[Viewpoint] Why the Great Wall keeps extendingFrom the Liao River in Liaoning Province to the northernmost Songhuojiang River in Heilonjiang Province are the footprints of Korean ancestors. The historical records are often incorrect as they reflect sinocentrism and Han chauvinism.
The comment does not come from a Korean, but from Zhou Enlai, China’s first prime minister who served under Mao Zedong and was commemorated as one of the most revered Chinese statesmen. Zhou, in meeting with representatives from North Korea’s science academy on June 28, 1963, bluntly said that the Chinese should apologize on behalf of their ancestors for forcing in on Korean territory to make their land bigger.
When China registered the oldest and largest military defense system, the Great Wall, with the Unesco as a World Heritage site in 1987, it covered 6,300 kilometers (3,900 miles) from easternmost Shanhaiguan of Hubei to Jiayuguan of the western starting point. In 2009, a new measurement was announced to span 8,851 kilometers, with authorities claiming to have discovered new sections concealed by sandstorms, stretching the northeastern starting point to the northwestern tip of Dandong.
The Chinese cultural heritage authorities kept on combing the northern frontiers to push the wall gateways to Heilong and Xinjiang. By 2009, the wall extended to 21,196.18 kilometers.
Why is the more than 2,000-year-old Great Wall - symbolizing China’s ancient defensive might - ever growing? Is it an archeological feat?
Its extension coincides with growing confidence in the Chinese historical perspective.
At the heart of the argument is the deeply seated creed among the Chinese that China is an enormous multiethnic nation. According to Yoon Hwy-tak, professor of Hankyong National University, the Han and non-Han ethnics have clashed and rivaled over history, but China is fundamentally a unitary multinational state created through the convergence of various nationalities.
It has been argued that all nationalities residing in Chinese territory today have contributed to enlarging and empowering the Chinese community.
People living in all Chinese territories are therefore members of the Zhonghua minzu, or Chinese nationality. The dynasties and legacies of each nationality belong to China. Their jurisdiction also falls under greater China. The same argument applied to the claim over the Korean Goguryeo Dynasty and its historic relics near the northeastern border.
The sinocentric historical doctrine was used to contain independent movements by minority ethnics spread out near the northeastern border. But in the minds of nationalistic historians, the view became established by the late 1980s. The historical view served the purpose for ethnic and territorial consolidation and a greater Chinese multiethnic cultural heritage.
But the rewriting of history to serve political purposes results in fallacies. For example, the legendary Gen. Yue Fei of the Song Dynasty who fought against the Jin Kingdom lost his iconic status in history because he rebelled against Jin, which is now part of the great China. In Yue Fei’s time, the Jin and the Han were two distinct countries, but the line of differentiating hero and traitor became blurry under the one-nation theory.
The extension of the Great Wall derives from same logical reasoning for political service.
The man-made fortification had been built by mostly Han descendants to protect themselves from outside invaders. But it required an extension to comply with the revisionist historical concept of one multinational state. New sections suddenly popped up without any regard to who built them. Stones were added to the Great Wall, as done with the reinvention of historical identity and heritage.
But the problem is that the Chinese ambition won’t end in stretching the Great Wall. Dankook University Prof. Lee Jong-soo in a recent seminar said China is poised to extend the eastern tip of the Great Wall to as far as the Cheongcheon River of North Korea, which is why we should closely watch China’s wall project.
Rubber can break if stretched out excessively. China’s historians are doing exactly that - pushing too far. China must engage more than 55 ethnic minorities in order to keep up its viability. History can be revisited and reawakened, but cannot be rewritten. Such an act would be denying and reinventing one’s soul and identity.
As the adage goes “You win some, you lose some.”
From the fabrication of history, the country may enjoy an extended family for some time. But in the process, it would be selling out its conscience. The Chinese should heed the wise advice of Zhou that fallacies spread by historians should be fixed to restore the authenticity of history.
*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo specialist on China
By You Sang-chul