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Legends and History of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea
Modern civilizations developed from the beliefs and customs of people in prehistoric times. It is thus essential, if we are to understand a civilization, to study these ancient practices. The difficulty is usually that source materials are very scarce, and most of our understanding of ancient times is based on the findings of archaeology.
In the case of Korea we are fortunate to have two documents which, while by no means contemporary with the events they describe, rely on ancient sources which by now have mostly disappeared. The first of these, Samguk Sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms) was compiled by Kim Pu-sik (1075-1151), a high official of the Koryo court, as the officially sanctioned history of that ancient period. It has the faults of most official chronicles, forcing events into a framework pleasing to the government and omitting all matter thought to be embarrassing or indecorous.
The second such document is the present work, Samguk Yusa (roughly, Legends of the Three Kingdoms) compiled by Ilyon (1206— 1289), National Priest (Pogak kukjon) of Koryo. One of the chief values of this book is that it includes a great deal of material omitted by the official history, so that through it we can gain an understanding of the beliefs and practices of the people of ancient times, if somewhat distorted by the author's Buddhist point of view.
For that matter, the introduction of Buddhism itself dates from the Three Kingdoms period, and Buddhism has had a strong influence on Korean culture ever since. The book is thus also valuable in that it gives us an insight into the way this religion developed in the course of Korean history.
The book was written at a time when Korea was under the domination of the Mongols, who at that time ruled all China and Central Asia.
Ilyon makes hardly any mention of this fact, but the very writing of such a book at such a time is significant, and the author's love for his country shines through every page.
Since the termination of the Pacific War (1941-1945) Oriental scholars have undertaken restudy of Samguk Yusa in order to discover historical developments of peoples in the East buried in mythology and the sagas such as Samguk Yusa. Both Korean and Japanese scholars naturally take special interest in the reinterpretation of the tales in the book as a part of Oriental studies in history, early poetry in archaic language, and customs in addition to large portions of the book on Buddhism and also interregional contacts between Korea and Japan.
During the past year I had a booklet “Tales from the Three Kingdoms" published containing selected materials from Samguk Yusa, Samguk Sagi and some other old literature to give preliminary information on the Three Kingdoms, before I completed the unabridged translation of Samguk Yusa. If this volume can be of service to Western scholars and general readers interested in Korea and Korean culture I shall have attained my purpose.
Like all such books of its time, Samguk Yusa was written in literary Chinese. In preparing this English version, I have been greatly aided by Mr. Yi Chae-ho's translation of the book into modern Korean, and by a similar work by Dr. Yi Pyung-do. I would also like to thank Dr. L. George Paik, President Emeritus of Yonsei University, who inspired me to undertake this work, and Mr. Grafton K. Mintz of the Korea Times for language of the manuscript and for his suggestions concerning the general arrangement of the book. Finally, I am deeply grateful to the Yonsei University Press for agreeing to publish the book and for its help and understanding during the preparation of the volume.
October, 1971 Seoul, Korea
In preparing this version of the Samguk Yusa my chief care has been to make the text easily accessible to the reader. For this reason I have kept footnotes to a minimum and have supplied explanations in parentheses where necessary. Except where indicated, therefore, the material in parentheses has been added by me. It should be added that almost all this information is taken from the very full annotations made by Mr. Ha in his original manuscript.
Ilyon, like his contemporaries, dates events in two ways, by the reigns of Chinese emperors and by the twelve-year cycle of the animals of the zodiac. Each succeeding emperor had an official name for the period of his reign, and sometimes he might have more than one for different periods. I have let these stand, though mostly in abbreviated form, and have added Christian-era dates in parentheses. All dates are A.D. unless otherwise noted.
Certain suffixes occur rather frequently in place-names. I have explained them in the text, but for the convenience of the reader will also translate a few of the most frequent ones here. Thus sa means “temple” jon means “pavilion,” song means “wall or fortress,” and san means “mountain.” I should like to acknowledge here the kind cooperation of Mr. Ha and also of Professor Jun Hyung-kook, the director of the Yonsei University Press. Their cordial attitude and their toleration of my crochets about the English language have made my work on this book a joy. It is my hope that the reader will find equal pleasure in it.
G. K. M
FOR THE READERS
Our knowledge of the ancient history of Korea is scanty. Contemporary documents are few, and consist mainly of Chinese writings which allude here and there to Korea. Other documents we know only by quotations in later writings, for wars and invasions destroyed the originals and they have not survived. During the Koryo dynasty (935-1392) two chronicles of Korea's earliest period were compiled. The first, Samguk Sagi, was written by Kim Pu-sik, a high government official, in the twelfth century. It followed the pattern of Chinese dynastic histories and the conventions of Confucian historiography, the idea being that one may learn from history by studying the virtues and vices of the rulers of the past.
