A Survey of World History Chosen-shi 1 + 2 (A History of Korea | Vol. 1: From Prehistory to the Chosŏn Dynasty; Vol. 2: Modern and Contemporary History)
These two volumes constitute a general history of Korea from the prehistoric period to the present day, and they form part of Yamakawa Shuppansha’s Survey of World History and were published in October 2017. Volume 1 covers the period from prehistoric times to the end of the Chosŏn period (late nineteenth century), while volume 2 covers the period from the late nineteenth century to the start of 2017. They were coauthored by thirteen mid-level and senior scholars active primarily in Japanese academia, and as a specialist in the Chosŏn period I wrote chapters 6 and 7 in volume 1. The other contributors affiliated to the University of Tokyo are Mitsui Takashi (associate professor, College of Liberal Arts), who wrote most of chapter 2 in volume 2, and Kimiya Tadashi (professor, College of Liberal Arts), who wrote chapters 3–5 in volume 2.
Prior to this publication, there had been a Japanese general history of Korea edited by Takeda Yukio and titled A History of Korea, which had been published in 2000 as part of Yamakawa Shuppansha’s series A New History of Countries around the World. Like the present publication, it was cowritten by six scholars specializing in different periods, and until the appearance of the present publication it had been, apart from translations of books published in South Korea, the most detailed general history of Korea available in Japanese. For many years it fulfilled the role of the most reliable general history of a high scholarly standard. But more than ten years had passed since its publication, and in recent years it could no longer be said to reflect the latest research findings, especially in its account of modern and contemporary history. Taking this state of affairs into consideration, the aim of the present publication was to provide in effect a definitive general history of Korea in Japanese by expanding the treatment of contemporary history, which has been characterized by remarkable changes, and incorporating for each period the latest findings by both Japanese and overseas scholars.
Owing to its character as a general history, this publication is constrained by an unavoidable need to focus on political history or the history of various events. But an attempt has been made to deal with this constraint to some extent by adding several stand-alone columns in each chapter to provide supplementary explanations about specific topics that could not be dealt with adequately in the main text. Both volumes also have substantial appendices, and the “Bibliography,” in particular, is not simply a list of publications and, following the format of A History of Korea edited by Takeda, provides brief comments about each publication, which means that it can also be utilized as an introduction to research dealing with Korean history. The “Chronological Table” is also extremely detailed.
Lastly, I wish to briefly describe my own two chapters. Chapter 6 in volume 1 covers the hundred years or so during which the Chosŏn dynasty, founded by Yi Sŏnggye in the late fourteenth century, consolidated its system of rule, while chapter 7 deals with the period from the late fifteenth century to the late seventeenth century, during which time the system of rule established in the early Chosŏn period gradually changed in the areas of politics, the economy, and society. While the focus is on political history, considerable space is also given to my specialities of economic history and the history of the financial system. By also incorporating accounts of social history, cultural history, and the history of foreign relations, I have endeavoured to ensure that the reader is able to gain a comprehensive understanding of the history of this period.
(Written by ROKUTANDA Yutaka, Professor, Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology / 2018)