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.
||The fifth-century A.D. Kwanggaet'o stela: celebrating the achievements of an ancient king (Courtesy Daniel C. Kane)
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.
© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America