The Confucian tendency was to “humanize” the myths and legends of the past, to interpret them as early distortions of events that actually occurred, and thus much of what was actually mythology and folklore has been obscured by attempts to fit it into the framework of actual events. Thus the Samguk Sagi, while it contains considerable material that is obviously legendary, attempts to fit the legends of early Korea into the framework of Confucian attitudes.
The second such document is the Samguk Yusa, the present work, Its author was a Buddhist priest who was interested in the early history of his country. The book had no official sanction and was thus not at the mercy of the official philosophy of history, While the writer subscribed to the Confucian idea of history to a great extent, he was also intelligent enough to see that history could not be forced into a predetermined framework and was content to set down the old stories as he found them, without much effort at interpretation.
The title is difficult to translate. Yusa does not mean precisely legends, although that idea is implied by the word. It also carries the ideas of anecdotes, memorabilia and the like. It was not conceived as a set piece of scholarship but was written in the author's leisure hours as a kind of diversion. Its value is not so much historical in the strict sense of a chronicle of events as it is an account of the beliefs and folklore of medieval Korea, much of it dating back to earlier times. It is thus a valuable supplement to the officially sanctioned view of history found in Samguk Sagi, and is of the highest value to the student of folklore and religion.
The title of the book is somewhat of a misnomer, for it is not really an account of the histories of the three ancient kingdoms of Korea. It is concerned primarily with only one of them, Silla, which in time conquered the other two with the help of China. Moreover, it covers the period during which Silla ruled the peninsula down to its fall to the Koryo dynasty in 935.
For a proper understanding of the book, a brief account of the events of the period it covers as modern history sees them is necessary. As we have mentioned, materials for this early period are scanty. Contemporary Chinese documents mention the Korean peninsula from time to time, and a region in the northeast was colonized during the Han dynasty and continued under Chinese rule until as late as 313, over a century after Han rule had collapsed in China proper.
Three kingdoms developed on the peninsula, probably during the course of the first century A.D. The traditional founding dates are 57 B.C. for Silla, 37 B.C. for Koguryo and 18 B.C. for Paekje. These dates are unsupported by contemporary evidence, however, and most scholars think they are too early. In any case, these kingdoms were certainly in existence during the period of Chinese history known as the Later Han dynasty (25-220 A.D.) and afterwards.
Koguryo was initially the largest and most powerful of the three. The tribes which originally composed it lived along the banks of the Yalu river, which forms the present northwestern boundary of Korea, and may have been related to the stock-breeding nomads of the central Asian steppes. They are known to have been excellent horsemen. When they emerge upon the scene of history we find them ruling an area which extended from south of the Han River across the present Korean boundary and far north into Manchuria and west to the Liaotung peninsula.
The two kingdoms of the south are thought to have been founded by migrants from the north, since civilization was more highly developed there, mainly because of closer contacts with China. Paekje in the southwest is known to have been dominated by a northern tribe called Puyo, which had come originally from Manchuria and had been dominated for a time by Koguryo. Paekje played an important part in the transmission of Chinese civilization to Japan. Its rulers are frequently pictured as effete and dissolute, but this is probably because its history has been written mainly by its enemies.
Silla in the southeast is given the earliest founding date, but this is probably because it conquered the others. In any case, there is clear evidence that it was the latest to develop. We are told that it was the last to set up Chinese-style institutions of government and the last to adopt the Buddhist religion.
In addition to these three there was for a time a relatively small area in the south, on the coast and along the Naktong River, known as Kaya or Karak, which persisted as a kingdom until it was absorbed by Silla in 562 A.D. Little is known of it except that it was considerably influenced by Japan.
The three kingdoms were in a state of more or less constant conflict throughout their existence, with frequent alliances of two of them against the third. In the earlier part of the three kingdoms period it was usual for Silla and Paekje to be in alliance against the more powerful Koguryo, and a rough balance of power was thus created. But during the latter part of the period Silla power grew and she began to expand at the expense of both her rivals. Of particular significance was the Silla seizure of the territory along the Han River, for this drove a wedge between her two rivals.
Even so, Silla power alone might not have enabled her to conquer the whole peninsula. Events in China now began to influence Korea, however, and to these events we must now turn.
