Interlude 1: Fringe Histories and Conspiracy Theories

When it comes to ancient history, the lack of records is both fascinating and frustrating. It’s no wonder that the times BCE have been the source of so many myths, legends and theories. There is a mysterious aura surrounding the early people and the first kingdoms of the world. This allure of the unknown, coupled with the nationalism found in the 19th century that still stubbornly persists, has led to many different kinds of fringe historical theories, from the various myths about the lost tribes of Israel and Atlantis to the latest “Ancient Astronauts” theory. This is especially common with cultures that have a very long history, where some of the more nationalistic groups develop an “Everything comes from …” narrative. So you have the “Everything comes from Greece” histories, “Everything comes from India” histories, and the one that’s causing great annoyance to most of Asia: the “Everything comes from China” histories. Korea is another culture that has been around for a long time, so the fringe and nationalist historians have not neglected the country,

Most of what we know about the early Korean kingdoms come from two sources, the Samguk Sagi “Records of the Three Kingdoms” and Samguk Yusa “Miscellanies of the Three Kingdoms”. The latter is notorious for including a lot of mythology and folklore into its historical narratives (including the story of Dangun)- though the Sagi itself doesn’t shy away from recording omens and moral injunctions- but most accept their general outline of the events at the time. In the story of Dangun, Dangun’s father was said to preside over the “City of the Gods.” What if the city was not only a mythological golden age, but an actual place? What would happen if the city of the gods actually ruled the world?

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Source The supplementary editio

Meet the Hwandan Gogi, Korea’s very own “Everything comes from…” history.The book is divided into four parts, the Samseonggi, Dangun Segi, Bukbuyeogi and Taebaek Ilsa. It’s a book that pushes back Korea’s history back to 7197 BCE, and puts two kingdoms before Gojoseon. These are the Hwanguk and Baedal kingdoms. It also lists 47 different Danguns who have ruled Gojoseon. The book has had a bit of a following in the fringe history community, and was a best seller in the 70s. Various interpretations and communities have popped up surrounding the Hwandan Gogi, which is where the fun truly begins.

So, not being satisfied with making Korea the second oldest civilization in “history” (the first, of course, being Atlantis at 10,000 BCE), what else does this community believe? Well, for starters, Sumeria was actually part of the Baedal kingdom! The kingdom was  in charge of twelve countries covering most of Asia and beyond, including Mesopotamia. The justification for this is that some ancient Mesopotamian words are similar to modern Korean words and that the fall of Sumeria coincides with the fall of the Baedal (according to the book’s timeline).

Most of the already mythological Three Sovereigns of China were also Korean, cause why not? One of the Emperors of Baedal was the god of war who had iron weapons before anyone else. Obviously, he managed to defeat the Yellow Emperor, one of the most popular of the legendary Five Emperors. The fact that Egypt, South America and various other countries had pyramids “proves” that they were part of the Baedal kingdom…somehow. Oh, they also had democracy. In a word, the entire history of all peoples of the world come from Hwanguk, Baedal and Gojoseon.

The book was published in the 70s but, in conspiracy theory fashion, claims to have been a text from an earlier date and had been hidden. The book became a hit when it first appeared in this plane of existence. There has recently been a revival of interest in the Hwandan Gogi and other fringe histories, probably in response to China’s revisionist historians who try to claim Gojoseon and Goguryeo as part of Chinese history. There is a website covering all the events in the book, as well as lecturers going around Korea talking about the amazing discoveries of the Hwandan Gogi and beyond. You can find the book in the bestseller table of most major bookstores in Seoul. It, as well as commentaries, have been translated into English. Though that is not to say it is all in any way accepted by  the mainstream. You won’t find many people who believe the claims, though some will sigh and exclaim that they wish it were real.

the purpose behind fringe histories like the one mentioned above is to give Korea a “Golden Age” narrative. I hope this blog will show that Korean history is amazingly rich and complex in itself. It is full of victories and tragedies, ups and downs, domination and subservience. It has been and continues to be a player in a World history, and has produced works of philosophy, literature, art and politics that should be better known. Korean history does not need an “Everything comes from…” myth to be worthy of studying.

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One thought on “Interlude 1: Fringe Histories and Conspiracy Theories

  1. Pingback: Interlude 5: Red Devils and Chiwoo | Figures of Korean History

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