Seoul Gets Tough Over Koguryo Dispute

Seoul decided to launch a taskforce and step up countermeasures to cope with Beijing’s alleged attempt to distort the history of Koguryo, an ancient Korean kingdom, officials said Friday.

South Korea’s Prime Minister Lee Hai-chan, presiding over an inter-ministerial policy coordination meeting, instructed the Foreign Ministry and other relevant ministries to set up a working-level state committee on Koguryo’s history.

“Prime Minister Lee expressed deep concern about China’s recent move to distort the Koguryo history while instructing the establishment of the committee,” Jung Soon-kyun, chief of the Government Information Agency, told reporters.

The Koguryo committee, which will be headed by a deputy foreign minister and will consist of deputy director-level officials from relevant ministries, will prepare for various measures against the alleged distortion of history, he added.

Chung also said the government planned to give more support for the Koguryo Research Foundation in an effort to help fortify Korea’s logical position in the historical dispute. The state-funded research institute, set up in March, will also be encouraged to have more academic seminars with historians from China and other foreign countries, he explained.

The Sino-Korean discord went from bad to worse recently as China’s Foreign Ministry was found to have deleted Koguryo _ one of the three kingdoms of ancient Korea _ from an introduction to Korean history on its Web site.

China has recently stepped up efforts to claim Koguryo as part of its own history, with its official media, such as Xinhua News Agency, reported that Koguryo was a “local administration” that received its authority from Chinese dynasties.

The common historical record has long been that the so-called Three Kingdoms Era formed by Koguryo, Paekche and Shilla belonged to the Korean history. The Koguryo Kingdom (37 B.C.-668 A.D.), at its peak, extended from the northern part of the Korean Peninsula to the greater part of what is now Manchuria, China.

In protest, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday called in China’s ambassador in Seoul to protest Beijing’s recent moves. Seoul’s top envoy to Beijing also filed an official protest with the Chinese government earlier this week.

Some politicians, experts and civic groups voiced the need for both South and North Korea to cooperate each other to cope with the attempted history distortion.

The Choson Sinbo, official paper of a pro-Pyongyang body in Japan, said in its Internet edition on Friday that the Chinese move is an “outspoken distortion of history” that Koreans cannot tolerate. It is rare for North Korea-affiliated media to denounce China, a key communist ally, over the issue, experts said.

Koguryo artifacts, currently spread in the territories of North Korea and China, have recently been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list, providing the opportunity for Beijing to push forward its scheme regarding Koguryo.

The Korean people, both Southern and Northern, take pride in the legacy of the ancient regime that straddled the Chinese borderlands, especially its independent spirit, military might and cultural achievements.

By Ryu Jin Staff Reporter

Fight over Goguryeo flares

Fight over Goguryeo flares

The Foreign Ministry reacted strongly yesterday to what it called “the distortion of Goguryeo history” by the Chinese government and press.
Goguryeo was a kingdom that held sway in northeastern China and the northern part of the Korean peninsula from 37 B.C. to 668.

Chinese scholars, to the horror of both academics and ordinary people here, have begun to assert the kingdom was a “subordinate state” to the Chinese dynasties of the era, and recently the Chinese government has joined in those assertions.
Choi Young-jin, Seoul’s vice minister for foreign affairs, called in China’s ambassador, Li Bin, yesterday to protest the Chinese assertions. He told the ambassador that Seoul had serious concerns about the assertion that Goguryeo was subordinate to the Middle Kingdom. He pointed specifically to a change made recently on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Web site, where a reference to Goguryeo was removed from a page discussing Korean history.

Seoul asked the Chinese to “take measures on this matter in good faith so as not to hinder the future of relations.” On Tuesday, the Korean Embassy in Beijing made the same points to the Foreign Ministry there.
Foreign Ministry officials here said the Chinese understood Korean concerns and “will review ways to deal wisely with the Goguryeo issue so as not to cause a negative impact on South Korea-China relations.”

The ancient kingdom, whose inhabitants Koreans claim as their ethnic ancestors, became a matter of dispute between China and Korea last year. Chinese scholars participating in the “Northeast Asia Project,” set up in 2002 to research the history of northeastern China, began to assert that Goguryeo was a part of China’s historical record. Korean scholars counterattacked, saying that the history of the kingdom was Korea’s exclusively, even though the bulk of the territory formerly occupied by the kingdom is now in China.

