocabulary. The earliest Chinese layers may date to the period of the Han Commanderies, c.108BCE, (currently a politically and historiographically sensitive topic in Korea) or rather their subsequent downfall which, according to historical accounts, may have seen “Chinese” refugees enter the peninsula; prior even to that, the harshness of the Qin dynasty was also said to have caused a refugee influx conveniently resulting in the establishment of the Jinhan polity, but this latter may equally have been a fictitious Chinese claim. These layers were then followed more definitely by the introduction of Buddhism and Confucianism which were transmitted in written Chinese, then later reinforced with the ascendency of Neo-Confucianism from the 14th century onwards, and finally (so far) early modern Sinic vocabulary introduced first via Catholic missionaries active in China late 18th and early 19th centuries, and then in greater volume from Sino-Japanese during the late 19th and early 20th centuries; it should be noted much of these last strata were direct translations of European biblical, ideological and technical terms rather than Chinese though, in a similar manner, much of the early Buddhist Chinese vocabulary was also translated or transliterated from the original Indic Buddhist languages. In North Korea there has been a further layer of imported Sinic vocabulary associated with Marxism which would have first been introduced from Japan and later via Chinese.

However, the Korean part of Sino-Korean (aka the Korean language), what Koreans today refer to as “pure Korean” (순우리말 sun-uri-mal where, somewhat ironically, sun meaning “pure” is itself Chinese 純), understood as the earliest layer of the Korean language into which all the subsequent layers of Chinese were borrowed, can be identified as “Koreanic.” Thus there is a language family termed Koreanic of which only the Korean language survives. When there is only a single language attesting a language family, that language may be described as an “isolate”, so the modern Korean language is an isolate of Koreanic; historically, too, there are no other known Koreanic languages, that is, anything more distinct than regional dialectic variations.

Because Chinese is, of course, as traceably old as Korean, it is not impossible to argue that the Sino-Korean language is a Sinic language classifiable under the Sino-Tibetan language family; the Sinic vocabulary in Sino-Korean together with Sino-Japanese is useful in helping to reconstruct early Chinese phonology. However, the important thing in terms of taxonomy is that we can be certain that there was a prehistoric era in the ancient past when a Koreanic language directly ancestral to modern Korean was being spoken before it came into contact with ancient Chinese. What “pure Korean” nationalists today tend to misunderstand is that this period would have been much earlier than the formation of any “Korean” polity or cultural identity and geographically limited to only a small region, possibly the southeast of the peninsula and that only a tiny minority of the ancestors of the post Silla expansion population of the peninsula would ever have spoken this ancient Koreanic tongue whilst others, including the populations of Goguryeo and Baekje, would have spoken entirely different, quite likely non-Koreanic languages which would already have been infused with Chinese vocabulary before coming into contact with Koreanic. Historically, though, it was Koreanic which spread and either replaced or absorbed the other peninsula languages such that it was Koreanic which borrowed Chinese and other vocabulary into its lexicon meaning the oldest original stratum of the surviving Korean language is Koreanic and not Chinese. Of course, there would also have been regions and periods when Koreanic vocabulary was borrowed into other languages and in those cases it would not have been the oldest stratum, but those languages or idioms ultimately perished or, for example, may have survived outside of the peninsula such as is potentially the case of Japanese. But, in any event, this is why it is reasonable to term the modern (Sino-)Korean language as Koreanic.

The assumption then, is that Koreanic would be a branch of the Altaic language family collateral to other Altaic language groups (Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic), all descended from a single proto-Altaic language (as the earliest hypothesized recoverable layer). “Recoverable” means that the former existence of an extinct language can be confidently postulated and some basic vocabulary reconstructed: this is the work of comparative linguists who use the “comparative method” of linguistics to accomplish, or at least attempt, this.

How does the comparative method work?

To scientifically prove that two or more languages are descended from a common ancestor it is not enough to simply find words which appear similar, although that tends to be the initial starting point, rather consistent sound correspondences have to be established. The theory is, when two languages split and are subsequently isolated from one another, over time the pronunciation of certain sounds in the language will naturally evolve and change in different directions; the key phenomenon exploited by comparative linguists is that the sound changes are internally consistent within the languages, so not just one word changes its pronunciation by chance but the same sounds (certain consonants or vowels in certain positions for example) as they occur in all words in the language change in the same manner. Additionally, however, there are also other changes or exceptions which may occur to pronunciation including the influence of secondary (or multiple) borrowings between genetically related languages which have split and this all muddies the waters.

When trying to identify the sound laws dictating regular correspondences to other genetically related languages the other secondary influences on given pronunciation need to be accurately identified mainly in order to disregard them. This understanding of the historical development of a language allows for “internal reconstruction” of its vocabulary; that is, before comparing a look-a-like cognate word in one language to another, it is necessary to establish as far back as possible the original shape of the word. Two words which happen to look similar in two languages today (even if the two languages are in fact related) may in the past have been quite different from one another and only come to appear similar by coincidental or secondary processes, in which case they cannot be considered indicative of a genetic relationship.

When attempting to identify potential cognates between two or more candidate languages, focus needs to be directed on basic vocabulary items as these are most likely to be the oldest parts of the language whilst any more complex or conceptually abstract words are more likely to be new or borrowed from neighbouring languages. Basic vocabulary may include the numerals 1-9, body parts, weather, natural geographic features (river, mountain etc), native flora and fauna and primary colours, but even in these cases there is often secondary borrowing from other languages so nothing is certain without rigorous investigation. Potential cognates should also have relatively similarly meanings as otherwise it is simply too easy to find look-a-like words in other languages: for example, if the word for “tree” and word for “sea” are similar this is more likely to be a coincidence, but the words for “lake” and “sea” obviously could have evolved from whichever word referred to a body of water depending on whether the homeland of the proto language was beside a lake or ocean.

A key challenge in establishing genetic cognates is that it is ultimately very difficult to prove whether look-a-like words in two or more languages are the results of borrowing or genetic affinity. In fact, if words look too similar it should raise suspicion that they are borrowings as it implies they are, in relative terms, more recent and have had less time to change. For this reason, the better proof of a genetic relationship between languages comes through words which on the surface do not look alike but can still be connected through sound laws.

Aside from politics and racial theory, the reason it is useful to establish a genetic relationship between two surviving or historically recorded languages is because through the theory of regular sound changes (which have to be identified), vocabulary from ancestral languages going back to a common proto ancestral language, can be deduced and reconstructed. In this way the comparative method is a natural science on which predictions can be made; reconstructed vocabulary, always marked with an asterisk * prefix in academic papers, are the predictions which may ultimately be proven only through discovery of ancient texts containing the older languages. By contrast, there is currently no productive or known theory relating to the typology of languages, it is simply descriptive.

The fundamental weakness of the Altaic hypothesis:

With this in mind we can return to the idea of the genetic Altaic language hypothesis and why Korean cannot be classified as such. In short there are two problems: one is that the original genetic relationship between the “core” Altaic language groups of Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic has not been satisfactorily established through the comparative method, so there is no Altaic language family within which Koreanic could be included; the other is that Koreanic shares little to no basic vocabulary with any of the said core groups.

Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic share much secondary vocabulary most likely owing to areal contact (meaning they have interacted in close geographic proximity allowing for the borrowing of vocabulary into one another’s languages). In particular, there is shared vocabulary between Turkic and Mongolic, and Mongolic and Tungusic, but less so between Turkic and Tungusic which is all indicative of the processes of areal contact rather than the three language groups having a shared genealogy. However, the corpuses of proposed Altaic cognates have been built up usually on the premise that Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic are equal candidate branches of Altaic; this means that when hypothesized Altaic cognates are sought for in Koreanic, Japonic (Japanese) or other languages, there are three language sources from which to pick the most convenient look-a-like word. Through this “omni-comparative” approach which untrained linguists tend to adopt and willing believers accept, many secondary borrowed items are mis-identified as genetic cognates, but they are not supported by regular sound changes and so the situation remains that there is little proven shared basic vocabulary between the core language groups and especially so with Koreanic.

Why, then, do the Altaic languages appear so seductively similar?!

Despite the lack of a genetic relationship, there has been a close cultural relationship and long early history of interaction between the speakers of the Altaic languages which are now spread in an expansive arc across the central Eurasian steppe. Intensive borrowing of vocabulary between the core languages (as mentioned, particularly between Turkic and Mongolic, and Mongolic and Tungusic, but not Turkic and Tungusic) and their similar grammatical structures tell us that their homelands were once in closer proximity, and from relatively early on (by 1930s) this has generally been agreed to have been around the region of southern Manchuria, and not the Altai mountains after which the proposed language family was evocatively named when it was initially suggested to have originated from the central area of its contemporary known spread (that is, at a time when the Uralic languages were also thought to be a part of the Altaic complex – see more on this in the next post).

However, once more in contrast, Koreanic shares very little borrowed vocabulary indicating that it was isolated from the other proposed Altaic languages particularly early on; there may have been later interaction with the Tungusic Jurchenic branch (ancestral to Manchu) during the Three Kingdoms period of Korean history (assuming Koreanic was the primary language of Silla and Jurchenic spoken to the north in the continental territory of Goguryeo) and, as a much more secondary and ultimately quite limited influence, historical contact with Mongolian under the Yuan dynasty. Otherwise Koreanic appears to have evolved and survived in relative isolation.

So, it must have been at a prehistoric stage of settlement in the peninsula that Koreanic speakers interacted with those speaking other languages of the Altaic typology. It is not known under what circumstances this occurred; for example, it may have been that Koreanic entered into the peninsula from the north having previously passed through, or evolved alongside, Altaic languages in southern Manchuria; or there may have been other Altaic type languages, subsequently lost, spread across the peninsula which came into contact with Koreanic in its historical southeastern homeland region.

It is not unreasonable to postulate and, in fact, vital to keep in mind that aside from the historically known languages there would have been many other languages and language families which were absorbed or forced into extinction by the languages which subsequently survived. Travelling back in time, the linguistic map would not become reduced to only the few proto-languages that are discussed today: it would be just as complex as ever with any number of languages we have no knowledge of having existed alongside the proto-languages we do know of. The proto-languages discussed today are not the oldest languages, only the oldest recoverable layers of known languages; they in turn belonged to earlier language families which, where necessary, can be termed “pre-proto”.

One explanation for why so many distinct language families arose in the region of Manchuria may be the number of river basins which could support the development of several cultures whilst allowing for their independence; the spread of the Altaic languages, particularly Turkic and Mongolic, westwards would have been enabled through the adoption of nomadic pastoralism which first required horses and was greatly enhanced with the introduction of stirrups that allowed for mounted archery and success in warfare.

