Korea-China History Awareness

4. The Northeast Project: Impact and Response

The Northeast Project ended in early 2007 after a five year period. However, problems still remain. The results of the Northeast Project have been published during its run, and more are expected in the future. These publications contain a version of history as seen from the perspective of the Northeast Project. Ironically, a history book cannot be erased from history. Therefore, one can argue that the Northeast Project is still ongoing and that its repercussions will continue into the future. The Northeast Project is still being propagated in different forms.

The research that was conducted by the central government is now being undertaken at local levels and even universities from a Northeast Project perspective. Since 2002, the Jilin Province Koguryo Research Center, Koguryo Research Base, Koguryo Research Foundation, Koguryo and Northeast Nationalities Research Center, and several other organizations have been established in Jilin Province. The Northeastern China History Research Center was established in Liaoning Province. These institutions primarily research ancient Korean history including Gojoseon, Koguryo, and Balhae histories.

The current research being conducted expound upon the Northeast Project with greater intensity. Chinese scholars previously studying the ancient history of Korea hardly referred to research results or historical records from other countries including Korea's History of the Three Kingdoms. They were content to pick and choose from historical evidence that fit their agenda and unilaterally publicized their claims. Recently, however, historical research results from other countries, including Korea, have been receiving consideration and analysis.

There has been a recent increase in the number of scholars studying Gojoseon, Koguryo, and Balhae histories. Unlike past efforts in which researchers were limited to the Three Northeastern Provinces, scholars with no relation to the region are now involved in the research. Also, the activity of young researchers has noticeably increased. In the wake of the Northeast Project, the scope of research has expanded to include Koguryo history with improved quality and increased number of research results regarding the Three Northeastern Provinces. Furthermore, the research results gained through this process are spreading throughout China via various academic journals.

On the other hand, Northeast Project-influenced history is still reaching the people of China. The effects of the Northeast Project have already been reflected in university textbooks, museum labels, and descriptions for Koguryo and Balhae relics. The Eleventh Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development passed in 2006 by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and Jilin Provincial Committee reinforced China's plans to actively develop tourism by taking advantage of the rich cultural resources in Jilin Province. The effects of the Northeast Project will propagate faster and deeper in the process of developing historic sites into tourist destinations.

Although a great number of Chinese are still unaware of the history conflict between Korea and China, interest in the subject has increased in the general public since the Northeast Project. Not surprisingly, there have been a great number of people who have expressed hostility and resentment as well. The relationship between Korea and China may be exacerbated as a result. It's very likely that the Northeast Project may become oriented in an illogical, non-academic direction when it leaves the hands of experts.

What can be done to prevent this type of situation?

First, results from the Northeast Project that have already been or will be published need to be continuously monitored to prevent further proliferation.

Second, research must be expanded and logic must be refined so that people all over the world can understand that Gojoseon, Buyeo, Koguryo, and Balhae histories are all parts of Korean history. Academia must lead future research, and error-correcting operations must be conducted on scientific and academic levels for China's arbitrary interpretation of history.

Third, more effort should be made to foster researchers of Koguryo, Gojoseon, and Balhae histories. On the surface, the number of young researchers in this field seems to have increased since the Northeast Project, but surprisingly, the actual number has not increased much at all. The number of young researchers in China has been steadily increasing, and thus, a greater emphasis on training young researchers is required.

Fourth, alternative research results need to be disseminated throughout the international community. People who do not know or have little interest in Korean history are likely to accept China's one-sided argument at face value. Therefore, a proper view of East Asian history must become widely known.

Fifth, history education needs to be strengthened so that future generations have an accurate understanding of Korean history when they interact with people from all over the world. Loss of identity can progress in a considerably short time, but re-establishing that identity requires an immense amount of time and effort.

Sixth, maintaining historical identity requires diplomatic effort. The distortion of history is a result of differences in academic opinion, and at the same time, a diplomatic issue between countries. As the Northeast Project is not limited to academia, the issues need to be consistently and systematically supported. History disputes are long-term battles, and thus, patience is required.

Finally, people need to have a sense of interest and affection in their own history. Emotional responses to these issues with no knowledge of the history and culture will only result in negative effects.

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