Now that the Chinese government has begun to echo the assertions of its scholars, Seoul decided to put the matter forward as a diplomatic issue with Beijing.
Also feeding the dispute was the recent designation of several cultural artifacts of the kingdom, both in China and in North Korea, as “World Heritage Sites.” The designation by Unesco, a United Nations organ, included the remains of three cities and 40 tombs in China and 63 individual graves at several tomb complexes near Pyeongyang. In the later part of the Goguryeo era, Pyeongyang was the capital of the kingdom.

Immediately after the designation of the sites on July 1, China’s People’s Daily quoted a scholar at Jilin University as saying, “Goguryeo was a regime established by ethnic groups in northern China some 2,000 years ago, representing an important part of Chinese culture.” Xinhua news agency also chimed in, saying Goguryeo was a “subordinate state that fell under the jurisdiction of the Chinese dynasties and was under the great influence of China’s politics and culture.”
On Beijing’s Foreign Ministry Web site, the former description of the Korean Peninsula read, “The Korean Peninsula before the 1st century B.C. was ruled by the powers Silla, Baekje and Goguryeo.” The new version deletes the reference to Goguryeo.

Korean government officials and scholars interpreted the change as an attempt to hijack the kingdom’s record into Chinese history books.
One of the peculiar aspects of the Goguryeo debate is that North Korea has kept its silence about China’s explicit and implicit efforts to incorporate Goguryeo as part of its history. South Koreans are sensitive about any perceived slur on what they see as 5,000 years of a purely Korean civilization; but in most issues, North Korea’s hypersensitivity makes its southern neighbor seem positively placid. Although many of the Goguryeo relics and remains are in North Korean territory, Pyeongyang has not reacted to the recent Chinese claims that Goguryeo was subordinate to Chinese rulers in Beijing.

“Because North Korea relies a lot on China in terms of political and economic assistance, they don’t want to invoke any harsh feelings,” a foreign ministry official suggested.
In January, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, an international non-governmental organization, recommended that Goguryeo remains in both China and North Korea be registered as World Heritage Sites. From June 28 to July 7, the 28th session of Unesco’s World Heritage Committee met in Suzhou, China to decide on the listing of historic artifacts on its World Heritage List. On July 1, the committee designated the Goguryeo sites in both China and in North Korea as new additions to the list. The organization carefully avoided any mention of whose history was being added to the list; Goguryeo is described as “one of the strongest kingdoms in northeast China and half of the Korean Peninsula between the third century B.C. and the seventh century.” The Unesco listing shows the establishment date of the kingdom as 277 B.C. rather than 37 B.C., the date used by Koreans.
The North Korean listing is the first of a heritage site in the reclusive communist state. Seoul closed ranks with its northern neighbor to support its bid for a listing, sending a delegation of scholars and government officials to the meeting in Suzhou.

When China’s Northeast Asia Project came to public attention here late last year, the government reacted by setting up a “Goguryeo Research Center” under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office in April. The research body has not yet done anything substantial to buttress Korea’s exclusive claim to Goguryeo; it has made plans for a joint study of the issue with Chinese scholars, who claim that Goguryeo was made up of non-ethnic Chinese who paid tribute to China, and add that because most of Goguryeo is in present-day China, the Chinese are successors to the Goguryeo state. But South Koreans say tribute is not the point; other Korean Peninsula kingdoms at the time also paid tribute to Beijing, but that did not make them subordinate to Chinese authority. With a wealth of much more pertinent issues to worry about, government officials from both countries have stressed that the matter was purely academic and should be debated among academics. But for whatever reason, China apparently felt impelled to assert its case in its state-run media, which made it impossible for Seoul to sit by without reacting.

by Choi Jie-ho

Goguryeo Tomb Paintings in China Stolen

Korean burial tomb wall paintings from the Goguryeo-era located in what is now China’s Jillin Province are missing and appear to have been removed by grave robbers ahead of their designation as World Heritage by UNESCO next year. Part of one of the two sites had already been raided in 1996.