The “out of Manchuria” expansion of the languages was subsequent to the initial development of their Altaic typologies but most of the borrowing of vocabulary would have occurred in the context of historically known interaction during and post expansion, for example the Turkic speaking Xiongnu and Mongolic Xianbei when the Xiongnu occupied what later became known as the Mongol steppe and the Xianbei were in the Liaoxi (遼西 “west of the Liao river”) region directly adjacent to their east. Koreanic speakers were more isolated in the peninsular and so there was less borrowing.

How is it that languages could interact enough to influence one another’s structures without imparting vocabulary?

In short, rules are not known, but interaction (“areal contact”) can occur between languages in any different number of ways depending on such factors as the relative ratios of populations involved and their respective stages of cultural and political development. Areal contact of languages is directly related to the concept of layers where one language will expand over another, or may survive under an expansion itself; obvious examples occur in the case of invasions and colonization, but whether it is an entire population expanding over less populated or political developed regions, or an elite takeover of an otherwise established civilization, will make a difference to how the languages interact.

A pertinent example of a language being influenced typologically but not lexically (the borrowing of vocabulary) is Mandarin Chinese which, as a northern variant of Chinese that came to dominance during the Manchu Qing dynasty, exhibits many Altaic features absent from other Sino-Tibetan languages, namely more polysyllabic vocabulary, fewer tones and greater use of suffix-based morphology (“morphology” referring to the shape of words) implying it has undergone a process of partial “Altaicization” without absorbing new vocabulary.

The following post will discuss the relationship between Korean and Japanese as well as the historical context of the Altaic hypothesis and reasons for its enduring popularity amongst Koreans today.


Sources: “The Old Joseon we have learnt about is fake”


Kim Un-hoe 김운회. 2012: 우리가 배운 고조선은 가짜다: 한국고대사 천 년의 패러다임은 넘어 (The Old Joseon we have learnt about is fake: going beyond the thousand year paradigm of ancient Korean history). Gyeonggi-do Goyang: Wisdom House

Abbreviations: K. = Korean, Ch. = modern Mandarin Chinese, lit. = literal meaning


Forward: A country is like the body, history is like the soul
Prologue: Writing a new history of Old Joseon (古朝鮮)

Chapter 1: The Liao (遼) dynasty, the successor to Old Joseon
1. Old Joseon and the Liao dynasty
2. The original form of the people’s myth, the myth of Tanshihuai (檀石槐)
3. Old Joseon and the Dongho (東胡)

Chapter 2: A thousand-year-old myth, the myth of Dan’gun
1. The appearance of the Dan’gun myth
2. The Dan’gun myth as a political ideology
3. Reevaluating [lit. re-illuminating] the Dan’gun myth

Chapter 3: The mad wind [광풍, ie ‘mania’] of Gi Ja (箕子) that blew across the Joseon dynasty
1. Gija, becoming the king of Joseon
2. “The Yin (殷) dynasty was a barbarian country”
3. The downfall of Dan’gun, restoration (부흥) of Gija

Chapter 4: The real nature of Gi Ja Joseon
1. The theory of Gi Ja coming to the east and Guzhuguo (孤竹國)
2. The new meaning of Gi Ja Joseon

Chapter 5: Old Joseon during the Spring and Autumn period
1. The Ye (濊), Maek (貊) and Old Joseon
2. Old Joseon, a powerful state of the Spring and Autumn period

Chapter 6: Sushen (肅愼 K. Suksin), the root of Old Joseon
1. Shandong was the Eastern barbarian (東夷) land
2. The Sushen and the Korean peninsula
3. Sushen, the root of Koreans

Chapter 7: The Malgal (靺鞨 Ch. Mohe) who appeared in Seoul
1. Malgal who appear in the Samguk-sagi (三國史記)
2. The Yemaek and the Malgal

Chapter 8: Old Joseon during the Qin and Han dynasties
1. Wi Man (衛滿), the mystery of Old Joseon
2. The forbidden game
3. A thousand-year-old kingdom disappears

Chapter 9: In search of Joseon
1. Various names relating to Joseon
2. Alternative opinions about Joseon
3. Another different Jushin

Chapter 10: The descendents of Old Joseon 1 – Goguryeo
1. The remnants of Old Joseon, the Zhu/Zou (鄒); the beginning of Goguryeo’s establishment on the former territory of Guzhuguo
2. Altai, the root of Goguryeo

Chapter 11: The descendents of Old Joseon 2 – Xianbei
1. The descendents of Old Joseon, Xianbei Wuhuan (鮮卑烏桓)
2. Old Joseon, the continuous resurrection

Chapter 12: Hongshan (紅山) hiding within Asadal
1. In search of Asadal
2. The culture of holy mountain worship amongst the pan-Altai people
3. The true nature of ancient Eastern barbarian civilization, the Hongshan culture
4. The changing history of Mount Baekdu: replace Baekdu with Taebaek

Appendix 1: The Tungus, the root of the bear-woman (웅녀)
1. Tungus, a name lost in a labyrinth
2. Introduction to the Tungus
3. The spirit and cultural characteristic of the Tungus: centering on shamanism

Appendix 2: Detailed analysis of Chapter 1 – contentious points [concerning] Old Joseon
1. The Paesu river (浿水)
2. The Dongho (東胡)
3. Wanggeom-seong (王險城 왕험성), Xiandu (險瀆 K. Heomdok)

Appendix 3: Detailed analysis of Chapter 10, 1 – Goguryeo and the Korean route
1. The three routes
2. The Gaoli (高麗, Goguryeo) route
3. Altai, the homeland of Koreans’ hearts [‘spiritual homeland’]

Appendix 4: Detailed analysis of Chapter 10, 2 – The meaning of ‘Goguryeo’
1. Gaoli were the predecessors to Ghengis Khan
2. The most universal meaning of Gaoli
3. Madam Yuhwa (柳花) and belief in holy trees
4. The various meanings of Gaoli

The following are direct translations of a selection of the more representative sections from this book.  The English reflects the structure and phrasing of the original Korean at the expense of fluidity.  In written Korean repetition of vocabulary and tautologies are more natural than in English but still, it can be a tedious style and is notably combined with ambiguous phrasing whenever the content becomes less reasoned or substantiated.  Text in square brackets is vocabulary added by myself; English text in parenthesis are part of the original translated source whilst the Chinese characters and Korean text are largely added by myself (Chinese characters are sometimes included in the original text alongside the hangul but I have not differentiated between those and where I have added them myself).  The numbers preceded by an ‘N’ in square brackets indicate the position of endnotes in the original text though I’ve only translated the more interesting ones, their numbers highlighted in bold.  The book itself has no bibliography but some references (not all) are given in the notes; I hope to add a bibliography based on these.

Prologue: Writing a New History of Old Joseon

Due to China’s Northeast Project (東北工程) the common logic of China is being globalized and consequently the ethnic identity of the Korean people is imperiled. In particular, as the Liao River civilization which is older than the Yellow River civilization has come to the fore, China has schemed to artificially (억지로) incorporate it [into its official historiography] as the origin of Chinese civilization; the [history of the] entire regions of Manchuria and Mongolia is thus being revised with the Han Chinese as the central [protagonists]. However, historical facts are continuously demonstrating that the history of this region was in actuality unrelated to the Han and directly related to the [so-called] Eastern barbarians (東夷族), namely the Manchus, Mongols and Koreans.

We [Koreans] view Old Joseon as the dawn of our history. However, compared to the great amount that is known about Old Joseon, instances when sources are insufficient are rare [sic this is surely a mistake!] To speak of the extreme, previous to the 3rd century BC the only record is from the Weilüe (魏略) quoted in the Sanguozhi (山國志), “As Zhou diminished, Yan named its own king and attacked eastwards whereupon the Lord of Chaoxian/Joseon (朝鮮候) also declared himself king.” The Shiji (史記), too, has no record on the origin of Joseon but only concerning the war with the Han military and so [as an objective source] is extremely suspect. In spite of this, there has in the meantime been more research on Old Joseon than can be counted. [But] this research is invariably based either on extreme Sinocism (小中華思想 ‘believing oneself to be a “little China”‘) or a [Korean] nationalistic (國粹主義) viewpoint and so historical distortions are severe and we have been unable to attain a historical awareness from any larger dimension.

The history of Old Joseon is based around an expansive territory which extended from the vicinity of modern Beijing across Liaoxi and Liaodong to the Korean peninsula. This region was at once the ‘hub’ (허브) for the northern peoples and a place of continuous realignments [of alliances] as well as the border between nomads and farmers and as a consequence there are a large number of debates concerning the history of Old Joseon. And, following the collapse of Old Joseon, whilst its territory was divided between Goguryeo and the Xianbei its history, too, split into two main branches. One part headed west towards the Chinese continent, the other went to the Korean peninsula and Japan.

[Modern] Korean awareness and understanding of Old Joseon’s history follows two main trends. One could be termed the ‘unofficial school’ of history (在野史學): based on an expanded interpretation of the Dan’gun myth for which there is no historical evidence, they group the Xianbei and Goguryeo as one and consider them to have been the rulers of the continent [but] ancestors [only] to Koreans on the modern Korean peninsula. The other is the ‘conservative school’ of history (保守史學): they understand the history of Old Joseon to be centered on the Korean peninsula [but] because they strictly exclude the Xianbei as descendents of Old Joseon they make its history incomplete.

Both the unofficial and conservative schools have the point in common that their awareness of Old Joseon’s history is incomplete. The perspective of the unofficial school has the fatal weak point that it is impossible to prove through historical facts [whilst] the perspective of the conservative school has the problem that it takes only a part of Old Joseon’s long and expansive history and tries to claim this history on the Korean peninsula as Old Joseon’s entire history. In particular, the unofficial school has a tendency to focus only on unearthing sources which demonstrate the wide reach of Old Joseon’s strength in order to conceal [their] methodology which is deficient in historical reality (역사적 실체). They do not hesitate to make the historical distortion [claiming] that ‘[the people of] Old Joseon were the rulers of the continent’ [but] only peninsula Koreans are [now] their ancestors. On the other hand, the conservative school, ignoring the historical reality of Old Joseon arm themselves with the logic that peninsula Koreans were the only group [of other people] to resemble Chinese whilst the rest were barbarians of no relation to us [Koreans]; they comprehend as Korean history only a half fragment excluding the northern peoples who [also?] existed expansively in the central and southern part of the Korean peninsula. It is time to sift through and arrange what is correct and wrong [from these arguments]. This book has been written with this objective.

