Contested Ethnicities and Ancient Homelands in Northeast Chinese Archaeology: The Case of Koguryo and Puyo Archaeology

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In many countries of east Asia, archaeological knowledge is frequently used in the construction of ethnic histories, and the discipline of archaeology is often employed to emphasize ethnic and cultural identities (Fawcett 1995; Nelson 1995). It is thus important for archaeological research in this region to understand how archaeological knowledge is used in each country to establish national identity, to promote national solidarity, to delineate various ethnic groups and to proclaim ancestral territories, cultural antiquity and unbroken cultural and ethnic continuity.

In the case of Koguryo (Gaogouli in Chinese pronunciation) and Puyo (Fuyu) Archaeology, the situation is very much complicated because of the nature of the historical background and ethnic affiliation of these two societies. According to Chinese historical records, Puyo emerged in the region of the Songhua River basin in northeast China as early as the 3rd century BC. About the same time, a predecessor of Koguryo consolidated its strength in the Hun River basin and the middle Apnok (Yalu in Chinese) River valley. Sometime after the beginning of the Common Era, the Koguryo and Puyo societies arose to become states in each corresponding area, both currently in Northeast China.

Since these ancient societies are usually attributed to the ancestors of modern Koreans by both Chinese and Korean scholars, the archaeological and historical studies have been affected, not only by scholarly concerns, but also by contemporary political and social circumstances of China, North Korea and South Korea. Factors such as national pride and sovereignty, political ideology and the social and cultural environments of China and both Koreas have greatly influenced scholarly interpretation as well as public images of these societies.

Early Chinese historical records

In many early Chinese historical records, both Koguryo and Puyo are described in the 'accounts' of the so-called 'Eastern Barbarians'. One of the most comprehensive descriptions of these early societies is called 'Accounts of Eastern Barbarians' and is part of Sanguozhi, or 'Annals of the Three States' (Wei, Shu and Wu; AD 220265), that was compiled in the second half of the 3rd century AD. It describes Koguryo and Puyo as well as the societies of Upru (Yilou in Chinese), East Okcho (Woju), Ye (Hui), Samhan (Sanhan) and Wae (Wo; or Wa in Japanese). The geographical location of these societies, as well as ethnic and cultural similarities among them, seems to have been the major reason why they were placed together and described in one chapter.

The same structure was also employed in Hou Hanshu, or 'Records of Later Han' (AD 25220), that was compiled in the mid 5th century. According to these historical records, Koguryo and Puyo were more closely related to each other in terms of ethnicity and linguistics than either was to any of the other groups. In the historical records of later Northern and Southern Dynasties, most of these groups disappeared. Three Kingdoms of Koguryo (37 BC (traditionally)-AD 668), Paekche (18 BC (traditionally)-AD 660) and Shilla (57 BC (traditionally)-AD 936) were the titles used to describe the political and social circumstances of Northeast China and the Korean Peninsula.

Chinese policy

Most of the archaeological ruins of the Koguryo and all of the Puyo are now located within the Liaoning and Jilin provinces of the People's Republic of China. In addition to these two ethnic groups, Korean scholars have paid much attention to research on Kochoson (2333 (traditionally)-108 BC), which is believed to have occupied part of Northeast China, and Parhae (AD 698-926), the centre of which was located in Heilongjiang Province of China. While modern Koreans consider all these ethnic groups as their forebears, the Chinese government regards the archaeological sites and remains of these societies as the heritage of the so-called 'ethnic minorities', the descendants of whom are still living in northeast China under Chinese jurisdiction. …