Early East Asian Interactions As Seen in Material Records (abstract)

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Historians usually rely on textual records to discuss the history of East Asia, including the countries of China, Korea, and Japan. But these views are seriously limited within the textual historical tradition. Without textual records, historians hesitate to explore in detail and in depth how ancient East Asian interacted.
The term East Asia is also a concept imposed on us by European geographers and historians. They divided the world into several continents, such as Europe, Asia, and Africa, and further divided them into more specific regions, such as Minor Asia, East Asia, North Asia, and Southeast Asia. If we limit our scope of discussion to East Asia, our perspectives are still limited by these pre-modern European geographers and historians.
Is there a way that we can jump out of these scopes, and develop novel perspectives to discuss history in a particular region, not limited by the traditional narrative scopes? Material records may help us on this issue. I propose when we study the material records, we are concerned only with from where an object came from, or where an architecture was situated in. But we do not impose labels of language and country on them. The designs and production techniques are universal, which are to be understood by people who speak different languages, bear different geographical origins, or have different cultural identities. These are artificial labels on the producers and recipients, but not necessarily on the objects themselves. I propose to single out the objects and spaces, and treat them as individual agents, free of these artificial labels. From this we may be able to develop some new perspectives.
Let me use bronze mirrors as examples to illustrate my proposal. Bronze mirrors have been widely circulating in a large area that we are familiar with today, including China, Korea, Japan, Siberia, Central Asia. The earliest bronze mirrors were found in Northwest China in around 2000-1800 BCE. But in around 200-500 CE, bronze mirrors had already become common commodities in the regions mentioned above.
It is hard to attribute a specific geographical origin to a mirror circulating in 500 CE. Mirror producers were migrating constantly. Some lived in China, some in Korea, and some in Japan. During certain periods, many Chinese mirror producers migrated to Korea and Japan, while mirrors produced in Korea and Japan also circulated in the wide area of East Asia. It is difficult to point out which country produced which type of mirrors. In this case, the artificial labels imposed on mirrors, a type of objects, should be abandoned because the labels do not help us understand the mirrors. It is similar to the case of how we should understand smart phones today. The chip of a smart phone may be invented in Korea or the USA, but the integration of all components may take place in China or Vietnam. The wide circulation of the components of smart phones today is similar to the wide circulation of mirrors 1,500 years ago. In this case, the designs and production techniques of smart phones, and mirrors, should be paid with more attention. And new languages should be developed to account for the developments of the designs and production techniques of mirrors. Perhaps in this way we may discover more new perspectives to cultivate a historical field by relying on material records.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNational Museum of Korea Museum Network Fellowship Online Meeting Sourcebook
PublisherNational Museum of Korea
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022
EventNational Museum Of Korea Museum Network Fellowship Online Meeting - Online, via Zoom
Duration: 29 Nov 20222 Dec 2022


ConferenceNational Museum Of Korea Museum Network Fellowship Online Meeting


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