27 February 2011

The Three Kingdoms Period: Anything Besides War?

I have primarily focused my posts on the constant state of flux during the Three Kingdoms Period.  Each of the kingdoms was constantly trying to expand its influence, which led to numerous changes in the boundaries of each kingdom.  However, there was obviously a much more complex societal structure that existed within these boundaries.  My personal interest is mainly focused on wars and foreign relations (hence the reason I've focused my articles on these areas), but I would like to take at least one post to discuss the internal workings of these societies.



Ancestor worship was the most important aspect of religion during the early period of Goguryeo's existence.  The people of Goguryeo worshiped their ancestors as gods and the most important of these ancestors were Goguryeo's founder, Jumong, and his mother, Yuhwa, who were worshiped annually during the Dongmaeng Festival, which was a harvest festival held in the tenth lunar month.  The citizens of Goguryeo believed in an afterlife consisting of a leisurely lifestyle and frequent rides upon dragons, cranes and giraffes.  In addition to ancestor worship, shamanism was also present during this time and Goguryeo's citizens worshiped numerous gods and participated in sacrifices and festivals in honor of these gods.  The religious landscape changed dramatically in 372 with the acceptance of Buddhism.  Goguryeo was the first of the Three Kingdoms to adhere to the religion and Buddhism continued to serve as the state religion until Goguryeo's demise in 668.

Baekje was part of the Samhan in its early days, which believed in ancestor worship and shamanism.  The most unique part of the beliefs in the Samhan were the masters of ritual, who were called "Heaven princes", and had authority over a settlement called a sodo ( 소도 ).  The masters of ritual were responsible for seeking the favor of the gods and bringing good fortune to the Samhan states.  The sodo was a holy place and a criminal could not be apprehended if he entered the confines of the sodo.  Baekje proceeded to accept Buddhism shortly after Goguryeo in the year 384. 

Silla was originally part of the Samhan, and therefore had many of the same rituals and beliefs as Baekje.  The main difference between Silla and the other two kingdoms is that it accepted Buddhism about 150 years after its neighbors.  This seems strange considering the close proximity of the Three Kingdoms, but it was apparently the aristocracy that prevented the official adherence to the religion.  It should be noted that Buddhism had existed in Silla for about 100 years prior to its adoption in 527, but it wasn't until the martyrdom of Ichadon that Buddhism was finally named the state religion.

A popular legend about Gaya's history claims that a princess named Heo from India married Gaya's first king, King Suro.  If this legend is in fact true, it is possible that Buddhism existed in Gaya from as early as 48 AD.  However, this legend is more than likely false, and even if it is true, there isn't any evidence suggesting widespread acceptance of Buddhism during this time period.  Buddhism more than likely came to Gaya through Silla, perhaps in the year 452 AD.  Buddhism still did not gain popularity during this time and it wouldn't succeed in winning over the public until shortly before Gaya's downfall.

Music and Poetry

Song and dance were essential elements of worship during the early years of Goguryeo and festivals, such as the Dongmaeng Festival, included these elements for the purpose of ancestor worship.  Not very much is known about the specifics of Goguryeo's music, but a noteworthy instrument that comes from this period is the hyeonhakgeum ( 현학금 ), known as the "black crane zither", which was developed by Wang Sanak ( 왕사낙 ).

Not much information has survived on Baekje's music, but there are records of Baekje musicians being sent to China and Japan, which indicates that Baekje probably had a sufficiently advanced musical culture.

The most famous poetry from Silla during this time period were the hyangga ( 향가 ), or "native songs", which were composed by the Hwarang.  The Hwarang were elite warriors who also participated in an extensive study of Buddhism.  For this reason, many hyangga songs have a religious message and show a transition from the shamanistic incantations of old to the new Buddhist belief system.  Unfortunately, very few of these poems have survived, but the ones that have lasted capture the essence of the war-torn time period.  The music in Silla was also deeply rooted in religion, as was the case with the other kingdoms. 

Gaya's most well known cultural contribution to Korean society was the gayageum, which was supposedly made by King Gasil of Dae Gaya during the sixth century.  It is generally considered to be the most well known traditional Korean instrument.  After inventing the instrument, King Gasil enlisted the help of a musician named U Reuk to compose twelve original works.  Unfortunately, the musical scores of these works have been lost, but the record of their existence survives to this day. 

Art and Architecture

**Goguryeo (Painting)**
Most of the surviving paintings from Goguryeo exist on the walls of tombs.  Paintings from the early days of Goguryeo consist of simple portraits of the deceased, but tombs uncovered from the later years show a unique dynamic element to the paintings.  The lines and bold colors used in these paintings bring the images to life.
The only architectural pieces that exist from this time period are tombs (probably because all of the free-standing architecture was made of wood).  Goguryeo constructed two types of tombs: pyramidal stone tombs and earthen tombs that consisted of mounds of dirt piled on top of stone slabs.
The most famous sculpture from Goguryeo is a gilt bronze standing Buddha that is dated to 539.

Baekje (Sculpture)
The practice of painting tombs spread to Baekje from Goguryeo, but Baekje murals are considered to be more refined than those of their northern neighbors. 
Stone pagodas are the only remaining freestanding structures from Baekje and the two best examples can be found in Buyeo and Iksan.
Baekje sculptures have been highly praised and are known to have a more naturalistic style than the sculptures found in Goguryeo.  The most well known sculpture from Baekje is the gilt bronze meditating half-seated Maitreya.

**Silla (Jewelry)**
Unfortunately, very few paintings from Silla have survived, but the few that have suggest that Silla painters were as capable as the artists from neighboring states.
All of the wooden structures from Silla have been destroyed, but some of the best remaining stonework can be found in Silla's ancient capital of Gyeongju.
Silla sculptures are similar to those found in Baekje, but are considered to be more static and conservative.  Silla's seated gilt bronze Maitreya is housed in the National Museum of Korea in Seoul and is therefore the most well known piece.
The design of Goguryeo and Baekje tombs made them very easy to rob and for this reason very few artifacts from within the tombs exist today.  However, Silla's tomb design made grave robbing practically impossible, so many pieces have been recovered from the ancient tombs.  Some of the objects are made of pure gold and include crowns, shoes, earrings, rings and bracelets.  Many of these also incorporate gemstones and truly symbolize the powerful royal authority that was held by the ruling family. 

Gaya (Metalwork)
Very few pieces of Gaya's art have survived to this day.  Some jewelry has been discovered and the findings include many gold ornaments.  However, Gaya's true claim to fame was its iron-working skill.  Gaya exported its ironwork around the entire region and this one very important skill was the primary reason that Gaya was able to maintain its independence for so many years.

Society and Politics

Language and Writing

Very few words from Goguryeo's language are known today, but the few that do exist suggest that it was very similar to Silla's language.  It was also influenced Tungusic languages spoken by people in Siberia and Manchuria.  There has been a lot of debate about the actual classification of the language, but most linguists label it as part of the Altaic language family, which includes Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic languages.  As was the case with all of the kingdoms, Goguryeo used the Hanja writing system, which consisted of Chinese characters.

Baekje's language is thought to have been similar to Goguryeo's.  There has actually been an effort to establish the Buyeo language family, which would consist of the languages of Buyeo, Goguryeo, Dongye, Okjeo, and Baekje.  The close relationship to Goguryeo's language probably resulted from the fact that Baekje was founded by a Goguryeo prince. 

Silla is the only one of the Three Kingdoms that has left behind a considerable amount of writing.  For this reason, much more is known about Silla's language than the languages of the other kingdoms and researchers have actually used Silla's language in an attempt to understand the languages of Baekje and Goguryeo.  Silla's language would more than likely be placed in Buyeo language family.

Not very much information on this, but since Gaya was positioned between Baekje and Silla, I would say it is fair to assume that the language was rather similar.  There may have been a substantial amount of Japanese influence on Gaya's language due to their consistent trade with Wa.


As stated in previous articles, Goguryeo existed on a barren landscape that was for the most part unsuitable for farming.  This was Goguryeo's primary reason for expansion and the state eventually transformed into an agriculturally based economy once it acquired new lands.  A particularly significant aspect of Goguryeo's agricultural system was the policy called jindae-beop ( 진대법 ), which allowed farmers to borrow grain in the spring and then repay it in the fall after the harvest.  This policy was very popular and attracted many farmers from neighboring states.  Trade, ironworking and tribute were also important for Goguryeo's economy.

The Rest
Agriculture was the most important industry in all of the kingdoms.  Irrigation systems were created in Baekje and Silla in order to support rice farming, while Goguryeo grew dry crops such as millet and soybeans.  There were obviously other sources of income such as fishing, ironworking and tributary payments, but agriculture represented the most important source of wealth in each of the kingdoms.

Social Structure

The social structure in Goguryeo consisted of four classes, which included the king, aristocrats, commoners and slaves.  The royal line was controlled by the Go ( 고 ) house and the aristocrats were made up of powerful families in the capital.  Of course, commoners made up a majority of the population and the slaves consisted primarily of prisoners of war.

The same basic classes existed in Baekje, but there are in fact records of the most powerful families in Baekje.  The royal line was passed down through the Buyeo ( 부여 ) clan and there were apparently eight very powerful families that controlled the aristocracy.

