|Original title||? (?)|
|Subject||History of Korea|
Samguk sagi (?, ?, History of the Three Kingdoms) is a historical record of the Three Kingdoms of Korea: Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla. The Samguk sagi is written in Classical Chinese, the written language of the literati of ancient Korea, and its compilation was ordered by King Injong of Goryeo (r. 1122-1146) and undertaken by the government official and historian Gim Busik () and a team of junior scholars. It was completed in 1145. It is well known in Korea as the oldest surviving chronicle of Korean history.
In taking on the task of compiling the Samguk sagi ("compiling" is more accurate than "writing" because much of the history is taken from earlier historical records), Kim Busik was consciously modeling his actions on Chinese Imperial traditions, just as he modeled the history's format after its Chinese forebears.
Specifically, he was harking back to the work of Sima Qian, an official of the former Han Dynasty (206 BCE-24 CE). Nowadays known as the Records of the Grand Historian, this work was released circa 100 BCE under the more modest title of Sh?jì , i.e. Scribe's Records. By allusion, Kim Busik called his own work ?, i.e. Samguk sagi, where Sagi (nowadays ) was the Korean reading of the Chinese Sh?jì.
Adopted as well from Chinese historiographical tradition was the classic four-part division of the standard dynastic history into Annals (bongi, ), Tables (pyo, ?), Monographs (ji, ?), and Biographies (yeoljeon, ).
There were various motivating factors behind the compilation of the Samguk sagi in the 12th century. These may roughly be categorized as ideological and political. The ideological factors are made manifest in the work's preface, written by Kim Busik, where the historian states,
In this quote can be discerned two clear motives. One was to fill the vast gap in knowledge concerning Korea's Three Kingdom Era. Though each of the three kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla had produced their own histories, these were largely lost in the continual wars, the fall of Goguryeo and Baekje, and the dispersal of their records. The other motive was to produce a history that would serve to educate native Korean literati in native history, and provide them with Korean exemplars of Confucian virtues. This was especially important in mid-Goryeo as that dynasty became increasingly Confucianized. Lee 1984, p. 167
But there were other factors not so clearly discerned. In Chinese tradition, the compilation of a dynastic history also served political ends. The dynastic history was written by the succeeding dynasty and the very act of writing it served to illustrate that the succeeding dynasty had inherited the mandate to rule from its predecessor. In this context, it should be remembered that the compilation of the Samguk sagi was an officially sponsored undertaking, commissioned by the Goryeo king, with the members of its compilation staff approved by the central bureaucracy. As stated earlier, one aspect of its purpose was to educate scholars and officials of the Confucianized bureaucracy in their native heritage, and native potential for attaining Confucian virtue.
However, the fact that "native heritage" is primarily interpreted by the Samguk sagi to mean "Three Kingdoms heritage" brings us to the work's ostensibly broader purpose, and that was to promote Three Kingdoms (in contrast to the competing neighbors like Buyeo, Mahan, and Gaya, which were absorbed into the Three Kingdoms) as the orthodox ruling kingdoms of Korea, and to thus solidify the legitimacy and prestige of the Goryeo state, as the Three Kingdoms' rightful successor. In this way it helped to confer the idea of zhengtong , or "orthodox line of succession", upon the new dynasty. Though this objective was not directly stated in the memorial Kim Busik submitted in 1145, the intent was clearly understood. It was with just such intent that Goryeo's King Injong tapped Kim Busik to compile the history of the Three Kingdoms. Goryeo's quest, through the writing of the Samguk sagi, to secure its legitimacy and establish its continuation of the "mantle of authority" (or Mandate of Heaven) from the Three Kingdoms, meant as a necessary consequence that the compilers of the Samguk sagi, unlike those of the Jewang Ungi or the Goryeo Dogyeong (?), emphasized United Silla, the last survivor among the Three Kingdoms, and ignored Balhae.
The Samguk sagi is divided into 50 Books. Originally, each of them was written on a scroll (?, ?). They are reparted as follows:
12 scrolls, Nagi/Silla bongi, / , /?.
10 scrolls, Yeogi/Goguryeo bongi, / , /.
6 scrolls, Jegi/Baekje bongi, / , /?.
3 scrolls, Yeonpyo, , .
9 scrolls, Ji, ?, ?.
10 scrolls, Yeoljeon, , .
The Samguk sagi was written on the basis of the Gu Samguksa (?, Old history of the Three Kingdoms), and other earlier historical records such as the Hwarang Segi (?, Annals of Hwarang), most of which are no longer extant.
Concerning external sources, no references are made to the Japanese Chronicles, like the Kojiki , "Records of Ancient Matters" or the Nihon Shoki ?, Chronicles of Japan that were respectively released in 712 and 720. May be Kim Busik was ignorant of them or scorned to quote a Japanese source. On the contrary, he lifts generously from the Chinese dynastic chronicles and even unofficial Chinese records, most prominently the Wei shu (, Book of Wei), Sanguo Zhi (), Jin Shu (), Jiu Tangshu (, Old history of Tang), Xin Tangshu (, New history of Tang), and the Zizhi Tongjian (?, Comprehensive mirror for aid in government).
Kim Busik was a patrician of Silla origin, and though he himself was a practicing Buddhist, he supported Confucianism over Buddhism as the guiding principle of governance and favored presenting tributes to the Chinese emperor to prevent a conflict with China and in deference to the lofty (sadae). It thus appears that his background and tendencies would have been reflected in the Samguk sagi.
Formally, Kingdoms of Goguryeo and Baekje are equally treated with Former Silla. All three are referred with the term "aguk (, )" and their forces with the term "abyeong (, )", meaning "our nation" and "our troops" respectively. For example, in book 21 (Bojang of Goguryeo), Kim Busik praised Yang Manchun, a commander of Goguryeo who defeated Emperor Taizong of Tang at the Siege of Ansi Fortress and called him a hero.
Nevertheless, in the Biographies portion, a majority of the subjects are from Silla (68%), while the Silla's scrolls are filled with glorious examples of loyalty and bravery. In any case, it was easier to access documents from the victor state Silla than from the defeated other two Kingdoms whose archives were destroyed during the unification wars.
Some Korean historians, have criticized of the records provided in the Samguk sagi, citing this bias towards China and Former Silla. Among them, Sin Chaeho. According to McBride, part of the theses of Sin Chaeho were that:
And about possible sadaejuui towards the Goryeo powerful people and class complicity, one can note (with Kim Kichung) that many biographies are two sided in their conclusions. For example, in the Jukjuk biography (Book 47), the focus is less about the valor and patriotism of the layman Jukjuk himself and more about the misbehaviour of Prince Kim Pumseok, i.e. of the top aristocracy, even in Silla.
In any case, it is clear that Kim Busik's Samgik Sagi is critical to the study of Korean history during the Three Kingdoms and Unified Silla periods. Not only because this work, and its Buddhist counterpart Samguk yusa, are the only remaining Korean sources for the period, but also because the Samguk_Sagi contains a large amount of information and details. For example, the translation tables given in Books 35 and 36 have been used for a tentative reconstruction of the former Koguryeo language.
The only full Western language translation of the Samguk sagi to appear to date is a Russian edition translated by Mikhail Nikolaevich Pak that appeared in two parts, 1959 and 2001.
However, portions of the work have appeared in various English language books and articles, notably:
Translation of the whole Silla bongi
Translation of the whole Goguryeo bongi
Translation of the whole Baekje bongji