After the fall of the Han dynasty in 220 A.D. China was divided into numerous states. There were frequent wars and revolts and consequent changes of boundaries and governments during a period of about three and a half centuries, and thus, while Chinese cultural influence continued, there was hardly any Chinese political or military intervention in Korea. In the year 589, however, China was once more unified under the Sui dynasty, and the rulers promptly began to concern themselves with subduing the “barbarians” on China's borders.
One of the results of this policy was a series of attacks upon Koguryo. These were successfully beaten off, and their failure was one of the causes of the fall of the Sui dynasty in 618. But China was not to suffer another period of disunity. The T'ang dynasty immediately succeeded the Sui and ruled China for the next three centuries. This was the period of China's greatest cultural influence upon her neighbors, so much so that the word “T'ang” was used as a name for China long after the dynasty had perished.
From the Chinese point of view the main problem of foreign relations was to prevent attacks by the nomadic tribes whose territories bordered China, particularly in the north. To this end it was Chinese policy to set up subordinate states in border areas which acknowledged suzerainty to the Emperor or, where possible, to conquer these areas and incorporate them into the empire.
Observing that the Sui attacks on Koguryo along its northern borders in Manchuria had failed, the T'ang rulers entered into an alliance with Silla whose object was to subdue the entire peninsula and if possible bring it under Chinese rule. This policy succeeded to a certain extent. Coordinated attacks by T'ang and Silla troops destroyed Paekje in 663, and Koguryo finally fell in 668. In both instances the Chinese set up provincial governments and stationed military garrisons in the conquered territory, and when Koguryo had been conquered appeared ready to turn upon Silla.
But even at this early date the Korean people had a long history of resistance to foreign rule and the Chinese found Silla unexpectedly difficult to conquer. Moreover, revolts broke out in the previously conquered territory, which Silla supported. Eventually an arrangement was worked out whereby the Silla dynasty ruled all of Korea but acknowledged the superiority of the Chinese Emperor. It became the custom for each succeeding Korean King to apply to the Chinese court for confirmation of his legitimacy, in token of which he received a golden seal from the Emperor. This practice persisted throughout the Korean monarchy.
In practice there was little Chinese interference in domestic Korean affairs and the Korean government did pretty much as it liked, but Chinese cultural influence was profound. During the period when Silla ruled the peninsula, which roughly corresponded to the period of T'ang rule in China, Korean monks and scholars visited China in large numbers, and Korean social, political and religious institutions, while not slavish imitations, were organized largely along Chinese lines.
The matter of language is an important case in point. When contact with Chinese civilization began Korea had not yet developed a system of writing her language. Naturally the script of the more highly developed Chinese civilization was taken over, but here a difficulty arose. Korean is a highly inflected language, verb suffixes being of particular importance. Chinese, on the other hand, resembles English in this respect, its inflections being few and simple. Moreover, Chinese was not written in a phonetic script but in ideographs, signs representing ideas rather than sounds. It was thus all but impossible to convey the Korean language in the Chinese script, and literacy became a matter of learning the Chinese language.
In time a system was worked out, called Idu, of using some Chinese ideographs phonetically in order to represent the sounds of the Korean language, and a few songs and poems were thus preserved, some of which are quoted in the present volume. But this was clumsy and difficult to use, and in general Korean scholars wrote in Chinese. In time, of course, the Koreans gave their own peculiar pronunciations to the Chinese words, but what they wrote remained Chinese in syntax and vocabulary. All Korean writing down to the invention of Hangul, the Korean alphabet, in the fifteenth century, is therefore in the Chinese language. The same holds true for the literature of several other nations in the Chinese sphere of influence, including Japan and Vietnam.
This led also, of course, to a massive influx of Chinese words into the Korean vocabulary, although there was no particular influence on Korean grammar. This borrowing is somewhat comparable to the borrowing of Latin words by the English language.
Another important result of Chinese cultural influence was the introduction of the Buddhist religion. The present work describes this as happening in the late fourth century, which corresponds well with other evidence. It seems unlikely, however, that Buddhism became really influential until well into the period of united Silla rule.
Buddhism was already about eight hundred years old when it first reached Korea, and had changed a great deal from the austere doctrines of the original Buddha. The sect known as Mahayana had developed in north India in the religion's earlier centuries, and it was this sect which penetrated China, and subsequently Korea. Of particular importance was the doctrine of Bodhisattvas. These were supposed to be persons who had attained the state of enlightenment which made it possible for them to escape the eternal round of death and rebirth which is the fate of all creatures, but who chose rather to remain in existence in order to help others.