Silla has the most historical documentation regarding social status.  Silla again consisted of the four main social classes, but the most interesting aspect of Silla's society was the bone rank system (golpum jedo or 골품제도 ), which separated different levels of the aristocracy.  The highest level of this system was originally seonggol ( 성골 ), or "hallowed bone", which consisted only of people within the royal line who could become king.  However, this rank was eliminated by King Muyeol in 654, just prior to the Silla unification.  The next highest rank was jingol ( 진골 ), or "true bone", which was made up of the rest of the royal house of Kim, the Bak family, the Seok family, and later a separate Kim lineage from Geumgwan Gaya was awarded the rank as well.  Prior to King Muyeol's reign, true bone aristocrats could hold any position other king, and after the reign of King Muyeol even the kingship was open to them.  The next three ranks were called dupum ( 두품 ), or head ranks, with head rank six holding the highest position and head rank four being the lowest level of the aristocracy.  Head ranks three, two and one are not documented, but more than likely made up the common people in Silla's society.  The bone rank system controlled virtually all parts of Silla's society, from the job that a person was permitted to have, to the size of someone's house, and even extended to the color of robes worn by officials.

Kingdoms within Gaya never developed a fully centralized authority.  Prior to Silla's annexation of Gaya, some of the more powerful states were beginning to develop central power, but Silla's interference occurred before this could fully develop.  An interesting aspect of the class system within Gaya was the existence of a religious class called cheongun ( 천군 ), which performed rituals necessary to appease deities. 

Political Systems

There were twelve aristocratic office ranks in Goguryeo, the most powerful of which was daedaero ( 대대로 ), or chief minister.  The chief minister was elected by a council consisting of members of the high aristocracy.  There were also five hyong ( 횽 ), or elder brother, ranks, which consisted of chieftains from the states that had previously made up the kingdom of Goguryeo. 

Baekje had sixteen political ranks and these were separated into three distinct groups.  The highest group consisted of the top six ranks and members within this group wore purple robes.  The highest position in this group was jwapyeong ( 좝영 ) and an election was held every three years in which members of this group would vote on the position.  The next group consisted of ranks seven through eleven and people in this group wore scarlet robes.  The final group was made up of the rest of the ranks and members of these ranks wore blue robes.

Silla had seventeen office ranks, which corresponded to the bone rank system presented above.  The bone rank system was based on lineage, so the family into which a person was born determined how high they could rise in government.  All seventeen positions were open to members of true bone rank, while only twelve positions were open to those born as head rank 6, only eight positions were open to head rank 5 and six positions were open to head rank 4.  This was a very rigid system in which no one, regardless of merit, was permitted to rise above their social standing.

Lots of debate on this one, because if Gaya did in fact have hierarchical system it would provide a good deal of evidence suggesting that Gaya was in fact a kingdom during this time period.  It is fairly obvious that during the early Gaya period the confederation did not have a central state.  However, there has been evidence to suggest that Dae Gaya constructed a Bu (부) system in the late Gaya period that resembled the system in Silla.  If this was in fact the case, it would mean that Dae Gaya had become powerful enough to control the other states in the confederation and in effect form a kingdom. 


Laws in each of the Three Kingdoms appear to be extremely strict.  The only definitive laws I could find from the time period actually came from Buyeo, but it is generally assumed that the laws of the Three Kingdoms were similar during the early years of their existence.  The four laws that have survived from Buyeo are as follows:
  1. Anyone who kills another will be put to death and his family will be enslaved
  2. Anyone who steals will be forced to repay their victims twelve times over
  3. Women who commit adultery will be put to death
  4. A jealous wife will be put to death and her body will be left to rot in the mountains
Similar laws probably existed in the Three Kingdoms until the introduction of Buddhism.  The laws were rewritten in the fourth and fifth centuries to reflect the impact of Buddhism on these societies.

Foreign Relations

Relations With China

Not very good to say the least.  Seeing as how Goguryeo was the largest of the Three Kingdoms and situated right next to China, it's not surprising that Goguryeo was constantly competing with various Chinese kingdoms for regional supremacy.  Goguryeo fought against the Wei Dynasty, the Chinese Commanderies in Korea, the Yan Dynasty and the Sui Dynasty before finally falling to an alliance between Silla and the Tang Dynasty.

Baekje was a frequent trade partner with China and also occasionally paid tribute to China.  Baekje also sought an alliance with China after it was betrayed by Silla in the sixth century.  Some historians also support the idea that Baekje may have controlled portions of modern-day China during the peak of its expansion at the end of the fourth century and beginning of the fifth century.

Silla was positioned farther away from China than the other two kingdoms and for this reason it did not have much interaction with China until Silla was able to conquer the Han river valley in 551.  Relations with the Tang dynasty improved to the point that Silla and Tang became allies and were able to conquer the Baekje and Goguryeo kingdoms.

Gaya's advanced metallurgy techniques and location allowed it to participate in frequent trade with China.

Relations With Japan

Goguryeo was not in close proximity to Japan and the only significant conflict between the two nations occurred in the year 400 when an alliance of Baekje, Gaya and Wa (Japan) forces threatened to invade Silla.  Silla called upon Goguryeo for help and Gwanggaetto the Great responded with 50,000 troops and easily defeated the Wa forces.  Japan returned to Korea in 404 and fought Goguryeo near Pyongyang, but Goguryeo was again victorious.  

Baekje had extremely close relations with Japan.  Many members of the royal family went to live in Japan and the two countries participated in frequent trade.  Japan even participated in the attempted revival of Baekje after its fall to the Silla-Tang alliance, but were unsuccessful in their quest.

Silla participated in frequent trade with Japan, but the two countries had uneasy relations for most of the Three Kingdoms Period.  Wa seems to have maintained closer relations with Baekje and Gaya than with Silla, so the frequent clashes between the various kingdoms hurt relations between Silla and Japan.

As was the case with China, Gaya frequently traded with Japan.  Gaya even allied with Japan in the year 400, but this ended in defeat for both nations.


Goguryeo - Silla ( 377 - 427 )
This alliance developed due to the increasing power of the alliance between Baekje, Gaya and Wa.  Silla felt threatened felt threatened by the growing power of these forces and called upon Goguryeo for assistance.  The most significant event in this relationship took place when Goguryeo sent 50,000 troops to aid Silla in the year 400.

**Baekje - Silla ( 433 - 551 )**
This relationship arose due to Goguryeo's unceasing desire to expand its territory.  Goguryeo moved its capital to Pyongyang in 427, which alerted Baekje and Silla to the threat of Goguryeo's southern expansion.  In order to thwart any southern movement by Goguryeo, the two southern states formed an alliance.  The most important battle that took place during this alliance occurred in 474 when Goguryeo invaded Baekje and Silla sent troops to rescue the Baekje kingdom. 

Goguryeo - Baekje ( 551 - 660 )
All good things must come to an end.  The Baekje-Silla alliance ended after 127 years when Silla betrayed Baekje after a battle with Goguryeo.  The Baekje-Silla alliance was able to defeat Goguryeo and take over the Han river valley in 551, but after the battle Silla turned against their ally and took the land for itself.  Goguryeo and Baekje now had a common cause in defeating Silla and therefore banded together, but the alliance would ultimately end in failure when Silla succeeded in uniting the Korean peninsula.


A New History of Korea by Ki-baik Lee
Gaya's Social Structure by Taesik Kim

26 February 2011

New Religions

Cheondogyo ( 천도교 )

Cheondogyo, which means "religion of the Heavenly Way" (천, or cheon, means "heaven", 도, or do, means "way" and 교, or gyo, means religion), is an indigenous religion to the Korean peninsula.  The religion has only existed for about 150 years, but it has a small following in South Korea and is the major religion of North Korea. 

Cheondogyo originated out of the Donghak ( 동학 ) movement that was led by an aristocrat named Choe Jeu ( 최제우 ) in 1860.  Donghak translates to "Eastern Learning" and praised the god Haneullim (this is the same god as Hwanin, which I discussed in the post on Korean Mythology).  Haneullim translates to "Lord of Heaven" and the followers of Donghak believed in an internal god that resided in all human beings rather than a supernatural god.  Choe Jeu's message consisted of themes that were critical of the Joseon Dynasty and for this reason he was martyred on March 10, 1864.

Donghak became increasingly popular with progressives and peasants, which in turn resulted in increased persecution from the government.  The name of the religion was changed to Cheondogyo in 1905 in an effort to stop this persecution and the tactic seems to have worked because King Gojong of the Joseon Dynasty eventually embraced the religion and advocated its spread around the country.  Cheondogyo is considered to be the first of Korea's "new religions" that developed at the end of the Joseon Dynasty. 

Cheondogyo was obviously influenced by numerous religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Korean Shamanism, and Neo-Confucianism (not technically a religion, but still influential).  The religion preaches that god (Haneullim) resides within all human beings.  Its founder, Choe Jeu, advocated for the spread of democracy, human rights and the pursuit of happiness on earth.  The religion strives to transform it adherents into more intelligent and moral human beings and claims that all humans are equal because they all contain god.  However, this equality does not seem to have extended to foreigners as one of the main goals of the religion was to drive out Japanese and Western influence to "purify" the land.  I also found that the religion does believe in an afterlife, but I was unable to find out exactly what specific ideas were included in the idea of the afterlife.