‘It is so serious that in some places the whole wall is gone,’ says the head of the local Chinese Public Security office responsible for protecting historical sites and artifacts. ‘The culprits are all Chinese citizens, including an ethnic Korean. We have arrested them all, but the murals are nowhere to be found.’ Burglars appear to have removed the mural in pieces, cutting fragments out with a chain saw, after apparently using the ‘Frisco method’ of spreading lime over the mural area to absorb the color and preserve the painting in full. Chinese authorities are refusing to disclose the whole of the incident, but they have sealed the entrance to one site with cement and another, which lies in the middle of a corn field, has had its steel doors welded shut. Official at a local museum claim the sites were raided on May 19 and August of last year.

The wall paintings include some of the only existing evidence of life in Goguryeo, founded in 37B.C., and was, along with Silla and Paekje, one of the ‘Three Kingdoms.’ One painting, of Koreans worshiping Buddha, is the oldest record of Buddhism among Koreans. The paintings were first introduced to the South Korea public in 1992, when the Chosun Ilbo organized an exhibit of pictures of the paintings titled ‘Ah! Goguryeo.’

(Shin Hyeong-jun,

Battle Against Distorting History

[Student Corner] Battle Against Distorting History

By Lee Eung-hoon
“Why should I study Korean history?” Maybe many students asked the question when they were in high school.

But, now I think that only a few know the reason. You probably also know that our history is faced with a big problem.

It’s time to have more concern about Korean history. So, I composed this article with hopes that you will think of our history’s crisis once more after reading it.


1. Don’t Distort Korean History Anymore

On April 20 last year, a diplomatic row took place between China and Korea, because the Chinese Foreign Ministry removed the history of Koguryo from its homepage.

Although our government lodged a strong protest against the removal with the Chinese government and asked it to correct the falsified history, there was no action or response from Beijing.

In addition, it deleted all parts of our ancient history up to 1984 from its homepage on August 5. Its action was very senseless and enough to enrage many Korean people.

In the wake of claims by the Chinese media that Koguryo was a country subordinate to ancient China, China has been making various efforts to incorporate Koguryo into its own history. Koguryo (B.C. 37-A.D. 668) is an ancient Korean kingdom with a territory ranging from the northern part of the peninsula to Manchuria.

A tourism event named the “Koguryo Culture Trip” hosted by Jilin Province in China and Jian city has been planned for July 20 through Oct. 15.

Some may claim it is nothing more than a sightseeing venture.

However, every program of the trip seems designed to inculcate visitors that Koguryo was one of the minority ethnic regimes in northeast China that deeply impacted the development of old civilizations.

In addition, the Chinese magazine “Lifeweek” recently said in an article, “In the era of the Ming and Qing dynasty, ancient dynasties of China, the China-Korea relationship was one of principal and subordination, according to, one of the famous Chinese portal sites.”

The magazine claimed the Choson Kingdom in the Korean Peninsula had allied with the Ming Dynasty when they accepted an offer to help repel Japanese invaders from Korea in 1592.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided to list several Koguryo sites as World Cultural Heritages, and China made continuous claims that Koguryo was a part of China.

Some scholars denounced China for trying to incorporate Koguryo’s history into its own under its scheme of “historical imperialism.”

In February 2002, the Chinese government launched the “Northeast Asian Project” to study the history of the area northeast of ancient China, including Koguryo. With the project, China seems intent on incorporating Koguryo into its history.

On July 2, 2005, China’s official Xinhua News Agency called Koguryo a “subordinate state under the rule of Chinese dynasties,” in its report.


2. No Response Is Not Best.

It is well known that, Korea and Japan have engaged in long-standing disputes over the sovereignty of the Dokdo islets.

So, I won’t explain about that, but I want to tell you that the popular myth is that no matter what the Japanese say, the best response to this issue is to ignore them.

Dokdo is historically, geographically, and by international law, part of our territory, but the Japanese government continue to call it “Takeshima” in Japanese.

In addition, the Japanese government continuously proffered foreign countries information favorable to Japan while our government has taken a negative attitude on the issue up to now.

According to Far Eastern Economic Review’s survey concerning Dokdo, 54.4 percent of chief executive officers of 10 Asian countries responded that Dokdo is Japan’s territory. Especially, 60 percent of European CEOs didn’t have a correct understanding of Dokdo.

This survey showed that our government hasn’t coped well with the Dokdo problem.


3. What Should We Do to Keep Our History?

Are you familiar with the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea (VANK)?

VANK is a nongovernmental organization devoted to promoting the country’s image overseas by means of the Internet.