Buddhism had, in other words, developed a doctrine of salvation by grace, whereas its founder had held that a person attained enlightenment and eventually Nirvana solely by his own efforts. This meant a vast increase in the religion's popular appeal and a multiplication of its deities. There were believed to have been a succession of Buddhas, one for each era of history, and there is even a Buddha of the future, Maitreya, who paradoxically also exists in the present.
Another characteristic of Buddhism is its easy adaptation to local beliefs when it enters new areas. Buddhism is not an exclusivist, authoritarian religion like Christianity or Islam. Doctrinal purity is of far less importance, and various different sects live amicably side by side. In like manner, the gods and spirits of primitive religion were simply given the trappings of Bodhisattvas and adopted into the pantheon. Thus in the present work we find several allusions to the Mountain Spirit, a survivor of ancient Korean animistic beliefs. Even today this Mountain Spirit has a shrine in almost every Buddhist temple in Korea. He is always portrayed as an old man, and is usually accompanied by a tiger.
The author of Samguk Yusa was a man of the Kim family who was born in Kyongju, which had been the Silla capital, in 1206. He entered the order of Buddhist monks while still a child, and was given the religious name Ilyon. He passed the national examinations for monks of the Son (Zen) sect with the highest distinction at the age of 22, and thereafter devoted himself to teaching and study, residing at various temples at different times.
There are few details available about his life, but it is said that he was greatly admired not only for his knowledge of the Buddhist scriptures but also for his mastery of the Confucian Classics, which were the basis of all secular learning in his time. He was also a very diligent author, and a stone monument erected in his honor on his death at 83 gives a list of his works. Samguk Yusa is not on the list, which leads one to suppose that the book was not printed until after his death, a supposition which is supported by the fact that at least two short sections of the work are added by Muguk, one of Uyon's disciples.
Knowledge of his authorship barely survived. In the sixteenth century it was found that the carved wooden plates from which the book had originally been printed were so worn as to be nearly useless. A nobleman named Yi Kye-pok, however, managed to obtain a copy of an earlier printing, and from this he had a new edition prepared. It was found that Ilyon was named as author only at the beginning of the fifth volume, his name having been dropped, probably by accident, from the other four.
Modern texts of the work are based on this 1512 edition, the earliest in existence. The translator has been permitted to consult an actual copy of this 1512 edition in making the present English version, based on the reprint of an original book of Chinese composition, known as “Chongdok-Pon” (Cheng-te Text), printed from hand-carved wooden blocks in the reign of King Chungjong (1488-1544) of the Yi Dynasty which corresponds to the reign of Emperor Cheng-te of Ming China, according to the postscript written by Yi Kye-pok.
Samguk Yusa had a wide audience in former times as a reliable source of information for academic and popular interest, as its stories are included in Koryosa (History of Koryo), Yoji-sungnam (Places of Interest in the Eastern Nation) and Taedong-Unpu-kun-ok (Great Eastern Galaxy of Rhythmic Gems). Thus it was highlighted as an important work of literature although some Confucian scholars like Yi Kyukyong in the reign of Honjong, in his book “Demonstrative Essays on Historical Works” called it a collection of fantastic stories.
More recently, in his book “Outline of Eastern History” Ahn Chong-hwa made an analysis of Samguk Yusa, but after that time its traces were lost to the world. Ch'oe Nam-son obtained only three of its volumes on Buddhist stories from temples. Then its treasured volumes in the possession of Sunam-Ahnsi were discovered and passed into the hands of a Japanese named Imanishi in Aichi. These were a full set of the five volumes of Chongdok Reprints, which appeared in about the 7th year of King Chungjong of the Yi Dynasty. In 1921 these volumes were reproduced in reduced size on glass plates as Facsimiles in Vol. VI, History Series of the Literary Department, Kyoto Imperial University, and in 1932 they were reprinted in the original large size by the Old Classics Publishing Society in Seoul. Before this, in 1928, its type-printed copies appeared in the name of the Chosun Sahak Hoe (Korean History Science Society) with Imanishi's proof reading.
It is not clear when Samguk Yusa was first introduced into Japan, but according to “Samguk Yusa Haeje” by Choe Nam-son, one volume carried off during the Hideyoshi Invasion (l592-98) has been handed down in the families of Tokugawa in Owari and Kanda in Tokyo, with two leaves of the Royal Chronological Tables and several leaves in the text missing and some letters blank. This volume was published as research material in the History Series, Literary Department, Tokyo Imperial University in 1904. The Kanda copy bears the seal of Yoanin Library, signifying the house of a medical doctor in the Tokugawa shogunate, because this copy was given the doctor by Ukida Hideiye, one of the Japanese field generals fighting in Korea, in gratitude for the doctor's marvellous cure of his wife's singular malady, on his triumphal return from Korea after the Hideyoshi War with trophies including thousands of treasured books from Korea.