Cheondogyo initially gained acceptance and widespread popularity with the peasant population because of its message of equality and its anti-Joseon views.  Cheondogyo reach the height of its popularity in the early 20th century, but it still has followers today.  It is the predominant religion in North Korea with 2.8 million followers, which is about 13% of the population.  It also had 1.13 million followers in South Korea as of 2005, which corresponds to a little over 2% of the population. 

Daejonggyo ( 대종교 )

Daejonggyo, which means "Great Ancestral Religion", was initially named Dangungyo ( 단군교 ), which means "Religion of Dangun", when it was founded in 1909 by Na Cheol ( 나철 ).  The religion focuses its worship on Dangun, who was the legendary founder of the Gojoseon Kingdom in 2333 BC.  Na Cheol claimed that Daejonggyo was the oldest religion in Korea, since worship of Dangun had existed since the time of the king's rule, but had been almost completely forgotten by the time Daejonggyo revived the practice.  Na Cheol died in 1916 when he committed suicide due to guilt about his apparent failures and claimed himself to be a martyr.  The religion has not experienced long-lasting popularity and as of 1995, only 10,000 Koreans still adhered to the religion.

Na Cheol preached that Koreans have their own god (Dangun) and therefore have no reason to worship foreign gods.  The primary focus of the religion was to create national unity in response to continual pressure from foreign nations.  Na Cheol taught that Dangun was part of a holy trinity, along with Hwanin and Hwanung, that bears a strikingly close resemblance to Christianity.  Despite this obvious influence of Christian thought, the religion appears to have predominantly resembled the ideals of Confucianism. 

A Side Note
Na Cheol's teaching about a Trinitarian god provides a brilliant example of the Korean claim that monotheism has existed on the peninsula for 5,000 years.  First of all, even if the story of Dangun's reign is assumed to be correct, Korean history only stretches back 4,344 years, so let's not exaggerate that number to 5,000.  Secondly, having reviewed many sources covering the religious history of Korea, I find it pretty ridiculous that anyone would try to claim that monotheism existed during this time period.  Koreans, along with many people in the world at that time, worshiped everything that existed in nature.  There also does not seem to be much evidence to support the idea that Hwanin, Hwanung and Dangun were worshiped as one god.
So why make the claim?  Koreans have always had a tremendous sense of pride in their history, but the rising popularity of Christianity within their culture presented some discrepancies between the past and the present.  How could the historical realm of polytheism mesh with the modern realm of Christianity?  Well the easiest solution would seem to be to alter history a little bit to make it seem as though all three of the heavenly gods were worshiped as a single deity, which provides a brilliant segue to Christianity. 

Jeung San Do ( 증산도 )

Jeung San Do was founded in 1974 and has its foundations in Korean shamanism and Daoism.

The holy text of Jeung San Do, the Dojeon ( 도전 ), was written in 1992 and provides an account of the teachings of Jeung San Sangjenim ( 등산상제님 ) and Taemonim ( 태모임 ).  Sangjenim means "God the father" and Jeung San, who was born in 1871, is a well known individual in Korea.  He is regarded by most as a prophet and a miracle worker, but his followers believe that he was the embodiment of God.  Jeung San witnessed the events of the Donghak movement and as a result of his experience resolved to save the world from suffering.  He is said to have achieved perfect enlightenment in 1901 when he became the first person to ever "master the nature of humans".  In that same year, he began to work on "renewing heaven and earth".  In order to do this he established a federation of spirits called the Creative Government and through this establishment he went about correcting past wrongs on earth and setting a new course for the future.  The Dojeon predicts that world civilizations will be destroyed and replaced with paradise on earth to be enjoyed by followers of Jeung San Do. 

For anyone interested, an English version of the Dojeon can be viewed here.

Other New Religions

Daesun Jinrihoe ( 대순진리회 )
Bocheongyo ( 보천교 )
Multiple sects of Christianity have arisen in Korea over recent years as well


Hananim, Hanunim, Hanullim, and Hanollim: The Construction of Terminology for Korean Monotheism by Don Baker

The Three Kingdoms Period: Gaya ( 가야 )

As stated in the post on Chinese Commanderies and Confederated Cingdoms in Corea, the Gaya Confederation evolved out of the twelve states in the Byeohan Confederation, which was one of the Samhan states.  The traditional founding date for Gaya is 42 AD, which stems from the Samguk Yusa's legend about the founding of the confederacy. However, archeological evidence suggests that the transition from Byeohan to Gaya took place sometime during the end of the 2nd century.  There is considerably less information available on Gaya than on the Three Kingdoms because the Samguk Sagi does not include a history of Gaya.  Nonetheless, here's a summary of what I was able to uncover.

Overview of Gaya

Six or Seven or More
The Gaya Confederation was situated in the Nakdong river ( 낙동강 ) basin, which is in the southeast portion of the Korean peninsula near the location of modern-day Busan.  The confederation is usually considered to have contained the six Gaya kingdoms, which are: Ara Gaya ( 아라가야 ), Goryeong Gaya ( 고령가야 ), Dae Gaya ( 대가야 ), Seongsan Gaya ( 성산가야 ), So Gaya ( 소가야 ) and Geumgwan Gaya ( 금관가야 ).  However, a seventh kingdom, Bihwa Gaya ( 비화가야 ), is also mentioned in the Samguk Yusa and archeological evidence suggests that were probably more than ten states within the confederation. 

Founding Legend
The Samguk Yusa tells a story in which the nine chieftains who ruled Gaya gathered together to select a king in the year 42 AD.  A voice from heaven told them that they could find a king if they dug into the ground at Gujibong peak.  The chieftains found six eggs at the peak.  The boys that were born from these eggs were apparently already destined to become kings and they reached maturity within twelve days of their birth.  One of the boys was named Suro ( 수로 ) and he went onto to become the king of Geumgwan Gaya.  The other five boys each started their own state and these six states became known as the Gaya Confederation.

Early Gaya
The states that formed the early Gaya Confederation, also known as the Byeohan Confederation, date to the first century AD, but they probably did not form an actual confederation until the end of the second century or beginning of the third century.  Byeohan consisted of twelve states and the most powerful of these states was called Garak-guk (later to be known as Geumgwan Gaya), which was also known as Gaya-guk or Guya-guk, and was located at modern-day Gimhae.  Garak-guk's power has been attributed to its advantageous location and its advanced iron-working technology.  Garak-guk was located on the southern coast of Korea and therefore was in a great location for trade with both Japan and China.  This location also had access to iron which, when combined with Garak-guk's advanced knowledge of iron-working, contributed to Garak-guk's powerful status in the region. 

Downfall of Early Gaya
Gaya became allied with Baekje and Wa (Japan) and this alliance caused Silla to request help from its northern neighbor, Goguryeo.  Gwanggaeto the Great of Goguryeo, responded with 50,000 troops in 400 AD and this led to the downfall of early Gaya.  Since Gaya had never become a fully unified state like the Three Kingdoms, it lacked a strong military and therefore easily succumbed to Goguryeo's military might.  Not all of the states were conquered, but the eastern portion of the confederation became part of Silla and the most powerful states were completely destroyed.  The inhabitants of these conquered states either moved inland or headed across the Korea Strait to Japan and took their iron-making technology with them.

Reemergence of Gaya
The Gaya Confederation arose once again in the second half of the fifth century, this time with Dae Gaya (previously named Banpa-guk) as the most powerful state.  Dae Gaya even assissted its previous enemy, Silla, against an invasion attempt by Goguryeo at the end of the fifth century.  Dae Gaya then went so far as to create marriage ties with Silla in 522, but this relationship quickly disintegrated. 

Downfall of Gaya
Parts of Gaya started to come under Baekje rule in the 530s and the confederation eventually split into two parts in the 540s, with a Dae Gaya led faction in the south and Ara Gaya leading the northern parts of the confederation.  The states attempted to reunite, but were conquered by Silla prior to any unification, with the last states falling under Silla control in 562.  

The Fourth Kingdom?
So does Gaya deserve to be mentioned alongside Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla as one of the ancient kingdoms of Korea?  Well, it never attained the size or solidified political structure of these three kingdoms.  However, for a few centuries it flourished alongside its neighbors and even attained superior metal technology.  It also was a mecca for Korean trade with both China and Japan.  It even played a role in many of the alliances formed between the kingdoms during the near-constant hostility that took place in those years.  A credible case could be made on Gaya's behalf and at the very least it should not be considered the "lost kingdom" as it has come to be known because it certainly played an important role during this time period in Korean history.

A Closer Look at the States

Geumgwan Gaya
This state was founded by King Suro in 42 BC and was originally known as Garak-guk.  It was the most influential state during the early years of the Gaya Confederation.  Garak-guk's location at modern-day Gimhae provided it with easy access to parts of Korea along the Nakdong river and to Wa in Japan.  Archeological evidence suggests that Garak-guk was engaged in a war against Silla at the end of the third century.  The state then realigned itself and became allies with Silla during the first half of the fourth century and later proceeded to again become enemies with their neighbor by the end of the fourth century.  The demise of Garak-guk occurred in the year 400 when Gwanggaeto the Great of Goguryeo sent 50,000 troops against the small state.  The state was revived in the latter half of the fifth century when Dae Gaya developed into a powerful force in the region.  However, Dae Gaya's alliance with Silla quickly fell apart and Silla sent an army to conquer Geumgwan Gaya.  Rather than resist, King Guhae of Geumgwan Gaya accepted the inevitable and surrendered to Silla in 532. Silla granted King Guhae and his family the rank of "true bone", which was the second highest rank in the Silla Bone Rank System.  Another interesting fact is that Kim Yushin, who was the general during Silla's defeats of Baekje and Goguryeo, was the great-grandson of King Guhae.

