[OUTLOOK]Sharing the historical record

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[OUTLOOK]Sharing the historical record

In Pyeongyang, Goguryeo is visible. A 20-minute drive away from downtown Pyeongyang lies the Daesung Mountain Fortress. Seen from below, the fortress is like a hillock, but viewed at the summit, steep cliffs stand to the north and an open plain stretches far off to the south. The fortress was built in 427, when King Jangsu moved the capital from Guknaeseong to Pyeongyang.
Sitting in a pavilion on Somun Peak at the center of the fortress, one can overlook the old site of Anhwak Palace to the south of the fortress. According to a restoration map in excavation reports, it was a huge palace with a 380,000 square meter building site, 30,000 square meters of floor space, 600 meter walls on four sides, 21 castles, and 31 corridors. It is said that the tomb of King Dongmyeong, known as the founder of the Goguryeo Kingdom, was moved to a place around 40 kilometers from Anhwak Palace.
Can’t we imagine King Jangsu, under a huge parasol, crossing the Goguryeo Bridge―whose name still remains―and with a group of subjects in his train, paying respect at the grave of the founder?
About 80 Goguryeo mural tombs have been excavated so far. About 20 tombs are in the Jian region of China’s Jilin province and as many as 60 are in Pyeongyang. Among these, about 40 tombs are concentrated in Gangseo, in the suburbs of Pyeongyang. Dukheung-ri Old Tomb has the names of those buried there and its construction date.
The epitaph on the grave, written in vertical lines with 14 rows and 154 letters on the upper wall at the entrance of the passage to the north wall, clearly shows that Jin, former “jasa” of Yooju, was buried in the tomb in 408. Yooju was an area in the present Hebei province in China, and “jasa” equated to the head of the province. The year 408 was during the reign of Gwanggaeto the Great, before the capital was moved to Pyeongyang.
In the front chamber of the tomb, there is a scene in which Jin receives reports from the heads of 13 counties and a painting of a splendid royal parade unfolds. Gwanggaeto the Great, his son King Jangsu, and his vassal Jin were all contemporaries who had visited three northeastern regions of China and Pyeongang, and traces of their lives clearly remain in the records, tombs and epitaphs.
Pyeongyang may not need to take the trouble to examine whose history Goguryeo belongs to. Goguryeo is part of its life and a big vein of historical legitimacy which links Go-Joseon, or Old Korea, Goguryeo, Goryeo and Kim Il Sung.
North Korea remains silent about China’s distortion of Goguryeo history. It may not feel the need for refutation because it is a matter of fact. Or it may keep silent because its present life is too tough to pay attention to the glory of past history.
As Yi Mahn-yol, chairman of the National Institute of Korean History, pointed out in an interview published on Aug. 9 in the JoongAng Ilbo, historical sovereignty and territorial sovereignty are obviously different.
China’s historical distortion, which began in the so-called national project of recording the history of the northeastern regions of China, seems to be a preventive measure against our claiming territorial rights over the three northeastern regions of China after our reunification, or against the problems of minority ethnic groups. Also, the inconsiderate patriotism of Korean tourists to those regions may have caused China to worry.
History is history. When current politics tries to distort or occupy past history by force, history dies and politics falls into confusion. The history of Korea, China and Japan is a cogwheel of love and hate relations. China’s irritating Koreans with Goguryeo history and Japan’s sticking to the beautification of past history with shrine visits and history texts are a kind of political game on the pretext of history.
Our government did well to calm down for a while by taking the issue as a long-term academic task without being involved in this shallow political game. But it should make sure of our historical sovereignty by taking an outwardly quiet but inwardly resolute attitude. We cannot live in a global age with the attitude of being an “easily boiling pot,” so that we become anti-American with the killing of middle school students by a U.S. armored vehicle in Uijeongbu and anti-Chinese with the distortion of Goguryeo history.
The first phase of a long-term project is to hold South and North Korean historical seminars to restore Goguryeo’s history. Furthermore, Korean, Chinese and Japanese historians should share each other’s history by conducting a joint inspection and research of Pyeongyang and the three northeastern regions of China, publishing their findings and developing common textbooks.
Northeast Asia should be a place of coexistence where Korea, China and Japan live together and share what they have with each other. As Professor Lee Eo-ryeong said, the relations of Korea, China and Japan are like those of a rock, scissors and paper. The three countries are closely related. But when they present rock, scissors and paper at the same time, it becomes a draw. They can achieve coexistent relations without hurting others.
South and North Korea, the main players on the Korean Peninsula, should undertake the role, and when the two Koreas unite together concerning Goguryeo history they can play the role of coordinating coexistence in the northeast region. South and North Korea’s integrated research on Goguryeo is more urgent than political integration to achieve historical integration.

* The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kwon Young-bin
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