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Balhae / Bohai - 698AD-926AD

Balhae MapBalhae, a Manchu kingdom, controlled the northernmost areas of the Korean Peninsula and much of Manchuria. Chinese, North Korean, and South Korean archaeologists and anthropologists disagree over the origin of the northern kingdoms, including Balhae. Many Chinese scholars claim Balhae and previous kingdoms as provinces of China, whereas many Korean scholars claim indigenous roots for the northern Korean people.

Dae Jo-yeong (unk-719), also known in Korea as King Go, established the state of Balhae, reigning from 698-699 to 719. Dae Joyeong, a former Goguryeo general, led a group of followers and established the kingdom of Balhae in present-day Jilin in northern Manchuria. Bohai (pronounced 'Balhae' in Korean) State, in the northern part of former lands of Goguryeo, was originally called Sume. Balhae soon gained control of most of the former Goguryeo territory. The ruling class of Balhae consisted mostly of Goguryeo (ie Korean) people. Balhae declared itself the successor to Goguryeo, and sometimes called itself Goryeoguk.

The Bohai kingdom was one of the most flourishing on the coast of the Eastern Sea-the land of culture and learning. The Bohai introduced Chinese state institutions. Bohai was recognised by the Chinese Emperor early in the eighth century. Its dominions embraced not only North and East Manchuria, but ultimately Liao-tung as well. This is said to have been the golden age of Manchuria: every glen was peopled, and every plain cultivated as far north as the Amur. Learning flourished and literature abounded. It is not clear whether the literature ascribed to the Bohai and Liao dynasties was written or not. If the art of writing ever existed in Manchuria, it must have perished before the end of the sixteenth century.

The Han dynasty knew the regions lying beyond the conquered Chaosien, as Fooyil and Yilow; the latter of which had its headquarters at the sources of the Hoorha and Songari, under the northern shadows of the mighty Changbaishan. In the third century, the well organized kingdom of Wooji had displaced the Yilow dynasty. Wooji was divided into seven provinces: Soomo, Baitsoo, Anjugoo, Foonie, Haoshu, Heishwi, and Baishan. This division was still retained by the kingdom of Mogo, which had overturned Wooji. But Mogo stood for little more than a century. It was broken up in the convulsive times which introduced the Tang dynasty to China; and this dynasty knew two independent Mogo kingdoms, the Heishwi or Black Water Mogo, stretching southwards from the Amoor, and the Soomo Mogo, with its chief seat where that of Yilow had been. The Soomo touched Gaogowli, and is frequently mentioned as its ally, and was not infrequently its foe. The power of these early kingdoms never extended south of the Yellow River; and, although they nominally ruled Manchuria, it is plain that their control must have been of the very feeblest character and confined entirely to the cities.

In the seventh century the Tunguzian tribes of Central and Northern Manchuria began to give signs of future greatness. These ancestors of the Manchus, originally called Su-chen, began by organising themselves into petty States. The different stages through which they passed are not highly interesting, and need not be considered. Probably in the seventh century, the southern branch of the organised tribes began to make great progress, and finally developed into a powerful Tunguzian State called Bohai.

Soomo was long known as Dashu, the "Great Family" or "Clan," but an increasing power warranted it to assume the dynastic title of Balhae. The conquest and devastation of Gaoli by the Tang dynasty, necessarily threw large numbers of Coreans north into Balhae; and, when the pressure of the power of Tang was removed, Balhae rapidly grew in the north as Corea did in the south. The capital of Balhae was to the south, and not far from the modern Ninguta, where that of Yilow had been.

In 719, Dadsoyoong, king of Balhae, died, and was succeeded by his son Wooyi. Eight years after his accession, the Black Biver Mogo sent an embassage to the Imperial Chinese court on business, which got their land acknowledged under Chinese protection by the name of Heishwi chow. Because, in former embassies, the Black Water Mogo always passed through Wooyi's lands, and without any attempt at concealment, but had this year passed through a portion of his land without informing him, and had, contrary to their usage, applied to the Turks in their west for permission to pass through their land,- it looked to Wooyi as if a plot were being prepared against him, by which the Chinese would attack his south, and the Black Water Mogo his north. To forestall their supposed attack, he prepared to crush his northern neighbours. The latter left a hostage in the Chinese court to prove their fidelity, and to secure Chinese aid. They were all the more anxious to lean upon China, beause the fall of Gaoli and the flight of many of its people into Balhae had naturally and greatly increased the power of the latter, and proportionately disquieted the peace of their northern kinsmen. It was, therefore, no mere vanity which induced Wooyi to dismiss from his presence the imperial messenger, who had come to bid him remember that it was the Tang who sent an army of 300,000 men into and swept Gaoli with the besom of destruction, while Balhae was not one-fifth as powerful as Gaoli had been, and could not stand a single day of the wrath of the Imperial Court.

He was aggravated still further by the report that Munyi, uncle of the chief of Heishwi Mogo, was welcomed on the border by a most friendly letter from the Chinese emperor. He ordered off Dayihia, his brother, at the head of an army, to pursue and slay Munyi; but the latter could fly as fast as his cousin pursued, and got to the Chinese court, where he was made a Kiangkun, or general. Wooyi was not to be so easily got rid of, however; for he sent messengers at once to the Chinese court, to accuse Munyi of crimes which deserved instant death at the hands of his imperial majesty. The emperor sent Munyi secretly to Ansi, retained the messengers of Wooyi, to whom special Chinese messengers reported that Munyi had been sent off to Lingan, but had died on the road. Wooyi, aware of what had occurred, sent back the messengers, stating that he knew the truth, and again emphatically declared that Munyi was guilty and should be slain. He upbraided the emperor for lying as he had done, and demanded that justice should even yet be executed. Su Magwang, the learned and stately author of the history we quote, enters a strong protest against the subterfuge of the emperor,- though those who know of Chinese modern policy, will see in the Tang emperor's tricks the exact counterpart of what has again and again appeared in recent Chinese history.