By sending various reference materials and historical records by e-mail, the group has encouraged many international publishers and media organizations to adopt “East Sea” to refer to the waters separating Korea and Japan.

Recently, many international publishers and news media organizations, such as National Geographic, Rand McNally, Britannica, UNESCO, CNN, Lonely Planet, Le Figaro, Les Echos and Suddeutshe Zeitung have taken up the usage of the East Sea.

In addition, they tried to connect simultaneously to the Web sites including the Web site of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The government should support the activities of VANK on the various sides.

In addition, the government has to introduce more fundamental measures to counter China’s Northeast Asian Project.

The important thing is how much effort Korea will make to inform the world of the truth about our history.

And finally, the people should have more concern about our history, as I emphasized at the beginning of this article. I think it’s the first step for solving this problem.

Lee Eung-hoon is editor-in-chief of the Dankook Herald at Dankook University in Seoul. Lee is a senior majoring Japanese language and literature.

01-04-2006 20:14

Lee Eung-hoon

Goguryeo Comes to Seoul

North Korea’s national treasure-class Goguryeo artifacts have arrived in Seoul.

Sixty Goguryeo artifacts, including 15 national treasure-class artifacts belonging to the Chosun Central History Museum, reached Seoul via a Kumgang Mountain tourism course (road number seven) on April 22. These relics will be exhibited in a ‘Special Goguryeo Exhibition’ (running from May 7 to July 10) celebrating Korea University’s centennial anniversary Korea University Museum curator Choi Gwang-sik (Korea University Korean history professor) led the Goguryeo artifact reception team of six and visited Kumgang Mountain on Apr 21.

His team received the artifacts from Chosun Central History Museum curator Kim Song Hyun and loaded them into shock-proof special vehicles, passed through Kangwon Kosung-gun Unification Tower’s customs, immigration and quarantine office in the afternoon, and finally arrived in Seoul late at night.

Among the artifacts brought in that day, there are various national treasure-class artifacts that were unknown to South Korea, including a gold-coated copper plaque with carved letters (made in 546) excavated in Ohmaeri, Shinpo-si, Hamgyungnam-do, in 1988, and an iron horse and bronze Sashin (four animals that represent the four directions), presumed to date back to the 3rd Century, that was found in Gangwon-do Chulryung, in 1994.

In addition to Goguryeo’s most typical metal artifacts — flaring-sun pattern gold-coated copper ornaments and flaring-spark pattern cold-coated copper crowns — diverse roof tiles and bricks excavated from Pyongyang’s Anak Palace and Chungreung Temple site, trumpet shaped pots, harnesses from Pyongananam-do Pyongsung-Si Jigyung-dong Number One Tomb, a burial pot, and a statue from Pyongyang’s Daesung Mountain are some of the artifacts brought to Seoul.

The estimated value of all the artifacts brought to Seoul is about $34.03 million (about 34 billion won).

Professor Choi said, ‘Goguryeo artifacts have been displayed in Seoul twice, once in late 2002 and once in March 2004 with the help of the KCRC (Korea Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation), but most of them were restored wall paintings. This time, the artifacts are genuine artifacts that will make you feel the essence of Goguryeo culture.’

Furthermore, unlike the past two times when North Korean relics were transported by sea from Nampo to Incehon port, this time land transportation was used. Korea University will display a total of 230 Goguryeo artifacts — 80 South Korean Goguryeo artifacts and 40 Goguryeo artifacts borrowed from Japan in addition to North Korean artifacts — in Ilmin Museum inside Korea University under the title: ‘Korean ancient times’ Global Pride: Goguryeo starting May 7 This special exhibition is under the joint auspices of Korea University Museum and City of Seoul, and is sponsored by Dong-a Ilbo, the Korea Central Foundation, the Goguryeo Research Foundation, the South-North History Scholar Council and the Korean Association of University Museums.

APRIL 22, 2005 23:40
Donga, South Korea

Harvard Forum to Discuss Koguryo

The Korea Institute at Harvard University will host an international forum on the Koguryo Kingdom and its culture from April 5-7, the Korea Foundation has announced.

The purpose of “The Harvard Conference on Koguryo History and Archeology” is to facilitate the introduction of Koguryo-based studies in English and provide a further foundation for the field.