Since Ilyon was greatly interested in preserving legends and folklore, some knowledge of ancient beliefs and society is necessary for a full understanding of his book. Underlying the more sophisticated faiths which came from other countries there has always been in Korea a tenacious native animism. Mountains, rivers, trees and the like are all inhabited by spirits which frequently take a hand in human affairs. These blended inextricably with Chinese lore, with some Taoist ideas, and with the numerous supernatural beings of popular Buddhism. Many of the events of which Ilyon wrote were as remote in time from him as he is from us, and the beliefs and practices which he describes were frequently very ancient. As will be seen in the text, a good many of them probably antedate the coming of Buddhism to Korea.
A good case in point is the Tangun story, which is found near the beginning of Book One. Tangun is often described as the “founder” of Korea, but it would be more accurate to say “ancestor of the Koreans.” The fact that his mother is said to have been a bear transformed into a woman is clear evidence of the existence in very ancient times of totemism, the belief that a given tribe or clan is identified with or descended from a certain animal. Moreover, the fact that this clan symbol, the bear, is female may be evidence of the existence of a matriarchal, or at any rate matrilineal, society in ancient times.
Another element in ancient Korean religion was sun worship. This is shown by the fact that several of the legendary founders of states in this book are described as having been born from divine eggs which descended from heaven, the egg in this case being a sun symbol.
Turning to the social structure of Silla, there are two matters of importance. First of all, this was a highly aristocratic society, much more so than China. The different classes of society were carefully distinguished, and crossing class lines was almost unheard of. The highest class consisted of the members of the royal clan and the important court and government posts were held by them exclusively. This was the Kim clan of Kyongju, whose founding legend is found in Book One.
Secondly, mention must be made of the Order of Hwarang. The word may be translated “Flower Youth” and describes an institution resembling the order of knighthood in medieval Europe. It consisted of specially selected youths of aristocratic lineage and of superior mental and physical attainments. They were trained in the martial arts, but also in intellectual and religious matters, and then became the nation s military elite. Kim Yu-sin, who commanded the armies that helped conquer Paekje and Koguryo, is a good example.
The book itself is not a systematic work. It was, we are told, an activity of the author's leisure hours and was probably put together bit by bit over a rather long period. The accounts are grouped by subjects, but within each section they vary extremely. Some consist of entirely legendary material, some are factual history, and a large number are a blend of the two. The first two parts relate to the foundations of the various kingdoms and to various events during the history of the Silla kingdom. The last three parts are devoted mainly to Buddhism, especially to the lives and miracles of famous monks.
Ilyon is very particular as to names and dates, and frequently records disagreements on these matters in his source material. He is not, unfortunately, so meticulous in the citation of the sources themselves. He refers often to the Samguk Sagi, and since this book still exists the references can be checked. But for the rest, he is vague, For example, early in Book One he refers to a book which he calls the Wei Shu (“Wei Writing,” that is, the history of the Chinese kingdom of Wei). A book of this title does exist, but none of the quotations Ilyon uses are to be found in it. One can only conclude that there was more than one Wei Shu (as there was more than one Wei state) and that Ilyon has not indicated which one he means.
In other places he is content simply to cite “an old book” or “an old Silla book.” It is certain in any case that he had access to many documents which are no longer in existence. There appear to have been, for example, several collections of the lives of famous monks, some Korean and some Chinese, and these he quotes frequently.
But perhaps more important even than his use of now lost documents is the fact that Ilyon records many of the beliefs and practices of the people of thirteenth-century Korea, a fact which makes his book extremely important for the study of that period as well as earlier ones. The Tangun story as given here, for example, is the earliest documentary evidence for this legend.
One must add finally that this is a book which can be read simply for pleasure. Its tales are comparable, though on a more sophisticated level, to the fairy tales of Europe. The reader finds himself in a world of dragons, ghosts and miracles, superhuman kings and monks who can fly through the air. He also finds the wonderful laughter, the solid, earthy humor of Korea. Ilyon was no doubt a pious Buddhist, but he was no prude for all that, and he sets down the old tales as he heard them.
This, then, is Samguk Yusa, a book of the highest value from every point of view and one deserving the attention of anyone interested in Korea, or, indeed, in East Asian civilization generally.
The romanized spelling of Oriental proper nouns in this book is done, in principle, according to the standardized McCune-Reischauer system for easy reference to the original Chinese characters. The sexagenary years of the Lunar Calendar in the text and the appendix have been changed to the corresponding years of the Gregorian Calendar.
