[VIEWPOINT]Glories of Goguryeo still inspireThe northern dynasty of Goguryeo (37 B.C.-668) along with its successor, Balhae, has become long-forgotten history to us. The biggest reason Goguryeo remains hidden in the past is because its vast territory was mainly in the plains of Manchuria and North Korea, crossing the eastern region of Mongolia into the present-day Maritime Province of Russia.
Now the ancient history of Goguryeo is slowly being revealed. With the establishment of diplomatic ties with China in 1992, South Koreans are now able to travel more freely into Manchuria where some ancient ruins of Goguryeo remain.
With new knowledge about sites such as Onyeosan or "Five Maiden Peaks" near Jian in north east China, where the first city of Goguryeo is thought to have been established and the ancient tomb of King Gwanggaeto the Great, Goguryeo feels much closer to us now.
Yet the center of Goguryeo still remains out of our reach. Without a visit to Pyeongyang, Goguryeo remains nothing but a mystic land in history with all its grandeur and cultural richness, an object of myth. For years, I have sought the forgotten history of Goguryeo, crossing great mountain chains in northern China far into the eastern Mongolian prairie and even to the Russian provinces in Siberia, following any traces of Goguryeo I could find.
I discovered that the western border of Goguryeo was not the Liao River as was thought in the past, but that the empire stretched far into eastern Mongolian territory. But despite my extensive travels, I have yet to visit the heartland of Goguryeo in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.
Because of this, my research on Goguryeo had a vast empty hole in the middle. When I was finally able to visit North Korea and see the remains of the castles and palaces of Goguryeo and discuss the glories of the empire with North Korean scholars, I thought I was walking in a dream. My trip to North Korea was like a journey where I found a part of me that I had lost.
Now the historical remains and artifacts of Goguryeo from North Korea have come to Seoul as an exhibition co-sponsored by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, the JoongAng Ilbo and SBS. It is now at the Special Exhibition Hall on the third floor of the COEX mall. Goguryeo has indeed come closer to us.
The sublime spirit of the Goguryeo warriors crossing the prairie on their horses, the resplendent colors of Goguryeo art as expressed on their tomb paintings, the spirit of community and freedom that the people of Goguryeo possessed are all captured eloquently in this exhibition.
Why does Goguryeo fascinate us? Today, we live divided, trying to overcome the tragedy that has befallen our people and struggling to survive in the perilous dynamics of international politics. Will the patience and the perseverance that we of the Land of the Morning Calm hold as our national spirit be enough to carry us through? Needless to say, many of us feel that we are desperately in need of a more ambitious and active Zeitgeist.
The reason Goguryeo now seems closer to us is because we find a paradigm for this new era in its history and culture. The Seoul exhibition of Goguryeo artifacts could not have arrived at a better time. We have the efforts of the scholars involved in the project to thank for this exhibition.
The first thing that one sees when entering the exhibition hall is a large map of the vast territories of Goguryeo during the reign of King Gwanggaeto the Great and his son King Jangsu. Here we can see the magnitude of the empire and read what the future could hold for a reunified Korea. In the golden nimbus, made for a statue of Buddha in A.D. 551 and rarely shown to the public even in the North, we feel the pride that the Goguryeo people had. The miniature model of the Anhak palace that used to lie in eastern Pyeongyang also gives us a sense of the grandeur of the Goguryeo people. The exhibition also includes models of the old tombs of kings with their wall paintings of brilliant colors.
These and the various intricate gold artifacts show us the depth of the Goguryeo culture. The exhibition will be a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the potential of our culture as the descendants of Goguryeo.
* The writer is a professor of history at Dankook University.
by Suh Young-soo
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