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Comprehensive Goryeo history translated into English

The “Koryosa choryo” (Essentials of Koryo History) is arguably one of the most substantial historical records of the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392).

Written in 1452, few decades after the fall of the kingdom, the 35-volume book is an abridged version of the 135-volume annals “Koryosa” (History of Koryo). 

Photocap: “Koryosa choryo II” translated by Edward J. Shultz and Hugh H.W. Kang (Jimoondang)
Photocap: “Koryosa choryo II” translated by Edward J. Shultz and Hugh H.W. Kang (Jimoondang)

In an effort to provide in-depth understanding of Korea’s history internationally, the English version “Koryosa choryo II: Essentials of Koryo History” has been published last December. The first-ever English translated work -- part one has not been published -- contains selected annals from the original book.

Two emeritus professors from the University of Hawaii at Manoa -- Asian studies professor Edward J. Shultz, and history professor Hugh H.W. Kang -- helmed the translation of this work.

As an Asian expert for many years, Shultz noted there aren’t many Korean historical sources translated into English in comparison to those of Japan and China, which he says “is regretful.”

“Fewer westerners visited Korea in the 18th and early 20th centuries when a great number of Chinese and Japanese sources appeared in English,” Shultz said in an email interview. “The fact that Korea was a colony of Japan also diminished the interest in Korean historical sources.”

Though it will be difficult to make up for nearly centuries of lost time, he said that there are many efforts to correct this. This book is also part of the project under the Institute of Korean Studies at Yonsei University to further enhance global research on Korean studies.

What is special about the “Koryosa choryo” in comparison to its longer counterparts?

“The beauty of ‘Koryosa choryo’ is that it provides you through year to year reporting the major events that occurred in each year including information on leading people, the activities of the king, and diplomatic events,” said Shultz.

So while scholars should try to consult both sources in order to get a full scope of Goryeo history, the shortened “Koryosa choryo” provides a succinct overview. It also contains some records not found in the longer version, and vice versa.

At 416 pages, the book introduces annals of six Goryeo kings, including Uijong, Myongjong, Sinjong, Huijong, Kangjong and Kojong -- 18th to 23rd kings starting in 1146 and extending to 1259.

Asked why he’s choosing the specific kings, Shultz said it matched the period under study in his dissertation, which was on Goryeo’s military government.

By Ahn Sung-mi (