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Fake Korean Maps Rile Chinese
Bloggers mistakenly attribute ultranationalist views to textbooks
Hyejin Kim (mine1004)     Print Article 
  Published 2007-01-31 14:21 (KST)   
Two weeks ago, I received an interesting email from my Chinese friend. He asked whether I had heard about a series of historical maps that had been allegedly extracted from Korean history textbooks and had set off heated arguments in Chinese on-line chat rooms. According to my friend, the maps had been posted on several Chinese BBSs and left readers believing that they came from standard South Korean school textbooks.

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I took a look at the maps. I'm no historian, but they didn't make sense in light of what I had learned in school growing up in Korea. And my school-aged nephews confirmed that the maps don't match the ones in their textbooks.

The maps in questions depict ancient Korean kingdoms sprawling across present-day China, while China is shrunk to a territory far smaller than Korea.

Following my response, my friend's next move was to post the maps to his blog and ask viewers to respond and debate in a civilized manner.

As for me, I was curious where the maps came from and tried to track them down. The books that had printed the maps have indeed never been used as school textbooks. The books had been written by a self-styled "nationalist historian" and published by a history association operated by the author and his supporters. The writer has published 10 of his own books on Korean history, which have generated a following among some Koreans, though they have been rejected by others.

Map purporting to show large parts of China as part of ancient Korea
©2007 Jacky Peng

In the past several years, arguments between China and South Korea over historical interpretation have gained surprising prominence. While China and South Korea have since 1992 developed otherwise friendly relations, conflicting views on history have emerged as a point of confrontation. After the Chinese Academy of Social Science and the provincial committees of the three northeastern provinces of China inaugurated the five-year Research Project on Northeast Border History and Current Situation (dongbei bianjiang lishi yu xianzhuang xilie yanjiu gongcheng, or dongbei gongcheng for short) in 2002, historical tensions have risen. The major point of contention relates to the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo, whose territory included parts of the Korean Peninsula as well as areas that became part of China during the Qing dynasty. These historical arguments have been utilized by some people to hurl ethnic and national insults, especially over the Internet.

In addition, another issue stirred up a controversy. In 2005, South Korea successfully had its Gangneung Danoje Festival registered as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage by UNESCO. According to some Chinese, the festival originated in the Chinese Dragon Festival (which falls on the same day) and, therefore, Korea has stolen Chinese culture.

In South Korea today, historical dramas are popular, commanding television ratings of up to 50 percent. These dramas offer nationalist interpretations of ancient Korea to mass audiences.

China is also busy applying to have other cultural heritages, such as traditional Chinese medicine, recognized by UNESCO.

Since my friend posted about the map issue in his blog, comments have flocked in. Koreans, Chinese, and others have left a variety of messages, with some making the effort to verify the maps and claims about them. His original goal of breaking the communication barrier on this issue appears to have been successful. One Korean reader even translated all the comments on the blog entry, and they have eventually made their way onto several Korean websites, so that interested netizens who cannot read English or Chinese can engage the issue. More open communication has made for less abusive debate.

Then who posted the original false maps, which caused such an outrage? Why did the maps become such a hit on Chinese BBSs? Some Koreans criticize the extreme perspectives of hoan-bba, a new term to indicate extreme nationalists, for causing these misunderstandings. On the other hand, some notes from Korean language bulletin boards and Chinese language ones guess that Japanese might have posted the maps with the purpose of stoking conflicts between Korea and China.

The main conclusion from various opinions of my friend's blog is that Koreans and Chinese should not misunderstand each other due to the wrong information. However, similar issues are likely to arise. Hopefully, both sides will be more cautious in checking information before engaging in hostile disputes, while channels for more open debate open up.

- Fake Korean Maps Rile Chinese by Hyejin Kim (Read by Claire George) 

©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Hyejin Kim

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