The ancient Korean kingdom’s prominence in the media in recent months following China’s efforts to claim it through the government-run “Northeast Asia Project,” reminds us that even today, with nationalism on the rise all over the world, ancient history is still pertinent, The Korea Institute at Harvard University said. With various versions of history, recent editorials and commentaries, including some in English, have inundated us with confused and contradictory information regarding Koguryo, much of it offered by writers with little actual knowledge of the fields of history and archaeology.

“The proliferation of misinformation regarding Koguryo threatens to compound the problems facing western scholars who wish to include Koguryo in their research or curricula,” the institute said.

Koguryo specialists from six countries will discuss the areas of Koguryo’s origins and development, its inter-regional relations, archaeological remains, sources for Koguryo history and archaeology, its place in historiography and history of scholarly work on the ancient kingdom.

“Early Koguryo Remains in China” by Li Xinquan of the Liaoning Archaeology Institute, “The Early History of Koguryo” by Kenneth Gardiner of the Australian National University, “Resonance and Resplendence in the Twin Pillars Tomb” Nancy Steinhardt of University of Pennsylvania and “Koguryo in East Asian Studies in the West” by Mark Byington of Harvard University and Jin Xudong of Jilin Archaeology Institute Koguryo Archaeological Finds and Research in Jilin Province are just a few of the presentations that will be made during the three day symposium.

The upcoming conference was made possible by the support of Korea Foundation, the Korea Society in New York, the Harvard-Yenching Institute, the Harvard Asia Center, the Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies, and the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research.

COMMENT: Tempestuous Seoul-Beijing relationship

KOREA and China have been close both geographically and historically. In fact, at one time Korea was a tributary state of the Chinese empire, a relationship that ended when Japan colonised the peninsula at the end of the 19th century.
In modern times, since China and South Korea established diplomatic relations in 1992, the two countries have developed ever closer economic and political relations.

While South Korea remains an American ally, China, and not the United States, is its biggest trading partner. And there are more Koreans studying in Chinese universities than students from any other country.

Only last month, China opened a cultural centre in Seoul, the first such centre in Asia.

And yet, the long historical ties cut both ways, as was demonstrated last year when a dispute erupted over the nature of the ancient kingdom of Koguryo, which was founded in 37BC.

Koreans have traditionally regarded Koguryo as one of the three kingdoms into which ancient Korea was divided. However, last year, Chinese scholars claimed Koguryo, whose territory encompassed much of present-day northeastern China as well as all of North Korea, was a vassal kingdom of China.

Far from being merely a scholarly difference of opinion, the dispute threatened to damage seriously relations between the two countries since the difference in views could conceivably be used to lay territorial claims against each other in the future.

The dispute was only defused after China dispatched senior officials to Seoul, including Deputy Foreign Minister Wu Dawei and top leader, Jia Qinglin.

Things were quiet for a few months but two weeks ago Chinese security agents raided a news conference organised by visiting South Korean legislators, shutting off the lights and forcibly removing foreign journalists from the room.

The legislators, from the opposition Grand National Party, had called the news conference to urge the Chinese Government to provide better treatment to refugees from North Korea.

They also wanted China to release South Korean activists jailed for trying to smuggle refugees into China from North Korea.

China considers such refugees to be “illegal immigrants” and sends them back to North Korea when apprehended.

At a news conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan castigated the Korean legislators for inciting “illegal immigrants to continue their activities”.

He pointed out that these “illegal immigrants” have been forcing their way into foreign embassies and consulates in an attempt to be given asylum and sent to South Korea.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman suggested that the South Korean legislators had held an unauthorised news conference, pointing out that while one legislator was a guest of the Korean Embassy, the rest had entered China as tourists.

The South Korean Government summoned the Chinese Ambassador to express its concern about the incident.

While the Government demanded an explanation, it did not lodge a formal protest, perhaps because the legislators were with the Opposition.

President Roh Moo Hyun’s Government, after all, has repeatedly made clear that it opposes the collapse of the North Korean Government, which would put on Seoul’s shoulder the responsibility of taking care of the 23 million North Koreans.

South Korea recently announced policy changes that will make it more difficult for North Korean refugees to find a haven in South Korea.

Last week, the South Koreans formally requested China to stop using the ancient name of their capital when referring to Seoul. Even though the city has been known as Seoul for 100 years, the Chinese continue to use the ancient name Hancheng.

