Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

1/1/2013 - 12/31/2013

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

Redating Early Korean and Japanese History based on the 12th-Century "Samguk sagi," Korea's Oldest Surviving Chronicle

FAIN: FB-56856-13

Jonathan Best
Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT 06459-3208)

The 12th-century Samguk sagi is the oldest surviving history of Korea. Compiled at royal command, it chronicles three early kingdoms—Silla, Koguryo, and Paekche—that tradition holds were founded in the 1st century BCE and that came to an end ca. 665. Archaeological evidence and data from earlier Chinese and Japanese sources reveal, however, that Silla and Paekche only emerged as royal states in the 4th century. To fill the historiographic voids created by the fragmentary records still extant and the incredibly early foundations credited to these kingdoms, the text’s editors systematically ‘redated’ entries from the few surviving records. By comparative historical analysis and comparison with the archaeological record, I have ascertained the system whereby this redating was done—and thus am able to return the anachronistic entries to their original dating and thereby create a more accurate history of early Korea and its relations with Japan than has been available for over 850 years.

Associated Products

Rectifying Anachronisms in the Samguk sagi’s Representation of Early Korean History (Conference/Institute/Seminar)
Title: Rectifying Anachronisms in the Samguk sagi’s Representation of Early Korean History
Author: Jonathan W. Best
Abstract: The twelfth-century Samguk sagi contains annals for all three early Korean kingdoms beginning with their putative foundations in the first century BCE. Yet the evidence of both earlier Chinese histories and peninsular archaeology indicate that the two southernmost of the polities, Silla and Paekche, did not develop as royal states until the fourth century. Consequently, as complimentary as the presumed antiquity of these two kingdoms may have been, it also had the effect of creating an initial void of over three hundred and fifty years in their actual histories. The editors of the Samguk sagi evidently made use of several different strategies to fill the historiographic voids created by the impossibly early foundation dates that they credited to the two southern kingdoms in particular—for instance, the insertion of accounts of celestial phenomena extracted from China’s dynastic histories, including some that could not have been observed anywhere in Korea. Many of the Samguk sagi’s anachronistic entries possess, however, a persuasive “ring” of credibility, exhibiting compelling indicators of historicity such as the inclusion of specific personal names, ranks and places. The entries in this last group have the hallmarks of being antedated reports of bona fide events from the original accounts of the kingdoms. In my presentation, I briefly explain the basic elements of the methodology whereby I rectify the anachronistic dating of entries in the Samguk sagi and then illustrate the virtue of the methodology by applying it to several anomalous entries from the annals of that text.
Date Range: March & July 2013
Location: San Diego, CA (Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting) & Vienna, Austria (Association for Korean Studies in Europe Biennial Meeting)
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