[KS] perspectives on Korean history
Mark_Peterson at byu.edu
Sun Dec 9 23:31:06 EST 2001
Dear List Friends,
I'm writing a little thing about Korean History, and I'm torn between
soft-pedaling my views on a favorite Korean myth and going after it,
head-on. It's for a popular format, that I've been asked to write,
so I'm not sure how controversial I should be.
The issue is this: it drives me nuts to hear oft and o'er the bit
about how Korea has been invaded so many times. There are so-called
scholarly studies that document several thousand "invasions" -- some
number them, 2,386, or whatever.
My take is, that such a view, though nearly universal, is a product
of recent, 20th century, events. Looking at the long view, however,
aside from the Mongols in the 13th century, and the Hideyoshi
invasion in the late 16th century, you've got a culture of civilian,
not military dominance, and peace not war -- not a product of
There was the Manchu Invasion shortly after the Japanese, in the
early 17th century, but that, by comparison, wasn't much of an
invasion. The Koreans were so beaten up by the Japanese that they
could hardly muster much resistance, and unlike the Japanese and
before that, the Mongol invasion, the Manchu's didn't really want to
conquer Korea -- they only wanted a diplomatic surrender.
Now, the two major invasions were absolutely horrific; the
devastation was near total, and the loss of life was tragic. I'm not
playing that down at all.
But, aside from those invasions, to get thousands of "invasions", one
has to count every penny-ante pirate raid along the coasts. And to
do that, cheapens the dramatic costs of the true invasions.
In other words, my take on it is that Korea's history is not so much
one of multiple, or constant invasions, but one of civilian,
Confucian culture -- not the culture of the soldier, or the warlord.
In other words, not the Japanese style "bushido" -- the code of the
warrior, the samurai. We had no such thing in Korea.
Yet, the myth, held dearly, is that "we" have been invaded,
stomped-on, beaten, subjugated and down-trodden. And the Chinese are
usually listed as invaders -- well, aside from Han dynasty outposts
and an alliance with T'ang that led to unification and eventual
control of the upper third of the peninsula, you don't have any
Chinese "invasions". Do you want to count Sui and T'ang attempts
against Koguryo^ in lands north of the peninsula? That's a fair
On the other hand, the point that Korea never invaded anther country
is the oft-heard counter point. And that, to their credit, is
Have any of you aired this kind of view with the general audience in
Korea. What kind of feed-back or resistance did you encounter.
People in any culture hate to see their favorite ox gored, favorite
Hope to hear from some of you....
with best regards,
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