The characters “Hancheng” mean “Han’s city,” which carries a connotation of the city belonging to the Han, the dominant ethnic group in China.

Now, the Koreans say, the Chinese should use two other characters, “Shou-er”, when referring to the city. The characters are closer in pronunciation to the South Korean name Seoul.

The Seoul metropolitan Government has said that the new name would be used on all its Chinese-language websites and all promotional material printed in Chinese.

So far, there has been no indication that China would object to this new name.

The Chinese, after all, in earlier years had insisted that foreigners should stop calling their capital Peking and switch to Beijing, a spelling that more closely approximates the pronunciation of the name in Chinese.

All this may seem like a tempest in a teapot but, where national sensitivities are concerned, even the smallest teapot may arouse feelings that are difficult to keep under control.

* The writer is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator.

Goguryo was a country of the Korean Peninsula

The Chinese History Encyclopedia, published in 2000, and the most authoritative Chinese dictionary published in 1999 both describe Goguryo as a country on the Korean Peninsula, it was confirmed on Aug. 15.

The Chinese History Encyclopedia is a vast book of 3,502 pages in two volumes using the basic records of Chinese history and written by 780 historians belonging to the Social and Science Institute under the Chinese State Administrative Council and other institutions. Maps in Volume II indicates Goguryo as a nation outside Chinese territory on no fewer than seven occasions.

In particular, in a map of the Song-Wei era (A.D. 449), when China was divided into the Wei dynasty in the North and the Song dynasty in the south, the Wei dynasty’s territory stops at the Liaohe of Liaodong peninsula with Goguryo being identified as a separate country beyond the border and comprising the entire Liaodong peninsula as well as the northern half of the Korean peninsula.

The Goryo section on page 2505 of Volume II also states: It (Goryo) also goes by the name of Goguryo. It was founded by Jumong with Pyongyang as its capital and its territory comprising the northern part of the present Korean peninsula. It became powerful after 4th century A.D., vying for supremacy with Shilla and Paekche. During the late Sui dynasty and the early Tang dynasty, China and Goguryo fought with each other on several occasions, while also lived peacefully together at other times.

In China’s most authoritative dictionary, too, Goguryo is clearly described as an ancient country of Chosun. In the Goguryo section on page 5788 in Volume III of the three-volume dictionary, published in 1999 by 554 scholars, it states: It is called Goguryo, Guryo or Goryo. As an ancient country of Chosun, it conquered the land of the Nakrang Army in the south.

Later Paekche and Shilla rose producing the period called the three-kingdom era in the history of Chosun. In the King Gwanggaeto section on page 2399 of Volume II, the book describes the king as the king of Goguryo of Chosun (392-413). His penname was Great King of Youngrak.

By Choi Gang (

Korea to Deal with Chinese Misrepresentation on Old Korean Kingdom

August 13, 2004
Government Information Agency

In connection with the Chinese attempt to distort and misrepresent facts of history about the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 BC-AD 668), the government has established a fundamental policy that there is absolutely no room whatsoever for compromise on the issue. The Korean government will take all necessary counter-measures.

During a regular briefing session on August 11, Foreign Minister Ban Ki-mun said, The government will continue to ask China to stop the distortion and demand necessary rectifications (of the Chinese misrepresentation).

He further noted, The government will deal sternly with any attempts to incorporate the history of the Korean kingdom into that of China and that his ministry will continue to make diplomatic efforts to prevent further distortions, including possible misrepresentations about the Korean kingdom in Chinese school textbooks.

Prime Minister Lee Hai-chan addressed the same issue at the latest National Affairs Policy Coordination meeting, calling for the need to pursue the strategy along the three avenues: 1. Deal with China, 2. Inform/educate Korean people, and 3. Promote the Korean position worldwide. For a more effective campaign, the Prime Minister gave instructions to survey history textbooks of other countries and launch a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness about old kingdoms, including Goguryeo, in Korean history.

To win international support for the issue, the government will provide local history research groups, such as the Goguryeo Kingdom Research Foundation, with their research funds to help publish the results of research on a regular basis. The government also plans to sponsor international academic conferences to effectively promote Korea’s position.

Other measures will include expanding Korean history courses at secondary schools, bolstering Korean history at the next school curriculum review, and making Korean history a prerequisite in civil servant employment tests.

