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Far East Kingdoms

East Asia


Nakrang (Korea)
First Century AD

The Korea of the late classical and early medieval periods was for the most part divided into 'Three Kingdoms', although others also existed. The largest of the three, Koguryo, seemingly coalesced as early as the second century BC from a tribal entity which may have formed in what are now the northernmost reaches of North Korea.

It is first mentioned in 113 BC as Gaogouli County when this was part of the Early Han Xuantu Commandery which had been created to suppress the 'barbarians' on the north-eastern edge of Chinese territory. It incorporated people who are believed to have been a blend of groups from the older (but still extant) kingdom of Buyeo to its north, and also from the Yemaek groups in the same region who are thought to be ancestral to many of the early Korean kingdoms.

Also in north-western Korea, although its territory does not appear to be specified to any greater degree, was the kingdom of Nakrang. Its very existence is contentious, with some modern scholars (primarily Chinese but also Japanese) suggesting confusion between the use of 'kingdom' and that of a Chinese commandery.

However, Choi Ri, Nakrang's only known ruler, is not mentioned in Chinese records as a commandery official. Many modern Korean historians also point out the clear statement that this is a kingdom, not a province or a commandery.

The possibility of Choi Ri's territory evolving into a kingdom in the first two centuries BC is relatively good, while Chinese control at this point in time - the first century AD - is also entirely possible, although this is not borne out by the kingdom's only historical mention.

What is known, though, is that Chinese power was on the wane here thanks to the confusion at home caused by the short-lived Xin dynasty. Perhaps the most likely option is that the state formed as Chinese control in the region waned, only to be almost immediately gobbled up by a powerful Koguryo.

An important work known as Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms) was compiled by order of Injong of Goryeo in the second quarter of the twelfth century AD. Its purpose was to provide an historical record of the 'Three Kingdoms': Koguryo, Baekje, and Silla. Written in the Latin of its day and location, Classical Chinese, it was completed in 1145 and today is Korea's oldest surviving historical record, although it certainly preserves earlier records which have since been lost.

It is this work which mentions Nakrang in AD 32, but without providing enough background to be able to confirm it as anything other than a personal fiefdom of a single king, perhaps having raised it out of tribal beginnings in much the same way as Koguryo itself was created.

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, Lee Ki-baik (1984, supplied by Michael Welles, but excluding Koguryo), from History Of Korea, Roger Tennant (Routledge, 1996), from Records of the Three Kingdoms, Chen Shou (third century text which covers the period AD 184-220 and which combines individual histories of China's 'Three Kingdoms'), from History of the Later Han, Fan Ye (fifth century compilation of older texts which covers the history of the Later Han dynasty of China), 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, and Prince Hodong and Princess Nakrang (Korea.net).)

fl AD 32

Choi Ri

Only named king, with no named predecessors. Defeated.

AD 32

Choi Ri meets Prince Hodong of Koguryo and allows him to marry his daughter. The prince's intentions, however, are not beneficial for Nakrang. He encourages his bride to destroy the kingdom's magical self-beating warning drum and the similar horns in the kingdom's armoury so that the alert cannot be raised. This she does, and Daemusin of Koguryo sweeps in to conquer this state.

Nakrang falls thanks to the princess
Choi Ri is shown to the right, ready to take his revenge on his traitorous daughter as she slashes the warning drum and Nakrang falls to Koguryo's troops

The fate of Choi R remains unrecorded, although he does take his revenge by killing his errant daughter. His territory is incorporated into a Koguryo which is rapidly expanding in all directions during this century. Other small kingdoms or tribal states have already fallen, including Dongbuyeo, Gaema-guk, and Guda-guk.

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