More than anything, history must be grounded on historical facts. The northern peoples of Manchuria are faced with the prospect of extinction and their identity is being shaken, but [only] their history will not disappear. Although Manchus and Mongols have been the leading protagonists throughout the greater part of East Asian history and were rulers of the Chinese continent, their identity is disappearing on account of the Chinese government’s relentless [lit. ‘stubborn’] [revisionist] history projects. In this reality, Koreans of the Korean peninsula must not allow all of these peoples’ history to become Chinese history, nor should [Koreans] take everything and regard it only as Korean peninsula history. During the long history of East Asia, the descendants of Old Joseon have been the rulers of the continent (Xianbei); with the Korean peninsula and Japan at the centre (Buyeo) they have played a new role in the development and balance of East Asia and have [now] become a 21st century ‘digital’ global ‘hub’ and ‘technology leader’.

On a foundation understanding and recognizing about history based on these kinds of facts, the next task is to research in what fashion the descendants of Old Joseon branched out and how they came to form the international relationships of East Asia whilst cooperating with one another. This is what could be termed research on the history of Eastern barbarian (東夷) relations. Looking from a broad perspective (범주 lit. ‘category’), as the peoples who thrived across Altai, Mongolia, Manchuria and the Korean peninsula their languages, blood ties and cultural similarities are strongly apparent; they can thus be understood as the same related group (계열) and consequently they were classified in the voluminous Chinese histories as Eastern barbarians. Amongst these Eastern barbarians, the Xianbei (鮮卑) and Sushen (肅愼) took the stage as rulers of the Chinese continent [even] after the Sui-Tang period.

Before [the people of] Old Joseon appeared in the histories as Eastern barbarians, they had already often appeared in them. Of course, these records [of them] were very superficial and short and so they have the problem that there can [always] be multiple interpretations. [But] what is clear is the point that Old Joseon and ‘Kori’ (코리국, 高麗 Gaoli) had already appeared as representative kingdoms of the Eastern barbarians. Consequently it can be said that the countries which form the basis of Eastern barbarian history are Old Joseon and Kori. And, although there are instances of these two countries being clearly divided [from one another], as representative states of the northern people, most of the time they existed in a manner mixed together (혼재하다) [whilst] remnants [of former configurations] would unite and establish new states.

Having now examined the history of Old Joseon from [both] a wider perspective and more objectively, we [can] expect [this to provide us with] a new chance to more concretely examine in what form and what influence our ancient ancestors had on world history, in what manner they branched out establishing new states, and further, what the history was of their descendants. Properly illuminating this history, whilst on one hand [helps to] confront the provocation of Chinese historiography, on the other, it [provides] an opportunity to physically realise (구현하다) a new ethnic identity from a larger dimension through the rediscovery of a people (민족).  This is the best spiritual gift our generation can give to [our own] descendants.  [That’s what it said!]

Chapter 7, section 2: The Yemaek and Malgal

Let us consider from another angle how ‘Suksin’ (肅愼 Ch. Sushen) is another term for ‘Joseon’ (朝鮮).

Firstly, it has continuously been noted [throughout the book so far] that Suksin, who were predecessors (先民族) to the Malgal, is a variant pronunciation (轉音) for Joseon. That is to say, the Joseon and Suksin were originally the same people but because different characters were used to denote them, they came to appear distinct.

Secondly, in modern Korean language, ‘Malgal’ who were the predecessors of the Jurchen (여진) and ‘Yemaek’ who were predecessors of Koreans, appear as greatly different words but it is thought that because they were words expressed by borrowing [characters for their] phonetic values, they in fact denote the same [original] word. This is thought to be a word meaning Bal-jok (發族), Maek-jok (貊族) etc which precisely symbolized the brightness of the sun.

That is to say, the deduced pronunciation of the ‘maek’ of Yemaek is or whilst the pronunciation of ‘malgal’ is mòhé meaning there is a high probability that ‘Malgal’ and ‘Yemaek’ express the same thing or that they are variant pronunciations. When Yemaek is written backwards as Maeg’ye (貊濊), it is thought that this pronunciation, too, would have been mòhé and so the relationship that ‘Yemaek=Maeg’ye=Malgal’ etc is established. [N 134]

Malgal and Yemaek were words written with [characters for their] borrowed phonetic values, the individual meanings of the characters should be ignored. Thus such words as bak (亳), baek (白), bal (發), maek and mak [{sic } mal ] do not carry the meaning of their characters such as ‘socks’ (靺:버선), ‘leather’ (鞨:가죽), ‘night soil’ (濊:똥오물) or ‘leopard cat’ (貊:살쾡이), but rather denote 밝(다) bak(dda) or 붉(다) buk(dda) which was the native word (고유어) of ancient Koreans meaning the brightness of the sun. According to Mencius (孟子), the maek of Maek-jok was the same as baek (白), bak (亳) and bak (薄) which were vocabulary native to the region of northeastern China; and that it could be deciphered as bakgo (薄姑) bright ‘bakdda’ (明:밝다) or ‘bakggo’ (밝고). [N 135] Also in the Shanhaijing (山海經) it states, “The character maek original meant ‘to be chief’ or ‘to make something white’ (i.e. bright 밝게).” [N 136] This is something that can be easily comprehended by Mongolians, Manchus, Koreans or Japanese but for Han Chinese is hard to appreciate. [N 137]

Thirdly, the territory of Suksin is a duplication of the territories of Old Joseon and the Dongho. As examined in the previous chapter, taking a different perspective, this can also be understood through [considering] the process of the appearance of the Wùji (勿吉 mulgil) who were descendants of the Malgal. That is to say, during the Balhae period, a branch of the Suksin first designated the Wùji based around Makhilbu (鄚頡部). Makhilbu, which denoted the Wùji, appears in circa 5th century sources. The problem is the location of Makhilbu which designated the Wùji earliest is thought to be Changtu County (昌圖縣) of Liaoning Province (遼寧省). This Makhilbu, having been established by Goguryeo and inherited by Balhae, was the former territory of both Old Joseon and Dongho. [N 138] The Manzhou Yuanliu-kao (滿洲源流考) tells us that, having emerged from the Suksin, the pronunciation of ‘Jurchen’ – the people who founded the Qing dynasty – was Jushin (珠申 쥬신); the Chinese (漢語) pronunciation of Wùji resembled that of Woju (沃沮 Okjeo) and [so] Wùji was derived from Woju. Ultimately this demonstrates that inhabitants of the Korean peninsula and [continental] Manchuria were one and the same.

On this point, when naming the ancient peoples, henceforth we must restrain ourselves as much as possible from [using] the modern Korean pronunciations of characters. This is because the [modern Korean] pronunciation is quite distant from the Chinese pronunciation and makes analysis of the peoples even more ambiguous. Looking [only] at the pronunciation of characters used in Korea today it would be impossible to find the commonality between Malgal and Yemaek. It would be difficult to consider that there could be a relation between Mulgil (勿吉) and Okjeo. And further, it would be entirely impossible to grasp the relation between [Japanese] Wae (倭 wa) and Mulgil (wuji, waji).

Something still more important is that around the time ‘Malgal’ began to appear [as a term], the word ‘Yemaek’ became hidden. Coming to the period of the Jinshu (晉書), the Yemaek became hidden from Chinese history books. Considering it is not possible for the numerous Yemaek to have suddenly evaporated, this people must have changed their name. Consequently Malgal can be seen as a term [denoting] not only Old Joseon, Buyeo and Goguryeo but also most of the peoples [inhabiting] the northern half of the Korean peninsula. Just for reference, they later reappear under the name of Jurchen.

Fourthly, the Hanshu (漢書) records that whilst being in northeastern China the Maek-jok were also in the region of the Samhan. This means that Maek was used as a general term for all peoples included within the Korean peninsula and so the Malgal were naturally [considered] a part of the Maek. As a concrete example, in the commentary of the Hanshu passage The Maek and Yan (燕) sent valiant mounted warriors to help the Han, [139] it states, “The Maek are in the northeast (of Han), all classed as Samhan are Maek, the pronunciation is balk (밝) or mak (in the original text makgaek 莫客).” [140] This ‘Makgaek’ [referred to] here concerns the pronunciation of ‘Maek’ in Chinese characters, in modern [Mandarin] pronunciation it basically becomes mòké, and so it can be thought of as a variation of mòhé [meaning] Malgal and is considered to be in between the pronunciation of balk (밝) and maek (맥).

Fifthly, in the Samguk-sagi Goguryeo mostly mobilizes Malgal soldiers to attack Baekje (peninsula Buyeo) but in the Chinese histories Goguryeo [is recorded] as mostly mobilizing Yemaek. If one has the preconception that the Yemaek were on the Korean peninsula and Malgal in Liaoxi (遼西) and Liaodong then this makes no sense at all. Further, the Samguk-sagi records that whilst attacking the [lower central peninsula] region of modern Chungju (North Chungcheong province), some 6,000 Yemaek were mobilized. [N141] This could be further proof that ‘Malgal=Yemaek’.

For example, in the Hou Hanshu (後漢書) it records, “Leading armies of Yemaek and Mahan, Goguryeo king Gung surrounded Hyeondo-seong fortress [aka Xuantu Han Commandery]. The Buyeo king sent his son Wigutae and more than twenty-thousand men who, together with the regional (州郡) armies, smashed [the Goguryeo army]…. Later on Goguryeo king Gung’s son died and his grandson, Baekgo (伯固) became king, whereupon the Yemaek were subjugated [or became submissive].” [N142] Looking at this, we can learn that Goguryeo was originally [composed of] Yemaek and that they conducted warfare together. The Sanguozhi (三國志) too records, “Gongsun Yuan (公孫淵) once dared to disobey a royal command… Together with Goguryeo and the Yemaek, Gongsun Yuan engaged in banditry and pillaging.” [N143] Here too, Goguryeo and Yemaek are depicted as trying to attack Wei (魏). Thus in the records above, it is made apparent that Yemaek=Goguryeo people and Malgal=Goguryeo people; ‘Yemaek’ and ‘Malgal’ are words which, as general terms for Dong’i-jok [東夷族 Eastern barbarians], appear to be used interchangeably. Of course these words appear differently according to different periods and books.

If we examine the above contents, there is absolutely no reason for the Malgal to have been excluded from an active historical identity (주체) in Korean history. The largest and most central problem concerning the Malgal and Goguryeo is the complete absence of sources [that could] concretely explain the relationship between the two. This [might] allow us to interpret the Malgal as the main class of Goguryeo people. This is because, if ‘Malgal’ itself has the same meaning as ‘Yemaek’ then there would be no need to [further] explain it.