For its part, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism will set up a task force comprising government and civilian experts to develop and strengthen academic evidence concerning the facts of history about the Goguryeo Kingdom.

An old map reveals territorial truth

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Old European maps of Korea being shown in a new exhibition at the Seoul Museum of History hold visual evidence that perhaps can help end the on-going battle over territory and history between Korea and its neighbors, China and Japan.

“These maps can aid in resolving the current international issues: the correct name of the ‘East Sea,’ sovereignty over Dokdo, and disputes over the Korea-China national boundary,” said Soh Jong-chul, a professor of French literature at Seoul National University.

Soh spoke Tuesday at a ceremony to open the exhibition, “Corea in the Imagination of European,” which displays a collection of historic European-made maps of Korea that he and his wife collected over the last three decades. They recently donated them to the museum.

“The fact that these maps were made by a third party, the Europeans, adds more importance to this exhibition,” Soh said.

Even to viewers ignorant of geography and history, these old maps are clear pieces of evidence that can strengthen the nation’s position in the ongoing disputes over old territory and history.

One area of contention is the area Koreans refer to as the Gando region, which covers the present day Jian and Jilin area in China. China took territorial rights over the Gando region in a treaty signed between Japan and China on Sept. 4, 1909. Koreans, however, claim that the area originally belonged to Korea.

Recently, China has been attempting to erase the ancient history of Korea by including Goguryeo – the largest kingdom of the Three Kingdoms era and the kingdom from which the name “Korea” stems – as a part of China’s history.

However, a 1737 French map, “Royaume de Coree (Kingdom of Korea),” shows that the Korea-China boundary was slanted more toward the north in the past, demonstrating that the Gando region was associated with Korea then.

“Nouvelle Carte De L’asie (New Map of Asia),” another early 18th century map, marks the East Sea “Mer Orientale” which means East Sea in English. Many of the maps use the terms East Sea or the Sea of Korea, not Sea of Japan, the term Japan insists on.

A “Map of China, Korea and Japan,” from 1832, which is a German copy of a Japanese map, specifically states that Dokdo – a small island located between Korea and Japan – is part of Korea. Dokdo is colored yellow like the rest of Korea and beside the island is a sentence in small letters, “Takenosima a la Coree (Dokdo of Korea).” Takenosima was the Japanese name for the island.

The fact that this map’s original version was made in Japan indicates that even Japan acknowledged Dokdo as Korea’s territory at that time.

Professor Soh and his wife Kim In-whan, an Ewha Woman’s University professor, assembled the collection after finding an old map of Korea in France 30 years ago.

After seeing the word “East Sea” on a map at Versailles, Soh bought a copy of it, thinking, “If someone questions what I have seen, I will have the evidence in my own hands.”

He began looking at and acquiring other old European maps that showed Korea. Eventually the couple acquired more than 100 of the historic documents, and Soh and his wife realized that their collection did not belong to them anymore.

“One day, I realized that the collection must be opened to the public, so that everyone could see the truth of the past,” Professor Soh said.

“My heart was heavy with burden when I kept the maps to myself. But now it has become as light as a feather, knowing that the museum is going to take good care of the maps for me,” he added with a smile.

Although some of the maps are hundreds of years old, they are in excellent condition, with the colors and the lettering hardly faded or damaged. The maps’ worn corners are the only evidence of time, reflecting the hard work and devotion that Soh and his wife exerted to preserve these historic documents.

The exhibition is also a chance to see the changes in Europeans’ views of Korea from the 16th century, when Korea first appeared on Western maps, up through the 18th century. At first, European countries thought Korea was a small island. An early Dutch map titled “Asia” depicts it as an island, labeling it “Ilha de Corea (Korea Island).”

In the 17th century, European mapmakers came to realize that Korea is a peninsula. An Italian map “Atlas de la Extrema Asia (Map of Great Asia)” from 1655 was the first map to show Korea attached to the Asian mainland as a peninsula.

While marveling over the excellence of the maps, some visitors may think about the land and sea of Korea and how Korea can reveal and preserve the truth about its past for the sake of the nation’s future.

The exhibition will continue through Dec. 26.

Seoul Museum of History is located near Gwanghwamun Station, Subway Line No. 5, and Exit 8. For more information, see or call (82-2) 724-0114.