Dae Gaya
Dae Gaya was originally known as Banpa-guk during the early years of the Gaya Confederation, but later changed its name to "Great Gaya".  Dae Gaya was founded by King Ijinashi in 42 AD and developed into a culturally rich and technologically advanced society.  Its cultural influence is still seen today in the Gayageum, which is a musical instrument that was created in Dae Gaya during the sixth century.  This was the most powerful Gaya state in the later part of the Gaya Confederation and it participated in alliances with both Baekje and Silla.  The first alliance was formed with both of these kingdoms in 481 AD when the states combined in a battle against Goguryeo.  Dae Gaya then allied with Baekje in 554 in its battle against Silla, but this alliance was defeated and it ultimately provided a reason for Silla to invade and conquer Dae Gaya in 562.

Ara Gaya
Initially named Anla-guk, Ara Gaya was one of the northern states in the Gaya Confederation.  In contrast to the other powerful states of Gaya, Ara Gaya initially decided upon a diplomatic foreign policy with the neighboring Baekje and Silla kingdoms and attempted to maintain peaceful relations with both states.  However, the split of the Gaya Confederation and the increasing influence of Baekje led Ara Gaya to seek an alliance with Goguryeo.  Unfortunately, Goguryeo failed in its 548 invasion attempt of Baekje and Ara Gaya was not able to recover any of the land it had lost to Baekje.  Silla's defeat of Baekje in 554 eventually led to Silla's invasion of Gaya and Ara Gaya surrendered to Silla in 559.

Goryeong Gaya
Goryeong Gaya was situated in the northern portion of the Gaya Confederation and also sought to maintain peace with the neighboring kingdoms.  Goryeong Gaya developed marital ties with Silla in 522 and did not participate in Baekje's battle against Silla.  Unfortunately, this does not seem to have ultimately done any good, as Goryeong Gaya was conquered by Silla in 562.

Seongsan Gaya
I couldn't find much information on this state, but it apparently had close ties with Silla.  For this reason, it did not fight against Silla, but it still seems to have met the same demise as the other Gaya states.

So Gaya
Again, virtually no information (at least in English) on this state, but I was able to gather that this state did participate with Baekje in its struggles against Silla and therefore was probably conquered by Silla around the same time as the other states.  The following I got from a Google translation of a Korean page on So Gaya and it was a pretty poor translation, so I'm not sure if this is completely correct, but it was the most information I could find.  I believe it stated that So Gaya was founded as early as 9 AD and was conquered by Silla in 562 AD.  There was other information on various battles, but it was so poorly worded that I couldn't really understand it.


A New History of Korea by Ki-baik Lee
The Distribution Chart of Gaya by Taesik Kim
A History of the Gaya Kingdoms: A Brief Survery by Taesik Kim
Geumgwan Gaya's History by Taesik Kim
Gaya Kingdom's Rightful Place in Korean History by Taesik Kim
Discovering the History of Gaya through its Legends by Kim Doo-jin
Koreana Quarterly
Gaya History and Culture
And of course our old pal, Wikipedia

20 February 2011

Baekje History Tour

I've been trying to minimize the touring for rest of the month because I spent so much money in Japan and because I'm trying to gear up for all of the traveling I am planning to do in the spring.  However, it's impossible for me to completely stop traveling, so this weekend I visited Gongju ( 공주 ).  This is a town/city of about 125,000 people and it's claim to fame is that it was the capitol of the Baekje Kingdom from 475 to 538.  Since I just wrote an article on the history of Baekje last week, I figured this was as good of a time as any to visit this historical place.  I recently updated my Baekje post, along with a couple other posts, to include some of the pictures that I took this weekend.

I woke up around 6:45 on Saturday in order to catch the 7:45 train to Daejeon.  Unfortunately, Gongju does not have a train station, so I had to take a 20 minute stroll from Daejeon train station to the intercity bus terminal.  The bus from Daejeon to Gongju is a little over an hour, so I ended up doing quite a bit of traveling on Saturday.  I got into to Gongju around noon and headed off to my first destination: Gongsanseong.

Gongsanseong ( 공산성 )
This is a mountain fortress that is located along the Geum river ( 금강 ) and contains many monuments and pavilions.  Yeonggeun temple ( 영근사 ) is also located within the fortress.  The fortress was constructed during the rule of the Baekje Kingdom and is one of the most famous Baekje fortresses.  It was originally made of mud and called Unjinseong ( 운진성 ), but was later renovated with stone during the Joseon Dynasty and given its current name.  So, let's head through Geumseoru Gate and start the tour!

Geumseoru Gate Pavilion ( 공산성 금서루 ) with numerous steles in front
There are a couple different paths to choose from, but I chose to make a right and head over toward Jinnamnu Gate.  I stopped at the Twin Tree Pavilion on the way, but I wasn't too impressed.  From Jinnamnu Gate I backtracked a little bit and went toward the river to find Yeongeun Temple.  This was a pretty nice place and had a beautiful view of the river.  Manharu Pavilion and a lotus pond are situated in front of the temple.

Jinnamnu Gate Pavilion ( 공산성 진남루 )
Inside one of the buildings at Yeongeunsa ( 영은사 )
After leaving Manharu, I walked along the fortress wall for a little bit until I found my way to Imnyugak Pavilion.  Other than the wall that surrounds the fortress, this was probably the most impressive structure at Gongsanseong.  I then continued my walk along the wall and passed the Yeongdongnu Gate Pavilion on my way back to Jinnamnu.  From Jinnamnu, I then walked to the front gate. 

Imnyugak Pavilion ( 임류각 )
Yeongdongnu Gate Pavilion ( 공산성 영동루 )
After arriving back at the front gate, I took a short trek up to Gongsanjeong Pavilion, which provided some beautiful views of the city.  Then I was on my way to the next destination.

Passed this guy on the way
Gongsanjeong Pavilion ( 공산정 )
Songsanri ( 송산리 )
Songsanri is about a 15 minute walk from Gongsanseong and is the site of 7 royal tombs from the Baekje Kingdom.  The most famous of these is the tomb of King Muryeong, which was the only tomb that had not been robbed prior to discovery.  It actually wasn't uncovered until 1971 when digging began for the installation of a water drainage system.  King Muryeong ruled from 501 until 523 and the unearthing of his tomb provided a lot of insight into Baekje culture during the time of his reign.  There were actually 4,600 objects recovered from his tomb!  The site of Songsanri contains a walking path around the tombs as well as a museum that contains some of the artifacts from the tomb.  Here are some of things to see:

Mural on the wall of the No. 6 tomb

King's gold diadem ornaments, gold chignon ornaments, and gold earrings
Queen's gold diadem ornaments, gold necklaces, gold earrings, and gold and silver bracelets
Royal Tombs
Gongju National Museum ( 국립공주박물관 )
The museum is very close to the tombs and there is actually a nice walking path through the woods that takes about 10 minutes.  The museum opened in 1940 and houses over 20,000 historical pieces.  The museum focuses on Baekje history, but it also has artifacts uncovered from the surrounding areas that date to other periods in Korean history.  The museum has an outdoor collection and a two-floor permanent exhibition.  The first floor is dedicated to the tomb of King Muryeong and the second floor has galleries dedicated to the Prehistoric era, Baekje, and Unified Silla. 

Gongju National Museum and the outdoor gallery
Queen's headrest
King's headrest
Silver cup with bronze stand
Joseon Jar
Stone daggers
Baekje Quiver
Stone Seated Buddha
This was my last stop on the tour of Gongju, so I found my way back to the bus terminal.  On the way back I happened to see some guys flying around in powered parachutes.  These are parachutes with seats that have a fan attached to the back.  The thing I was most amazed by was that the contraption actually generated lift when the fan was pointed toward the ground.  I have no idea how powerful the fan was, but the guys were flying around for at least 15 or 20 minutes.  I was pretty impressed and I definitely wouldn't mind taking a ride in one of those.

19 February 2011

The Three Kingdoms Period: Silla ( 신라 )

We have now arrived at the longest lasting of the Three Kingdoms.  Silla's claim to fame is its defeat of both Baekje and Goguryeo and the unification of the southern part of Korea (although the area of its land wasn't even close to as large as Goguryeo).  However, this post will only cover the Silla Kingdom prior to this unification.  So the story for this post spans the length of a little over 700 years.

The Other Powerful Samhan State - Saro : 57 BC - 356 AD

Yet Another Founding Legend
King Park Hyeokgeose ( 박혁거세거서간, the last three symbols are "Geoseogan" and this was the title used by leaders in Jinhan) was the founder of the Saro city-state.  According to legend, the leaders of six villages in the southeast portion of the peninsula gathered together to select a king in 69 BC.  It was at this point that a bright light shone from the sky and a white horse laid an egg.  Park Hyeokgeose was born out of this egg and it is told that birds and beasts danced when he was born.  The six village leaders appointed him to be king when he was 13, at which point he married Lady Alyeong ( 알영 ), who was supposedly born from the rib of a dragon. 

