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Letter from China: Enigma in Stone Volume 55 Number 2, March/April 2002
by Daniel C. Kane

A monument in northeastern China fuels a modern debate over ancient history.

[image] The fifth-century A.D. Kwanggaet'o stela: celebrating the achievements of an ancient king (Courtesy Daniel C. Kane) [LARGER IMAGE]

A professor of mine once commented that anyone who has ever lost a set of car keys is a historian. What he meant was that not only is every one of us continually attempting to recall the past, but that the act of recollection itself is intimately connected with the present. Perhaps nothing in East Asian archaeology and history better illustrates this point than the story of the stone stela of Kwanggaet'o, the most illustrious monarch of the Koguryo Empire (ca. 100 B.C.-A.D. 668). Depending on who you talk to, the 20-foot-high inscribed monument, erected 15 centuries ago in what is today China, provides evidence for early Japanese control of the Korean peninsula, a Korean invasion of Japan, or a multi-ethnic legacy celebrated by modern China's Communists.

Daniel C. Kane is a doctoral candidate in Korean history at the University of Hawaii.

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© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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