ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION
An Ancient and Glorious Past:
Koguryo in the Collective Memories of the Korean People
Doctor of Philosophy in East Asian Languages and Cultures
University of California, Los Angeles, 2012
Professor John B. Duncan, Chair
Scholars generally agree that nationalism first emerged in the late eighteenth century, and
that collective memories shared by members of a society contributed to the formation of modern
nationalism. It does not mean, however, that collective memories did not exist before the modern
period. In contrast to some modernist arguments, long before modern nationalism appeared in
Korea, there was distinct evidence of the existence of certain collective memories among literati.
Literati's memories of Koguryo throughout the pre-modern period and the influence of Koguryo
memories on the formation of Korean nationalism after the late nineteenth century strongly
indicate that collective memory should not be tied to the notion of modern nationalism.
It is apparent that since as early as the tenth century, Koryo literati considered Koguryo a
part of Korean history, and their recognition of Koguryo appeared in political, cultural, and
ethnic perspectives. The dynastic change from Koryo to Choson in 1392 did not cast doubt on
the literati's affirmation of Koguryo's position in Korean heritage, and elevated the status of
Confucianism in Choson, even contributing to consolidation of Koguryo memories among the
literati due to Koguryo's connection to the Kija tradition. Although memories of this ancient
kingdom were affected by the political situation of the time, especially during the early years of
the Choson-Ming relationship, Koguryo's status in Korean history was not questioned, and it still
remained historically viable after the notion of the so-called "last bastion" of Confucian
civilization emerged following the Ming's collapse.
Unquestionably, it was since the late nineteenth century when Koguryo memories were
arguably embedded in the collective memory of Koreans, as Korean nationalists ardently tried to
take advantage of Koguryo memories for their independence movements. In this period,
Koguryo memories, which had survived since the tenth century, fit well into the model of
collective memory as presented by Maurice Halbwachs. Additionally, its projection in the last
few decades, including in the relationship between North and South Korea, as well as Korea and
China regarding the ownership of Koguryo history, demonstrates how the collective memory of
Koguryo has been maintained and still operates vigorously today.