History Files
 

Far East Kingdoms

East Asia

 

Parhae / Barhae (Jin / Zhen) (Korea)
AD (669) 698 - 926

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 is traditionally said to have been founded by its East Asian population in 37 BC. The heart of its territory - at least to the south of the River Amrok (or Yalu to the Chinese) - today forms part of North Korea. It incorporated people who are believed to have been a blend of groups from the older 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.

Koguryo eventually dominated the whole of central and northern Korea (and farther north than that too) before the Sui dynasty reunified China and suddenly posed a direct threat to it. That dynasty expended a great deal of time and manpower on trying to break Koguryo, but it was the subsequent Tang dynasty and the Korean kingdom of Silla which made the breakthrough in a coordinated invasion. The kingdom was destroyed in 668. Refugees headed southwards into Silla, especially the nobility which was largely transported there en masse by Silla itself. Several movements formed throughout now-occupied Koguryo territory with the aim of reviving the kingdom. One of those - Bodeok - had Silla's open support but ended up little more than a puppet principality.

Other refugees, however, headed towards the northern boundaries of Koguryo's former territory under the leadership of General Dae Jung-sang and his son, General Dae Joyeong. Their band was largely made up of troops from the western borders, doubtlessly with associated families, which managed to find security in the Dongmo Mountain area (in what is now the Jilin Province of China). In 698, Dae Joyeong founded the kingdom of Barhae (initially known as Zhen). In time it encompassed much of central and northern Koguryo but it also stretched far to the north of that to incorporate just about all of the territories of Korean cultural development and the semi-legendary state of Old Choson.

Its founding and quick expansion across what is now Korea, Manchuria, and parts of what are now Russia's Far East territories took place towards the end of the Unified Silla period. In fact its founding effectively triggered the gradual ending of that period and the start of the 'Later Silla' period, part of the 'Later Three Kingdoms' period in Korean history. The name Jin was used by the state's own leaders to describe it, but the Chinese name of Barhae (sometimes shown as Balhae, or as Parhae in early twentieth century translations, and Bohai in Mandarin) is the one which seems to have stuck in most English-language representations.

The rulers of this version of Jin used the title of hwangje, which translates as 'emperor'. They quite naturally claimed succession from the kingdom of Koguryo. Each emperor had the temple name either of '-jo' or '-jong', although there are exceptions for rulers who were deposed. Their era names are given in brackets when available (Barhae's own source material after 830 did not survive the kingdom's collapse), while some dates can be shown with minor differences in some reference sources. Their people were mainly a mix of Korean Koguryo and the Tungusic Mohe tribes, but with sizeable minorities of Khitan (founders of the later Qara-Khitaï empire) and Evenks.

South Korea's flag

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Michael Welles, from A New History of Korea, Lee Ki-baik (1984), from Pacific northeast Asia in prehistory: hunter-fisher-gatherers, farmers, and sociopolitical elites, C Melvin Aikens (WSU Press, 1992), 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), and from External Links: Three Kingdoms (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Zizhi Tongjian: Comprehensive mirror to aid in government (ChinaKnowledge.de), and Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom (UNESCO), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and The Koguryo Controversy, National Identity, and Sino-Korean Relations Today, Peter Hays Gries (available as a PDF via ResearchGate).)

669 - 698

Sejo Yeol (Joongkwang)

General Dae Jung-sang. Created Dongmo Mountain refuge.

698

General Dae Jung-sang is dead, as is his ally, the Mohe leader Geolsa Biu (the Mohe have Tungusic origins but have since been increasingly integrated into Korean society). Both had been attempting to achieve full independence from the Wu Zhou dynasty of China and the creation of an independent state of their own, initially in the Dongmo Mountain area to the north of former Koguryo.

The Anak tomb of Dong Shou in Korea's Hwanghae Province
The Anak tomb of Dong Shou (last ruler of the Han dynasty's Lelang Commandery in Korea) shows that, despite the commandery having been conquered by Koguryo in AD 313, the Chinese were always a threat to Korean independence when they weren't engaged in their own long-lasting civil wars

The general's able son, General Dae Joyeong, combines the Mohe forces with his own Koguryo exiles, along with some Malgal tribes (more Mohe) to defeat the Wu Zhou at the battle of Tianmenling while the Chinese are partially distracted by a Khitan uprising. Dongmo Mountain becomes the capital of his now-independent state which, initially, is named Zhen.

698 - 719

Go / Ko Wang / Taejo Ko (Chuntong)

Son. General Dae Joyeong. Established the state.

712 - 713

Now known as Emperor Taejo Ko, the state's founder renames it from Zhen to Barhae (Balhae) while also forbidding his subjects to deal with the kingdom of Silla. Its temporary alliance with the Tang to destroy Koguryo is regarded here as the ultimate act of betrayal.

Just the following year, the newly-restored but still somewhat weakened Tang dynasty effectively recognises Taejo Ko by bestowing him with the Chinese title, 'Prince of the Commandery of Bohai' (this being the Mandarin form of Barhae). Bohai had long been a Chinese commandery from the Han dynasty period until the Northern Wei period, at which point it had briefly been renamed Cangshui. Finally it had been abolished early on in the Sui dynasty period.

719 - 737

Mu Wang / Kwangjong Mu (Inan)

Son. Navigated away from Tang influence.

721

Disturbed by the resurgence of the Korean north under the rulers of Barhae, Seongdeok of Silla builds a great wall on the kingdom's northern border. Elements of the wall can still be seen in today's South Hamgyǒng Province in North Korea. Continuing raids by Japanese pirates also result in the building of a large fortress near the Sillan capital.