Hyeokgeose's Reign
I couldn't find any legitimate information on his reign, but the Samguk Sagi certainly provides some nice stories.

Note: Keep in mind that Kim Busik, the author of the Samguk Sagi, was appointed by Goryeo to assert Goryeo's right to rule following the Silla Dynasty.  For this reason, Silla's history is presented in a much more positive light than the other two kingdoms.  The founding date for Silla of 57 BC (prior to both Goguryeo and Baekje) has also come under much scrutiny and it is believed that Kim Busik fabricated this date in an attempt to assert Silla's superiority over the other two kingdoms.  Silla was most likely the last of the Three Kingdoms to be formed. 

The Samguk Sagi claims that Hyeokgeose and his wife traveled around Saro helping the people with their harvests and that the people referred to them as Iseong (이송, which means the "Two Holies").  There is another interesting story in which the Lelang commandery invades Saro, but upon seeing that the people had huge piles of grain and did not lock their doors they deem the people of Saro to be moral and decide to retreat.  Nothing is really known for sure about Hyeokgeose, but the Samguk Sagi makes him out to be a wise and generous king.

Carousel of Power
The early years of Saro witnessed multiple changes of the royal lineage between the three strongest clans in the state.  Saro was founded by King Park Hyeokgeose and the Park ( 박 ) clan was able to retain control of the state for over 200 years, with the exception of the fourth king, King Talhae ( 탈해이사금, the last 3 symbols are "Isageum", which was the title for rulers in the early years of Silla and meant "successor prince"), who was a member of the Seok ( 석 ) clan.  The Seok clan then took control in 184 AD with the reign of King Beolhyu ( 벌휴이사금 ) and maintained control for the next 172 years.  King Girim, of the Seok clan, changed the state's name to Silla in 308.  However, a notable exception to the Seok clan's superiority during this time period was King Michu ( 미추이사금 ), who ruled from 262-284 and was from the Kim ( 김 ) clan.  The Kim clan finally took control in 356 and ruled for most of the remaining years of the Silla Dynasty.

Expanding Power : 356 - 500

Hereditary Rule
After 400 years of power shifts between the three major clans, King Naemul ( 내물마립간 ) finally solidified hereditary rule in Silla.  The shifts in power were detrimental to the long-term goals of Silla and this move was necessary for the eventual of evolution of the small state of Saro into the Silla Dynasty.  From this point forward, the Kim clan would be the ruling house of Silla.  King Naemul was also the first king to take the title of "maripgan", which means "elevation".  King Nulji ( 눌지마입간 ) was the son of King Naemul (even though King Silseong ruled in between the two kings) and he officially established the practice of patriarchal ascent to the throne.

Silla crown
Allied with Goguryeo : 377 - 427
Conflicts with Baekje, Gaya, and Wa (Japan) forced Silla to seek help from its powerful neighbor, Goguryeo.  Goguryeo had just lost a large amount of its territory to Baekje and was thus eager to help in any struggle against its enemy.  This alliance became particularly helpful in the year 400, when Silla was pressured by all three of the conflicting states.  Gwanggaeto the Great of Goguryeo led a campaign to "help" in which he defeated Gaya and Wa forces, but proceeded to also exert considerable influence on Silla after ridding the kingdom of invaders.  Goguryeo's interference slowed Silla's development, but the fledgling state was eventually able to overcome this obstacle.

The Enemy of My Enemy
King Jangsu of Goguryeo moved the capital of his kingdom to Pyongyang in 427.  Given the expansionistic tendencies of Goguryeo in the past, it is understandable that both Baekje and Silla saw this move southward as a legitimate threat.  For this reason, Baekje and Silla, who had been at war just a quarter century earlier, formed an alliance against Goguryeo in 433.  This alliance was solidified when Goguryeo attacked Baekje in 474 and Silla sent troops to rescue the kingdom from northern invasion.  This alliance would ultimately end up favoring Silla and serve as one of the building blocks for Silla's unification of the Korean peninsula.

Centralized Kingdom : 500 - 654

Bunhwangsa - 634 AD
The acceptance of Buddhism came about much later in Silla in comparison to Goguryeo and Baekje.  Silla actually did not formally accept the religion until 527 (Goguryeo converted in 372 and Baekje converted in 384), even though Buddhism had been introduced to the region approximately 100 years earlier.  The chief opponent to Buddhism was the aristocracy.  Buddhism only came to be accepted following the martyrdom of a minister named Ichadon.  The Samguk Yusa (remember, this is the history of legends and folklore in Korea) claims that Ichadon prophesied about a wonderful miracle that would occur following his death.  Following his execution (by decapitation) the earth shook, the sun became dark, flowers fell from the sky, his head flew to the mountains, and his blood was turned to milk.  This display apparently frightened the ruling class so much that they immediately converted to the new religion (although some sources say that official acceptance of Buddhism did not take place until 535).

Monument of Ichadon's Martyrdom
Han River Valley
King Jinheung ( 진흥왕 ) of Silla aided King Seoung of Baekje in his attempt to regain the Han river valley, which had been conquered by Goguryeo in the year 475.  This battle occurred in 551 and resulted in the recovery of of Baekje's old territory.  However, King Jinheung decided to take advantage of the weakened state of the Baekje army and seize the territory for himself.  Silla was victorious in the fight and this led to the end of an alliance that had lasted for over 100 years.  King Seoung attempted to retaliate against Silla in 554, but to no avail as he was killed in battle along with 30,000 of his troops.

Annexation of Gaya
The annexation of the Gaya confederacy began in 532 when Geumgwan Gaya ( 금관가야 ) willingly submitted to Silla authority.  However, most of the Gaya confederacy was taken over as punishment for providing aid to Baekje in their battle against Silla in 554.  Ara Gaya ( 아라가야 ) was the first to fall in 559 and this was followed by the defeats of Daegaya ( 대가야 ) and Goryeong Gaya ( 고령가야 ) in 562.  Little is known about the other two states in the Gaya confederacy, Seongsan Gaya ( 성산가야 ) and Sogaya ( 소가야 ), but I did discover that Seongsan Gaya had good relations with Silla and that Sogaya was conquered by Silla.  Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that Seongsan Gaya may have submitted in a similar manner as Geumgwan Gaya and that Sogaya was probably conquered around the same time as the other states.

The hwarang ( 화랑 ) was an elite military unit of young men in Silla that formed in 576.  These warriors were guided by the "five secular injunctions" which include: loyally serving the king, honoring and respecting one's parents and teachers, practicing fidelity amongst friends, never retreating in battle, and never killing without just cause.  The hwarang also had a religious purpose, as they made pilgrimages to pray for Silla's prosperity.  However, their main purpose was to fight and they ended up serving an extremely important role in the unification of the Korean peninsula.  Kim Yushin ( 김유신 ) was one of the most famous members and he served as a general during Silla's victories over Baekje and Goguryeo.  Yushin is actually one of most famous historical figures in Korean history.  Some other famous members include Kim Wonsul, Sadaham, and Gwanchang.

Cheomseongdae - Oldest extant astronomical observatory in East Asia
Unification : 654 - 668

Silla-Tang Alliance
Silla sought military assistance in repelling the attacks of King Uija of Baekje, who reigned from 641 to 660.  Silla first looked to Goguryeo, but Yeon Gaesomun, who was in power at the time, demanded the return of the Han river valley as payment for his help.  Silla was unwilling to concede this territory and therefore proceeded to ask the Tang Dynasty in China for help.  Relations with Tang improved tremendously during the reigns of Queen Seondeok ( 선덕여왕 ) and Queen Jindeok ( 진덕여왕 ), who were two of only three women to control the Silla Dynasty.  King Taejong Muyeol ( 태종 무열왕 ), who was childhood friends with Emperor Gaozong of Tang, ruled from 654 to 661 and it was during this time that Tang finally came to the aid of Silla.

Conquering Baekje
Silla and Tang decided that best method for conquering Baekje and Goguryeo would be to attack Baekje first and then move on to their northern neighbor.  Emperor Gaozong sent 130,000 troops across the Yellow Sea in 660, while Kim Yushin led 50,000 Silla troops across land.  King Uija of Baekje had already lost much of his support in the Baekje government, but he managed to rally 5,000 troops to face Silla in the battle of Hwangsanbeol ( 황산벌 전투 ).  Baekje's small force was apparently able to repel Silla at first, but the martyrdom of Gwanchang raised Silla's spirits and they were eventually able to overcome the entrenched Baekje troops.

The story of Gwanchang claims that he rode bravely into battle against the Baekje forces, but after killing multiple men he was captured.  General Gyebaek of Baekje planned to kill him, but allowed him to return to the Silla ranks after remarking upon the valor of the young man.  Gwanchang returned to Silla's camp, drank some water, and then promptly rushed back into battle.  He was again caught alive, but this time Gyebaek beheaded him and sent the head back to Silla on the saddle of his horse.  The courage of this man inspired the other Silla troops and it is said that they proceeded to route the Baekje army.

The Silla forces marched on after the battle to the Baekje capitol of Sabi and combined with the Tang soldiers to take the capitol.  King Uija had fled to Ungjin, but the king surrendered when the Silla and Tang forces arrived.  Revival movements took place for the next three years, but they were eventually squashed by the Silla-Tang forces and the Baekje people finally came to accept their fate.

