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.


… and then they came for Taekwondo

Filed under: — Owen @ 11:21 am Print

Another sign of Korea’s increasing sense of insecurity in the face of rapidly growing Chinese economic and political power, or another sign of China’s aggressive attitude toward Korean cultural heritage, designed to assert cultural hegemony and keep its ethnic minorities in check? This time the Chinese have apparently got their sights on Taekwondo:

Concern is rising among Korean officials that China might try to assert taekwondo as its own homegrown sport.

Ko Eui-min, chairman of the World Taekwondo Federation Technical Committee, said, “China is doubted to have been adopting its Northeast Asia Project in taekwondo.”

Northeast Asia Project is an attempt to distort ancient Korean history in the northeastern territory of what is now China, including the Koguryo Kingdom (37 B.C.-A.D. 668) and the Palhae Kingdom (698-926).

“I was really upset to hear that the broadcaster at Changping Stadium in Beijing said taekwondo is a Chinese martial art, during the 2007 World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) Championships,” he said.

On the first day of the biennial competition, he introduced taekwondo, saying, “Taekwondo originated from Korea, combining Japanese and Chinese martial arts.”

The paradox is that Taekwondo is both a highly nationalistic subject in South Korea and perhaps Korea’s most well-recognised international cultural export. Can something like this be globalised and at the same time so firmly embedded in nationalistic discourse? The next paragraph in the above-linked article actually brought a wry smile to my face (my emphasis):

“I feel really sorry that we have not tried to protect taekwondo while China is preparing for the event. Although many renovations have been under way inside the taekwondo governing body after new leaders like the president and general secretary took office, we still have a lot of things to do,” said the 68-year-old taekwondo master, who resides in Germany.

It is a bit unfortunate that this blog hasn’t covered the whole Koguryŏ history controversy in much greater detail. Fortunately though, the subject has produced plenty of good English-language commentary over the last six months or so. The stand out examples are Andrei Lankov’s piece at Japan Focus; Yonson Ahn’s article at History News Network; Andrew Leonard’s introduction at Salon.com; and Choe Sang-hun in the International Herald Tribune. If you still want some more, I’ve managed to collect a variety of related internet resources in my del.icio.us links tagged Koguryŏ.


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.


Koguryŏ on the box

Filed under: — Owen @ 6:02 pm Print

I know I’m way behind the times on this subject as it was already brought up at the Marmot’s Hole weeks ago, but I’d like to put out a call for people’s thoughts on the recent flurry of new historical dramas in South Korea on the Koguryŏ kingdom. I’d be fascinated to know what any of our readers and contributors who are currently in Korea make of MBC’s ‘Jumong‘ and SBS’s ‘Yeongaesomun‘ from either a historical or dramatic point of view.

In case there is anyone else who, like me, is not in Korea and wants some more background, there was an article on the popularity of the new dramas in the Korea Herald a couple of weeks back, which I’ve saved from the oblivion of the KH website here. No doubt whatever their historical problems or the nationalist motivations behind them, these dramas will make spectacular watching as in my experience Korean sagŭk pull out all the stops (although sometimes I wish they’d spend a bit more on the artificial facial hair).

By the way, just so as not to be left out, KBS will be broadcasting its historical drama on the Parhae (Balhae/발해) kingdom, beginning in September.

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