Koryǒ and Korea Today
For many the Koryǒ kingdom (918-1392) remains a somewhat mystical era in Korea’s distant past which elicits little interest other than an occasional reference to celadon vases or the famed Koreana tripitaka. This discussion will focus on Koryǒ and its significance for Korea today. Far from being a distant outpost of the 12th century world, Koryǒ was very much a part of mainstream global history. It was a society that early on embraced merit as an avenue for advancement, it led the world in printing technology, it demanded that its historians be free from outside influences, it grappled with issues of nationalism and internationalism, it pursued a foreign policy based on hard realism, it openly borrowed from other cultures, taking only what it needed. It developed a clear identity of being Korean, it produced a number of artistic masterpieces of world renown, and all this was made even richer by its embracement of a pluralist posture that allowed competing ideologies and points of view to exist side by side. In this respect Koryǒ was very modern. By not knowing, studying, or appreciating Koryǒ, one is not only missing one of the great stories of Korea’s past, but one is ill prepared to understand Korea today.
Edward J. Shultz is professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and currently is a visiting professor at Sogang University in Seoul where he is teaching Korean history. He first came to Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1966 and lived in Pusan. After receiving his PhD in 1976 from the University of Hawaii, he taught at the University of Hawaii until he retired in August 1213. At Hawaii he served as the director of the Center for Korean Studies and later as the dean of the School of Pacific and Asian Studies.