Conquering Goguryeo
Goguryeo did not fall as easily as Baekje.  After all, this was the kingdom that had repelled wave after wave of Chinese attacks throughout its entire existence.  Tang began the assault in 661 with an attack on Pyongyang.  Tang was defeated in this attempt, but the attack served to severely weaken the Goguryeo military.  Internal conflict broke out in Goguryeo following the death of Yeon Gaesomun, who was in power at the time, and this strife led to Goguryeo's eventual downfall.  The Tang-Silla alliance invaded again in 667 and the Goguryeo Kingdom finally fell in 668.

Looking Ahead
Silla has finally united the Three Kingdoms of Korea, but they now have to worry about the presence of the Tang Dynasty on the Korean peninsula.  They of course appreciated Tang's assistance in conquering Baekje and Goguryeo, but they now need to make sure that their friends don't overstay their welcome.  They also have to deal with the inherent problems of ruling their newly acquired citizens.  The rest of Silla's existence, which continued until 935, will be covered in a post on Unified Silla.

16 February 2011

The Three Kingdoms Period: Baekje ( 백제 )

The story of Baekje starts in the Mahan confederacy, which was located in the southwest portion of Korea and was discussed in the post on Chinese Commanderies and Confederated Cingdoms in Corea.  This confederacy was the largest of the three confederacies in Samhan, with 54 walled-town states.  Baekje was one of these states and from this humble beginning the state grew into one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

King Onjo ( 온조왕 ) and Sipje ( 십제 ) : ? - 18 BC

Departing Goguryeo
Jumong, later known as King Dongmyeong, was the founding king of Goguryeo (founded in 37 BC) and was discussed in the post on Goguryeo (interesting birth myth).  Jumong had three sons named Yuri ( 유리 ), Biryu ( 빌유 ), and Onjo ( 온조 ).  Yuri, whose mother was Lady Ye, was the eldest of these three and had been left behind by Jumong when he fled Dongbuyeo to found Goguryeo.  Upon arriving in Jolbon (later to become Goguryeo), Jumong married Soseono ( 소서노 ), to whom Biryu and then Onjo were born.  However, Jumong obviously still favored his first son and he immediately named Yuri to be the crown prince once Yuri arrived in Goguryeo.  Soseono reacted to this news by leaving Goguryeo with her two sons and moving south.

Settling in Seoul
I was unable to find any specific departure date for Biryu and Onjo, but it must have been around 20 BC.  After leaving Goguryeo, the two brothers settled in different areas.  Biryu stopped in Michuhol ( 및우홀 ), which is modern-day Incheon, and Onjo stayed farther east in Wiryeseong ( 위례성 ), which is near modern-day Seoul.  Onjo settled in 18 BC (I'm not sure about Biryu, but I would guess the same time) and named his country Sipje.

Sibling Rivalry
The success and failure of these two states seems to have come down to a simple matter of geography.  Michuhol was located on salty marshland that was unsuitable for human habitation (conflicts with an unknown group of people called the Malgal ( 말갈 ) probably didn't help much either).  Wiryeseong was located in a much more fertile area, which meant that Onjo's country thrived, while Biryu's country failed.  Realizing that his country was doomed, Biryu took his people to Sipje and demanded that his brother make him ruler of the country.  Understandably, Onjo refused and the dispute ended with Onjo defeating Biryu in battle.  Shamed by the failure of his country and his loss in battle, Biryu committed suicide following the fight.  Onjo proceeded to welcome Biryu's people into his country and rename the state Baekje.

Or, Maybe It Didn't Happen at All...
It should be noted that much of the information on the formation of Baekje comes from the Samguk Yusa, which is a mixture of history and legend.  The only other information available on this time period comes from the Chinese text named San Guo Zhi, which only claims that Baekje was a state in the Mahan confederacy.  The lack of information available means that we have to rely on the Samguk Yusa, but we also need to keep in mind the folklore nature of the text.

Expansion and Conflict : 18 BC - 346 AD

External Pressure During the Early Years
Little is known about the first 250 years of Baekje's existence, but the small number of records that have survived suggest a chaotic time period.  King Onjo was forced to move the capital multiple times (although all of the locations were within the area of modern-day Seoul) due to conflicts with other Mahan states.  There were also conflicts with an as of yet unidentified group of people called the Malgal.  There were Malgal tribes in Manchuria, but they are believed to have been too far north of Baekje to have posed any threat to the state.  Baekje also had multiple run-ins with the flourishing Goguryeo and Silla states during this time period.  

King Goi ( 234 - 286 )
King Goi ( 고이왕 ) is one of the most well-known rulers of Baekje and is credited with centralizing power in Baekje.  He developed a central military, increased royal authority and developed laws against bribery.  He also expanded Baekje's control over the remaining Mahan states and had frequent battles with Silla and the Chinese commanderies.

Glory Days : 346 - 475

King Geunchogo
King Geunchogo ( 근초고왕 ) completed the work started one hundred years earlier by King Goi when he completed the centralization of power and successfully annexed the rest of the Mahan states.  Geunchogo also expanded into Goguryeo territory and was actually able to capture Pyongyang and kill King Goguwon of Goguryeo in the process.  He is generally considered to be the most successful of the Baekje kings and the capture of Pyongyang marked the apex of Baekje's territorial expansion.

Bring on Buddha
Buddhism was adopted under the rule of King Chimnyu ( 침뉴왕 ) in 384.  The king was very accepting of the new religion and ordered the construction of a temple in the capitol the following year.  This change ushered in a new value system to the Baekje Kingdom.

Pedestal of Buddha
Goguryeo Makes a Statement
The following years saw numerous battles between Baekje and its neighboring states.  In particular, Goguryeo began regaining some of the territory it had lost when Baekje expanded north to Pyongyang.  Baekje formed an alliance with Silla and attempted to get help from the Chinese state of Wei in response to the continuing threat from Goguryeo.  Unfortunately, in 475 Goguryeo attacked the Baekje capitol at Hansong (south of modern-day Seoul) and took the city in seven days.  Silla didn't even have time to respond before Goguryeo had captured King Gaero ( 개로왕 ) and beheaded him.

Baekje Incense Burner
On the Move : 475 - 641

Capital Moved to Ungjin
A safe and secluded capitol was sought after the embarrassing defeat at Hansong.  Ungjin ( 웅진 ), at modern-day Gongju, seemed to fit the bill and it served its purpose very well for 60 or so years.  The defense provided by the mountainous capitol of Ungjin was essential following the downfall of Hansong, but it eventually proved to be a detriment to actually ruling a kingdom.  

Gongsanseong Fortress in Gongju
Mural in one of the Baekje royal tombs at Gongju
Capital Moved to Sabi
With the thought of expansion in mind, King Seong ( 성왕 ) moved the capitol to Sabi ( 사비 ), which is in modern-day Buyeo county, in 538.  Raids against Gorgouryeo were launched from this capitol in an effort to regain some of the land lost to Goguryeo's invasion in 475.  With the help of Silla and the Gaya confederacy, Baekje was able to regain its former capitol.  However, Silla had expansionist plans of their own and took advantage of the weakened Baekje military to take the recently repossessed Baekje lands.  For this reason, Baekje now switched sides to become allies with Goguryeo in an attempt to punish Silla for its betrayal.  Baekje's retaliation didn't end well, as 30,000 Baekje troops were killed, including King Seong.  King Wideok ( 위덕왕 ), who succeeded King Seoung, continued aggression toward Silla as well as Goguryeo.  The chief allies for Baekje during this time were China and the Wa kingdom in Japan.

Capitol Moved to Iksan?
There isn't any written record available to support this, but archeological evidence suggests that King Mu ( 무왕 ) at least briefly moved the capitol to Iksan.  The tombs of King Mu and his wife have been discovered in Iksan.

Decline, Fall and Attempted Revival : 641 - 663

King Uija
King Uija ( 의자왕 ) succeeded King Mu and was the last king of Baekje.  King Uija took advantage of Silla's preoccupation with Goguryeo in the early part of his reign and was able to conquer some of Silla's territory.  However, the combination of internal disarray and the power of the newly formed Silla-Tang alliance proved to be too much for the weakening Baekje state.  The ultimate goal of the Silla-Tang alliance was the defeat of Goguryeo, but they decided that the easiest method for doing this would be to first eliminate Goguryeo's ally, Baekje.  In 660, Baekje faced a naval assault from Tang in the west and a ground attack by Silla in the east.  Baekje fell the same year when the king was captured after taking refuge in the old mountainous capitol of Ungjin.  This marked the official end of the Baekje Kingdom.

Restoration Movement
Gwisil Boksin ( 휘실복신 ), who was a military leader and a cousin of King Uija, teamed with a monk named Dochim ( 도침 ) to overthrow the new rulers of their land.  This movement was extremely successful for a few years, and resulted in the recapture of a number of strongpoints.  Buyeo Pang ( 부여팡 ), the son of King Uija, also returned from Japan with Japanese forces during this time and was named king by the insurgents.  As always seems to be the case, internal conflict led to the dissolution of this effort.  Power struggles caused Boksin to kill Dochim and then resulted in Pang killing Boksin.  The Silla-Tang alliance of course took advantage of this and Baekje's defeat in the Battle of Baekgang in 663 officially ended any hopes of a Baekje recovery.