In this way, because Korean academic historians have actively excluded the widespread Malgal who appeared on the Korea peninsula from being [considered] Korean, they have made the concept of ‘Korean people’ still more obscure; whilst getting caught in the self-contradiction of saying that the peninsula Malgal and [continental] Manchurian Malgal were different [groups], [attempts to] analyze the origins of the Korean people (한민족) within the peninsula have become trapped in a labyrinth. Fortunately, research claiming the Malgal as a regional group (지방민) of Goguryeo is recently being published by one or two scholars. [Gives no reference.]

In the [Chinese] Northeast Project (東北工程, a project to erase Northeast Asian history), these Malgal have an important meaning. This is because they are directly related to the question of Balhae. Korea is still in a situation where Malgal are not included as our people (우리 민족); [meanwhile] China and Russia regard [Balhae] as a country with absolutely no relation to Korean history because [they consider that] ‘Balhae=the country of the Malgal (말갈국)’. The fact that Balhae succeeded Goguryeo appears in various sources. Professor Han Gyu-cheol, an expert in Balhae history, explains ‘Malgal’ as having been at once both a depreciative term (비칭) for the common population of Goguryeo below the ruling strata, and also a general term for the [wider] population of Northeast Asia during the Tang dynasty; on this basis he asserts that Balhae was the country of the former remnant population of Goguryeo (유민). This view has also previously been professed by representative scholars of Manchurian history including Shiratori Kurakichi (白鳥庫吉, 1865-1942), Hinoga Isaburo [sic ] (Hino Kaisaburō日野開三郎, 1908-89) and Sun Jinji (孫進己 b.1931).

Consequently, without breaking the current academic paradigm [in Korea] which separates Malgal and Suksin from [the notion of] Koreans, it will [remain] impossible to reach historical reality. We have now come to a point in time where we must construct a new historical paradigm; this will enable us to more closely approach historical facts; we must [also] recognize the fact that it will form a clear methodology (방법론) [with which] to overcome the Northeast Project.


134) Looking at concrete examples, the pronunciation for ‘ye’ (濊) of Yemaek becomes huì (휘), huol (후오) or weì (웨이). Generally speaking, up until now Yemaek is thought to have been [pronounced] as huìmò (휘모) and Maeg’ye as mòhuì (모휘) or mòhé (모허). [No references given for this information.]

137) Of course, the pronunciations of Maek (貊) [in these various people’s languages??] are based on the modern Chinese pronunciation. It is fundamentally difficult to accurately know what pronunciations they would have been 2,000 years ago but within the modern pronunciations the old pronunciations are preserved to a comparatively large degree. In China, until the 20th century and introduction of written vernacular (白話文) and simplified characters (簡字體), the pronunciation of ancient characters tended to be, comparatively speaking, accurately preserved. China has two methods of using characters, literary (文言文) and written vernacular (白話文). If literary Chinese is that used by the intelligentsia, then written vernacular is that being used in the marketplace. That is to say, if written vernacular is modern colloquial Chinese, literary Chinese is the Chinese that was used previous to the modern era. For reference, simplified characters are characters made artificially during the Cultural Revolution; they were not newly made [from scratch] but [rather] created by reducing the number of strokes in complex characters to a bare minimum.

Two passages from Chapter 9, section1: Various names relating to Joseon

The Shiji-jijie (史記集解) says, “According to Zhang Yan (張晏), in Joseon there are the Seupsu (濕水) Yeolsu (洌水) and Sansu (汕水) rivers. These three merge into the Yeolsu (洌水). It is likely that Lelang and Joseon took their names from this river.” [N154] This is expressed too in other commentaries (주석). [N155]


155) For example, in the Suoyin (索隱) commentary of the Shiji (史記) it states, “The jo of ‘Joseon’ (朝鮮) is the same pronunciation as jo [潮 cháo – modern Mandarin]; the seon is the same sound as seon [仙 xiān]. There was a river known as Sansu (汕水) and so its name was constructed as Joseon. One pronunciation of san [汕 shàn] is san [訕 shàn].” So we can see that the name ‘Joseon’ comes from ‘Sansu’. The original text is: “朝鮮有濕水, 洌水, 汕水, 三水合爲洌水, 疑樂浪, 朝鮮取名於也.” 索隱案: 朝音潮, 直驕反. 鮮音仙. 以有汕水, 故名也. 汕一音訕. (Shiji, Chapter [sic book] 115, Chaoxian liezhuan 朝鮮列傳 section Chapter 55).

In another commentary it has, “Joseon (朝鮮) is Joseon (潮仙 cháoxiān)” (from the Zhengyi 正義). The Kuodizhi (括地志) records, “The capital of Goguryeo is Pyeongyang-seong which originally was Wanggeom-seong of the Han Lelang commandery. According to old lore (古雲?) this was Joseon land.” The original text is: “朝鮮王滿者, 故燕人也. 正義潮仙二音. 括地志: ‘高驪都平壤城, 本漢樂浪郡王儉城, 又古雲朝鮮地也. (Shiji Book 115 Chaoxian liezhuan section Chapter 55).

The opinions of previous pioneers in the field (선각들) had slight differences but they all agreed that ‘Joseon’ was written with characters borrowed for their phonetic value and so there are many other names related to Joseon which can be grouped as the same category. Namely: Joseon, Suksin (肅愼), Jiksin (稷愼), Jesin (諸申), Siksin (息愼), Jiksin (稷愼 [sic this apparent repetition is in the original]), Yeojin (女眞 [ie the Jurchen]), Jusin (珠申) etc From a point with the opportunity having been prepared [through this research] to recognize these names in the form that they are [all] variously denoting a particular people, the horizon of Korean history becomes enlarged. [N158]


158) All these terms differ slightly in pronunciation; they are all [variously] close to, ‘Jyusin 쥬신’ or ‘Chaoxian* 쨔오션 (朝鮮),’ ‘Sushen 쑤션 (肅愼),’ ‘Zhushen 쥬션 (珠申),’ ‘Juhisin 지히신,’ ‘Jishen (稷愼),’ ‘Jwisin 쥐신’ etc but according to convention they have been used as ‘Jushin 쥬신’ so there is so problem to regard their representative pronunciation as being ‘Jushin’. That is to say ‘Jushin 쥬신’ is the pronunciation which can representatively stand for the various words related to Joseon and Suksin.

*Where characters are given, the romanization is simply the modern Mandarin Pinyin, where there is only hangul, the romanization is a transliteration of the hangul. The original text in this note only gives the hangul renderings which appear based on modern Mandarin.

Concluding paragraph of Chapter 11, section 1: The descendents of Old Joseon, Xianbei Wuhuan (鮮卑烏桓)

It is thought that [the name of] Wuhuanshan mountain (烏桓山) was derived from Chishan (赤山 ‘red mountain’), or rather [in Mongolian] Ulagan. According to the geography section of the Liaoshi (遼史), “Wu province (烏州) was originally the territory of the Wuhuan around the Liao River and Wuhuan mountain; Chishan (赤山) is in Qingzhou (慶州 [old name of Ningxia in Gansu province?]).” This means that Wuhuan mountain was modern Chifeng (赤峯) which is [in] the central region of the Hongshan culture. Chifeng in Mongolian is ‘Ulagan Hada’ and in the Yuanshi (元史) it is also named as Chishan (赤山 ‘red mountain’). This [name] red mountain symbolizes the sun and is thus related to Asadal and Joseon but no concrete written sources have yet been found [supporting the] ‘Asadal-Joseon-Ulagan [are the same thing hypothesis]’.

Chapter 11, section 2: Old Joseon, the Continuous Resurrection

Under the circumstances of confrontation between the Xiongnu and Later Han, Old Joseon thrived but following attacks by Emperor Wu (漢武帝), the Xiongnu retreated and Old Joseon collapsed (108BC). This resulted in many stateless peoples (遺民) who became mixed together (雜居). At the beginning of the 1st century, the Later Han developed a defensive system as their main policy against the Xiongnu. But around the year 46 the north was attacked by [a plague] of locusts resulting in natural disaster; thousands of li [of land] turned red, the grass withered and the land became barren. [N181] Around this time, the Xiongnu internally split between South and North Xiongnu (in the year 48). Taking advantage of this, descendants of Old Joseon (or the same people 同系), the Wuhuan Xianbei (烏桓鮮卑) drove the Xiongnu to the region of Monam (莫南) and expanded their influence to Ordos (the region around modern Baotou in Inner Mongolia). [N182]

Old Joseon [thus became] reunified around the Xianbei people in the 2nd century. In the region of Liaoxi (遼西), the former northern part of old Old Joseon (옛 고조선), Tanshihuai (檀石槐) formed as much strength as Genghis Khan would in later days. In order to rule his expansive (광할?) territory, Tanshihuai divided the empire into east, central and western parts stationing powerful men (大人) [to administer them]. The eastern section was between modern Hebei (河北) and Liaoyang (遼陽), the central section Tangshan (唐山) to Beijing, and the western section Beijing to Dunhuang (敦煌).

Following the death of Tanshihuai, towards the end of the 2nd century this region became temporarily weakened but continued with Qiuliju (丘力居). Named as an emperor, he seized most of Tanshihuai’s [former] territory and occupied [this territory as?] the four provinces of Qingzhou (青州), Xuzhou (徐州), Youzhou (幽州) and Jizhou (冀州). [N183] At the beginning of the 3rd century, Qiuliji’s nephew, Tadun (踏頓, ?~207) succeeded as emperor. Contemporary warlord (실력자) in northern China, Yuan Shao (袁紹, ?~202), sought friendly ties [with Tadun] and so sent a relative’s child he pretended was his own daughter as a bride. [N184] During the conquest led by Cao Cao (曹操), Tadun was executed. Around this period, it appears Goguryeo moved from the former southern territory of Old Joseon, around the Liao River (遼河) to the northern region of the Korean peninsula.

Following this, Kebineng (軻比能, ?~235) led many of the tribes against the Wei (魏) before being killed by assassins, whereupon [the Xianbei tribes] were again fragmented and reorganized as the Murong (慕容), Tuoba (拓跋), Yuwen (宇文部) Duan (段部) etc. Amongst these, the Murong were the strongest and established both the Former Yan (前燕, 337~370) and Later Yan (後燕, 384~409) states.

The name ‘Joseon’ [Ch. Chaoxian] reappears in the 4th century. The Jinshu (晉書) states, “At the beginning of Jianwu (建武), Murong Hui (慕容廆) [led] the conquest campaigns and achieved great merit, so he was made Duke of Joseon (朝鮮公) and was succeeded by Murong Huang (慕容皝, r.337~348).” [N185] The name of (Old) Joseon was preserved, not by Goguryeo, but Murong Huang.

