우물 안 개구리


Why octopuses are good at archaeology and Yonsama is the son of God

Filed under: — Owen @ 12:11 pm Print

A brief news round-up. I meant to blog on the story of the octopus that ‘discovered’ a treasure trove of twelfth century pottery off the coast of Korea when it first hit the headlines a couple of months back. Now it seems that the acquisitive cephalopod’s find was considerably more spectacular than first thought and some 10,000 pieces of celadon pottery await excavation from the site. There is a bit more detail in another article on the find in the Hankyoreh, which informs us that the ship carrying the pottery was probably on its way from kilns in Kangjin in Cholla Province to Kaesong, capital of Koryo, when it sunk over 700 years ago.

Meanwhile, on my other favourite subject – historical TV dramas – I see that Bae Yong-jun’s new opus on the life of King Kwanggaeto, ‘Taewang sasin’gi’, will finally be hitting Korean TV screens this autumn. With great modesty Bae (AKA ‘Yonsama’) will be playing Jumong, founder of the Koguryo kingdom, King Kwanggaeto himself and the son of God (no, not that son of God, but rather Hwanung, father of Tan’gun). I wonder how a drama aimed at rectifying China’s mistaken attitude toward Korean history will play in Japan, where anything involving Yonsama seems to be marketed heavily.


Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a “dump”: all the Asia related stuff I’ve saved over the last…. two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I’d toss it out there. I hope to resume more … measured blogging soon.
[Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]


New book on Paekche

Filed under: — Owen @ 9:27 am Print

News comes, via the Korean Studies mailing list, that Jonathan Best’s history of Paekche is now out. I wouldn’t normally use this blog to advertise a single book, but I’m personally quite excited about this one, since a book in English on an ancient Korean kingdom is a very rare thing*. I’m looking forward to seeing this in our library.

From the blurb:

This volume presents two histories of the early Korean kingdom of Paekche (trad. 18 BCE-660 CE). The first, written by Jonathan Best, is based largely on primary sources, both written and archaeological. This initial history of Paekche serves, in part, to introduce the second, an extensively annotated translation of the oldest history of the kingdom, the Paekche Annals (Paekche pon’gi). Written in the chronicle format standard for the traditional official histories of East Asia, the Paekche Annals constitutes one section of the Histories of the Three Kingdoms (Samguk sagi), a comprehensive account of early Korean history compiled under the editorial direction of Kim Pusik (1075-1151).

*Actually I can’t think of any others, except possibly Kenneth Gardiner’s book The early history of Korea: the historical development of the peninsula up to the introduction of Buddhism in the fourth century A.D., which I believe is based on his PhD thesis on Koguryŏ. Perhaps we can persuade fellow Frog contributor Noja to translate his thesis on Kaya into English one day.


Open sesame

Filed under: — Owen @ 4:01 pm Print

Click over to Nick Kapur’s post at Frog Japan for news on new plans to allow archaeologists to access Japanese imperial tombs (kofun). Depending on how far things get, this could have very important implications for our understanding of both Korean and Japanese history… there might even be results within our lifetimes.


History news round-up (brought to you by the Korea Times)

For some reason the Korea Times seems to be quite a decent source of history news these days, so in the absence of a more heavyweight post, here’s a round up of articles I’ve come across in the last week or so:

A couple of weeks ago the Korean Supreme Court released a bundle of court rulings from the early colonial period for the first time. The rulings date from 1912-1914 and the article notes how at that time custom still had an important influence on how the law was executed:

The court acknowledged concubines and gave supreme rights to the eldest sons of families. A person’s legal capacity was decided not by his or her age but by whether he or she had the intelligence to determine gains and losses.

Last week it was announced that a number of Chosŏn royal seals are missing, having been lost by various Korean museums. This is really not good for Korean museum PR:

The Board of Audit and Inspection also said that the surface of a royal seal made for the concubine of King Sonjo rusted away and a turtle-shaped seal, made of jade for the wife of King Sonjo, had been destroyed.

They said that every one of the of 316 seals owned by the National Palace Museum of Korea had been damaged in some way.

Two wooden ships found off the coast of China last year have turned out to be extremely rare examples of Koryŏ flat-bottomed wooden ships.

“It provides evidence that flat-bottom ships could sail as far as Shandong Province. Flat-bottom is a unique feature of ancient Korean ships unlike Chinese ships that had relatively pointy-shaped bottoms,” Choi Hang-soon, professor at the Department of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering at Seoul National University, told The Korea Times.

“It seems the Koryo ships arrived in the Chinese port, and had some big repairs there,” said Choi, who participated in the international academic conference on the ancient ships last week in Penglai.

