Korea fights to keep Goguryeo from China
The latest cultural dispute between Korea and China over
the ancient Kingdom of Goguryeo is not the first. China`s Sui and Tang dynasties
made several invasions on Goguryeo in ancient times but failed to conquer it,
gaining the small Korean kingdom recognition as the most powerful in Northeast
After many failed takeover attempts, Tang, China`s greatest emperor with an
army that conquered almost every other power in the Far and Middle East, was
finally able to destroy Goguryeo by force. But 40 years later, the Chinese were
driven out by angry Korean natives.
China`s craving for Goguryeo more than a dozen centuries later still exists
today as Beijing`s recent efforts to claim the ancient kingdom have escalated
into a diplomatic row with Seoul, where an increasingly furious public and
lawmakers are demanding that China back off.
Many historians and officials here believe the row is at a critical stage in
diplomatic relations, with Chinese defiance of Korean requests to reinstate
acknowledgment of Goguryeo as a Korean kingdom being seen by Seoul as
humiliating and threatening to unravel ties between the two neighbors.
"Korea must make sure that our history and roots will not be distorted by
China. If China`s claims to Goguryeo persist, it will bring serious damage to
bilateral relations," an official at Seoul`s Foreign Ministry said.
The two former battlefield foes in the Korean War have made major progress in
trade and other areas since they established formal diplomatic relations in
China is now South Korea`s largest export market, taking nearly 20 percent of
all South Korean products sold abroad. More than 2.1 million South Koreans and
Chinese visited the other`s country in 2003.
The latest row over the Goguryeo Kingdom, which reigned from northern Korea
to northeastern China 37 B.C. to 668 A.D., erupted after the Chinese Foreign
Ministry in April deleted references of the kingdom from the introduction of
Korean history on its Web site.
Furious with Beijing distortion of Korean history, Seoul demanded the
reinstatement of the information, but Beijing responded with a mawkish move to
omit the entire section of Korean history up until South Korea was established
The introduction of Korean history on the Web site before any deletion in
April described ancient Korea as being made up of three kingdoms: Silla, Baekje
"It`s regretful that China wants to continue with its historic distortion to
claim Goguryeo and carry this issue on further. The removal of Korea`s entire
historic reference is completely out of line and it is a wonder whether they
want to push the issue to the point of damaging our relations," another official
at the ministry said on condition of anonymity.
The rising criticism in South Korea of China is a turnaround from an amicable
relationship the two countries have enjoyed so far. In a recent survey, over 60
percent of ruling party legislators said they viewed China as more important to
South Korea than the United States.
South Korean officials have already expressed formal "disappointment and
regret" and dispatched a senior Foreign Ministry official to Beijing last week
to protest the Chinese action.
Park Joon-woo, chief of the South Korean Foreign Ministry`s Asia-Pacific
Affairs Bureau, was in Beijing Friday for talks with Chinese officials on the
South Korean lawmakers unanimously criticized the move and also joined hands
in condemning Beijing. They also demanded that President Roh Moo Hyun`s
administration actively tackle the issue.
The dispute comes at a delicate time as China is playing an increasing role
in international affairs surrounding the Korean Peninsula, including the North
Korean nuclear weapons standoff.
A 2002 study in China claimed that Goguryeo was a Chinese vassal state, and
concluded that because about two-thirds of the ancient kingdom lies within
Chinese borders today, it is key to China`s history.
So far, the Chinese government has not responded to South Korea`s demand to
restore the deleted history even after diplomats from both sides met on
Wednesday to discuss the matter.
The intensifying dispute is bringing the two Koreas closer together and Seoul
is considering taking the issue up with North Korea to join hands in efforts to
straighten out the record on Goguryeo.
"We would explore diverse countermeasures when inter-Korean talks are held,"
Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo said. No firm schedule has been set for
an inter-Korean meeting.
North Korea, whose main ally is China, accused Beijing of `manipulating
history for its own interest`. Its state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun likened the
Chinese claim on Goguryeo to "stealing water from another man`s rice paddy." The
only era that China can claim some connection with Goguryeo is the Han Dynasty
(200 BC-200 AD). At that time, the northern part of Korea was not called
"Goguryeo." It was referred to as "Nangnang" (Lolang in Chinese). Japanese
archaeologists in 1920s found huge excavated Chinese government and military
garrisons from Han Dynasty times in and near the Pyongyang area.
Northern Korea at that time was ruled by a Han Chinese ruling class over a
local Korean-Manchurian population. The Han Dynasty was not the first. The Yen
kingdom (300 BCs) in northeast China under a General Wiman had also ruled in
that part of Korea. And, before him, accoding to legend, a Chinese prince from
the Shang Dynasty (Kija) settled there.
The north part of Korea was not homogenous in those times. It was a mix of
Chinese newcomers and the local Korean-Manchurian population. There is much
anthropological, DNA and archaeological evidence to support this, but intense
nationalism has prevented Asian countries from adequately studying history and
The Goguryeo kingdom was formed only after the Han Dynasty in China collapsed
and the military garrisons in Nangnang Chosun were abandoned.
While the Chinese are usually arrogant in their attitude toward history with
their immediate Asian neighbors, there is some undeniable truth in some
By Choi Soung-ah
(Korea Herald 2004-8-9)