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Far East Kingdoms

East Asia

 

Wiman Choson / Great Buyeo (Korea)
194 - 108 BC (86 BC)
Incorporating Dongmyeong-guk

The state of Wiman Choson formed out of the collapse of the semi-legendary state of Old Choson, more readily known in modern works as Gojoseon. The Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms) is a thirteenth century AD Korean historical account which collected together various traditions, stories, and legends, many of which were undoubtedly the remnants of oral tradition.

This depicted Old Choson as the first Korean kingdom, which meant that it formed out of prehistoric cultures - specifically the regionally-dominant Seo Dansan culture of the first millennium BC. It was centred in the Liao river basins in today's Liaoning Province, immediately to the north of the Liaodong peninsula in modern China, placing it to the north and west of today's northernmost North Korean border, although it probably also extended to the south of that border. It was the eventual break-up of this legendary kingdom which gave rise to better-attested early historical kingdoms in Korea (albeit with some of them still occupying plenty of territory to the north of today's Koreas).

FeatureIt was Wiman Choson which directly succeeded it, taking its territory, its traditions, and its ruling nobility. Its founder, the usurper General Wiman, managed this by leading a rebellion against Chinese control of the Korean people, although he was Chinese himself. He achieved his aim and then founded Wiman Choson, fully independent until the Korean lands were eventually reconquered by the Han Chinese. Wiman selected a new capital for his state, and Old Choson was consigned to semi-legendary history (see feature link for additional chronology notes).

According the the available material - much of which was written down centuries later, although General Wiman is the first Korean king to be recorded contemporaneously - Wiman Chosen was never as politically stable as its predecessor state. At some point, perhaps half a century after he seized control, Wiman's state crumbled. The rival state of Buyeo was formed out of part of its territory. Then Dongbuyeo was formed as an eastern splinter of that, followed by another splinter state in the form of Koguryo. After that, the reduced Buyeo came to be known as Bukbuyeo. By this time Wiman Choson itself had already ceased to exist. Its remaining territory had fractured during a period of intense regional instability into a series of tribal coalition states, notably that of the Jin, out of which emerged the Samhan confederacies and then (eventually) the kingdoms of Silla, the Gaya confederacy, and Baekje.

South Korea's flag

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Pre-Modern East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History, Volume I: To 1800, Patricia Ebrey & Anne Walthall (Cengage Learning, 2013), from A New History of Korea, Ki-baik Lee (1984, supplied by Michael Welles, but excluding Koguryo), from History Of Korea, Roger Tennant (Routledge, 1996), and from External Links: Ancient History Encyclopaedia, and New World Encyclopaedia, and Academic Kids Encyclopaedia, and History of Manchuria, and Kings of Korea (in Korean), and Korea Information - History (Korean Cultural Center NY), and Enacademic.)

194 - ? BC

Wiman Wang

Chinese immigrant general. Kingdom founder.

194 BC

Wiman Wang is reputedly a military leader from the kingdom of Yan who flees that territory when his king is deposed for treason. Yan is a subject domain of the Han kingdom, located across the broad strip of territory which forms the northern coast of Korea Bay, between the core Han territories and the Korean territories. Wiman leads his own immediate followers east to Gojoseon and seizes the throne of Old Choson. He founds his own capital at Wanggeom-seong (thought to be today's Pyongyang).

Map of Early Han (Western) China c.200 BC
The Han conquest of Qin China had to wait until the great Qin emperor himself was dead and it still took a year of fighting to destroy the Qin armies. Then the victors spent four more years and a civil war deciding that the Han would command the succeeding dynasty and reunite the fractured state (click or tap on map to view full sized)

? - c.140? BC

Goyeolga

Son? 'Last' dangun of Gojoseon. Abdicated.

c.140? BC

At an unknown point in time - but calculated roughly to this decade due to the supposed life spans involved in terms of the first four rulers of Buyeo - the supposed last ruler of Gojoseon is one Goyeolga. He abdicates and leaves the state in the hands of the ohga (the five central nobles). Many of Gojoseon's generals see this as an opportunity to build their own empires. They leave Gojoseon to strike out alongside their followers.

Other generals remain loyal, the young General Hae Mo-su amongst them. Fighting for Gojoseon, Hae Mo-su pacifies numerous rebellions but sees that the leaderless empire is fading. He secretly builds a palace at the Baek-Ak mountain fortress, a former capital of Gojoseon. Then he ships the ohga to his new palace where they proclaim him dangun. He names his new kingdom Bukbuyeo to show that he stands as the true successor to the danguns of Great Buyeo and Gojoseon.

However, Wiman Choson does survive, as witnessed by records of several attacks on it by the early descendants of General Hae Mo-su. It gradually disintegrates though, withering from within under the weight of those attacks from Bukbuyeo.

Map of East Asia c.100-37 BC
The fall of Wiman Choson spawned the state of Buyeo which proved to be the founding point for Dongbuyeo, Galsa Buyeo, and Koguryo (possibly to be identified with Jolbon Buyeo), which would unify the whole of northern Korea and the Korean territories in today's Manchuria (click or tap on map to view full sized)

? - 108 BC

Ugo Wang / Ugeo

Grandson of Wiman. Last king. Assassinated.

108 - 87 BC

The Chinese Han defeat the sorry remnants of Wiman Choson. Ugo Wang is assassinated. His generals command the state immediately afterwards but all four - Han Eum, No In, Sam, and Wang Gyeop - accept Chinese controls without even a fight. Ugo's son, Prince Wi Janghang, is forced by his new masters to permanently 'remove' any ministers who continue to oppose Chinese overlordship, following which he himself is executed for treason. Wiman Choson's lands are largely occupied by Go Dumak while the rest are incorporated into four regional Chinese commanderies.

