A Chinese historian has publicly taken issue with papers published under the Chinese Academy of Social Science that appear to co-opt Korea’s early history. In an interview with the Chosun Ilbo, Prof. Song Chengyou of Peking University’s History Department said, “The institute claims that Koguryo was a local government under an old Chinese dynasty because the status of Koguryo kings had to be recognized by Chinese emperors. I am curious why the institute doesn’t claim that Japan was also a local government under control of the Han Dynasty, although Japanese kings’ status also had to be recognized by Chinese emperors for 500 years.” He is the first Chinese historian to rebut the institute’s so-called Northeast Project in the Korean media.
Prof. Song said neither he nor his department agree with the institute’s historical perspectives on Koguryo. “Our academic view is that Koguryo is part of a foreign country’s history,” he said.
Song is a senior scholar in the university, serving as deputy head of the department from 1991 to 1998 and now working as director of its Research Institute for Northeast Asian Studies. “It was not only Koguryo kings who had investitures under which the Chinese emperor recognized their status. The kings of Korea’s other ancient kingdoms Shilla and Baekje also had to be recognized by Chinese emperors,” he said. “Even Japanese kings were recognized as ‘Andong DaJianggun,’ the title of a subject, by Chinese emperors. It’s wrong to argue that Koguryo was a local government just because its kings had to be recognized by Chinese emperors.”
Song said the emperor’s recognition was a form of diplomatic relation between countries. “Despite the recognition, the Chinese emperor did not intervene in the internal affairs of the neighboring countries and had little effective control over them, so Korea’s ancient kingdoms were able to maintain their autonomy.
According to Song, his department’s perspective on Korean history is based on a world history written by the late renowned historian Zhou Yiliang in 1963. It says that the ancient Korean Peninsula was ruled by three kingdoms, Shilla, Baekje and Koguryo, and defines Koguryo as a foreign country.
The view is supported by books from the Peking University Center for Korean Studies on the history of Korean-Chinese relations. Prof. Song teaches early Korean history to graduate students, and general history of Korea and Northeast Asia to undergraduates. “I tell students that Koguryo is part of Korean history and I don’t agree with the claims of the CASS institute,” he declared.
Song indirectly criticized the Northeast Project, which interprets history for political purposes. “Peking University’s history department follows academic traditions of explaining historical incidents with an understanding of the historical environment at that time,” he said. “Interpreting history from contemporary viewpoints and having it serve present realities is not advisable.” However, he was optimistic that Beijing government will not adopt the CASS papers as an official line, since relationships between the government and such institutes have changed considerably since China started carrying out reforms, and many Chinese historians do not agree with the Northeast Project.