732

Emperor Mu has spent much of his reign aggressively expanding his state's borders in all directions, although primarily northwards, and often to counter potential or actual Tang gains in the same region. His efforts naturally generate friction with the Tang, but also with Silla, various Mohe tribes which had not initially joined in the formation of Barhae, the Göktürks, and also the Mongolic Kumo Xi of the steppe. Now he launches a raid on Tang empire territory itself, although it amounts to little more than a hit-and-run effort.

Map of East Asia AD 915
Barhae's borders at the kingdom's greatest extent stretched far into what is now north-western China and the southern reaches of Russia's Far East territory, only the western parts of which can be counted as part of the Korean cultural formation zone (click or tap on map to view full sized)

737 - 794

Mun Wang / Sejong Mun (Daeheung)

Son. Further strengthened the kingdom.

756

This is the point at which the 'Protectorate General to Pacify the East', largely covering the former territory of Koguryo which has remained out of Silla's hands, is abandoned. Formal abandonment probably takes place in 761, after the Tang have recovered from the brief rebellion by General An Lushan and his Greater Yen dynasty.

762

During his reign Mun Wang has improved relations with the Tang and with Silla, striking a still-powerful but less confrontational stance than his father now that the kingdom is secure. His independence from Tang authority is finally recognised by the troubled Chinese dynasty. It formally elevates Barhae from the status of commandery to kingdom. Trade and relations also continue with friendly Japan (which has faced hostility by Silla), a welcome benefit for the relatively isolated state.

794

Wang Wonui / Daewonui

Brother. Violent of temper. Assassinated by ministers.

794

Song / Injong Sung (Joongheung)

Grandson of Sejong Mun by Dae Goeng-rim. Died young.

794 - 809

Kang / Mokjong Kang (Chungryuk)

Son of Sejong Mun.

809 - 812

Chong / Uijong Jung (Youngduk)

Son.

812 - 817

Hui / Kangjong Hui (Jujak)

Brother.

817 - 818

Kan / Cheoljong Kan (Taeshi)

Brother. Died without a male heir. Little known of this period.

818 - 830

Son / Sungjong Sung (Kunheung)

Direct descendant of General Dae Joyeong's younger brother.

818

Under the descendants of Sejong Mun the kingdom had gradually stagnated and weakened. Perhaps with the freshness of coming from a collateral branch of the dynasty which has never experienced direct power, Sungjong Sung revitalises the state. He leads several campaigns to conquer and absorb many remaining Malgal (Mohe) tribes into the state, including the Heishui Mohe of the River Amur in Outer Manchuria.

Buddha stele from Barhae, courtesy of the National Museum of Korea
Buddhism had been introduced into Korea during the second half of the fourth century AD, and when Barhae fell a large number of its Buddhist monks fled south along with the population

820

Sungjong Sung absorbs the territory of the former Koguryo rump state, a region which historians have dubbed 'Little GoGuryeo'. The Tang had appointed governor-generals to control it following its fall around 683, but theory suggests that its Koguryo inhabitants may at some point have rebelled to produce an independent polity which had remained a buffer between Barhae and Silla until now.

830 - 857

Ijin / Jangjong Hwa (Hamhwa)

Grandson. Organised a standing professional army.

838

Despite Silla enjoying a long period of peace and prosperity, the royal succession has faced a series of problems. Deaths without heirs, court manoeuvring, and occasional rebellions have ensured an uneven occupation of the throne. Now King Huigang is driven to suicide by such a rebellion. Its instigator, a relative who takes the throne as King Minae, is himself murdered by solders after about a year in command.

857 - 871

KonhWang / Sunjong Ahn (Daejong)

Brother. No records survive other than diplomatic contacts.

871 - 893

Hyonsok / Myungjong Kyung (Chunbok)

Son. Only tribute payments recorded.

887 - 889

With the death of King Jeonggang, Silla's decaying stability now heads on a downward spiral towards ultimate decay. The kingdom has been wracked by multiple minor rebellions, succession crises, and court intrigues. The accession of the near-powerless Queen Jinseong, sister of Jeonggang, does little to arrest the decline, unlike the highly successful two former queens of Silla. With the end of the 'Unified Silla' period, the 'Later Silla' period begins.

892

A rebel general of Silla takes control of the south-west section of the Korean peninsula, most of the territory having previously been part of the kingdom of Baekje. This newly-founded state is named Hubaekje ('Later Baekje'). Silla is permanently weakened by the loss of territory and resources.

Shutterstock photo of a Unified Silla temple
Numerous structures which can be attributed to Silla still survive in South Korea, such as this one which is known as Seokguram Grotto

893 - 906

Wihae / Daewihae

Relationship uncertain due to the lack of records.

898 - 901

Having been buoyed by several nobles submitting directly to him rather than his master, General Gung Ye of Silla rapidly conquers all opposition to his will in the centre of the Korean peninsula and, in 901, declares the founding of his own kingdom which he names Goryeo (or Hugoguryeo to later historians). Silla is now in terminal decline, while late Tang China is following the same path.

906 - 926

Inson / Aeje (Chungtae)

Relationship? Last king. Relatives founded Later Barhae.

925 - 926

The steppe nomads of Manchuria and Outer Mongolia have been growing in strength for some time. Tartar tribes have already encroached on Tang China's borders to found several of their own dynasties. Now the Khitan invade Barhae, with the capital at Sanggyeong being taken after a ten day siege.

Following the kingdom's fall and Aeje's capture, his son, Crown Prince Dae Gwang-hyeon, leads a swathe of the nobility south into Goryeo. Other nobles are transported by the Khitan into their core territory by the Liao dynasty rulers of northern China, but sections of the general Korean population flee into Goryeo. The Khitan establish the Dongdan kingdom in Barhae's former territory, but a revival Barhae state by the name of Later Barhae almost immediately springs up to oppose it.