Asian History As Political.... Football?
In a sign of things that haven't changed, China is rewriting Asian history to suit its political purposes. In a sign that things have changed, the political purpose is to prevent a sometime-in-the-future unified Korea from fomenting disunity among Chinese regions and contributing to a Russian-style breakup of the current Chinese empire. China's diplomatic corps has revised its Korean history pages [Thanks, HNN] to downplay the importance of the Koguryo state, which unified large portions of what we now call North Korea and Manchuria in the 3rd-7th centuries C.E. (Korean historians claim its founding was 37 B.C.E., but that's not considered credible in Western historiography on Korea). China is relying on a very traditional trope of Confucian statecraft -- pseudo-familial hierarchical state relations -- to claim Koguryo as an administrative region of various Chinese dynasties (though China was not a single coherent dynasty from the 3rd-7th centuries).
The same logic is used to deny the existence of a very independent Tibetan kingdom later. This is a dramatic revision of the traditional diplomatic statecraft -- 'younger brother' states were usually independent but deferential, more like feudal alliances rather than colonial possessions in a more modern sense. It is true, in a sense, that Koguryo was a 'part of Chinese history' but Manchuria was only sporadically under Chinese control outside of the 'barbarian' Yuan and Qing dynasties which originated there.
Conventionally, North Korea has claimed Koguryo, and the later northern-based Koryo dynasty (which really was a Mongol/Yuan China vassal state for a century), as an ancestor state, while South Korea claims penninsula unifier Silla as its line of legitimacy (neither claim Paekche, the southwestern kingdom which was the first to import Chinese statecraft, Buddhism, and which had strong relations with proto-historic Japan, and southwestern Korea is still an underserved backwater as a result). So it is possible that North Korea would, in fact, take the slighting of Koguryo seriously. South Korea has called on North Korea to unify in opposition to this historiographical colonialism. North Korea is taking it's time answering, as it so often does.
Elsewhere, South Korea is having its own historical troubles: an attempt to develop a sort of 'Truth and Reconciliation' commission to deal with Korea's collaborationist past is turning into a serious political struggle. The conservative Grand National Party, headed by Park Chung-hee's daughter Park Geun-hye, is attacking the commission for inappropriate statements regarding North Korean agitators, and the ruling liberal Uri party is threatening to retaliate by expanding the scope of the investigation to include the Park Chung-hee era. It's true that a thorough revision of Korea's modern history is overdue, but it doesn't seem like this is going to do the trick.
And in other news, Japan and China are facing each other in the finals of the Asian Cup Football (that's soccer, here) Championship. Apparently Chinese haven't forgiven the Japanese for their brutal occupation, invasion, and wartime atrocities, and are taking it out on the Japanese team and fans. The Chinese government has kept the issue alive in a steady and savvy manner, and the Japanese haven't helped by routinely denyingorglossing over their record. The final is Saturday, China time. Update: Japan beat China, 3-1. Heavy security prevented any serious trouble, but the Dutch-born Chinese coach protested several referee calls and boycotted the final ceremonies.
Another Update on the situation, by UPI, brings together all these threads to suggest a serious diplomatic crisis in East Asia. I'm not convinced it's gone that far yet, though diplomats are notoriously sensitive folks.
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Jonathan Dresner - 8/9/2004
Yone is more or less right: Japan's disavowal of its militaristic past has made it difficult for it to understand and relate to those who haven't been convinced to forgive and forget.
Oscar Chamberlain - 8/9/2004
Here's an interesting follow up to the match (Thanks to Conservative.net)
- Historian Fernando Prado on quest to find remains of Cervantes
- Historian shines a light on the dark heart of Australia's nationhood
- Female historian says human rights museum censored her
- Japanese historians slam sex-slave apology review
- Stephanie Coontz: "Marriages require much more maturity than they once did."