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  • Recent Korean Scholarship on Sino-Korean Relations During the Ming-Qing Period*
  • Seunghyun Han

Korean scholarship on Ming-Qing history was introduced forty years ago by Korean scholars in Ch'ing-shih wen-t'i, the former title of the journal Late Imperial China.1 Since then, Korean scholarship on Ming-Qing history has grown exponentially. Many articles and books on Ming-Qing history have recently been published in South Korea, but this essay will focus on work on Sino-Korean relations during the Ming-Qing period published in the last twenty years. In the twenty-first century, among Korean scholars of late imperial Chinese history, Sino-Korean relations has been arguably the most important and innovative area of research. The theme of Sino-Korean relations, therefore, provides a useful overview of recent and original contributions of Korean scholars to the understanding of Ming-Qing China.

Korean scholars' interest in the theme stems partly from the launch of the "Northeast Project" (Dongbei gongcheng) in the People's Republic of China, a state-sponsored research project to interpret the history of Northeast China from a perspective that emphasizes Chinese claims to ancient kingdoms in the region while stressing unity among different ethnic groups. Subsequent conflicts of historical interpretation between China and Korea triggered Korean scholars' rising interest in the borders and the historical relations between the two countries. Fundamentally, the intensification of interest in this topic resonates with, and is heavily influenced by, global research trends that challenge idealistic, and even mystified perspectives of the political center, and also trends that [End Page 181] situate historical events in a larger regional/global context beyond the boundary of the modern nation-state. Just as a new understanding of Chinese history challenges the paradigms constructed from the center by illuminating the limits of such paradigms in specific peripheral contexts, Korean scholars have similarly challenged the China-centric view of traditional tributary relations by developing new paradigms centered on Korea, a peripheral area in the regional order. Korean scholars have also explored cross-border flows of ideas, people, and objects in order to understand Korean history in a broader context. The maturation of these new research trends has resulted in a blurring of the conventionally rigid line distinguishing scholars of Korean history from those of Chinese history. Those who study the history of Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910) are deepening their knowledge of late imperial China, while students of Ming-Qing history are increasing their use of primary sources in Korean history. The scholarly exchanges between the two groups have accelerated to the point that it is now difficult to strictly categorize scholarly publications as pertaining to Chinese or Korean history.

Due to space restrictions, this essay focuses mainly on the work of self-identified historians of Ming-Qing China. Where appropriate, however, the scholarly contributions of historians of Chosŏn Korea are also included. While their research interests span a variety of topics, this essay introduces a few select topics that I consider most important in the field of Sino-Korean relations during the Ming-Qing period and where the bulk of related research is concentrated.

The Yuan Influence on Koryŏ and Chosŏn

Wŏnho Pak, an authority on Sino-Korean relations in the early Ming period, has identified the thirteenth century, when the Koryŏ kingdom (918–1392) was under the strong influence of the Yuan Dynasty, as a turning point in the relations between China and Korea.2 Tonghun Chŏng is one of the pioneers in this area. His work underscores the impact of the 1280 establishment of the Eastern Expedition Field Headquarters (K. Chŏngdong haengsŏng; C. Zhengdong xingsheng), a Yuan institution established in Koryŏ by Khubilai Khan for the invasion of Japan at first and for influence in Koryŏ politics later. The fact that this institution [End Page 182] was headed by the kings of Koryŏ signified that they were now not only foreign vassals but also administrative officials of the Yuan, just like regular officials in China proper. According to Chŏng, Koryŏ's role as an administrative unit of the Yuan exerted a lasting influence upon the rituals, administration, and politics of Koryŏ and Chos...


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