Go Dumak is a descendant of the Goyeolga of about 140 BC (above), the last dangun of Jinjoseon. Related distantly to Hae Mo-su of Bukbuyeo, he takes control of the former regions of Beonjoseon, which is where the final core of Wiman Joseon had survived. There he establishes Dongmyeong-guk (the 'Dongmyeong Kingdom') and becomes known as King Dongmyeong. These events are also loosely tied to the fracturing of the Jin confederacy into the three Samhan confederacies.

108 - 86 BC

Go Dumak

Ruler of Dongmyeong-guk. Conquered Buyeo.

87 - 86 BC

While largely attacking Han armies and strongholds, Go Dumak has decided to take control of Bukbuyeo. He commands its ruler, Go Uru, to surrender and join him. The already-weak ruler is reputed to have died just a few months later. His brother, Hae Buru, succeeds him but is attacked by Go Dumak's battle-hardened forces and is driven out, to found the vassal state of Dongbuyeo.

The tomb of King Tongmyong in Pyongyang, North Korea
Tongmyong Wang was one of the princes of the newly-founded state of Buyeo, one of Wiman Choson's many splinter states, with his tomb still standing today in Pyongyang, now in North Korea (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 2.0 Generic)

Three Kingdoms Period (Korea)

Around 86 BC the ruler of Dongmyeong-guk, the remnant of Wiman Chosen, was Go Dumak. In that year, while fighting the Han armies and strongholds in the west to free ancient Korea of Chinese domination, he also decided to take control of his neighbouring Korean state of Buyeo. He commanded its ruler to surrender and join him and, once he had obeyed, Go Dumak attacked his short-lived successor to secure the state's territory. Despite this seeming injustice, his battle-hardened veterans largely ensured a Korea which was free of direct Han rule.

The Chinese 'commanderies' - military districts - were occasionally reinstated in various forms in Korea, but without much durability. Go Dumak himself now controlled the state which had begun as Buyeo but which now fractured, seemingly as a direct result of his seizure of the Buyeo throne. The eastern splinter state of Dongbuyeo was immediately formed, while Go Dumak's Buyeo was reframed as Bukbuyeo. Much other territorial fracturing and state-forming followed this act.

The south had for some time been organised into the Jin confederacy. This gave rise to the Samhan confederacies which succeeded it (sometimes referred to as the 'Three Han' period), and it was out of these that the Korean state of Silla formed in 53 BC. This was the earliest kingdom to form this far south, where the tribal confederacies continued to dominate for the time being, especially in the central part of the peninsula. Its founding presaged a general southwards drift of Korean civilisation, especially when today's Manchuria region began being dominated by horse-riding nomads such as the Xianbei. This founding event can be said to be the starting point for Korea's 'Three Kingdoms' period.

The year 37 BC is the traditional date at which Koguryo transitioned from what would appear to have been a tribal state into a formal kingdom. Chu-mong, its founder, is claimed as being a prince of the state of Buyeo. He was forced to flee along with other princes following a power struggle. He took command of tribes in the Tongge river basin on the edge of the modern North Korean and Chinese border to create his own kingdom. A rival southern state by the name of Baekje formed in 18 BC in opposition to Silla, although that opposition would not become apparent for several centuries, with each initially more focussed on conquering the other city state kingdoms within their own respective Samhan confederacies.

The state of Dongbuyeo was annexed by Koguryo in AD 22, but almost immediate a small survivor state appeared by the name of Galsa Buyeo. Little is known of it, and it may have been little more than a tribal confederation on Koguryo's border. More than one such tribal confederation or micro-state fell to Koguryo during its expansionist phase in the first century AD, with Gaema-guk going in AD 26 and Guda-guk soon afterwards. The Okjeo confederation was taken in AD 56, Galsa in AD 68, Jona in AD 72, and Juna in AD 74.

According to legend, the confederacy of Gaya was formed in AD 42, located in the southern part of the Korean peninsula. This would seem to have been an evolution of the preceding Byeonhan confederacy. It survived for several centuries until it was conquered by Silla. In fact Silla became the dominant Korean kingdom. The 'Unified Silla' period succeeded the 'Three Kingdoms' period in 668, when Silla managed to complete its conquest of Koguryo.

South Korea's flag

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Michael Welles, from A New History of Korea, Ki-baik Lee (1984, supplied by Michael Welles, but excluding Koguryo), from Pre-Modern East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History, Volume I: To 1800, Patricia Ebrey & Anne Walthall (Cengage Learning, 2013), from Military Culture in Imperial China, Nicola Di Cosmo & Robin D S Yates (Harvard University Press, 2009), from Records of the Three Kingdoms, Chen Shou (third century text which covers the period AD 184-220 and which combines individual histories of the three kingdoms), from The Origins of Northern China's Ethnicities, Zhu Xueyuan (Beijing 2004), from A History of Korea, Charles Roger Tennant (Routledge, 1996), from Samguk Yusa: Legends and History of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea (Book 1), Il-yeon (Translated by Tae-Hung Ha and Grafton K Mintz, Silk Pagoda, 2006), and from External Links: Three Kingdoms (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Zizhi Tongjian: Comprehensive mirror to aid in government (ChinaKnowledge.de), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and New World Encyclopaedia, and Academic Kids Encyclopaedia, and Ancient History Encyclopaedia, and History of Manchuria, and Kings of Korea (in Korean), and Korea Information - History (Korean Cultural Center NY), and Enacademic.)