More articles by Leonid A.Petrov

Restoring the Glorious Past: Juch’e in Korean Historiography 

by Leonid A.Petrov

Presented at the Third Biennial KSAA Conference "Korea:  Language, Knowledge and Society",
30 June - 1 July 2003, The Australian National University, Canberra.

In 1968 the new approach to national history research, in which certain elements of Marxist dialectics and historical materialism were intricately interwoven with the nationalistic principle of Juch’e (self-reliance), was devised and promulgated in North Korea. The crucial role in its creation was played by a Moscow-trained philosopher and historian, Hwang Chang-yŏp. Assuming that both the primitive and communist modes of production were based on classless societies, Hwang started critically revising the orthodox Marxist tenet of class struggle as the cornerstone of the historical process. His assumption was that history must be viewed not from the viewpoint of “class” but from the viewpoint of “people – the subject of history”. 

 It took a decade for North Korean historians to recover from the historiographical crisis of 1967-1968, and finally The Complete History of Korea or Chosŏn Chŏnsa (1979-1982) was produced as the model for the Juch’e approach to national history in the DPRK. Eighteen of its 33 volumes were dedicated to Kim Il-sŏng, his family, and his anti-Japanese and socialist state-construction activities. The other fifteen volumes, which treated Korean history from the Neolithic age to the fall of the Korean Empire, tended to glorify every fragment of national history. But by restoring Korea’s “glorious past”, historians in the North came to conclusions that now have become extremely fashionable in contemporary South Korea. This paper examines the pedigree of this ultra-nationalistic approach to history, which is likely to become instrumental in the process of Korean unification.    

Historical research and ultra-nationalism

            In scholarly life, particularly in science, concocting false data or presenting fraudulent research results is both disgraceful and pointless. The laws of the universe will inevitably debunk the fraud. But history, as a scholarly discipline, which always accompanies politics, creates a special temptation for the scholar to resist. Those who lived in the past cannot testify against mistakes and distortions committed by contemporary historians. The frustration that comes from the scarcity of historical data and the pressure of a sponsors’ burning interest are often so strong that faking a discovery becomes extremely tempting. When political considerations or research money is at stake, scholars are put in a precarious position and often vacillate between two options – to make a brisk conclusion based on available facts, or to interpret facts in a way that would justify a premeditated conclusion.


There are plenty of examples of researchers ready to make up facts when necessary to please the public. The 1928 book by a famous Cultural Anthropologist, Margaret Mead, titled "Coming of Age in Samoa" was, for many years, considered the most groundbreaking study ever conducted on South Pacific islanders. But it later came out that she lied and basically invented most of her research findings. Mead was a powerful academic politician. The facts did not come out until decades after the publication of the book and she was not disgraced. On the contrary, Mead’s book was praised because it promoted racist stereotypes consistent with Neo-Social Darwinist thinking of the non-European races as culturally inferior.


Another telling example of corrupt scholarly integrity is now being widely discussed in Japan. On 24 May 2003, a special panel of the Japanese Archaeological Association discredited 162 sites in nine prefectures where the disgraced archaeologist Fujimura Shinichi had been involved. Fujimura, the former Vice Director of the private Tohoku Palaeolithic Institute, claimed that the artefacts unearthed at the Kamitakamori ruins in Tsukidatecho, a site which is believed to have been settled and inhabited as early as 700,000 years ago, dated back to the early and middle Palaeolithic period. However, during a shocking press conference at the Miyagi prefectural government offices, Fujimura admitted that he buried 61 stoneware fragments from his own collection (Yomiuri Shimbun, 6 November 2000). The stoneware, said to be 600,000 years old, had actually been excavated elsewhere in Miyagi Prefecture.


