The past is not past. Ancient history can influence the present day, affecting diplomatic and economic ties between states, and galvanizing public discourse and cultural expression. Since 2003, South Korea and China have been embroiled in a territorial dispute - over ancient states that ceased to exist as such over a millennium ago, in then Manchuria. Both sides have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in establishing the legitimacy of their claims, subsidizing academic research and publicity campaigns. Strategically positioned in the middle lies North Korea, its roots extending deeply into Manchurian history, and the object of Chinese strategic interests. The confrontation has appealed to the popular imagination in both countries. Amateur historians, artists, and film makers have voiced their opinions in writing, art, movies, and TV, in traditional and new (online) media. Why does the past elicit this intense activity in the present? What does the past mean for the present, and what does it do to it?
A WAR OF WORDS will engage this complex of Chinese claims to Manchu-Korean ancient history, South Korean reactions, public discourse and cultural expression in both states, and the role of North Korea. It will approach these issues from an interdisciplinary angle, as an interconnected whole of contemporary national interests, strategic visions for the future of Northeast Asia, revisionist ancient history, and notions of national identity. It will critically review historiography of Manchuria through the ages; chart policy-driven uses and abuses of history in academia and the public domain in the Koreas and China; and complement and challenge habitual IR and security studies perspectives on Northeast Asia, particularly North Korea, by foregrounding ancient Manchurian history and its politico-socio-cultural manifestations in the present. As such, it will radically alter our understanding of a region of tremendous geopolitical, economic, and cultural importance.
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