AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 496

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Session 496: New Views on Old Problems in Early Korean History: Confronting Some Historiographic Problems Concerning Origins, Statecraft, and Korean-Japanese Relations

Organizer: Mark E. Byington, Harvard University, USA

Discussant: Hugh H. W. Kang, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

The Three Kingdoms period of Korean history has been a dynamic field of research in Korea and elsewhere in East Asia for the past few decades, providing a lively subject of academic debate as archaeological data continue to force scholars to reassess long held views of the early Korean past. Research focusing on the internal ruling structures of the peninsular kingdoms as well as their relations with other polities in East Asia, based on both historical and archaeological data, has produced a number of points of active academic debate. The papers presented in this panel represent three areas of inquiry related to this period of Korean history as viewed by western scholars specializing in early Korean history. In the first paper, Mark Byington explores a problem relating to the origins of the Paekche kingdom, proposing that the propagation of an early historical error resulted in the spurious claim that Paekche originated in the Liaoxi region of northeastern China. Next, Richard McBride analyzes historical records related to the middle and later periods of Silla history to explore how modes of collaborative administration developed and changed over time. Lastly, Jonathan Best will explore the matter of Silla-Japan marriage relations based upon his critical reassessment of the chronological arrangement of records in the Samguk sagi, suggesting that a rearrangement of such records creates a more consistent sequence of events that is likewise more closely aligned to records in Japanese sources.

Paekche's Putative Liaoxi Origins: A Case of Mistaken Identity
Mark E. Byington, Harvard University, USA

The origins of the ancient Korean state of Paekche represent an ongoing puzzle for historians. Despite the persistence in historical documents of claims for a first century BC foundation by Koguryo elites who had migrated to a site near modern Seoul, archaeological data seem to suggest a state formation closer to the fourth century, with no clear indication of migration as a causal factor. Further complicating the matter is the clearly stated claim in certain Chinese historical records (starting with the late-fifth-century Songshu) that Paekche originated in the Liaoxi region of China, having conquered that region before removing eventually to the Korean peninsula. Although largely ignored by premodern historiographers, the Liaoxi Origin claim has been taken seriously by some Korean historians in recent decades, leading to much debate and speculation. The present paper will explore the evidence relating to the Liaoxi Origin hypothesis and offer a solution to the problem, demonstrating that the activities credited to Paekche in Liaoxi at the time of its supposed formation in that region should instead be attributed to another party altogether—the confusion has been caused by a long standing case of mistaken identity.

The Evolution of Councils of Nobles in Silla Korea
Richard D. McBride, Brigham Young University, Hawaii, USA

This study analyzes two related questions dealing with the early Korean state of Silla (ca. 300–935): What was the nature of councils of nobles in Silla? And how did these councils evolve as Silla adopted and adapted Chinese-style statecraft and bureaucratic systems? It separates Silla history into three periods: (1) 531 and before; (2) 531–647; and (3) 647–935. In the first period, nobles from regions of the Silla capital, who were all loosely designated as “kings,” gathered to decide important matters. The concept of the taedung (grandee) emerged in the 520s or early 530s along with the expansion of Silla. In the second period, the Silla king instituted the position of sangdaedung (senior grandee) in 531 and entrusted him with the management of government affairs. Silla kings gradually organized Chinese-style regular offices and ministries to handle government affairs, which slowly decreased the need for councils of nobles. In the third period Silla kings instituted a Chinese-style board of grand councilors, an Administration Chamber, in about 650. The senior grand councilor and this smaller assembly of high-ranking nobles were usually true-bone nobles closely related by blood to the royal family and dominated Silla’s government until the end of the dynasty.

A Late Seventh-Century Marriage Alliance Between the Ruling Houses of Korea and Japan?
Jonathan Best, Wesleyan University, USA

A continuing project that has already engaged me for more than a decade is the critical analysis of the twelfth-century Samguk sagi (“Histories of the Three Kingdoms”), the oldest extant history of Korea. My research has focused almost exclusively on the chronicles of the kingdoms of Paekche and Silla, and the results have been highly rewarding and, indeed, show promise to prove paradigm altering. It has become clear that the annals of these two early Korean states, in particular, contain many accounts of genuine historical events that have been systematically redated—either antedated or postdated—to fill voids in the fragmented record of the kingdoms’ pasts that still existed in the twelfth century when the Samguk sagi was compiled. One of the more remarkable results of my research is that a Silla Annals’ entry reporting the improbable formation in the early fourth century of a marriage alliance between the ruling houses of Silla and Japan has been revealed to be an antedated record of the late seventh century. Equally remarkable is the fact that the eighth-century history of Japan, the Nihon shoki, contains hitherto unrecognized evidence that such a marriage did occur at just this time. In my presentation, I will both briefly discuss the methodology underlying my redating of the Silla Annals’ account of this marriage alliance and present the background information from the Samguk sagi and the Nihon shoki that supports it.