Fujimura apologized and said that he faked the discoveries because he had been “under intense pressure from colleagues to make discoveries” (Asahi Shimbun, 6 November 2000). His record of making discoveries almost every time he participated in an excavation led colleagues to say he had “god's hands”. Fujimura's discoveries have greatly influenced studies of the Old Stone Age in Japan and some experts have even said that his discoveries “changed the history of archaeology”. Each discovery became front-page news and drew greater funding for Japanese archaeologists in general. World history was about to be re-written with Japan as the cradle of civilization. When that many people wanted to believe in such an entertaining and flattering history -- boosting national pride -- nobody wanted to blow the whistle (Japan Today, 26 May 2003).

If such deliberate falsifications have been happening in the “free world”, one can only imagine the scale of historical truth alterations that took place behind the iron curtain. The remodelling of historical fact became widely accepted in North Korean historiography as it tried hard to make the national past fit a quickly changing ideological scene. The development of historical scholarship in the DPRK between 1956 and 1967 saw the rise of a completely new tradition based on the nationalistic doctrine of Juch'e, or “self-reliance”. To satisfy their nationalistic aspirations, the DPRK rulers insisted that the earliest episodes of Korean history were to be pushed back deeper into ancient times. Simultaneously, North Korean historians were required to emphasise the “traditional superiority” of the northern kingdoms that would demonstrate the historical inferiority of their southern neighbours. Such an attitude was necessary to prove the legitimate right of the North to unify the whole country under the banner of Juch’e-style communism.

            Presenting history as an inexorable process inspired by class struggle and aimed towards social progress, North Korean historians demonstrate that none of the Marxist historiography stages is at variance with the history of their country. National history, thus, became an orderly continuum of self-reliant shifts in socio-economic formations inexorably leading from primitive communal society through slave-owning, feudalism, and capitalism to the victory of Korean-style socialism. No foreign influences can be admitted, while the influence of Korean culture on neighbouring nations is especially emphasised.

In South Korea, as well, many scholars of history argue that the birthplace of the Korean nation was in the wilds of Manchuria. The inauguration issue of the new historical magazine The Exploration of History (Yŏksa   t’amhŏm) – a supplement to the Monthly Chungang Ilbo – opens with an interview by Sin Yong-ha, Emeritus Professor of Seoul National University, where he claims that his discoveries concerning the history of Old Chosŏn warrant a total reconsideration of world history. The implication, once again, is that the Korean peninsula and Manchuria were the cradles of human civilization, and the traces of this proto-culture can be found as far west as Turkey, France and Finland.  

There are many other hypotheses arguing that the real birthplace of the Korean nation was along the shores of Lake Baikal in Siberia. In the pages of the same Exploration of History magazine, Kim Chong-rok declares that Baikal is the cradle of Siberian shamanism and the local people look like modern Koreans.  Therefore, there is no doubt about the origins of the Korean nation. The culture was apparently moving eastward – from Baikal, to Manchuria and Korea, and finally to Japan.  In other words, we can see strong similarities in historical research in North and South Korea (as well as in Japan) in the fixations on the origins of the nation and the attempts to present such origins as ancient and glorious.  Any available historical fact, regardless of how dubious or even fictitious, is grist for the mill.  The claims that some ancient Korean territory was the cradle of human civilization are increasingly commonly heard in North and South Korea, and any means that support these claims are welcomed. 

This paper sets out to analyse the establishment of Juch’e historiography in the DPRK, and compare its research results with a resurgent irredentism in South Korean historical scholarship. A close examination of the North Korean historical literature of the period will help reveal numerous discrepancies that existed between the early, Marxist-Leninist official historiography of the DPRK and its later, Juch’e version. Among the sources used below are certain writings by North and South Korean historians, the reminiscences of Hwang Chang-yŏp, who claims the credit of creating Juch’e historiography, and the recollections of prominent Soviet historians, Professors Mikhail N. Pak and Yurii M. Ryrikov (Ryu Hak-ku). Also, I would like to express special thanks to various colleagues, particularly James B. Lewis, and to the Academy of Korean Studies, which sponsored this research.