It was in the year 733, however, that the emperor got Munyi with an army to march against Balhae, whose king, Wooyi, no sooner heard thereof, than he at once advanced on Madooshan, of Black Water, and exterminated that city. Imperial orders were also sent to Sinlo to enter Balhae,* but Sinlo marched only too soon, for her troops had scarcely crossed the southern border of Balhae, before Wooyi, with his undivided forces, fell upon and slew the greater half of them. Munyi was, meantime, whiling away his time at Tientsin, probably unable to get his men to march. As he would not obey imperial commands to do away with himself, the emperor sent a band of Honan robbers against him, and had him killed. This will not seem so strange if we reflect that, according to Chinese writers, it has been a question with "brave" Chinese, from at least the beginning of the Tang dynasty, whether they should betake themselves to the robber haunts on the mountains, or to the emperor's regiments in the barracks. Indeed at the present, the difference between the two is not very great. Chinese officers believe that many of their men have been robbers, and would be so again, did they regard it as safe as formerly. The chief difference between the two is that when the soldier is underpaid, he robs in name of the emperor, and in virtue of his uniform; the robber in his own name and by the dread of fire and sword. The very high wage of the foreign drilled troops will, we hope, inaugurate a better spirit and system.

Wooyi died in 738, succeeded by his son. But after him Balhae, with its doings, fails to find a place in Chinese story for two centuries. It had, however, been active. Order and military rule were necessary in the "struggle for existence." It had early annexed its northern neighbour; and the combination made a powerful and well compacted fortified kingdom, to which the emperor Kaifung of Tang was compelled to bestow the rank of a feudal sovereignty. Having extended its power to the southern bank of the Amoor, it found it an easy matter to appropriate a large portion of what had been the lands of the once formidable Gaoli,i-ts old master. For an itinerary of 930 A.D., states, that sailing from Tungchow of Shantung, passing such and such islands, east from the point now known as Regent's Sword, up the Yaloo 100 li, about the present Aichow; there disembarking, and travelling 30 li north-east, the port of Posha was reached, which port was then the border of Balhae land. South of which, 500 li, was the city of Wandoo, the ancient Gaoli capital.

Early in the eighth century this State had so extended its dominions that it had absorbed the greater part of modern Manchuria, including the much-desired Liaotung. Balhae also found it an easy matter to spread over the whole of Liaotung and part of Liaosi, even though it had lost a considerable slice of pasture land about the present Kirin, at the hands of Kitan. It had then five capitals, 15 prefectural and 62 subprefectural cities, and every glen was peopled and every plain cultivated between the gulf of Liaotung and the Amoor; indeed Manchuria was then more populous than it has ever been since, but not more so than it promises shortly to be again. Then learning flourished and literature abounded. Kitan was extremely anxious to secure land in Chihli, but the powerful Balhae in his rear, prevented Abaoji from penetrating far into China, lest his own lands should be harried or seized. Therefore to drive Balhae back, he sent an army against Liaotung, which returned covered with a shame, which it wiped out on Chinese ground. Kitan, however, sent expedition after expedition, year after year, against Balhae, till, as the Liao dynasty, they ruled over all Liaotung, and annexed the fine plains and mountain ranges between Hinganling and the Hoorha river. The name of Balhae ceased to be, and the kingdom was broken up into a number of "savage" or independent clans, each with its own petty chief.

The State of Bohai was short-lived in spite of its magnificence; for, in the tenth century, another powerful Tunguzian tribe, the Khetans, whose habitat was in Central Manchuria, began to make themselves felt and respected. After many decades of raids, these barbarians succeeded in effecting a lodgment in Peking itself, and in ejecting the Chinese dynasty called Sung. This tribe's rulers dubbed themselves the Liao or Iron Dynasty, and ruled North China as far south as the Yellow River and the greater portion of Manchuria.

The Kitan, or Liao dynasty, never conquered the regions east of the Hoorha; which were therefore called unripe or savage Nujun; the west of that river being called the ripe or civilized Nujun, because subject to Liao; and not because, as Du Halde states, they were in reality more civilized. But the Liao gradually lost its dominating influence over those remote regions, and that portion of the "unripe" Nujun which dwelt around the foot of Changbaishan, east of Ninguta, in the land of the original Balhae, and the older Yilow, gradually assumed form again. The Shangking (upper capital) of Balhae bad been somewhere in this neighborhood. In the end of the tenth century, the Nujun of this district became so important as to send tribute to the Sung emperor.

It is believed that the neighborhood of Ninguta was the center of this mediaeval kingdom, and vast ruins discovered in its vicinity point to this supposition. This, according to the native chroniclers, was the golden age of Manchuria, with every plain tilled and thickly populated. Learning and literature flourished and were assiduously cultivated; but the march of ages has destroyed all vestiges of this ancient civilisation, and tradition is now the only authority. The ruins of the ancient fortifications in the neighborhood of Suchan and in fact the entire South Ussuri region belonged to the Bohai epoch.

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Page last modified: 12-04-2012 17:49:02 ZULU