If you are going to call Trump Out… be right. (Or what Han, Yuan, Goguryeo, Joseon history may mean for silly headlines)

So The Hill misleadingly titled, South Korea to Trump: We’ve never been part of China. There is so much wrong with this headline and the things in it, I basically, to speak like someone ten years younger than me is supposedly going to speak like, “can’t even.”

The issue that both The Liberal Party, which it’s kind of amazing how factious Korean conservative parties are as they have split more than Trotskyists in recent years, and the Democratic Party both are worried more about Xi’s statement that would lead Trump to take about a prior claim of sovereignty over Korea. This is trickier than most people know and understand.

You see seriousness of claim of sovereignty can see this from the Chinese commenters flooding the article with half-truths such as

In 108 BCE Korea was conquered by the Han dynasty of China (206 BCE – 220 CE). The Han were interested in natural resources such as salt and iron and they divided northern Korea into four commanderies directly administered by their central government. Koreans spoke chinese up until the 14th century when their leader at the time “invented” the current S.Korean language.

Where to start with this claim: There was no unified Korea during that period for to a singular vassal state, and parts of Joseon that now in Andong or Yaniban Provinces were part of the China, and various different kingdoms emerging during decay of Gojoseon (ancient Joseon) Korea as we know it was Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla developed in the period claimed. Part of what would be Joseon, but not part of modern Liaodong Peninsula were the four Han commanderies which were claimed by Gojoseon but were Manchurian.

There was no singular “ancient Chinese” to be spoken. It’s hundreds of languages that shared common idiogrammatic writing system. Mandarin was literally the courtly dialect that later unified the Han. Many of the languages called “Chinese” barely share verb-order, and despite claims that they were somehow “similar in pronunciation to ancient Chinese.” There is no evidence for this and there is no standard ancient Chinese for it to be based on.

In fact, it’s hard for me to believe someone who spoke both Mandarin and Korean would say this: There are tons of lone words from Chinese, and an entire number system of which Korean has two, but Mandarin (what dialect are you referring to as “ancient Chinese”) and Korean (both Chosunguko [North Korean/Yanbian dialect] and Hanguko) have TOTALLY different language structures down to unrelated verb order, completely different tense structure (Chinese basically doesn’t have a tense structure), and completely different ways of denoting parts of speech. However, the Korean nobles and scholar classes did write in Chinese characters and the Han used the ideogrammatic characters to unite languages that had no linguistic relation. Korean may be strongly related to Manchu and Mongolian, but it is definitely NOT remotely in the Sino-Tibetan language family despite the use of Chinese characters, which were used until much later.

So we immediately realize that both countries are contesting history in ways that find modern nationalist narratives and Trump walked into it. Tensions between Korea and China have been downplayed by tensions between Koreans most recent occupiers, Japan. However, this seems to be changing and the implication is that China may try to claim a long standing imperial role there as a way to end the current conflict to their liking. Goguryeo, the largest of the early kingdoms after Gojoseon, does actually cover parts of what would not be considered outer Manchuria, Andong, and Jilin provinces. It was definitely a vassal state at various points both often played between China, Japan, and the Mongolian powers.

This gets more complicated by the fact the last clearly unified Korean state, Joseon, has a contested legacy in the reforms of the language and it the nature of relationship to China.  Koreans are taught that the Neo-Confucian sage-King, Sejong, unified Korea and enabled mass literacy by abandoning Hanja (the use of Chinese ideograms modified for Korea) with the highly simplified syllabary of Hangul.  I was taught this when I lived in Korea.  I have recently seen non-Korean scholarly indicating that Hangul was not actually so cleanly invented from scratch, this scholarship claims the Koreans didn’t invent Hangul , but derived the syllabary fro the alphabet of phagas Pa, first devised by the Khitans and later promulgated by the Yuan Dynasty for all subjects and clients, including the Koreans. However, this is obvious contested by most Koreans and does not seem to be standard narrative yet. I just bring it up because it related to the claims made by both China and Korea about the histories of the two nations.

The issue is a lot of this history is contested and murky, but Yanbian Prefecture, which is an ethnic Korean autonomous zone, parts  Jilin and Andong provinces as a whole were parts of both Gojoseon, Goguryeo, and Joseon. Meaning China rules over parts of what would have been considered Korea now and has for hundreds of years, and that parts of the ancestor states of Korea had been vassals or partly ruled by the Han, Mongolians, Yuan, and Qing dynasties. The relationship however to EITHER the modern state of China or the modern state of South Korea is very unclear.

In short, the history here is complicated and contested, and Trump stepped into a row about national sovereignty very few people understand with contested nationalist versions of history on both the Chinese and Korean side and little continuity between these ancient states and the modern ones that house these cultures.

If you are going to attack Trump on this, you need to understand that he was a) just reporting what Xi said, b) what Xi said is controversial but c) the histories here are so complicated that the contention really does revolve about the way history is USED for the political precent.

The Hill would be advised not to make cheap political points in this because of both its complication and the implications for contemporary politics in East Asia.

(Note: I am amateur historian and lived in Korea, I have some grasp of Korean and some knowledge of Chinese, but the historiography is both contested and complicated, so if you feel like I misrepresented something, say so. I also know my tendency to refer to China(s) and Korea(s) because of the discontinuity of the states and the shifts in culture may bother some people. I really don’t know how to talk cultures that have nation-states now but nations and dynasties, etc., that represented those peoples has changed so completely so many times.)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s