[FOUNTAIN]Echoes of drumming hoofbeats

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[FOUNTAIN]Echoes of drumming hoofbeats

Korea's ancient history is full of mysteries because there are no written historical records or documents. The oldest history book ever found is the Samguk Sagi, or the History of the Three Kingdoms, written by Kim Bu-sik, a 12th century politician and scholar. The oldest edition of the book was printed from woodblocks in the late 13th century, and there is no writtten record for the preceding 1,000 years of Korea's ancient history from the time Koreans began to use Chinese characters.

That is a pity for Korea. Last July in China, 20,000 ancient documents written on bamboo about the third century B.C. were excavated at the site of an ancient well. Japan also has the Nihongi, which is believed to be the country's earliest account of its ancient history, written around 720. The book provides the grounds for Japan's controversial claim that it colonized the southern part of the Korean Peninsula for about 200 years.

Amid the deplorable absence of records, one treasure stands imposingly: the monument of King Gwanggaeto the Great, a fifth-century king of the Goguryeo kingdom located in the middle of Manchuria in northern China. The stone monument was carved in 414 in memory of the king, who expanded the kingdom's territory to Manchuria. More than 1,700 Chinese characters praising the king's achievements are inscribed on the four faces of the 6-meter-high monument.

The problem is that part of the monument is marred by lime powder. Some historians argue that Japan's secret police damaged the structure during Japan's colonial rule of Korea in the early 20th century in order to manipulate Korea's ancient history and support Japan's claim of its colonization of the peninsula from the fourth to the sixth century. But after tests by Chinese scientists in 1984, it is generally accepted that a Chinese man plastered the monument with lime powder in the late 19th century to make it easier to make a rubbing of the structure.

The Korean Studies Advancement Center has recently published the first volume of its collection of Korean epigraphs, including a rare copy of the Gwanggaeto monument rubbed in 1889, before it was marred. The rubbing is the most precious copy of epigraphs that the late Lim Chang-soon, a renowned scholar of Chinese classics, collected throughout his life. The Gwanggaeto epitaph is so vague that average people cannot decipher the script. But one can still feel that he is hearing the hoofbeat of galloping horses that the Goguryeo people rode on the Manchurian plain.

The writer is the popular culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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