The chronological list of the Kings and Queens of the Three Kingdoms and Karak, which appears at the beginning of the original work, appears in the present translation as an appendix.
In the footnotes some identical annotations of Dr. Yi Pyung-do and Mr. Yi Chae-ho in their Korean Versions of Samguk Yusa are added, with quotations from some parts of Ch'oe Nam-son's Bibliography of Samguk Yusa (Haeje) in this Introduction for the benefit of the readers.
The ancient sages founded nations by the use of decorum and music, and fostered culture with humanity and justice, not claiming marvelous strength or the aid of treacherous gods. But when a man worthy to receive the mandate of heaven appeared, the event was usually marked by some happy augury setting him apart from other people and showing that here was one able to ride the changing tide, seize the treasured regalia and accomplish the great work of founding a state.
Thus in ancient days in China a dragon-horse with a picture on its back appeared on the surface of the Yellow River (Hwang-ho) and a godlike turtle with a character carved on its shell appeared on the Lo-sui stream on the eve of the rising of great sages. 1 Enveloped in a rainbow, the goddess-mother bore Fu-hsi; touched by a dragon Nu-t'eng gave birth to Yen-ti; Ohwang fell in love with a celestial boy who called himself the son of Pai-ti while she was playing in the field of Kung-hsiang, and bore Hsiao-ho; Chien-ch'i, after swallowing an egg, brought forth Ch'i; Chiang-yuan, after treading in the mark of a footstep, bore Chi; Yao was born after fourteen months in his mother's womb; and Peikung was a dragon's love-child, the result of an embrace in a large lake.
No pen can describe all the wonders attending the births of the founders of states. These are set down here as precedents for the stories of the founders of the Three Kingdoms, to be found in the following chapters.
1. Old Chosun (Wanggom Chosun)
In the Wei-shu2 it is written, “Two thousand years ago (Traditional date: 2333 B.C.) Tangun, otherwise called Wanggom, chose Asadal, also described as Muyop-san in the province of Paekju east of Kae-song, at a place now called Paegak-kung (modern P'yongyang) as his royal residence and founded a nation, calling it Chosun, at the same period as Kao (legendary Chinese Emperor Yao).”
In the Old Book it is written, “In ancient times Hwan-in (Heavenly King, Chesok or Sakrodeveendra) had a young son whose name was Hwan-ung. The boy wished to descend from heaven and live in the human world. His father, after examining three great mountains, chose T'aebaek-san (the Myohyang Mountains in north Korea) as a suitable place for his heavenly son to bring happiness to human beings. He gave Hwan-ung three heavenly treasures, and commanded him to rule over his people.
“With three thousand of his loyal subjects Hwan-ung descended from heaven and appeared under a sandalwood tree on T'aebaek Mountain. He named the place Sin-si (city of god) and assumed the title of Hwan-ung Ch'onwang (another title meaning heavenly king). He led his ministers of wind, rain and clouds in teaching the people more than 360 useful arts, including agriculture and medicine, inculcated moral principles and imposed a code of law.
“In those days there lived a she-bear and a tigress in the same cave. They prayed to Sin-ung (another name of Hwan-ung) to be blessed with incarnation as human beings. The king took pity on them and gave them each a bunch of mugwort and twenty pieces of garlic, saying, 'If you eat this holy food and do not see the sunlight for one hundred days, you will become human beings.'
“The she-bear and the tigress took the food and ate it, and retired into the cave. In twenty-one days the bear, who had faithfully observed the king's instructions, became a woman. But the tigress, who had disobeyed, remained in her original form.
“But the bear-woman could find no husband, so she prayed under the sandalwood tree to be blessed with a child. Hwan-ung heard her prayers and married her. She conceived and bore a son who was called Tangun Wanggom, the King of Sandalwood.
“In the fiftieth year of the reign of T'ang Kao (legendary Chinese emperor Yao, traditional date some time before 2000 B.C.) in the year of Kyong-in (if it was Kyong-in, it must be the 23rd year) Tangun came to P'yongyang (now Sogyong), set up his royal residence there and bestowed the name Chosun upon his kingdom.
“Later Tangun moved his capital to Asadal on T'aebaek-san and ruled 1500 years, until king Wu of Chou (ancient Chinese dynasty) placed Kija on the throne (traditional date 1122 B.C.). When Kija arrived, Tangun moved to Changtang-kyong and then returned to Asadal, where he became a mountain god at the age of 1,908.”