The Jinshu records that after Murong Hui was made Prince of Joseon, he was succeeded by Murong Huang but internal strife erupted; in order to suppress this Murong Huang went to Xiandu (險瀆). [N186] According to the Shuijing-zhu (水經注) and Qing dynasty Gu Yanwu (顧炎武)’s Rizhilu (日知錄), this region is in the vicinity of modern Beijing and was formerly Guzhuguo (孤竹國). In this way, in the 4th century the former region of Old Joseon from Beijing to Liaodong was restored by Joseon/Chaoxian kings Murong Hui and Murong Huang. Concerning this, the 7th century Liangshu (梁書) compiled by Yao Silian (姚思廉) of the Tang, states, “Amongst the various states of the Eastern barbarians (東夷), Joseon/Chaoxian was the strongest; receiving Gi Ja’s enlightenment, its culture became civilized (禮樂).” [N187]

More than 450 years after its collapse, Old Joseon was revived to be even stronger [than before]. The Joseon king Murong Huang [ruled] not only the former territory of Old Joseon but [expanded] southwards and seized the greater part of northern China. In order to effectively administer China, the country’s name was [changed from Joseon to] Yan (燕, not the same Yan as the Warring States period). This phenomenon [of changing names] occurred whenever the descendants of Old Joseon ruled over China.

Later Yan was passed on to Murong Yun (慕容雲), the Jinshu states, “Murong Yun was the adopted son of Murong Bao (慕容寶), his grandfather was Go Hwa/Gao Huo (高和) and [so] he was a kinsman of Goguryeo.” [N 148] Upon ascending to the throne, Murong Yun changed his family name to Go/Gao (高), the Goguryeo king, Gwanggaeto the Great, sent an envoy bestowing the etiquette [reserved for] a fellow clansman (宗族, 408); in return [Yun] sent shiyushi (侍御史) Li Ba (李拔) to express the [strong] bond of their lineal relations. [189] [This] demonstrates the mutual exchange between the Murong section [of the Xianbei] and Goguryeo.

After the influence of the Murong clan (씨) weakened, the Tuoba (拓跋) [Xianbei] came to prominence establishing the Northern Wei (北魏, 386~534). At times, the Northern Wei and Goguryeo allied themselves through marriages, at other times they developed through competing with one another.

When King Gaero of Baekje asked Northern Wei emperor, Xuwen (歔文帝, 454~476), to attack Goguryeo, Xuwen rather rebuked him and supported [the Goguryeo] king Jangsu; saying that the six palaces (六宮) were unprepared he also requested Jangsu send a daughter. Emperor Xuwen’s son, Emperor Xiaowu (孝武帝, 471~499), or Tuoba Hong (拓跋宏), made the Goguryeo [princess] Go Joyong (高照容, 469~519) his consort; (posthumously) known as the Wenzhao empress dowager (文昭皇太后), she gave birth to the next emperor, Xuanwu (宣武帝, 499~515). [N190] Upon Xuanwu’s accession, a portion of the imperial clan revolted and so the Empress Dowager’s older brother, Go Jo/Gao Zhao (高肇), led [or defeated?] a large army and suppressed [the revolt] taking control of the Northern Wei court; he further defeated a large army of the Southern] Song dynasty around 502 [more likely the Southern Qi or the date is mistaken].

In 491, upon the death of King Jangsu, hearing the news Emperor Xiaowu wore a white weimao hat (委貌冠) and a hempen long robe (深衣) and going to the Eastern suburbs (東郊) he wailed. [N191] This kind of behaviour, far from being that of an emperor, shows someone grieving with emotion as though they had lost their own grandfather. 

After the collapse of the Northern Wei in the 6th century, it was succeeded by the Sui and Tang periods (7~10th centuries). During this time, many northern peoples experienced drastic Sinicization. From the period of the Murong ruling northern China, the Xiongnu and descendants of Old Joseon began to really expand the territory under their control into China [proper]. Previously they had not imagined ruling China, but forming their power they now began to strongly show a tendency of advancing into China. Subsequently, excepting the Song, Ming and Chinese Communist Party, all dynasties of China have been established with the participation of the descendants of the Xiongnu (thought to have been the predecessors to Old Joseon) and Old Joseon.

In particular, the Sui and Tang made a system of fusion (퓨전) administration combining the tradition of the Xianbei (descendants of the Dongho) with the developed culture of the Chinese Han. Yang Jian (楊堅), founder of Sui, was of mixed Han and Xianbei lineage; the founder of Tang, Li Yuan (李淵), was Yang Jian’s maternal cousin. Professor Bak Han-je of Seoul National University judges this to have been a fusion of Dongho and Han (胡漢融合) or a dual structural organization between Dongho and Han (胡漢體制). The first large international [국제국가 multi-ethnic?] country in East Asia, the Tang, was a ‘Xianbei state’, but its Sinicization was severe and [modern] China too regards [both] the Han and Tang dynasties as the flowers of Chinese culture so it is difficult to regard this period as [preserving] only the unique [cultural] traits (固有性) of Old Joseon. The identity of Tang must be understood as neutral, neither Chinese Han nor barbian yi (非漢非夷). During this period many of the northern peoples naturalized as Han or integrated (편입) themselves; north of the Great Wall, it became the reason for the unique characteristics (固有性) of the northerners to diminish. Consequently the unique [cultural] traits of Old Joseon were [instead] preserved in Manchuria by the Khitan, Goguryeo and Balhae; it provided a breakwater (방파제) [against the spread of Chinese culture.]

The Khitan (the central power of the Liao dynasty) who thrived during the 10th century were descendants of the Yuwen (宇文部) [Xianbei]. After the Yuwen were destroyed by the Murong, their remnants became known as the Khitan (契丹 거란 Qidan). The Weishu records, “Khitan/Qidanguo is to the east of Kumoxi (庫莫奚), they are the same people…. Their ancestors were one group (별종) of the eastern Yuwen; after being defeated by Murong Yuanzhen (慕容元眞, aka Murong Huang), they fled and hid in the area of Songmozhijian (松漠之間). [192] Songmozhijian is modern Inner Mongolia.

The Liaoshi (遼史) states, “The ancestors of Liao were the Khitan, the land was originally that of the Xianbei. They lived in [the region of] Liaoze (遼澤). [N193] This Liaoze (the Liao river delta area) is the largest marshland in the world covering the region between the Dailing (大凌河) and Liao rivers; during the Warring States period it was Old Joseon territory and part of the region where Goguryeo was established. With the Yan invasions, it is thought to have become the western border of Old Joseon had been pushed into retreat [eastwards].

Continuing, the Liaoshi states, “Liao originated from the former land of Joseon; it preserves the tradition of the eight article law code (八條犯禁) the same as Old Joseon [did]. In the geography section of the Liaoshi it has, “The Eastern capital (which was the eastern gateway to the [main] capital), Liaoyang-bu (遼陽府), was originally Joseon territory.” [194] Old Joseon’s descendants, the Khitan (descendants of the Dongho), were suppressed by various peoples such as the Murong and Tuoba, but differently to the Northern Wei, Sui or Tang, Old Joseon’s unique traditions were maintained and its former territory restored; cultivating even greater strength [than before], it extended into the Chinese Central Plain.

Old Joseon existed from the legendary period of China, it was maintained in the form of such states as the Five ba Hegemons (春秋五霸) of the 7th century BC Spring and Autumn period and the Seven xiong of the Warring States period (戰國七雄). From around the 4th century BC it became more of an independent ancient state and competed with the Yan; from the end of the 3rd century BC its borders faced the Qin (秦) dynasty [but] it maintained peace. In the 2nd century BC, it thrived between the rivalry of the Xiongnu and Han dynasty; after its collapse, it was [both] succeeded and continuously revived by Goguryeo and Silla in the south and Xianbei Wuhuan (鮮卑烏桓) in the north. After the 4th century Murong, the descendants of Old Joseon showed a serious trait of ruling China and they began to move southwards into the Chinese continent. Subsequently the vast majority of non-Han Chinese dynasties were established by these people. However, in the process of ruling over China, they lost their unique cultural traits (固有性) of Old Joseon. These traits were largely maintained by Goguryeo, the Khitan (Liao), the Jin, Goryeo and the Qing.

Concluding paragraphs of Chapter 12, section 2: The culture of holy mountain worship amongst the pan-Altai people

Concerning holy mountains (聖山) the strongest object of worship is the second birth place of the pan-Korean people (범한국인의 제2발상지), Taebaeksan (太白山 [also known as] Changbaishan 長白山 and Baekdusan 白頭山). Here we can confirm a common identity with no distinction between Yemaek, Suksin or Dongho. According to the [Jinshi 金史] history of the Jin dyansty, which was [ethnically] Suksin, Changbai mountain was elevated to ‘Land of King Xing’ (興王之地), enfeoffed as king and an ancestral shrine built on it [N211] whilst the Liao dynasty, which was [ethnically] Dongho, made the mountain the protective god of the imperial family (皇室). [N212] That is to say, Taebaek-san (Baekdu-san) was the holy mountain of the Mongols who established the Liao dynasty and Manchus who established the Jin (金) – that is [combined] the people who Koreans refer to as dong’i Eastern barbarians (東夷族) – and of course [it was also the holy mountain] of the Koreans; this is the second birthplace of the Eastern barbarians.

In conclusion, the name ‘Joseon’ appears to be derived from such names as Suksin, Jusin, Asadal and Astara (아스타라) and its meaning can be viewed as ‘mountain holding the sun’ or ‘shining mountain (red shining mountain)’. Further, this name ‘Joseon’ stores the belief in Altai mountain worship of northern nomads.

Appendix 3, part 3: Altai, Koreans’ Spiritual Homeland

Altai is positioned in the centre of the Eurasian continent. This region is the centre of Europe and Asia; it is a juncture through which many nomads pass and at which they rest. In the 1940s, the folk tales and stories of this region were concertedly collected by such Russian folklorists as [안나] 가르프 and [빠벨] 쿠치약. Amongst the Altai folk tales, “하늘로 간 별이, 즐드스” is similar to Kongjwi Patjwi (콩쥐 팥쥐), [whilst] “여황제 알튼차츠” resembles Ureong gaksi (우렁 각시). Between Altai and the vicinity of [Lake] Baikal, there are many folk tales similar or [even] identical to those on the Korean peninsula which have been passed down to the present such as The Woodcutter and the Fairy (나무꾼과 선녀), Old Mr Hokburi (혹부리 영감) and the Tale of Simcheong (沈淸傳). Amongst these, The Woodcutter and the Fairy is the foundation myth of the Manchus.

The myth of King Geumwa is directly related to the Altai region; looking at the shared possession and biological similarities of many folk tales and stories as a basis, it is not unreasonable to consider Altai as the first Proto-Korean region.