North Korean historiography during the 1960s

The dramatic conversion of a class-centred, internationalist Marxist-Leninist tradition of history research into a leader-centred, nationalistic historiography affected the course of academic development in North Korea. From the diminishing variety of academic opinions, the Central Committee of the Koreans Workers’ Party (CC KWP) would choose one to become the official hypothesis. All other views would be outlawed as anti-Party and anti-revolutionary, leaving their authors little or no chance for survival. In such circumstances, any remaining common sense in historical writings was gradually emasculated, and the chain reaction of academic fraud finally plunged North Korean historical scholarship into the dark ages of the 1960s.

            Although the ideological course formally remained faithful to the internationalist tenets of Marxism-Leninism, starting from the early 1960s, North Korean academic circles were systematically exposed to the influence of Juch’e ideology. The previous search for ways to apply “the inexorable law of objective development” (happŏp ch'iksŏng) to national history was replaced by an ostentatious demonstration of unique national characteristics. DPRK historical circles rapidly began to rewrite national history in order to make it comply with the principles of nationalism and self-reliance. In order to avoid even the slightest suspicion of foreign occupation of the Korean peninsula, all Chinese-made seals and artifacts that happened to be found in DPRK territory were said to be “fake” or simply non-existent.

Moreover, strong nationalism and a desire to retaliate against the Japanese colonial historiography created a new hypothesis, according to which the ancient Korean kingdoms had their own enclaves on Japanese territory. Following this logic, the search for Wanggŏmsŏng – the ancient capital of Old Chosŏn and precursor of P’yŏngyang – was conducted, not in Korea, but in China. Between 1963 and 1965, North Korean archaeologists in cooperation with their Chinese colleagues discovered the Gangshang and Loushang tombs in the Liaodong peninsula, both dated as the eighth to seventh century B.C. Their conclusion was that the capital, Wanggŏmsŏng, was located there, because the artifacts (pip’a-shaped bronze daggers), found in the two Chinese tombs, were roughly of the same period and possessed the same properties as those found in the Misong-ri and Mukpang-ri sites in northern Korea. 

A passion for imperial grandiosity tempted North Korean scholars to continue the discussion on the history of Old Chosŏn and its mythical founder Tan’gun. Historian Yi Chi-rin, who learned classical Chinese during his studies in Beijing in the late 1950s, led the discussion. In his book, Research on Old Chosŏn (1963), Yi attributed the establishment of this legendary state to the fifth or fourth century B.C.. At that time, North Korean historians were still denying any historical validity in the Tan’gun myth, treating it merely as a product of primitive totemism. Yi Sang-ho, for instance, stated that the story was simply “a popular legend that reflected some important changes in socio-economic life”.

In the frenetic struggle between Kim Jŏng-il, the eldest son of Kim Il-sŏng, and his uncle, Kim Yŏng-ju, for the role of the Great Leader’s official successor, Kim Jŏng-il got the upper hand and soon was praised as the guru of academics. Among some 1,400 articles and essays, which were allegedly written by the young Kim during his four years of tertiary education, half a dozen were dedicated to the issue of national history. In one of these early works, Reconsidering the Problem of the Three Kingdoms’ Unification (1960), Kim claimed that the southern kingdom of Silla had never really unified the nation. In the seventh century A.D., Silla managed to integrate under its rule only two thirds of the former Three Kingdoms’ territory. Kim Jŏng-il’s prejudice against Silla apparently appeared in reaction to Silla’s lack of nationalism and patriotism. Indeed, while struggling for domination on the peninsula, Silla solicited the military might of the Chinese Tang Dynasty to overwhelm its neighbours, Paekche and Koguryŏ.

            In another work, On the Correct Understanding of the Socio-economic Character of Koguryŏ among the Three Kingdoms (1960), the freshman Kim criticised the “old” Marxist-Leninist historians for dogmatism and argued that the kingdom of Koguryŏ, if compared with Paekche and Silla, boasted a higher level of socio-economic development.

