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Official history of the Republic of Korea?

Posted January. 28, 2013 06:57,   


One of my favorite books is “Chinese History” by Taiwanese-Japanese writer Chin Shunshin. At the end of the book, the author said he wrote about Chinese history through the Ming Dynasty by referring to the “Twenty-five Dynastic Histories,” the official chronology of Chinese ruling families. Chin added, however, that he could not rely on the book when he was on the Qing Dynasty. In China, historians writing the history of the previous dynasty was a longtime practice. Qing was China`s last ruling dynasty and its history has yet to be written.

Qing’s history has not been written because China has not had its heyday after the collapse of the dynasty. Yuan Shikai, the first “Great Emperor of China,” published a draft history of Qing in 1928, but Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Kuomintang Party, refused to recognize it. After fleeing to Taiwan, Chiang revised the draft history of Qing and released a new book on Qing history. The Communist Party of China did not recognize it and formed a committee on the dynasty’s history under Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. This effort, however, was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution. Not until 2002 did China begin the Qing History Project. China’s Northeast Project began in the same year, making it possible to presume that it was part of efforts to describe the history of Qing. The results of the Qing History Project were due out by the end of last year, but the deadline was missed.

The first official book on Korean history, “Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms,” was published by Goryeo Dynasty historian Kim Bu-sik in 1145. “History of Goryeo” was completed in 1451 early in the Joseon Dynasty. After the Korean Peninsula was taken over by Japan, the Republic of Korea was founded without an official history of Joseon. The National History Compilation Committee of the Republic of Korea chronicled the country`s history from 1973 to 2003 in 52 volumes, including the history of Joseon. In 1969, the committee published a five-volume history of Korea’s independence movement. Recent media reports say the committee plans to chronicle the history of the Republic of Korea. If the panel publishes the planned 10-volume history set, it will be the country’s official history. Writing the official history of the country is unthinkable, however, from the perspective of Northeast Asia’s traditional view of history.

Traditionally, descendants wrote the history of their ancestors to maintain objectivity. A bigger fear is the thinking that the state can present a perspective from which one can view history. This method of thought is a legacy from an autocratic monarchy and is unacceptable in a democratic society, especially when contemporary history is at issue. In modern times, there are different versions of history but not a single, official one.

Editorial Writer Song Pyeong-in (pisong@donga.com)