In the first half of 2000, Professor Go Gi-seok of the anatomy department of Konkuk University presented research results [concluding], “The people who bear most similarity to Koreans are Kazakhs.” Although these results are extremely important there was no [further] discussion. The structure of human craniums are not only an important object [of study] for the purpose of distinguishing human origins and whether they are the same relation [to what?!] but also, they do not easily change according to period. [There are] more than sixty research items related to the structure of craniums; for example, [researching] the suture lines (봉합선) can indicate the presence or not of a hole at the joining part, and amongst Koreans it comes out at 75% [having a hole??]

Taking into account this research, the closest peoples to Koreans come out as Kazakhs (of Kazakhstan), Mongols, Buryat (Mongols residing in the region of Lake Baikal) etc. As a branch of the Turks and physically as Mongols (몽골인), the Kazakh people reside in Altai, Kazakhstan and western China; the Buryat are also a part of [the] Mongols and ultimately, from a large perspective, appear [in research results] as Mongols. As for the region which actually has the closest impression on modern Koreans, as Kazakhs of the central eastern region (or Kyrgyzs) the people of 오르타 주스 are archetypal Mongols. Consequently, Mongol Kazakhs are, overall, the closest thing to Koreans. [N373] It is worth noting that this eastern region is right next to Altai. According to Dr. Bulat E. Komekov, when Chenghis Khan invaded westwards [late C.12th so of no significance here!!] many Koreans came with him and [became] a tribe known as Kerei (케레이). These people say their ancestors are Korean.

Thus the origins of Koreans we are able to trace through written and medical [evidence] goes back to Altai. That is to say, Altai appears to be the central region from which the history of Koreans began. Broadly speaking, they are thought to have entered [the Korean peninsula] either through a route across the grass plains from Altai (the Gaoli 高麗 [Goryeo] route), ‘Mongolia – eastern Mongolia – Amur River – northern Manchuria – Yalu River – Korean peninsula,’ or from Altai across northern China (the Jushin 쥬신 route), ‘Shandong – Beijing region – Liaodong peninsula – Yalu River – Korean peninsula.’ Here, the southern lineage (남방계) [of Korean ancestry] (the Wa route) is thought to have entered the Korean peninsula travelling via ‘southern India – southeastern Asia – Southeast China Sea – Liaodong Peninsula[?!]’. The Gaoli [people] subsequently continuously revived and resurrected [themselves in] ‘northern Manchuria ([as] Buyeo) – southern Manchuria and the northern Korean peninsula ([as] Goguryeo, Balhae) – the central Korean peninsula ([as] Goryeo)’. Consequently, the Gaoli who were the root of Buyeo can be classified as ‘Proto-Korea’ (?~3rd century BC?); the Gaoli of Go Jumong (Goguryeo, Goryeo, and Guryeo) as ‘Old Korea’ (1st century BC?~668AD); Balhae established by Dae Jo-yeong (大祚榮) as ‘Great Korea’ (689-926) and medieval Goryeo established by Wang Geon (王建) as ‘Medieval Korea’ (918~1392). This nomenclature can be transcribed in international languages as Korea (코리아), Corée (꼬레), Корей (카레이) etc.

Alongside Old Joseon (Beijing and Liao River region), Proto Korea (原 코리아) can be said to have been the closest country to Koreans‘ original form (원형). [Coming across] from Altai, Baikal and Mongolia, it is thought that one group of Koreans came south to Chang’an (長安 [modern Xi’an]) and Luoyang (洛陽) before going north again from the vicinity of Beijing (the Jushin route), whilst another group crossed Mongolia and Da Hinggan Ling (大興安嶺) and came south through Manchuria via the Amur River (the Gaoli route); under pressure from the Chinese Han, the place where these [two groups] met again was ironically the Liao River region. Of course, even before pressure from the Han, the Liao River region was one of the places where they were already concentrated. However, the Liao River region is thought to be the place where the cultural territories of the Gaoli state (까오리국) and Old Joseon overlapped, and is precisely the centre of the Hongshan culture (紅山文化) which today has become the subject of great interest.


373) This has still to be systematically researched, but looking at the outline and appearance of faces when actually travelling [there], it is thought that there was a lot of contact not only between Kazakhstan but also Kyrgyzstan. The need is increasing for research on records concerning the ancestors of King Munmu, said to have been a group of Xiongnu who moved directly to Silla.

Understanding the Enigma of Korean Culture

P1240302c1080 cropped
Traditional culture is a mask fashioned by the present 
onto which features believed to represent the past are painted.  This article identifies and attempts to reconcile some of the key conflicts arising in the popular notion of “traditional Korean culture.” 

From early on, human culture has been wired into concepts of dualism: complementary phenomena where one half cannot exist or be described without reference to the other.  The root examples are life and death and the two genders.  In East Asian culture, dualism was early on made explicit through the Taoist notion of yin and yang.  By coincidence, Chinese cultural make-up now lends itself to a yin and yang interpretation reflecting a dynastic historiography alternating between ethnic Han and foreign periods of rule; in this case the dualism is given another layer of nuance by Barfield’s observation that nomadic steppe cultures tended to rise and fall in tandem with their agrarian Han neighbours forming their own bipolar yin and yang patterns of interaction.[1]  The foreign conquest dynasties of Manchuria relied on the ethnic Han bureaucracy whilst the territory of the expansionist Qing dynasty has come to define the modern concept of a once more Han controlled China and the scope of its historiography.

Dualist interpretations of foreign cultures are popular because they appear simplistic and through their own generalizing nature become self-fulfilling axioms.  Thus the notion of Japanese culture was equally summed up by Benedict in her enduring “Chrysanthemum and Sword” formula.  Such “greedy reductionism,” however, is regarded by today’s Orientalists as the epitome of Orientalist cliché.

In this brief and under-researched examination of what the current notion of Korean traditional culture encompasses, I unintentionally find myself describing another broad dualism though trying to introduce a formulaic label for Korea is not the motivation of my discourse.  The following observations I believe, help to make explicit an almost schizophrenic sense of unacknowledged divisions, or polarizations, inherent in the discourse of Korean cultural identity implied when and wherever the word “Korean” is used.  Designating language, sovereignty, ethnicity and plenty besides, the words “Korean” and “traditional Korean” are in constant use and, indeed, the discipline of Korean Studies would not exist without them.  This paper is not a comprehensive exposition but only a starting point to aid my own research.

With raced based nationalist historiography having become the mainstay of the two modern rival regimes, the homogeneity of the Korean people and their culture has become a self-professed and oft celebrated defining feature.  This trait of homogeneity is widely perceived and continues to be propagated amongst Koreans and those with an interest in Korea today. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy as features considered to represent Koreanness – language, dynastic history, kimchi, ondol underfloor heating, traditional hanbok dress etc – have been emphasized over any other historical or cultural details which might otherwise detract from the brand image of traditional Korea.

The desire to create a nationalist cultural identity is nothing unusual and arguably quite necessary given thirty-six years under Japanese colonization (1910-45) which in its final decade included the infamous Naisen Ittai program of cultural assimilation aiming to eradicate any separate notion of Korean identity, including even the language itself.

In the West, the homogeneity of the Korean people has gone largely unquestioned as the notion undoubtedly merged with lingering stereotypes of neatly classifiable oriental cultures.  As the Korean peninsula was arbitrarily divided into opposing halves in August 1945 and the still today unresolved internal confrontation ensued, it became in the interests of both regimes to claim a culture and clearly definable Koreanness in order to legitimize themselves in the eyes of their citizenry as well as, for the South, in the allied West’s imagination.  While North Korea made its own consequent beeline from internationalist Communism to Stalinist inspired ethnic nationalism, a similarly crude cultural nationalism quickly took shape in the South from which a more nuanced view of Korean identity, although now emerged, has yet to be fully untangled.

Tracing further back, Korea’s avoidance of historical conquest and the celebrated tradition of popular resistance to invasions are important factors giving credence to modern claims of homogeneity.  During the premodern historical era, the Korean peninsula was invaded several times and made subject to long term occupation on two separate occasions;[2] it was subjugated both by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty and later the Jurchen Qing but crucially has never experienced any permanent conquest or associated wholesale inward migration comparable, for example, to the 1066 Norman conquest of Anglo-Saxon England.[3]

Korean homogeneity is therefore not entirely a myth and its discourse remains valid to some degree.  However this characteristic has been overemphasized or at best, left unchallenged leading to continued presumptions about cultural, ethnic and linguistic insularity.  Often overlooked both in the past and present, Korean culture and society has in fact played host to a series of internal divisions which are characterized by a tendency towards extreme polarization.  It is consequently only when these often opposing phenomena are treated as constituent parts of a greater whole that a more accurate description of Korea and what is popularly identified as “Korean” can be achieved.

In the broadest case of traditional Korean culture itself, polarization has occurred between popular notions of “indigenous folk” and “Classical Chinese learning.”[4]  The chief characteristic of Korean folk culture is its strong association with Korean shamanism, musok, alongside oral and music traditions embodied in folk song and performance arts.  Perhaps unexpected for a country with such a propensity for education exhibited in both the premodern Neo-Confucian examination system and the high level of university entrance rates of South Koreans today, folk culture remains, or rather has reemerged as, a compellingly prominent feature of contemporary Korean identity.  By contrast, “Classical Chinese learning” refers to literacy in Chinese and is now chiefly associated with Neo-Confucianism which became the male preserve of the yangban literati elite from early on in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).  This cultural divide was not just between the educated, landowning elite and peasant farmers but included, for example, female patronage of musok all the way up to palace ladies and queens owing to their own blanket exclusion from participation in the Neo-Confucian ritual practice of ancestor worship.

If the contemporary popular notion of “traditional culture” is assumed to refer to the culture of the Korean peninsula as it had evolved by the latter centuries of the Joseon Dynasty, then Buddhism falls on the folk side of the divide as it similarly faced official discrimination from relatively early on in the long lived dynasty in spite of having originally been introduced to the peninsula, together with Confucianism, through writings in Classical Chinese and itself having served as the dominant religious ideology of the elite until the overthrow of the preceding Goryeo Dynasty (936-1392).

An inaccurate but popularly imagined model of Korean cultural history therefore assumes an indigenous, Old Korean speaking musok substratum culture upon which the Chinese language and Buddhism were first introduced before in turn being supplanted by Neo-Confucianism which relegated musok and Buddhism to the lower classes and women.  The extension of this assumption is that if the Neo-Confucian layer were peeled away from Korean culture, a more indigenous substratum of folk culture would be recoverable beneath.  This was something actively attempted during the left-wing Minjung people’s movement which, coming to prominence in South Korea during the 1980s, sought to reinvigorate and, where necessary reconstruct traditional folk culture with the emphasis firmly on ideals of indigenous folk arts and musok actively downplaying the earlier cultural heritage of Chinese learning.