In 1963, Kim Jŏng-il acclaimed the discovery of the Palaeolithic culture in Korea. And, in 1964, he declared that Koguryŏ was established not in 37 B.C., as was recorded in the Samguk Sagi chronicles, but in 277 B.C. These claims were necessary for the DPRK leadership to deprive the government of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) of any historical legitimacy to unify the nation. It is obvious though that the teenager Kim Jŏng-il had little to do with these historiographical experiments, but who was standing behind him is still not clear. These early writings have never again been included in any of Kim’s recent Selected Works. It is obvious that his intervention brought a great deal of havoc to historical scholarship and led to its major reorganisation.

By the mid-1960s, there was no topic in Korean history that had not been revised or corrected in accordance with the guiding recommendations of the Kim clan. The contribution of Korean Marxist historians to the development of left-wing nationalist historiography during the colonial period was denied, and the “old” Socio-economic school was not even mentioned. Prominent scholars of philosophy, history, and economics were to declare their allegiance to Juch’e ideology. Those who did not rush to do so formed an obstacle in Kim Il-sŏng’s pursuit of absolute domination in the ideological sphere. In such circumstances, historical facts in the hands of North Korean scholars began to play the role of bit players in the politicised reinvention of mythological discourses. The staggering simplicity of this historical narrative would help the former anti-Japanese guerrillas to control ideas and detect the first signs of political dissent. After 1967, all historiographical debates were closed, the publication of professional journals was discontinued, and scholars were assigned to the duties of docile bureaucrats.   

The creation of Juch’e historiography

             Juch’e theoreticians in the DPRK maintain that the emergence of this ideology in North Korea was not accidental. They claim that the history of Korea has provided a legitimate nursing ground on which the peculiar ideas of Juch’e can be articulated: the objective historical condition and the subjective human condition. Only when both conditions are simultaneously present will they become sufficient.   But the advent of Juch’e historiography as a unique scholarly phenomenon can be attributed simply to the practical necessity of the DPRK rulers to inculcate the populace with the “correct” perception of the national past.    

On 25 May 1967, Kim Il-sŏng announced to the nation his new Ten-point Political Program, reminiscent of the Ten-point Program formulated by Kim in May 1936 for his anti-Japanese Association for Fatherland Restoration (Choguk Kwangbokhoe). Among the key strategies which related to academic life were the establishment of Juch’e ideology in all spheres of life, the advancement of science and technology, the building of a socialist culture, and the “revolutionisation” and “proletarianisation” of all members of society (including the peasantry and the intelligentsia) under the leadership of the KWP and the working class. In this light, the pressure exerted upon the history-writing scholar-politicians became enormous.

In his recent book written after his defection to South Korea, I Saw the Truth of History (1999), Hwang reveals the circumstances of creation and substantiation of the Juch’e-style historiography in the late 1960s. At that time, Hwang was the President of Kim Il-sŏng University in Pyongyang and a candidate member of the Central Council of the KWP. In his article The Moving Force of Social Development (1966), which he contributed to a collection of research papers published to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Kim Il-sŏng University, Hwang inadvertently put too much emphasis on the role of the intelligentsia in the process of societal development. Although the response from academic circles was generally positive, this article caused Hwang serious problems and nearly ended his career.

To remedy the problem, he was instructed by Kim Il-sŏng and the DPRK Vice-Premier Kim Il to “rectify theoretical mistakes by theoretical means”. Assuming that both the primitive and communist modes of production were based on classless societies, Hwang started critically revising the orthodox Marxist tenet of class struggle as the cornerstone of the historical process. His deduction was that history must be viewed from the perspective of “people”, not class. To support his idea, Hwang provided examples from the Stalinist reprisals (1937-1938) and the Maoist Cultural Revolution (1966-1969).  In both cases, crimes and injustices were committed under the pretext of struggle for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. According to Hwang’s hypothesis, the new ideology of the DPRK was to rely neither on the classical Marxist concept of class struggle nor on the Stalinist or Maoist notions of one class dictatorship, but on the idea of “humanism”. Similarly, history research was also to address the issues of the national past only from the perspective of human development and creativity.