The Baekje Kingdom inspired a revival movement after the fall of the Silla kingdom in a time period called the Later Three Kingdoms Period.  This kingdom was called Hubaekje, which means "Later Baekje", but it only lasted for about 40 years.

Although the kingdom is somewhat overshadowed by Goguryeo and Silla, Baekje's cultural influence is still recognized in Korea today.  There are numerous historical sites, museums, and festivals located in the southwest portion of Korea that are dedicated to the Baekje kingdom.

So, we have now arrived at Silla, the longest-lasting of the Three Kingdoms.  I'm probably going to split Silla into two parts and write one about Silla as one of the Three Kingdoms and write another post about the Silla unification of the Korean peninsula.

14 February 2011

Buddhism: Karma and God

Karma.  Even people with no prior knowledge of Buddhism are probably somewhat familiar with this term.  Karma in its simplest form is the law of cause and effect.  Do good to others and you will in turn benefit from good acts done for you.  Harm others and you will then be subjected to harmful actions.  Simple enough, right?

But what about the Buddhist philosophy on God?  And how are Buddhism's ideas about God and Karma interconnected?  Well read on.

Karma and Vipaka
So I kind of lied (I hope I don't get any negative Karma for that one).  Karma isn't actually the cause and effect.  It's just the cause.  The effect is actually called Vipaka.  Karma usually refers specifically to one's intentions while doing an act.  However, I did read a story in Record of Miracles of Good and Evil Karmic Retribution in the Kingdom of Japan by Kyokai that told a story about the Karmic result of an unintended action.  The story tells of a monk living in the mountains who randomly throws a pebble that happens to hit and kill and bird.  The bird is then reborn as a boar on the very same mountain.  The boar accidentally dislodges a boulder while hunting for food, which falls and kills the monk.  So while Karma generally refers to intentional acts, unintentional acts can also have unintended consequences.

Karma encompasses the thoughts, words, and actions of man.  Karma also includes both the past and the present.  One of the basic ideas of the Karma-Vipaka relationship is that the effect will be similar to the cause.  For example, in the story above the man kills with a rock and is then himself killed by a rock.  The effect will also be similar in severity to the seriousness of the cause.     

It is important to note that the Karma-Vipaka relationship should not be viewed as a reward and punishment system.  It is simply the result of the inevitable effects of the law of Karma.

The Law of Karma
Karma is in fact viewed as a law in Buddhism.  It essentially governs the universe (except for fully enlightened beings) and is responsible for answering many of the questions that have been pondered by man.  Why is one man born into luxury, while another is born into poverty?  Why are people born ugly?  Why are some people predisposed to addiction?  Well, you can throw the Nature vs. Nurture argument out the window.  It's Karma. 

Some of the sources that I read tried to liken the Buddhist view of Karma to actual scientific laws, which I found somewhat ridiculous.  I'm a pretty firm believer that science and religion are inherently opposite ideas as one is based upon fact and one is based upon faith and therefore science cannot be used to prove religion, or vice versa.  I mean come on.  I read one source that tried to use Newton's third law to justify Karma.  To state the obvious, Newton refers to equal and opposite reactions, which is itself the opposite of the Karma-Vipaka relationship.  But I digress...

Effect on Rebirth
How long does it take Karma to impact our lives?  Well there is the idea of instant Karma, but this is considered to be extremely rare.  Even Karma that produces an effect in the same lifetime is not extremely common.  Karma generally takes many lifetimes to manifest itself.  Some Karma even has effects on multiple lifetimes.  For example, a murderer will go to hell to eliminate the negative Karma that resulted from his deed.  However, he will also probably live a very short life when he is finally reborn out of hell.  Rebirth in any of the realms is the direct effect of Karma.  Rebirth in either the Human or Deva realms results from positive Karma, while rebirth in the other realms is the effect of negative Karma.  As stated before, even rebirth in hell is not necessarily viewed as punishment, but simply as a necessary action in order to eliminate the negative Karma that accumulated from bad actions in previous lives. 

Is There a Connection Between Karma and Enlightenment?
Only through the elimination of Karma can one attain enlightenment.  Karma leads to suffering and enlightenment is the escape from suffering, so the two things cannot intermingle.  However, good Karma allows a person to continue to be born as a human, which is essential for enlightenment.  For this reason, Karma plays a very important role in achieving enlightenment.  It should be noted that Karma does not itself lead to enlightenment.  This can only be achieved through the understanding of the true nature of reality and the love of all beings. 

Similarity to Other Religions
Hinduism - Very similar to the Buddhist view of Karma.  There are many differences between the two religions (such as the belief in a soul or the belief in God), but Karma is an essential aspect to both religions.

Christianity - Many people make the argument that Galations 6: 7-9 are very "Karma-like" verses in the bible.  In these verses Paul makes the claim that "whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap".  There is certainly the idea in Christianity that actions in this life will have future effects.  However, the big difference of course in Christianity is the concept of grace.  While Buddhists believe that all Karma will have future effects, Christians believe that God will forgive their sins.

Judaism - The Jewish view on Karma is similar to that of Christianity in that they believe in the cause and effect of actions, but also believe that God can override Karma.

Islam - Again, the same as the other monotheistic religions in that they believe in doing good deeds, but believe that God is the ultimate judge.

God in Buddhism
One of the realms of rebirth in Buddhism is the Deva realm, which consists of beings with powers that exceed those of humans.  However, Buddhists in general (there are some sects that differ) do not believe in God in the traditional western sense of the word.  They do not believe in a creator or a supreme judge of human beings.  Buddhists actually believe that the idea of God develops as a result of fear.  While other religious types put faith in God to pull them through a difficult situation, Buddhists believe that one should try to lessen these fears through understanding.  Buddhists believe that over the course of many lifetimes a person can achieve enlightenment without divine intervention.

Karma as a Replacement for God
This is a bit of a stretch, but Karma in a sense is the God of the Buddhist religion.  Karma governs all beings in the universe with the exception of those that have attained enlightenment.  Karma of course did not create the universe (Buddhism does not address the topic of creation), but it does control the beings that reside within it.  In much the same way that the major monotheistic religions in the world teach that there is no escape from the judgement of God, Buddhism teaches that there is no escape from Karma (except of course enlightenment).  Good deeds will result in good rewards, while bad actions will have negative consequences. 

So Buddhism is very different from traditional western religions, and in some senses it isn't even really a religion at all.  I am definitely finding it interesting to investigate a school of thought that is so different from the traditions back home.  I think my next few Buddhism posts are going to focus on the Three Jewels.

13 February 2011

The Three Kingdoms Period: Goguryeo (고구려)

As is usually the case with kingdoms or states formed in the ancient era, Goguryeo's history faces a conflict between archeological findings and the traditional stories and myths concerning its founding.  The most reliable written accounts about this period in Korean history are found in the Samguk Sagi ( 삼국사기 ) and the Samguk Yusa ( 삼국유사 ).  The Samguk Sagi, or History of the Three Kingdoms, was compiled in 1145 by Kim Busik ( 김부식 ) during the Goryeo Dynasty, making it the oldest Korean historical work still in existence today.  The book is in fact a compilation, and as such, Kim Busik pulled records from numerous sources.  Specifically, he borrowed information from the Gu Samguksa ( 구삼국사 ), or Old History of the Three Kingdoms, the Hwarang Segi ( 화랑세기 ), or Annals of Hwarang, and multiple Chinese texts.  It should be noted however, that Kim Busik was commissioned by the Goryeo king to assemble the historical text.  Due to this fact, one of the main purposes of the Samguk Sagi was to assert Goryeo's right to rule the Korean peninsula, which led to distorted facts.  The Samguk Yusa, or Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms, was assembled about 100 years later and focuses primarily on the traditions, myths, and folklore during the Three Kingdoms period. 

The Beginning: The Successor to Buyeo

According to information found in the Samguk Sagi, Samguk Yusa, and on the Stele of Gwanggaeto the Great, Goguryeo was founded in 37 BC by a Buyeo prince named Jumong ( 추몽 ), who would later come to be known as King Dongmyeong (Dongmyeongseongwang, or 동명성왕  ).  It should be noted however, that a precursor to the eventual Goguryeo state began as early as the 4th century BC.

Jumong was supposedly the son of Yuhwa ( 유화 ), who was the daughter of Habaek ( 하백 ), the god of the Yulu river.  Yuhwa was condemned to a mortal life after she disgraced her father and eventually married Geumwa (Geumwawang or 검와왕 - the "wang" title means king), who was king of Dongbuyeo (동부여, which means East Buyeo).  Yuhwa was impregnated by sunlight and gave birth to an egg, out of which Jumong was born.  Geumwa tried to destroy the egg by feeding it to animals, but the animals instead protected the egg and Geumwa later returned it to Yuhwa.  Geumwa's sons were jealous of Jumong and eventually forced him to leave Dongbuyeo.  According to the myth, he fled on horseback and when he approached a river, various animals in the water rose up and formed a bridge for him to cross.  He eventually established Goguryeo in the land to the south of Buyeo and united all of the tribes in that area.

