1. History in Dispute
▲ Historically inaccurate relief and description. (Koguryo relief, Yongdam Mountain Fortress, Jilin City, Jilin Province, China)The description falsely states that Koguryo was a part of China's administration.
Koguryo history was a subject of intense scrutiny in the early stages of the Northeast Project. The project misrepresented Koguryo history as Chinese history. Thus, the Northeast Project became known as "China's distortion of Koguryo history" and "the business of plundering Koguryo history." As details of the Northeast Project became widely publicized, China's attempts to incorporate Gojoseon (literally “Ancient Joseon”) and Balhae history into Chinese history came to light. China's national strategy for providing historical justification regarding changes in the Korean Peninsula was eventually revealed.
▲ Historically inaccurate relief and description. (Balhae relief, Yongdam Mountain Fortress, Jilin City, Jilin Province, China)The scene depicted in the relief falsely implies that Balhae was founded through an issuance of jarlig (imperial decree) by the Tang dynasty. The inscription below describes the founding forces of Balhae to be the Mohe (Tungusic people in ancient Manchuria) as part of the Tang dynasty's administration.
As the Northeast Project became the center of national attention in South Korea, long-term countermeasures were established, and a formal inquiry was made to the Chinese government. In August 2004, a verbal agreement was made between South Korea and China that would serve as a basis for corrective measures regarding China's distortion of Koguryo history.
Despite the bilateral agreement between South Korea and China, however, the publicized results of the Northeast Project were discovered to have proliferated considerably. On September 10th, 2006, then-president Moo-hyun Roh raised this issue to Premier Jiabao Wen and President Jintao Hu of the People's Republic of China for corrective action. The two leaders of China promised to fully honor the verbal agreement. And in February 2007, the planned five-year Northeast Project ostensibly came to an end.
Terms of the Korea-China Verbal Agreement
The agreement included the following five points:
① The Chinese government shall be considerate of the magnitude of the Koguryo history issue between the two nations.
② Efforts shall be made to prevent damage to the amicable Korea-China relations and develop a cooperative partnership regarding Koguryo history issues.
③ Both nations shall promote a fair resolution of Koguryo history issues and take necessary measures to prevent political complications.
④ China shall, at the central and local government levels, be compassionate toward Korea's interests in Koguryo history-related technologies and take necessary measures to prevent further dissolution regarding Koguryo history issues.
⑤ Both countries shall seek resolution through swift academic exchange.
However, a verbal agreement with top-level Chinese diplomats and termination of the five-year Northeast Project were not enough to resolve all history issues. Research results from the Northeast Project are used as key data for historical research, and published materials are influencing other fields regardless of the validity of the information.
These research results have proliferated throughout the scientific community and into Koguryo and Balhae historical sites, museum labels, and college textbooks and other educational materials. And now, the Northeast Project has moved beyond the realm of professional scholars and into China's general population to change the perception of history.
If the Northeast Project can be generalized as a recognition of Gojoseon, and Koguryo and Balhae history as parts of Chinese history, then not only is the project still ongoing, but its termination is uncertain. East Asian history has developed through reciprocity between nations, and it will continue to do so. Now, these nations must write history through reconciliation and cooperation on a foundation of facts. To do so, people need to know exactly what is historical fact. This is the only way to contend with the distortion of history and maintain historical integrity. The purpose and main arguments of the Northeast Project need to be analyzed so as to identify the problems and prepare measures to confront its fallacies.