Certainly, Hwang Chang-yŏp’s theoretical formula was as misleading as the real intentions of the North Korean communist rulers. Kim Il-sŏng and his clan simply needed a strong nationalistic alternative to the class-centred and internationalist Marxist-Leninist ideology. In the apogee of the Sino-Soviet conflict, such a standpoint allowed the DPRK to distance itself from the quarrelling “big brothers”. Hwang correctly discerned that the Kims would like to have a theory of history where the major emphasis was put on nation. In addition, the ambiguity created by the image of “man as the master of his own destiny” offered a perfect solution to difficult questions arising from the dictatorial rule of Kim Il-sŏng. Thus, a new approach to national history research in North Korea was devised, in which certain elements of Marxist dialectics and historical materialism were intricately interwoven with the principle of Juch’e self-reliance. Since then, a nationalistic and Leader-centred historical tradition has enjoyed the status of official DPRK historiography, and the phrase “man is the center of the universe” has become almost a cliché.

Ironically, Juch’e, as an ideology of socialist and self-proclaimed Marxism, challenges materialism as a driving force in history. Juch’e, like Confucianism, rejects the material determinism of Marxism-Leninism. According to both doctrines, human behaviour is guided not by the conditions of mode and relations of production but by the direct guidance of the “brain” (nwesu). The Marxist premise of economic or material structure as the “substructure” upon which all “superstructures” will be founded is unequivocally denounced. Instead, spiritual consciousness determines the course of history, and it alone underlies all other structures. Han S. Park believes that Juch’e’s fundamental deviation from Marxism begins at this point. It can be only added that at this very point the real rapprochement between North and South Korean historiographies begins.    

Juch’e historiography and the unification of Korea

Juch’e theoreticians assess the events of the national past using two main dimensions – the level of military power and the level of national consciousness. For example, they attribute the ultimate victory in the Imjin Wars (1592-98) to two factors: Korean naval superiority and consolidated nationalism. Similarly, the colonization of the nation by Japan in the early twentieth century is attributed to military inferiority and the weak nationalism of the late Yi Dynasty. For the same reason, the North Korean propaganda machine constantly reminds the populace that Kim Il-sŏng’s life-long struggle was dedicated to military preparation of the country for self-defense and to ideological consolidation of the people through nationalism. In this, North Korean historiography comes very close to how history is often popularly understood in South Korea.

Indeed, militant nationalism has always been the most salient factor in the belief system of Juch’e, as it invokes hostility against foreign hegemonic powers and promotes the sovereignty of Korea’s heritage and its people. In fact, the kind of sovereignty that P`yŏngyang claims is more than just independence. Juch’e views Korea as a chosen land, and the people are told constantly that world civilization originated on the Korean peninsula. This theme was first emphasized in the massive 33-volume entitled The Complete History of Korea or Chosŏn Chŏnsa (1979-1982).

Mikhail N. Pak of Moscow State University believes that it was Chosŏn Chŏnsa that manifested the final triumph of Juch’e over Marxism-Leninism in North Korean official historiography. Indeed, Juch’e was originally designed to convey the doctrine that Korea, like any other sovereign nation, should be self-sufficient. But when history is viewed as having been specifically designed and devoid of any accidental development, a sense of predestination sets in it. The notion that a people are predestined to inspire and “lead the world’s oppressed peoples” makes North Korean nationalism ultra-ethnocentric.

The National History Museum in P’yŏngyang stores and displays documents and artifacts that are designed to convey the notion that human civilization originated from Korea and that Korean ancestors enjoyed a position of physical and cultural superiority. In this museum, for example, stone-age tools are displayed with the inscription that they were excavated in north-eastern China, which was formerly inhabited by ancestors of present-day Koreans. These tools allegedly predate any archaeological finds known to mankind. Regardless of the issue of authenticity, this physical “evidence” is effectively used to bolster the people’s sense of pride and ethnic superiority.