A key aspect influencing popular perceptions of the “folk versus Classical Chinese learning” divide is found in what can be termed the “Joseon Dynasty effect” created by the impressive longevity of a dynastic period throughout which the idiosyncrasies of Neo-Confucianism dominated the ruling stratum and those who aspired to it.  This half millennium persistence of strictly exclusionary Neo-Confucian orthodoxy, itself a contemporary neo-traditionalist movement,[5] strongly contributed to, if not created, the antagonisms between musok and Chinese language erudition.

Meanwhile in contemporary Korea a potent symbol of the “indigenous folk culture versus Classical Chinese learning” divide is the relationship between the use of the vernacular hangeul alphabet and hanja Chinese characters.  Hangeul, from the outset of its historic promulgation in the mid-fifteenth century, was very much conceived of as a writing system for the common people.  Infamously rejected by court officials, it was until the modern era chiefly used by educated women and poets for composing Sino-Korean sijo poems, personal letters and translating popular works from Classical Chinese; wider spread official usage and explicit association with Korean nationalist sentiment did not begin in any earnest sense until the late nineteenth century.  Throughout the same period Classical Chinese rendered in hanja continued to maintain a firm monopoly as the official written language of the Joseon court, Neo-Confucian yangban intelligentsia and Buddhist monks.[6]  In both Korean states today, hanja is consequently perceived as an elitist script and viewed as a borrowed item of foreign “Chinese” origin.

However, since the introduction of hangeul, and until recently when hanja was systematically phased out by both the North and South regimes, the modern Sino-Korean language was written naturally enough with an appropriate combination of hangeul and hanja.  This had the effect of making visible pure Korean vocabulary and distinguishing it from Sino-Korean words in the vernacular Korean language.  In South Korea today, those with a neo-traditionalist interest in reviving indigenous Korean culture and who attempt to reduce the volume of loanwords (both modern English and ancient Sino-Korean) in their usage of the modern Korean language naturally profess allegiance to hangeul.[7]

The pure Korean term for “pure Korean language” is uri mal, literally meaning “our speech” and in its strongest connotation, for which it is regularly employed, it distinguishes pure Korean from Sino-Korean vocabulary.[8]  The uri mal movement is thus associated with hangeul nationalism and treats hanja vocabulary as an occupying foreign entity where the continued study and usage of hanja is essentially only tolerated as a necessary evil in acknowledgement that so much of the peninsula’s historical heritage was, up until the end of the nineteenth century, recorded in Classical Chinese.

Otherwise the movement for the exclusive use of hangeul in the modern Korean language, that is Sino-Korean, has been highly successful,[9] though writing Sino-Korean exclusively in hangeul has subsequently had the converse effect of renaturalizing hanja loanwords which continue to account for a significant portion of daily vocabulary and this has further reinforced popular perceptions of homogeneity.

In a more nuanced contrast to immediate nationalism, the uri mal movement is simultaneously one aspect of what might be termed the “Altaic Theory effect” which sees some Koreans actively seeking cultural and linguistic connections with other ethnic groups in Northeast Asia based on the premise of a shared northeast Asian shamanic heritage.  Musok is thus associated with Siberian shamanism whilst Old Korean, the ancestor of uri mal, is treated as an “Altaic language,” albeit based on etymologies now widely regarded by comparative linguists to be false reconstructions.  Even if not linguistically correct, the Altaic Theory remains compelling because it supports the quest for an influential Korean regional identity outside of the Chinese cultural sphere.  The Altaic Theory effect can thus be understood in large part as a reaction to the Joseon Dynasty effect: it is anti-Sinocentric and through its active omitting or downplaying of Chinese learning, presents itself as a solidarity movement against Asian imperialism.  By locating Korean culture in the wider nexus of Northeast Asia, it also attempts to liberate its identification from the straightjacket of East Asia in which the peninsula is still widely treated as a passive conduit for Chinese learning to have reached Japan.[10]

Hangeul and hanja are thus representative extremities of the contemporary “indigenous folk versus Classical Chinese learning” divide, however it would be incorrect to believe that beneath the cultural layer of imported Classical Chinese lies a recoverable substratum of “pure” indigenous Korean folk culture because the introduction of Classical Chinese to the peninsula significantly predates the emergence of any pan-peninsula culture identifiable as specifically Korean.

On the premise that an indigenous Old Korean was the dynastic and likely dominant language of Silla during the Three Kingdoms period, it would not have begun to spread widely across the peninsula until following the Silla conquests over Baekje (660) and Goguryeo (668).  Classical Chinese however was introduced to Silla at the very latest with the official adoption of Buddhism in 527 but undoubtedly earlier given hanja terms used to designate native institutions such as the youthful order of hwarang (花郞) knights, the hwabaek (和白) council and golpum (骨品) hereditary status system, as well as names and titles.[11]  In the case of hwabaek and other recorded Old Korean, or Silla, words where the characters have been employed for their phonetic value, rather than their meaning in Chinese, there still had to be sufficient knowledge of Chinese in order to utilize their sound value and choose characters with attractive meanings.[12]  It is most likely therefore that the vernacular language of Silla was already Sino-Korean before its expansion in the late seventh century.

However, the hypothesis that Old Korean was only spoken in the homeland region of Silla and not the much vaster territory of the two modern Korean states, is not widely promoted or accepted amongst Koreans today because it undermines said claims of homogeneity.  In particular the implication that the dominant language of Goguryeo was genetically something other than Koreanic, possibly Tungusic (para-Jurchenic) or para-Japonic,[13] would be particularly grave for North Korean ethnic nationalism as well as South Korean irredentists who make at least cultural claims on Goguryeo’s former continental territory in southern Manchuria.[14]

The preferred assumption is that variants of Old Korean were spoken in all of the Three Kingdoms’ territories from time immemorial.  However, whilst it is possible that Old Korean was widespread on the peninsula as a relatively indigenous language prior to the Silla expansion it almost certainly was not spoken in the ancestral territory of Goguryeo and would not have begun to spread there until following the kingdom’s demise.[15]

By contrast, hanja was fully established across the whole of the Three Kingdoms’ combined territory by the sixth century at the very latest, whilst in the territory of Goguryeo the population would have been familiar with hanja and associated Classical Chinese learning – Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism – up to half a millennium before they were exposed to Old Korean which, by the time they were and as concluded above, would already itself have been Sino-Old Korean.[16]

Pure Koreanists or folk nationalists, might respond that the vast majority of the Three Kingdoms’ populations were in any event illiterate and Classical Chinese learning remained the preserve of the elite aristocracies: this would likely be correct but describes essentially the same circumstances as persisted all the way up until the modern era and so cannot prove that Classical Chinese learning was any less influential in more distant times than recent past.

Turning to historiography, the Old Joseon foundation myth of Dan’gun is comfortably interpreted as principally being of northeast Asian shamanic origin.[17]  In the established orthodox scheme Gi Ja later arrives from the Shang introducing Chinese learning, an event notably occurring before the establishment of the Chinese Han commanderies.  Both the Dan’gun myth, later historicized by the modern North and South regimes, together with the historical legend of Gi Ja are played out in the northern half of the peninsula and southern Manchurian mainland.

When Wi Man then arrives and usurps the kingdom, the ruling descendant of Gi Ja, Gi Jun, is forced south where he takes control of Mahan thus bringing Chinese learning to the southwest and by subsequent diffusion the wider area of the southern Three Han, the territory of which was later consolidated under Baekje and ultimately Silla.  This orthodox narrative created an unbroken lineage of Chinese learning which was actively celebrated throughout the Joseon dynasty providing the basis for its presumptions of Confucian moral superiority over the Manchu Qing.  At the same time, however, Dan’gun remained a recognized folk deity.[18]

The legend of Gi Ja has played a key role in allowing Koreans to accept Chinese learning as a near indigenous part of Korea’s formative heritage and not just an early foreign import received under the perceived duress of Chinese Han occupation.  By contrast, debate over the ethnic identity of Wi Man, recorded in the Siji as tying his hair in a topknot and wearing eastern barbarian dress, today provides material for an active “Altaic” interpretation, i.e. that he was a Murong Xianbei.[19]

What becomes evident in both linguistic and historiographic lines of enquiry, then, is how the “folk versus Classical Chinese learning” divide was existent from the most formative period of Korea’s cultural and historical origins.  To reach a point where an indigenous culture associated with only pure Old Korean and hypothesized primitive musok could be conjectured requires going back still centuries further, but in relation to any practical description of the modern Koreas’ traditional culture this would simply be too early and Chinese learning transmitted through hanja should be understood as being as indigenous to Korea’s traditional heritage as the illiterate “folk” element.

It should further be recognized that whilst, since at least the Three Kingdoms period, oral folk traditions, including songs and storytelling, may have been performed and enjoyed by those illiterate in Classical Chinese, the language employed would still have been Sino-Korean and stories told heavily influenced by Chinese learning.[20]  In this regard the solo operatic chantefable art of pansori can be considered as a representative example of “traditional Korean culture” and has indeed been designated as Important Intangible Cultural Property Number 5 by the South Korean government in 1964.[21]  Native to the Jeolla provinces in the southwest region of the peninsula and with its surviving repertoire first written down by the provincial yangban, Shin Jae-hyo (1812-84), pansori enjoyed its heyday from the late eighteenth through to nineteenth centuries.[22]

Given the enduring strength of the tradition and uniqueness of its vocal technique, Pansori remains relatively understudied in the West and underappreciated in South Korea in part because it so epitomizes the perceived “folk culture versus Chinese learning” divide and thus remains difficult to approach for those of either inclination.  To an anthropologist or ethnomusicologist the length of plays and large volume of Classical Chinese is intimidating whilst to scholars of premodern literature, pansori is equally difficult to study for a lack of familiarity with performance tradition and the limited availability of authentic texts.[23]

In spite of Shin Jae-hyo’s contribution which involved editing texts and coaching singers, pansori remained a genuinely oral tradition with variations of the plays being passed down through generations from master to pupil and as such has avoided being committed to paper until recent decades.  Pansori performers were drawn from the lower classes of hereditary mudang shamans and itinerant entertainers, and, though able to achieve recognition for their talents, were consequently denied status in the Neo-Confucian dictated social hierarchy which placed them at the bottom.  These facts taken together, pansori would appear to be firmly on the “folk” side of traditional Korean culture.[24]

The content of the pansori plays, however, is heavily influenced by Classical Chinese with a high volume of hanja and allusions to Chinese learning.  These are commonly explained as being the result of increased yangban patronage from the late eighteenth century onwards with pansori performers presumed to have begun including highbrow Classical Chinese references to satisfy the tastes of their audience when performing, for example, at the parties held to celebrate a yangban scholar’s success in the civil service examinations.  The implication of this, however, is that the pansori performers would have to have been sufficiently literate and knowledgeable in Classical Chinese in order to have made, or at least to have understood, the appropriate changes and embellishments: an idea which fails to tally with the hangeul nationalist ideal of shaman-descended, illiterate folk performers.  Yangban patronage may have influenced the selection of repertoire leading to an emphasis of Confucian themes within existing tales and songs but it would not have paid for a complete education in Classical Chinese literature and nor, notably, did it lead to any severe censorship of, for example, Buddhist references.

