A History of the Early Korean Kingdom of Paekche, Together with an Annotated Translation of the Paekche Annals of the Samguk Sagi (review)
- Journal of Korean Studies
- Center for Korea Studies, University of Washington
- Volume 12, Number 1, Fall 2007
- pp. 143-153
- Additional Information
Book Reviews A History ofthe Early Korean Kingdom ofPaekche, Together with an Annotated Translation of the Paekche Annals of the Samguk Sagi by Jonathan Best. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006. Distributed by Harvard University Press. 568 pp. $60.00 (cloth) Paekche was one of the three kingdoms of early Korean history, along with Silla and Koguryö. Traditionally believed to have been founded in 18 BCE, Paekche was destroyed by Silla and its Tang Chinese allies in 660, although a popular resistance kept its hopes alive for an additional three years. Much later, a ninth-century resuscitation as LaterPaekche ÎêW^ (892-936) gave it a delayed but impressive last gasp. Unlike Silla, which enjoyed a much longer duration, and Koguryö, which for many centuries until 668 was a major East Asian power, Paekche received little respect from later Korean dynasties or historians until the eighteenth century, when Sirhak scholars began to give it more objective consideration. While the Koryö state (918-1392) recognized the legitimacy of both Silla and Koguryö, Paekche and its rulers were often seen as a discredited regime. Koryö's founder, Wang Kön, famously decreed in his testamentary instructions that people from former Paekche lands were not to be trusted and should not be involved in court affairs or other state employment. The Koryö historian Kim Pusik áz||$í (1075-1151), author of the Samguk sagi HBUfB (1145), concluded his Paekche annals with the sternjudgment, "Just was its destruction!" Modern historians, in Korea and abroad, have been more generous. They emphasize Paekche's long hold on the southwestern part ofthe Korean peninsula , its culture and art, its pivotal role in the spread ofBuddhism and secular education to Japan, and its richrelationships withboth Japan's Yamato state and the southern Chinese dynasties (317-589). Although our sources have little to say about economic life, Paekche's international economic activities, favored by its easy access to the Yangtse basin, were likely much more developed than those of either Koguryö or Silla. The impact of the Korean kingdoms on the early development of Japanese culture is widely recognized today, even in Japan, and Paekche was by far the major agent ofthat process. For the evidence ofmuch ofthis Paekche activity, we must rely on Chinese and Japanese source materials. Compared to the Samguk sagfs annals for The Journal ofKorean Studies 12, no. 1 (Fall 2007): 143-198 143 144The Journal ofKorean Studies Silla and Koguryö, those for Paekche are the poorest, both in quality and quantity. There are gaps of many years for which nothing is reported; the chronology of its earlier kings is often beyond belief, and the events that are reported manifest an extreme paucity of detail. Taking the three kingdoms' annals together, Paekche's account for only about 18 percent. Ofthe fifty-one individuals treated in the biographical section, only three are Paekcheans, and the longest of those accounts, that of Kyön Hwön—one of the longer biographies in the Samguk sagi—pertains not to Paekche proper but to Later Paekche (892-936). However, the Paekche annals record that from the reign ofKünch'ogo ?????? (346-375), records were kept ofcourt proceedings, and we know that Paekcheans compiled histories because three such works—two rather frequently—are quoted in the Japanese history Nihon shoki B^MWB of 720. Even where the Paekche source is not explicitly stated, it can often be deduced on stylistic grounds, or by Chinese character transcription practices for native Paekche names. It is apparent that the widespread destruction and plunder that followed the Silla-Tang victory in 660 caused the loss of many Paekche records and source materials, a deficit only magnified by the Koryö tendency to ignore or disdain Paekche. The result is that the Paekche portion ofthe Samguk sagi is highly problematic. This background helps to put Jonathan Best's achievement in clear focus and explain why he had to proceed as he did. He might have simply translated the Paekche annals and supplied a basic annotation, but that would have been barely enough to demonstrate their character and significance. Readers would have walked away with a less than adequate understanding ofPaekche history, and many unanswered questions. So abundant...