[TODAY]Why China tinkers with history

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[TODAY]Why China tinkers with history

To stand in front of your house and to explain to passersby that this is your house would be a silly, not to mention tiresome, thing to do. Yet we are forced to repeat this silly thing every time Japan claims our island of Tokto as its own and calls it Takeshima.
This time, China is imposing this burden on us with Goguryeo. We are impelled to shout out to the rest of the world that Goguryeo is part of Korea’s history. Foreigners who do not know the history behind these disputes could mistakenly suppose that there is indeed reason for the disputes over Tokto and Goguryeo. We ourselves as well were lacking in our understanding of China’s in-tentions behind its efforts to steal the history of Goguryeo away from us. Why is China all of a sudden so determined to claim Goguryeo for its own?
The answer lies in the great hope China has for the 21st century, at “Pax Sinica.” China wants to be in the center of an international order ruled by peace for China, by China and of China. By including Goguryeo under Chinese history, China wants to affirm the patriotism and Sino-centric minds of the ethnic minorities in the northeast region. This project, “Conquest of the Northeast,” makes up one important axis of Pax Sinica.
Along with it, China is pursuing two other history projects. One is to include Emperor Yao and Shun, the last two kings of pre-historic legendary kingdoms, into China’s official history. The other project is finding archeological evidence to back the first project.
As of now, the official history of China starts with the kingdom of Eun, around B.C. 1700. If this project succeeds, the starting point of Chinese history would be moved back more than 2,000 years. This would be even earlier than the Sumerian civilization, which started in the Mesopotamian region around B.C. 3000. China hopes to use this historical development to reinforce the mental infrastructure of Sino-centrism and nationalism behind Pax Sinica.
China’s gross domestic product in 2000 was over $1 trillion, the seventh biggest in the world. Its buying power is $4.5 trillion, second only to the United States. During the 20 years since the start of its reforms in 1978, China’s GDP grew at an annual rate of over 9 percent.
The World Bank predicts that China will surpass the United States to become the world’s biggest economy by the year 2020. By 2025 or 2030, China would not only be the biggest economy, it would gain superpower status in political and military affairs as well.
With things going so well for themselves, the Chinese are dreaming of being compensated for its history of invasions from Western and Japanese imperial forces starting in the 18th century. China is dreaming of claiming the 21st century as its own, and the first step is to make Chinese civilization the oldest in the world and instill pride and patriotism in the hearts of the Chinese people. After finishing the “Conquest of the Northeast,” China will most likely start “organizing” the history along its borders with other countries such as India, Russia, Mongolia and Vietnam.
The three history projects of China are attempts to destroy history, not set it right. China is trying to turn history into the handmaid of Pax Sinica. The reason it is giving priority to the “Conquest of the Northeast” is because there are many ethnic Koreans living there. Once Korea is reunified, there could be a large exodus of ethnic Koreans from China that could threaten the stability of this region.
Since the “Conquest of the Northeast” is one of the three history projects that China has set its mind on, neither national hysteria nor self-abasing diplomacy will solve the problem. We need China’s cooperation in the North Korean nuclear issue, but China is participating because it has its own interests.
As E.H. Carr said, history that is not based on facts is useless. China’s attempt to distort history is like building a castle on sand and will become the laughingstock of the world.
It is important to join forces with countries that will suffer from China’s attempt to change its history, and seek academic and cultural cooperation with historians worldwide who disapprove of China’s willful destruction of history. Even if we don’t mention the late Zhou Enlai, there are plenty of other scholars and intellectuals in China who might feel ashamed of China’s sudden attempt to distort history.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kim Young-hie
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