Delving Deeper into an Ancient Land

  • onNovember 16, 2014
  • Vol.25 Autumn 2014
  • byEdward J. Shultz
Korea’s Ancient Koguryǒ Kingdom: A Socio-Political History
Tr. John Huston

The publication of Korea’s Ancient Koguryǒ Kingdom: A Socio-Political History sponsored by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea is a welcomed addition to Korean studies. This is a translation from Korean of Noh Taedon’s 1999 manuscript Goguryeosa yeongu (Koguryǒsa yǒngu). The translation, expertly rendered by John Huston, was completed in 2007 but was not published until 2014.

This important book discusses much more than Goguryeo (Koguryǒ) as it offers considerable information on Baekche, Silla, and the kingdoms of northeast China. Noh Taedon, one of the leading Goguryeo specialists in South Korea, has researched and written extensively about Goguryeo and the Three Kingdoms for many years. As John Huston notes in his introduction to the translation, found in this volume “are fastidious analyses covering the legendary and formative periods, the development of the social and administrative structures, the various involvements with other states in the region, and a thorough examination of the century-long build-up to Goguryeo’s ultimate demise after over 700 years of existence.” (xi)

Goguryeo has long begged for deeper study and Noh has done just that. The book, divided into four parts, first examines the reliability of the sources, and then early Goguryeo’s political and social evolution. His subsequent sections consider Goguryeo’s external relations and its development into a central, aristocratic state. Although students may often find the narrative too complex to fully comprehend, specialists will greatly benefit from Noh’s erudition.

Translated exceedingly well, John Huston generally remains faithful to the original as he clarifies what are potentially complicated descriptions. I discovered only occasional minor indiscretions such as spelling the name of the famed Goryeo author Yi Gyu-bo as both Lee Kyu-bo (291) and Li Kyu-bo (299). The volume uses a modified McCune-Reischauer system for Korean and Pinyin for Chinese. In addition to an index, it also provides maps and reign titles for Goguryeo kings. Students and scholars who cannot readily read Korean will benefit immensely from this publication. I hope that LTI Korea will bring forth similar volumes in the future. 


by Edward J. Shultz
Professor, Sogang University/University of Hawaii at Manoa