               In the 1970s, a special excavation team of the Archaeology Institute of the Academy of Social Sciences discovered several sites, including Kŏmǔnmoru, Sangwŏn County that date back a million years. Paleolithic stone implements and dozens of fossilized animal bones were found at Kŏmŭnmoru.  Another site on Mt. Sǔngni, Tŏkch’ŏn City, revealed fossilized bones of Paleolithic and Neolithic men, many fossilized animal bones, and stone arrowheads, scimitars, beads, ring-shaped axes, and a layer of Bronze Age culture. Cave sites called Ryonggok No.1 and No.2 were also discovered to have belonged to a later period than the Kŏmǔnmoru site. Here human bones for several ancient people were unearthed, along with many other animal bones and stone tools.

The discoveries of sites in Taehyŏn-dong, Ryŏkp’o District of P’yŏngyang, Kulp’o in Rason City and others that belong to the Paleolithic Age were hugely important discoveries that provided materials to “prove scientifically” that Korea was one of the cradles of human civilization. The excavation team also found sites from the Neolithic Age, including the Kungsan site in Unha-ri, Onch’ŏn County, and Kumt’an-ri site in Sadong District. They became invaluable finds that testify that Korean Neolithic men were the descendents of the residents of the earlier sites. North Korean archaeologists have also made many discoveries that prove the links between Koryŏ and Koguryŏ. They believe that evidence from the Manwoldae site, the tomb of King Wang Kŏn, the founder king of the Koryŏ Dynasty, the tomb of King Kongmin, and the Ryongt’ong Temple (all in the Kaesŏng area), suggest that Koryŏ was the first state to unify Korea and the first state to establish the territorial integrity of the country.

Unlike theories of the 1970s, the most resent opinion of North Korean historians on the position of Old Chosŏn’s capital, Asadal, is not that it was moved from Manchuria or China to the basin of the Taedong River, but that it was set up there from the outset. Although last year P’yŏngyang officially celebrated its 1,575th anniversary, The Pyongyang Times claimed that it had been the capital of ancient Korea since the early 30th century B.C., basically since the mythical kingdom of Old Chosŏn was established by Tan’gun in 2333 B.C. The newspaper argued “it was designated as the capital of the two, the first ancient and feudal Korean states, for it had favourable topographical features and the environment to be a centre of gravity for social progress”. According to the North Korean media, ancient finds in P’yŏngyang “prove that this area is the cradle of human civilization in which human beings evolved and lived and it has witnessed the different periods of a 5,000-year Korean history”.  

Pyongyang, that boasts a time-honoured history as a cradle of human civilization and the old capital of the first ancient and feudal states, adds brilliance to its history as the capital of the DPRK, playing the role of political, economic and cultural centre.

Reading these assertions, one cannot avoid the feeling that the twelfth century rebellion of Myoch’ŏng and the claims of DPRK scholar-bureaucrats have a similar point of view. The advisor to the Koryŏ ruler, the Buddhist monk Myoch’ŏng, petitioned the King, arguing that the political and economic difficulties that beset Koryŏ were caused by the ill-fated geographical position of the current capital. Myoch’ŏng (originally from P’yŏngyang) pressed the court to move the capital from Kaegyŏng (Kaesŏng) to Sŏgyŏng (P’yŏngyang), which supposedly boasted a much more propitious position. But the real intention was to prepare a military campaign to regain old Koguryŏ territory (the choice was also about stabilising the northern frontier at a time when the Chinese world was collapsing before a rising and unstoppable tide of barbarians). This sentiment was apparently very strong in Koryŏ, at least until the early twelfth century. Romanticism about the wilds of Manchuria was even implicit in the name of the dynasty. Koryŏ was an alternate name in antiquity for Koguryŏ. A divided national consciousness prior to the Mongol invasion (1232) considered Koguryŏ as continental and Silla as peninsular. 

