Making “Aristocracy” of Koryŏ Dynasty (918-1392) in Korean Historiography

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5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Virtual Event
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Hyosub Kim (Sungkyunkwan University)
Image Source: National Museum of Korea


Since the early twentieth century there has been an ongoing discussion regarding the ruling class in Koryŏ dynasty (918-1392). This debate is very much related to the arguments about the development of Korean history. In this talk I will discuss how the debate defining Koryŏ’s ruling class as the aristocracy has developed since the 1960s.

In the early twentieth century, Japanese historians described Korean history to be stagnant. What they meant was that Korean history failed to be properly developed, not achieving “medieval” and “modern” society but only experiencing the “ancient” society. In their perspective, Korea could only be historically changed by external influences through events such as the annexation by the Japanese Empire in 1910. These concepts are usually called the theory of stagnation and the theory of heteronomy.

After 1960’s, in order to refute the Japanese historians, Korean historians began to insist that Korean society had the internal power to achieve the necessary development after “medieval” society. This new tendency came to be known as the theory of internal development of Korean history. In this manner, the Koryŏ period has to be necessarily regarded as the Medieval Age. Until today the ruling class of Koryŏ dynasty is viewed and understood as the aristocracy.

Therefore, it can be said that this discussion is an important historiographical topic within the wider discussion regarding the development of Korean history. This talk will analyse this Korean historiography debate and suggest discussion points to better understand the ruling class of Koryŏ dynasty and as a result rethink the development of Korean history.

Image: An Epitaph of Yi Ja-yeon
The epitaph of Yi Ja-yeon shows various information about his life such as his birth and death, family relations, office positions, etc. This epitaph is essential to identify the characteristics of the ruling class in early Koryŏ society because the owner of this epitaph was politically and socially significant at that time. He held key positions in turn and was even appointed to the highest position in the Koryŏ government. Also, he married all three daughters to King Munjong and his sons to daughters of other prestigious families. His family could strongly influence political scene and society for about 150 years after this death.

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Making “Aristocracy” of Koryŏ Dynasty (918-1392) in Korean Historiography

Speaker Biography

Hyosub Kim is a visiting scholar at the Centre of Korean Studies, SOAS. He completed both his BA and MA in the Department of History at Sungkyunkwan University, and he is currently doing his Ph.D. there as well. His MA thesis title is "Lee Gyu-Bo's Life as a Bureaucrat and Friendship under the Military Rule in Goryeo Dynasty". He has published four papers in authorized journals in Korea. He has received scholarships from National Research Foundation of Korea and annually from his home university for several years. He is currently working on a project researching the distinguished families of Koryŏ society in the 10~13th centuries.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of Korean Studies

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