Legoland, but at what cost?

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Legoland, but at what cost?

Kim Hong-nam

The author, a former director of the National Museum of Korea, is a professor emeritus at Ewha Womans University.

Today, historians don’t write history solely based on historical literature. After archeological discoveries of ancient remains, relics and human bones around the globe, the world’s firsts and oldest are revised constantly, leading to a perennial rewriting of the evolution of humanity. Many countries are devoted to promoting archeology-related fields, preserving excavation sites and studying the significance of their archeological discoveries. That also helps historians affirm, revise and supplement historical records, as seen in the uninterrupted conversion of ancient myths and legends into historical facts.

I am not denying the significance of historical literature in writing history. What I am saying is that written history is not perfect and historical records are mostly monopolized by winners. Since the publication of “Records of the Grand Historian” (Shiji) by Chinese historian Sima Qian in 91 BC, China’s history books are filled with a plethora of discriminations against neighboring countries based on Sinocentrism.

China goes so far as to revise ancient history to match its current borders. China already incorporated Korea’s proud history of Gojoseon (2,333 BC to 108 BC), Goguryo (37 BC to 668 AD) and Balhae (698 to 926) into its history through its meticulous Northeast Project. Chinese authorities even block Korean scholars from accessing significant excavation sites in China. Beijing arbitrarily extended the eastern end of the Great Wall to the Taedong River in North Korea from the original Shanhaikwan in Hebei province. Such fabrication of history is a prelude to usurping territorial sovereignty.

Japan’s “Kojiki,” the oldest book of Japanese history, and the following “Nihon Shoki” are full of historical distortions, including the advancement of its history by a whopping millennium. Based on incorrect descriptions of ancient history, Japan habitually distorted history as exemplified by its claim that the southeastern region of the Korean Peninsula had been a Japanese colony for nearly two centuries in the ancient days. In the colonial days from 1910 to 1945, the Japanese Government-General of Korea collected Korea’s ancient historical literature and hid it through the Korean History Compilation Committee. We still don’t know where those history books are.

Japan emphasized the supremacy of “Great Japan” over Korea’s history and used it to justify its colonial rule of Korea. In the process, the brilliant history of Gojoseon in the Bronze Age was wiped out — and the myth of a tiger and bear took its place. Nevertheless, Korea’s history professors still adhere to the ill-intended theories left behind by their Japanese teachers nearly seven decades ago.

Knowledge goes together with power. The “Chonicals of the Three State” (1145) and the “Heritage of the Three States” (1281) are history books written with the Unified Shilla (676 to 935)-focused perspective. Despite the availability of ancient historical literature at the time, authors of the two books did not use it sufficiently. To correct our distorted history rooted in political propaganda, Korean historians must address tough challenges, including the accumulation of archeological discoveries, a close comparison of them with written history and a consilience-based academic research.

It is lamentable that the dolmen sites on Gimhae, South Gyeongsang — the remains of the Bronze Age — were irrevocably damaged by a redevelopment project. The 350-ton dolmen — known to be the largest one around the world — must have been the tomb of a leader given the environment surrounding it. That is a significant relic that can prove the existence of a large community in the prehistoric age.

But the disastrous development in Gimhae cannot be compared to the destruction of the remains of an ancient civilization on Jungdo Island in the middle of a river in Chuncheon, Gangwon. The island is home to a massive site of rare relics — including a residential area, farmland, graveyard and moat — going back to 3000 BC. I am dumbfounded that such precious remains of a city of up to 5,500 turned into a resort. The Gangwon provincial government should be ashamed of its decision to develop the island at the cost of archeological treasures.

The lead-up to the development of the island suggests the likelihood of the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) being swayed by the political and economic logic of local governments. The Cultural Assets Committee under the CHA is being criticized for not playing its role. The Cultural Relics Preservation Law is certainly above the cultural assets protection regulations administered by municipal governments. Yet the law does not seem to work. The Office of the Prime Minister must set up a special committee to find what really happened before the creation of Legoland Korea. I hope the authorities get to the bottom of the case and come up with measures to prevent such a shameful tragedy in the future.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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