Eugene Y. Park: A Genealogy of Dissent. The Progeny of Fallen Royals in Chosŏn Korea, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press 2018, XIV + 270 S., ISBN 978-1-5036-0723-1, USD 60,00
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Eugene Y. Park, author of A Genealogy of Dissent: The Progeny of Fallen Royals in Chosŏn Korea (published in 2018 by Stanford University Press; hereafter, A Genealogy of Dissent), is a historian and professor at the University of Nevada specializing in Korean politics and society from the fourteenth century. He obtained his BA from UCLA and MA and PhD from Harvard University. His research interests include Korea and East Asia, socio-political history, deep history, genealogy, and population genetics. At the University of Nevada, Park teaches world history, the history of East Asia, the history of Korea, topics in nature and culture, and graduate readings in history. Other than A Genealogy of Dissent, he has several other monographs such as Korea: A History (2022), A Family of No Prominence: The Descendants of Pak Tŏkhwa and the Birth of Modern Korea (2014), and Between Dreams and Reality: The Military Examination in Late Chosŏn Korea, 1600-1894 (2007).
A Genealogy of Dissent is about the lives of the descendants of the Wangs, the dynastic family that Yi Sŏng-gye (T'aejo, r. 1392-1398), founder of the Chosŏn dynasty, overthrew after the dynastic change in 1392. The book places emphasis on the 1394 massacre ordered by the Chosŏn court that almost exterminated the Wangs (specifically, the Kaesŏng lineage), and the subsequent persecution that lasted for almost two decades until 1413, during the reign of the third Chosŏn monarch, T'aejong (1400-1418). The end of the persecution of the Wangs gave way, in 1452, to the Chosŏn court's recruitment of Wang descendants, who were tasked with offering ritual sacrifices at Sŭnguijŏn for the five previous monarchs of the Koryŏ dynasty. This lasted for almost half a millennium until the end of the Chosŏn dynasty in 1910. A Genealogy of Dissent caters to those interested in the history of dynastic change and readers with or without a background in Korean history. The author makes an effort for the book to be understandable to the modern reader by omitting the suffix of the locale name that indicates the administrative level: these are replaced with English translations. All dates are given according to the Gregorian calendar (unless mentioned otherwise) and the dynastic measurements and currency used in the book are converted into western units.
A Genealogy of Dissent aims to tell a story of a family's survival, and I think it fulfilled its task in telling the story of the Wang dynasty. There are several key terms used in the book, and the author takes the time to explain them in the conventions section (xiii-xiv). There is nothing new in terms of the archival sources, but how the author used his sources is commendable. Park mainly used the Veritable Records of the Chosŏn Dynasty to tell the story of the Koryŏ progenies. This is a unique take on sources long used to tell about the Chosŏn dynasty. Park's dedication and patience in sifting through the Veritable Records to determine how the Wangs lived and were treated by the dynasty that toppled their own are truly commendable.
However, I observed some inconsistencies in the system used to translate the terms employed in A Genealogy of Dissent. The English translations are sometimes inside the parentheses after the Korean terms, but sometimes the Korean terms are inside the parentheses following the English translations. There are also some sections of the book, an example of which is the reign of King Kojong (r. 1864-1907), where the story of the Wangs feels like an afterthought to the entire socio-political dynamics of the time.
Despite these inconsistencies, A Genealogy of Dissent offers a fresh perspective on the concept of patron-client relations, with the Chosŏn court as patron and the Wangs as the clients. Clients usually have a lower social status compared to their patrons. But in this case, A Genealogy of Dissent shows that the Wangs, as clients, were of royal lineage. It is also interesting that Chosŏn monarchs called the Wangs 'guests', which, more often than not, is synonymous with 'captives.'
The concept of "strong asymmetrical dependency" offers an understanding of the dynamics between the Chosŏn court and the Wangs. Introduced by the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies (BCDSS), a cluster of excellence at the University of Bonn, strong asymmetrical dependency dictates that dependents, in this case the Wangs, were not able to essentially change their situation as subjects of the Chosŏn monarchs, and might face negative consequences if they tried to do so through protests or other forms of resistance. As descendants of the fallen Koryŏ dynasty, the Wangs might have been called 'guests', but they were basically 'subjects' of the regime, given the task of performing rituals for the former Koryŏ kings that legitimized the dynastic change to Chosŏn. Resisting the task imposed by the Chosŏn court would not have been an alternative for the Wangs, fearing the repeat of the 1394 massacre of their ancestors.
Overall, A Genealogy of Dissent is well written, well organized, and a great addition to texts not only on early modern Korean history, but also on genealogical history. How Park ends A Genealogy of Dissent is especially heart-warming, telling about the historical awareness persisting among present-day Wangs. Academics and non-academics alike who are interested in what happened to the Koryŏ dynasty after the dynastic transition will find the book useful.
Christine Mae Sarito