Although Myoch’ŏng’s claims quickly found support among the local elite, the King, who had to pay for any future campaigns, was significantly less enthusiastic. In 1135, a frustrated Myoch’ŏng led a rebellion that was brutally suppressed by Kim Pu-sik, a Confucian scholar-politician. Kim Pu-sik and his associates advocated exactly the opposite concept of Koryŏ’s future development. Kim argued for continuity from Silla’s legacy and favoured Sinitic statecraft and state building. His views were later expressed in the Samguk sagi (1145) and were reflected in the Samguk Yusa (1280s). The author of the Samguk yusa, the Buddhist monk Iryŏn, was in fact the product of a "Silla clan”, hailing from Changsan-gun, Kyŏngju. From that point onwards, official and unofficial histories of Koryŏ were focused on the peninsula, not the continent. In other words, by suppressing Myoch’ŏng and his confederates, barricaded within the walls of P’yŏngyang, the "march north" movement was suppressed and irredentist claims to Manchuria set aside. 

Romanticism and the search for the mythical origins of the Korean nation, always associated with Tan’gun, inspired many Korean nationalist historians in the early twentieth century to dream of the expansive "Han Minjok" as a retort to the Japanese “Jimmu Tenno” myth. Today, some South Korean historians argue that “Koreans” originated from the far northwest in the region of Lake Baikal. However, contrary to such speculation by Kim Chong-rok and other South Korean ultra-nationalists, most historical opinion places the Tan’gun myth near Mt. Paektu, not Lake Baikal. The historical sections of the Samguk yusa that follow the foundation myth all lead southwards down the peninsula. No reference can be found about distant forebears getting to the peninsula by going across 5000 kilometers from Lake Baikal to Korea.

South Korean historian Sin Yong-ha, in the lead interview of the Yŏksa t’amhŏm magazine, fundamentally argues in parallel with his North Korean counterparts that the centre of Old Chosŏn was located in the Taedong River basin, near contemporary P’yŏngyang. On the other hand, he also claims that the “Hanjok” people came from the banks of the Han River, the area of contemporary Seoul:

There are two main hypotheses on the origins of our nation, one is the ‘theory of Yemaek’ by Yi Byŏng-do and the other is the ‘theory of Ye and Maek’ by Kim Sang-gi. But, on the basis of available material, I have developed my own hypothesis focused on the Han tribes. My hypothesis can be called the ‘theory of 3 tribes – Han, Ye, and Maek’. The Han settled on both sides of the Han River, the Maek lived south along the Songhua River, and the Ye inhabited the Liaodong peninsula. All three tribes managed to establish themselves in the basin of the Taedong River, P’yŏng’an Province, as the kingdom of Old Chosŏn, which was a tribal state called in Korean ‘Asanara’ with its capital at Asadal’.              

 Possibly, the recent reappearance of this romanticism is a subliminal way to displace fears associated with Korean re-unification. Finding a common origin somewhere outside the peninsula can obfuscate the regional contest between the North and the South. Interpreting Old Chosŏn as a multicultural society can appeal to tolerance for the differences that have arisen since 1950.  Yuri M. Ryurikov (Ryu Hak-ku) of the Sejong Institute, for example, believes that ultra-nationalism could become the catalyst that could ultimately bring two halves of the Korean nation together. Should the Juch’e historiography of North Korea be officially recognized and embraced by the nationalistic tradition of history writing developed in South Korea, the result might be quite synergistic.

In creating a glorious past, scholar-politicians from the North and South could lay the ground for national reconciliation and even participate in the process of unified state building. In such circumstances it should not really matter whether the result of their concerted effort is called the Democratic Confederal Republic of Koryŏ or the United Democratic Republic of Korea.               

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