The sole explanation of Neo-Confucian yangban patronage is consequently unable to account for the depth of Classical Chinese learning inherent in pansori texts which were maintained almost exclusively as an oral tradition.  Even the Confucian themes of loyalty and filial piety present in the remaining five plays[25] are not explicitly Neo-Confucian, but rather are based around the more fundamental Three Bonds and Five Codes defining human relations inherent in original Confucian doctrine, and are fully integrated with equally blatant Buddhist and Taoist thematic devices.[26]

Pansori, as well as the substantial repertoire of preserved folk songs, are therefore better understood not as the direct results of an indigenous folk item having been altered and refined to suit the tastes of eighteenth century Neo-Confucian yangban but as the product of an already indigenous Sino-Korean heritage which the performers were equally in possession of in spite of their low social status.  It might be further postulated that pansori, although heavily embellished, was not so much adjusted to match the tastes of the yangban literati but that its inherent Sino-Koreanness appealed as much to some provincial yangban as it did to more common folk and consequently attracted their patronage.  After all, not all yangban were lofty Neo-Confucians and though the ideology they were encouraged to aspire to may have been exclusionary, Sino-Korean folk culture including the older Chinese transmitted traditions of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, were not.

In conclusion, both claims of homogeneity as well as the polarization between the folk and Classical Chinese learning elements present in the modern Koreas’ traditional heritage can be explained as results of the Joseon Dynasty effect which through its longevity sustaining an exclusionist ideology and the invention of hangeul led to a distillation of a Sino-Korean culture long indigenous to the peninsula.  The perception of division is most evident in the polarization exhibited between hangeul and hanja.  Where hanja itself has historically been the medium for both Buddhism and subsequently Neo-Confucianism, hangeul today is similarly utilized at once as a vehicle for cultural nationalism as well as in the search for a pan-northeast Asian “Altaic” identity.

However, when examining concrete examples of what is commonly referred to as “traditional Korean culture,” such as pansori, it becomes evident that Korean heritage and identity has been from its most formative period a product of both folk and Classical Chinese learning.


Barfield, Thomas. 1989: Perilous Frontiers: Nomadic Empires in China. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd.

Beckwith, Christopher. 2005: The Ethnolinguistic History of the Early Korean Peninsula Region: Japanese-Koguryŏic and other Languages in the Koguryŏ, Paekche, and Silla kingdoms. – Journal of Inner and East Asian Studies, volume 2-2: 34.

Deuchler, Martina. 1992: The Confucian Transformation of Korea: A Study of Society and Ideology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University.

Caprio, Mark. 2009: Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945.  Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Grayson, James. 2002: Korea – A Religious History: Revised edition. Abingdon: RoutledgeCurzon.

Hong, Wontack. 2010: East Asian History: A Tripolar Approach. Seoul: Kudara International.

Howard, Keith. 2006: Preserving Korean Music: Intangible Cultural Properties as Icons of Identity.  London, Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Hwang, Jurie. 2010: Ko indifferent to ‘Western yardstick.’ – The Korea Herald, 1 November 2010.

<; 1 September 2011.

Janhunen, Juha. 2003: Tracing the Bear Myth in Northeast Asia. – Acta Slavica Iaponica, 20: 1-24.

Sapporo: The Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University.

Online version at: <;

Janhunen, Juha. 2005: The Lost Languages of Koguryŏ. – Journal of Inner and East Asian Studies, volume 2-2: 84.

Kang, Jae-eun. 2006: The Land of Scholars: Two Thousand Years of Korean Confucianism. Translated by Suzanne Lee. Paramus, New Jersey: Homa & Sekey Books.

Pai, Hyung Il. 2000: Constructing “Korean” Origins: A Critical Review of Archaeology, Historiography, and Racial Myth in Korean State-Formation Theories.  Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Asia Center.

Park, Chan. 2003: Voices from the Straw Mat: Toward an Ethnography of Korean Story Singing. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Pentikäinen, Juha. 1999: Kalevala Mythology: Expanded Edition.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Pihl, Marshall. 1994: The Korean Singer of Tales. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Asia Center.

Song Gi-jung 송기중. 2004: 역사비교언어학과국어계통론 (Historical comparative linguistics and theories on the genealogy of the Korean language). Seoul: 집문당 (Jimmundang).

[1] Barfield 1989:9

[2] The Han Lelang Commandery (108BC-c.313) and the Mongol Yuan’s Eastern Expedition Field Headquarters (1280-1356).

[3] In cultural terms, the closest watershed event was the 1392 coup d’état led by Yi Seong-gye (1335-1408) which although ushering in the Joseon Dynasty, in fact confirmed the complete expulsion of foreign interference (both Mongol Yuan and Han Ming) and furthered the consolidation of power under the previous Goryeo landed elite who effectively utilized the ideology of Neo-Confucianism to dissolve the power of the Buddhist temples.

[4] “Traditional culture” as a vague but frequently used term, in official as well as colloquial contexts, can be considered to typically refer to the documented cultural milieu as it had evolved by the end of the 18th century before exposure to distinctly foreign notions such as Christianity or industrialization.  Origins of traditional cultural items are assumed to be at least several centuries old and will often be traceable to the Goryeo Dynasty (936-1392) or beyond.

[5] In Joseon Dynasty Korea the Neo-Confucian movement attempted to recreate what was imagined to be the ritual practice and lifestyle of ancient Han China.  See Deuchler 1992:107

[6] It was occasionally learnt by women such as the poet Heo Nanseolheon (1563-89).

[7] For example the former Buddhist monk, democracy activist and celebrated poet Go Un (b.1933) has declared, “King Se-jong is my god. I have no other gods but Se-jong. I am so thankful for Hangeul, and I will do anything to guard it…”   See Hwang 2010.

[8] Ironically there is no pure Korean word for “pure.”  It can only be implied by the “our” of “our language,” though for absolute clarity the hanja sun (純,순) must be incorporated to make sun uri mal (純 우리 말).

[9] Just as the nationalist association with Korea’s folk identity was born out of the independence movement and search for identity during the Japanese colonial era, it can be speculated that hanja has been purged from modern Korean not just for its Chinese origin but because Sino-Korean written with a combination of hanguel and hanja too closely resembles the appearance of modern Sino-Japanese which had been the language of occupation.  The claim that hanja is simply cumbersome to the written language would otherwise be countered by the consistently stellar literacy rates displayed in Japan where the usage of Chinese characters has evolved in a far more complicated fashion than when used in Korean.  There is nothing either to imply the South Korean education system has significantly moved away from the cumbersome method of rote learning that was inherited from the study of hanja and has in large part subsequently been transferred to English.

[10] Where hanja is felt to be a regressive, even oppressive, influence recalling Joseon’s suzerainty to China, hangeul has become an active and positive identifier of Korean cultural identity.  Its association with the Altaic Theory in turn provides a legitimizer for Koreans to project their recently gained economic and “soft power” influence over weaker “Altaic” countries such as Mongolia and the Central Asian states; though this represents a nascent and relatively benign form of economic imperialism, if scaled up, the justification of shared ethno-cultural roots for the choice of countries Korea acts upon would soon echo similar claims made by Japanese scholars to support the annexation of Korea.   See Caprio 2009:102, 121 and Pai 2000:39.

[11] See Song 2004:179.

[12] Song 2004:152.

[13] Suggested by Janhunen (2005) and Beckwith (2005) respectively.

[14] For discussion of North Korean scholars professing a single Three Kingdoms’ Korean language, see Song 2004:181, notes 7,8 and 9.

[15] Though at some point significantly earlier, Old Korean would originally have had to have entered the peninsula from the continental mainland.

[16] Early use of hanja in Goguryeo is evinced by inscriptions found in fourth century tombs and on the Gwanggaeto Stele (erected c.414).  At the latest, hanja would have been first introduced to the peninsula by the Han commandery of Lelang (established in the Daedong River basin 108BC) if not nearly a century earlier: either first by Gi Ja or with the arrival of refugees led by Wi Man, though this depends both on whether either historical legend is true and whether either of them were ethnic Han Chinese or not.

[17] Grayson 2002:241, Janhunen 2003:5 and Pai 2000:93.

[18] Pai 2000:116-9.

[19] Hong 2010:121.

[20] The raw literary talent of illiterate oral storytellers should not be underestimated: both the biwa hōshi tradition of blind storytellers in premodern Japan, as well as current day singers of the Tibetan Gesar epic attest to this.

[21] Howard 2006:xi-xii

[22] There is perhaps an argument that pansori should not be considered representative of Korean culture owing to its distinct regional association, but all traditions have to have some place of origin and it could equally be noted that the Kalevala tradition forming the bases of Finnish national identity was based on oral poems collected in the remote White Sea Karelia region outside of Finland proper. See Pentikäinen 1999:228.

[23] Pihl (1994) and Park (2003) are the two seminal English language treatments of pansori.  It should be noted pansori enjoys significantly higher recognition in France than other Western countries.

[24] Its continued association with the politically discriminated Jeolla provinces further secured its Minjung credentials following the May 1980 massacre of citizens by government troops which occurred in the South Jeolla capital of Gwangju.

[25] The five pansori plays still performed are Song of Chunhyang, Song of Simcheong, Song of Heungbo, Song of the Water Palace and Song of Red Cliff.  The Confucian themes presented in the first four plays respectively are a wife’s faithfulness, filial piety (notably of a daughter), behaviour of brothers and loyalty to one’s sovereign whilst the fifth play is an adaption of the historic Chinese episode Battle of Red Cliffs.

[26] A Confucian academy (not to be confused with a Confucius Institute) was recorded in the Samguk Sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms) to have been first established in Goguryeo in 372, the same year as the official adoption of Buddhism; another was established under Unified Silla in 682: see Kang 2006:37 and 61.