In the book of P'eichu-chuan of T'ang (Chinese dynasty, 618-907 A.D.) it is written, “Koryo (i.e. Koguryo) was originally Kojuk-kuk (now Haeju) and was called Chosun by the Chou emperor on the investiture of Kija. During the Han dynasty (Chinese, 206 B.C.-222 A.D.) Chosun was divided into three counties—Hyonto, Nangnang and Taebang.” The book T'ung-tien gives the same account. However, the Han-shu tells of four counties (Chinbon, Imtun, Hyonto and Nangnang) with names different from those in the other sources, for some unknown reason. (This is an allusion to a portion of northwestern Korea which was under direct Chinese rule from 108 B.C. to 313 A.D. The only one of any enduring importance was Nangnang, called Lolang in Chinese.)
2. Weiman Chosun
(The following account is a somewhat more detailed and historically more accurate description of the ancient Kingdom of Chosun and its wars with the Chinese Han dynasty under the Wu-Ti Emperor (141-87 B.C.) which resulted in the setting up of the Chinese colony of Lolang (Nang-nang) in northwestern Korea. The Yen here referred to was one of the “warring states “of China during the period immediately before China's unification by the brief Ch'in and subsequent Han dynasties. There were revolts early in the Han dynasty and an attempt was made to reestablish Yen, which adjoined Korea.)
In the Chosun-jon (Chao-hsien-chuan) section of the book Ch'ien Han-shu it is written, “At the beginning of the Yen dynasty the invaders conquered Chinbon (part of northern Korea), stationed troops there and built defense barriers. (After the state of Ch'in conquered all China) Yen was made a frontier territory bordering the Liaotung peninsula. (When the Han dynasty arose after the breakup of Ch'in) the rulers, finding it difficult to control this remote territory, repaired the old barriers and established the frontier along the P'aisu River (possibly the Ch'ongchon River).
“When Lu Kwan, King of Yen, rebelled (against Han) and took sides with the Hsiung-nu (nomadic tribes), Weiman, a Yen official, with a thousand followers, broke through the border defenses and fled east (i.e. to Korea). Crossing the P'aisu River, he took up residence in the buffer zone which had been established beyond the frontier. Here he gradually subjugated the native tribes with the aid of refugees from Yen and Ch'i (another rebellious state) and assumed the title of king, setting up a court at the city of Wanggom (location uncertain, but note the obvious connection with Tangun).
“Weiman attacked the neighboring areas and Chinbon and Imtun (in present north Korea) were brought under his rule. Eventually he expanded his territory into a large realm extending several thousand li (about a third of a mile) in the four directions.
“Weiman's son and grandson followed him to the throne without undue incident. During the reign of his grandson U-ko, Chinbon and Chinkuk (small principalities south of the Han River) wished to establish direct relations with the Han dynasty in China. U-ko, however, (probably seeing this as a threat to his power) intercepted the envoys and would not allow them to proceed.
“In the second year of Yuanfeng (reign period of the Han emperor Wu-Ti, 109 B.C.) the Emperor sent She-ho to persuade U-ko to submit to the Han Empire. U-ko refused. Consequently, when She-ho crossed the P'aisu River on his return journey he ordered his coachman to kill the Chosun general who was escorting him and then hastened back to the Han court to report to the Emperor.
“The Emperor thereupon appointed She-ho governor of East Liaotung county (bordering Chosun). Out of enmity, however, the people of Chosun killed him in a surprise attack. Incensed, the Emperor ordered admiral Yangp'u to sail from Ch'i (on the Shantung Peninsula) with a fleet of warships and transports carrying 50,000 men. At the same time Hsun-che, his general of the left, was to attack U-ko's kingdom from the Liaotung peninsula. Determined to meet force with force, U-ko stationed his troops in the mountain passes leading into his country to meet the Han army.
“Meanwhile admiral Yang-p'u made a landing and sent an advance force of 700 men toward Wanggom. U-ko, who was defending the city, seeing the small size of this force, attacked and defeated it. Deserted by his retreating troops, Yang-p'u was forced to fly for his life to the mountains.
“The Han land forces now attacked the Chosun army on the P'aisu but were unable to defeat it. When this lack of success was reported to the emperor, he sent Weishan to persuade U-ko to surrender. This time U-ko was ready for negotiations and sent his crown prince to meet the Han envoy with a promise of a gift of horses to the Emperor. But when the crown prince, followed by a train of 10,000 men armed to the teeth, was about to cross the P'aisu River, Weishan and Hsun Che (the general), fearing danger, asked him to disarm his men, since he was surrendering. Fearing a trick in his turn however, the crown prince abandoned his mission and returned to the capital.