Early Years
Goguryeo's close proximity to China, combined with a lack of resources, meant that Goguryeo was destined to become a militaristic society.  Warriors in Goguryeo completely dedicated themselves to training for combat, even in times of peace.  These highly trained warriors would prove to be very useful once Goguryeo began expansion during the beginning of the first century AD.  Goguryeo desired to expand its borders in all directions, which of course led to conflict with China.  There were numerous clashes with China during Goguryeo's early years, and these eventually culminated in a war with the Wei Dynasty in 244 AD.  Goguryeo also enjoyed frequently raiding the lands of neighboring states, which again was due to the lack of resources within Goguryeo's borders.  The states of Okjeo and Dongye came under Goguryeo's control during the reign of King Taejo ( 태조왕, or Taejowang ), who ruled from 53 to 146 AD (although the length of his reign is disputed, this 93 year reign is supposedly the second longest reign in world history).

Goguryeo-Wei Wars
Goguryeo and the Wei Dynasty were allies following the fall of the Han Dynasty in China.  However, in an apparent attempt to expand the borders of Goguryeo, King Dongcheon ( 동천왕 ) attacked one of Wei's outlying districts in 242.  This led to two campaigns by the Chinese in 244 and 245.  During the invasion in 244, the two armies met at the junction of two rivers in a place called Liangkou.  Chinese sources and Korean sources differ on the events that transpired, but both agree that King Dongcheon's army was defeated and that he was forced to return to his capitol city of Hwando ( 환도 ).  The Wei army then marched on to Hwando and easily took the city, which again forced King Dongcheon to flee.  The Wei army returned to China after destroying the city, but then attacked in 245 after hearing that King Dongcheon had returned to the capitol.  King Dongcheon fled again and this time the Wei army proceeded to chase him around various areas of Okjeo.  The Wei army eventually lost sight of their intended target and once again returned to China.  King Dongcheon was finally able to go back to Hwando, but the city had been reduced to ruins and he decided to move the capitol to Pyeongyangseong ( 평양성 ) in 247.  Although Goguryeo was severely damaged by the war with Wei, the state would return to power in about 70 years and become one of the most powerful states in all of Asia.

Gathering Strength: Transformation from a War-torn Country to an Asian Kingdom

Aftermath of War
Wei had an extremely successful campaign against Goguryeo.  The once waning influence of the Chinese commanderies was returned to prominence following the Goguryeo-Wei wars.  Wei also successfully separated Okjeo and Dongye from Goguryeo control, which severely limited Goguryeo's access to natural resources.  So what's a king to do when his once thriving country is reduced to ruins?  Well, King Dongcheon decided to move the capitol, restructure the economy and expand to new lands.  There were of course some hiccups along the way and Goguryeo had to be continually on the lookout for Chinese invaders, but the country was able to undergo steady growth during the second half of the third century until it really began to gain momentum around the beginning of the fourth century.   King Micheon ( 미천왕 ), who ruled from 300 to 331, was finally able to conquer the Chinese commanderies in 313 and as a result rid the peninsula of the Chinese presence. 

Some Setbacks
The Chinese continued to be a nuisance and the state of Former Yan successfully entered the capitol in 342, forcing King Gogukwon ( 고국원왕 ) to flee.  The king later returned to the capitol and Goguryeo was now forced to focus on military issues within the Korean peninsula.  In 371, the southern Korean kingdom of Baekje attacked Goguryeo.  The attack was very successful and Baekje was able to take control of Pyongyang and also kill King Gogukwon.

Back on Track
King Sosurim ( 소수림왕 ), son of King Gogukwon, took control after his father's death and brought about some radical changes that would prove very useful in propelling Goguryeo to its future status as an East Asian power.  The king established Confucian academies and also developed a code of laws based upon Confucian principles.  In addition, Goguryeo became the first Korean Buddhist state when King Sosurim adopted the religion in 372.  The Confucian principles in the code of laws were essential for the successful creation of a centralized state and the adoption of Buddhism provided a sense of national unity.  King Sosurim's brother, King Gogugyang ( 고국양왕 ), took power from 384 to 391 and continued to foster the development of Buddhism and Confucianism.

The Apex: The Height of Korean Expansion

Goguryeo crown
Gwanggaeto the Great
Gwanggaeto the Great ( 광개토대왕, the last two symbols are "daewang" and mean "the greatest of all kings" ) took power in 391 and ruled for 22 years.  In those 22 years he was able to conquer 64 domains and 1,400 villages.  He expanded in virtually all directions and regained some of the territory lost to Baekje, conquered Liao-tung, which was a focal point of conflict between Goguryeo and China, and also took control of parts of Manchuria.  Gwanggaeto even defeated Japanese forces when Silla asked for Goguryeo's help in defending themselves from an invasion by Japan.  He is a deeply revered figure in Korean history and is one of only two Korean kings (King Sejong the Great of the Joseon Dynasty is the other) to be honored with the title "Great". 

King Jangsu
King Jangsu ( 장수왕 ) was the son of Gwanggaeto the Great and ruled for 79 years after the death of his father.  Jangsu began his rule with the purpose of stabilizing the kingdom after the tremendous expansion that had taken place over the previous 20 years.  He also moved the capitol from Gungnae Fortress to Pyongyang.  This change indicates the desire for a new metropolitan capitol with economic, political, and social influence.  Once Jangsu had stabilized the country he began to change his focus to military conquest.  He began by expanding into Chinese territory to the northwest.  Moving the capitol to Pyongyang also proved to be a strategic move in that it helped to position Goguryeo for an attack on Baekje, which occured in 475 and resulted in Goguryeo seizing the Baekje capitol of Hansong and beheading King Gaero.  These conquests resulted in the height of Goguryeo's power in 476.  King Jangsu ruled over a kingdom that extended from parts of China in the west, a good portion of Manchura in the north, and the northern half of the Korean peninsula.  King Jangsu finally died in 491 at the age of 97.

Trouble on the horizon
The next two kings continued to rule over the vast domain that had been acquired over the previous 100 years.  However, trouble was starting manifest itself as King Munja ( 문자왕 ) began paying tribute to various Chinese kingdoms in order to focus on the escalating tensions with Silla and Baekje.  His son, King Anjang ( 안장왕 ), continued to maintain stability, but his assassination in 531 led to an internal power struggle that would eventually doom Goguryeo.  

The Decline: Internal Strife and External Pressure

Political Instability
King Anwon ( 안원왕 ), King Anjang's younger brother, took power after the death of Anjang.  He ruled over a relatively peaceful period, but a power struggle developed at the end of his reign to decide who would succeed him to the throne.  The aristocracy was split in their support and this spelled doom for royal authority in Goguryeo.  King Anwon's eldest son, King Yangwon ( 양원왕 ), eventually won the struggle, but his reign was marred by a continual weakening of Goguryeo's power.  Silla and Baekje took control of Goguryeo's southern territories and nomadic tribes from Manchura invaded from the north. 

Goguryeo-Sui Wars
Sui launched attacks on Goguryeo in 598, 612, 613, and 614.  Despite Sui's persistence, none of these attacks ended well for the Chinese dynasty and their failure ultimately led to the downfall of the Sui Dynasty in 618.  It is estimated that the attack in 598 resulted in the deaths of 90% of the Sui troops.  The second campaign was even worse.  The battle of Salsu River saw 305,000 Sui troops enter battle and only 2,700 live to talk about it.  The campaigns in 613 and 614 were both very short-lived and no major battles were fought during these years.  Although Goguryeo was able to fend off the Sui invaders, the war with Sui didn't end well for either side and actually contributed to the downfall of both Goguryeo and Sui. 

More Problems With China
The fall of the Sui Dynasty was a welcome occurrence for Goguryeo, but unfortunately the dynasty was succeeded by the Tang Dynasty, who also attacked Goguryeo.  Tang's first invasion occured in 645 and multiple attempts were made following that year, but none were successful.  Goguryeo's ability to fend off the Chinese invaders is arguably one of the most important events in Korean history.  The fall of Goguryeo to Chinese forces would have more than likely led to the fall of both Baekje and Silla as well, which would have resulted in a Chinese presence throughout the entire Korean peninsula.  

The End: The Beginning of a New Chapter in Korean History

More Internal Conflict
Although not actually crowned as king, Yeon Gaesomun ( 연개소문 ) had controlled the kingdom for over 20 years before his death in 665.  King Bojang ( 보장왕 ), the last king of Goguryeo, lived on after Yeon Gaesomun's death, but a power struggle ensued between Yeon Gaesomun's sons for control of kingdom.  The official end would not come for three more years, but this conflict all but assured the eventual downfall of Goguryeo. 

Silla-Tang Alliance
After conquering Baekje in 660, the alliance of Silla and Tang forces turned their attention to Goguryeo.  Goguryeo was at first able to repel the attacks, but was gradually becoming weaker.  An attack launched by Silla and Tang in 667 was the straw that finally broke the camel's back and resulted in Goguryeo's surrender in 668.  The era of Unified Silla had officially begun.


The Goguryeo kingdom existed for over 700 years and was the largest of the three kingdoms.  Following its downfall there were many attempts made to revive the Goguryeo state, but the kingdom was eventually split into two parts, with the northern areas coming under the control of Balhae and the southern areas being controlled by Silla.  As mentioned previously, Goguryeo holds a special place in Korean history because of its ability to rid the peninsula of Chinese presence and its ability to withstand the numerous attempted invasions by the Chinese.  The modern English name of "Korea" is actually derived from the Goryeo Dynasty, which in turn took its name from Goguryeo.