And finally… A KT student guest columnist lauds the philanthropic attitude of Chosŏn dynasty sŏnbi (Confucian scholar-officials). This is something that interests me a lot as I’m planning to do some research on the ‘gift economy’ in Chosŏn Korea. However, I must admit that I can’t help being a bit put off an article when I see empty catchphrases like ‘sŏnbi spirit’ being thrown around and I’m not entirely convinced about the idea of seeing members of the exclusive and exploitative yangban class as moral models for our age, however philanthropic they may have been. Actually I could criticise numerous aspects of that column, but that would seem rather misanthropic of me…


Finding historical riches

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:17 pm Print

A few items from the news, blogs, etc.


Monumental Repatriation

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:01 pm Print

A Korean stone memorial commemorating victories over Hideyoshi’s armies has been returned [via]

After decades of negotiations, the Bukgwan Victory Monument was driven through the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas on its circuitous journey back home. Because communist North Korea does not have formal relations with Japan, South Korean diplomats secured its return and then turned it over to their estranged neighbor.

It marks the first time that Seoul has formally intervened on Pyongyang’s behalf to recover a cultural relic, and could set a precedent for the future.

It’s good to see a cultural icon returned, but it raises all kinds of interesting and troubling issues. First, of course, is the location of the piece

Although the stone tablet was less valuable than some other artworks, its presence at a shrine that honors the souls of 2.5 million military dead including those convicted of war crimes was particularly rankling to Korean activists. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun took up the cause during a meeting last year with Japanese President Junichiro Koizumi.

“There were a lot of psychological factors with this monument. It was about an embarrassing and humiliating defeat for the Japanese, and I think they wanted it hidden away,” said Kang Kyung-hwan, director of the Cultural Heritage Administration’s international division.

Toshiaki Nambu, the head of Yasukuni Shrine, told the media that his board never contested the return of the monument. “The monument is not ours. We are only keeping it temporarily and planning to return it,” Nambu was quoted as saying

Which has to qualify as one of the most bald-faced lies ever uttered, given that Koreans have been trying to arrange repatriation for 27 years. This is not the end, though,

This is only the starting point for a national movement to recover all that they stole from us,” said Choi Seo-myeon, the scholar, now 76, who found the pilfered monument at Yasukuni after a lengthy search.Choi and his fellow Korean scholars say the Japanese were as bad as the Nazis in Europe: Imperial forces plundered treasures during an occupation that ended only with Tokyo’s surrender to the Allies in 1945.

The items range from the exquisite — celadon vases, bronze Buddhas, gold jewelry — to the macabre. Among the latter are as many as 100,000 noses and ears that Japanese samurai sliced off Koreans as trophies during a brutal 7-year war in the late 16th century. The body parts were buried in a mound in Kyoto.

When Japan and South Korea normalized diplomatic relations in 1965, the Japanese returned more than 1,300 items. About 1,700 more have come home through private negotiations. Korean collectors have bought back some pieces on the open market, and some Japanese citizens have donated pieces. But Koreans say it is only a fraction of what remains missing.

One of the interesting questions at this point has to be whether there might be distinction, on repatriation, between items taken by governments (and their agents) by force or by seizure laws later deemed illegitimate versus those held in private hands and acquired through purchase, even under adverse economic conditions. If the latter distinction isn’t made — and the legal situation now is considerably less friendly to the export or purchase of culturally significant achaeological finds — then there will have to be a massive global repatriation out of Western museums. I’m thinking, for example, of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, which has some astounding collections based in no small part on purchases made in the 19th century, when Japan was at an extreme economic disadvantage to the West.

[Crossposted to Frog In A Well: Japan]


Who Owns Koguryo Now?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:22 pm Print

Yonson Ahn’s article in the latest Japan Focus tracks the historiography of the Korean/Manchurian Koguryo state up to the present “textbook wars.” I’ve always found the division between the Silla-focused South Korean and Koguryo-focused North Korean scholarship quite interesting, and a very useful example for students of how contemporary politics can affect the historiography.

I don’t have a strong opinion on this, but as someone who teaches East Asia it makes more sense to me to include it in Korean history where it can get more attention, than in Chinese history where we’re already shoehorning in as much as humanly possible….


Overreading Erotica

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:07 pm Print

There’s a lot of presentist fallacies and overdrawn conclusions — just because a society has a reputation for sexual restraint doesn’t mean that it is and always was asexual — in this article [Thanks, sepoy, but I don’t do personal memes here] about sexual imagery in Korean artifacts and art, but it does have some images and facts which are potentially very interesting. Any suggestions for richer, better substantiated works or websites on Korean art (or sexuality and gender issues) which could put this stuff into proper context?

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