[Viewpoint]Let facts, not emotion, color history

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[Viewpoint]Let facts, not emotion, color history

A few days ago, the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development revised part of the high school history textbook model. The gist of the revision is to set the beginning of the Bronze Age 500 years earlier and incorporate the Dangun myth. Dangun is believed to be the founder of the Old Joseon dynasty, whose history is now considered an essential part of the nation’s identity and an important addition to the textbooks.
But due to the lack of literature from this period and differences in the interpretation of the archeological materials, there have been lots of controversies in academic circles.
The Dangun myth, in particular, has created sharp conflict and distrust between “orthodox historians” who compile the nation’s history for the textbooks and the so-called “non-orthodox historians.”
The revision was not completed in response to the academic community’s demands. Thus, it is regrettable and even shameful that the revision went against the results of historians and general beliefs.
Research on Northeast Asian archeological materials has so far brought big achievements. Some of the historical relics of the Bronze Age reportedly have been traced back to the 15th century B.C.. But the academic community has not yet closely verified the period.
It is still generally believed by Chinese and Korean archeologists that the mandolin-shaped dagger, the half-moon shaped knife and Misong-ri style pottery ― traditional relics of the Bronze Age in China’s northeast regions ― began to be used in the 10th century B.C. They were developed further in the 8th to 7th century B.C.
The revision of the high school history textbooks that changes the beginning of the Bronze Age foolishly dates it 500 years earlier based on a few unverified materials.
The revised textbook says, “The Bronze Age started in earnest between about 2000 B.C. and 1500 B.C.”
Nothing has been changed about the description of the Old Joseon dynasty.
As the writers of history and the media say, a myth does not just become a fact because the three words “it is said” are deleted from the textbooks.
The content of the early Old Joseon dynasty in the revised history textbook does not change the Dangun myth to a historical fact.
The Old Joseon dynasty ―described in the history textbooks as having lasted 2,000 years from the year 2333 B.C. to the 3rd century B.C. -- is largely depicted as a mythological world.
The actual social or historical state of affairs surrounding the Old Joseon dynasty is not known. The Dangun Joseon, a tribal confederacy in the Bronze Age and a nation said to have ruled wide territories stretching across Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula, did not actually exist there.
Dating the foundation of Dangun to the year 2333 B.C. also lacks credibility as it quotes from the Dongguktonggam, or the Complete Mirror of the Eastern Country, which dated it to the year of the enthronement of King Liao, the legendary king of China, based on China’s own presumptions.
The revision process of the Old Joseon dynasty seems to have reflected South Korea’s purposes in coping with the Chinese government’s Northeast Asian Project, which is studying the history of the area northeast of ancient China.
But the big problem is the haste to cope with the Northeast Asian Project regardless of the research that comes out from the academic circles. Unlike other areas, the descriptions about Old Joseon dynasty history are affected by various factors, such as the opinions of non-orthodox historians or the general public.
It is a serious job to revise the textbooks, from which hundreds of thousands of students learn, based on logic that is irrelevant to academic achievement and not related to the views of the academic community.
Our country’s hasty response to the Northeast Asian Project and its revision of unverified content completely revealed the low level of our compilation of national history in our textbooks.
The general public, as well as most students, confirm that history textbooks provide the perception of history.
For this reason, history textbooks should be carefully described by reflecting research completed by academics.
In particular, the controversial part on Dangun and the Old Joseon history should be based on such research. Moving up the beginning of our history hundreds or thousands of years without any verification in academic circles will not make our history great.
In any case, the description of history should be rational and scientific, based on historical materials.

*The writer is a professor of history education at Korea National University of Education. Translation by the JoongAng Daily Staff.

by Song Ho-jeong
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