“When Weishan reported this affair to the Han court, the Emperor was transported with rage and had him beheaded.
“(War was now resumed.) The Han general, having defeated the army on the P'aisu, advanced toward the city of Wanggom and laid siege to it from the northwest. At the same time admiral Yang-p'u (having presumably escaped and landed the rest of his forces) reinforced the siege from the south. U-ko, however, defended the city valiantly and kept the enemy at bay for an entire month.
“Disappointed by this stalemate, the Emperor sent out Kungsun-sui, the former governor of Tsinan, to attack Wanggom, giving him overall command and ordering him to make the best he could of the situation. Kungsun-sui arrested and imprisoned admiral Yang-p'u and put the naval troops under his own command before launching a lightning attack.
“At this time four Chosun officials—No-in, Han-to, Sam, and general Hyop—planned to surrender. When the king objected, they all deserted and surrendered at the Han camp, except for No-in, who died on the way, and Minister Sam.
“In the third year of Yuanfeng(108 B.C.) at midsummer Minister Sam employed a gladiator to murder King U-ko and appeared at the Han camp in his turn. But the city of Wanggom still held out and another Chosun minister, Song-ki, attacked the Han forces. The exasperated Han general made Chang, the son of U-ko and Ch'oe the son of No-in issue a decree ordering the death of Song-ki.
“This was the last act of the tragedy. Weiman Chosun was conquered and subdued. Four counties (to be integrated into the Chinese administrative system) were set up—Chinbon, Imtun, Nangnang and Hyonto.”
(These are the four Chinese colonies previously alluded to. Nangnang (Lolang) was the only one to endure under Chinese rule for very long.)
In Wei-chih3 it is written, “When Weiman attacked Chosun, King Joon, accompanied by his court ladies, crossed the sea and arrived in the land of Han in the south, where he established a state, calling it Mahan.” (This was evidently southwestern Korea. The name “Han” here, which is still used to designate Korea, is a different word from the name of the Han dynasty of China and is written with a different Chinese character.)
In a letter from Chin Hwon (also called Kyon Hwon) we read, “In olden days, Mahan was first created a nation in Kummasan before
Hyokkose rose to power.” (The letter was purportedly addressed to Wang Kon, who founded the Koryo dynasty in 918.) Ch'oe Ch'i-won (a Silla scholar) states in his book that Mahan was Koguryo and Chinhan Silla. According to the chronicle (the Samguk Sagi, the official chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, written somewhat earlier than the present work) Silla arose in the year Kapcha (57 B.C.) and Koguryo in the year Kapsin (37 B.C.). It also relates that Mahan rose first under King Joon. But it is obvious that King Tongmyong (the first recorded Koguryo king) at the height of his power possessed Mahan, hence Koguryo was called Mahan. Nowadays people call Mahan Paekje because of its capital in Kummasan, but that is a mistaken idea. Since there was a mountain known as Maup-san in the land of Koguryo, they called the country Mahan. (Evidence from other sources indicates that this is mistaken.)
The land was originally inhabited by four barbarian tribes whose names were Kui, Kuhan, Ye and Maek. In the Chouli we read that Chifang-shih was in charge of the four barbarian tribes and nine Maek, these last being the Tung-i, or nine barbarian tribes of the east.
In Sankuo-shih (History of the Three Chinese Kingdoms) it is written, “Myongju was the old land of the Ye tribe. The native farmers of Myongju presented to the throne seals and stamps of the Ye kings which they found while plowing their fields. Ch'unju was the old province of Usuju or Maek-kuk, which was also attributed to Sakju or P'yongyang.” (There is indeed evidence of tribes called Ye and Maek in Kangwon province where these places are located, except the last.)
In the commentaries of Huinan-tzu it is maintained that the Tung-i were divided into nine tribes, and that the nine barbarian tribes referred to m the Analects of Confucius were Hyonto, Nangnang, Koryo, Mansik, Puyu, Soka, Tongto, Wai-in (Wo-len) and Ch'onp'i.
In the book Tongdo-songnip-ki (History of the Eastern Capital) by Haedong-Anhong, the nine Hans are identified as Japan, Chung-hwa. Wu and Yueh, Maola, Ung-yu, Malgal, Tan-guk, Nuchen and Yemaek. (There is some confusion in this source. “Japan” is an obvious mistake and “Nuchen” probably refers to the Jurched tribes of Manchuria. The names of Ye and Maek have been combined into one.)
4. Two Prefectures
In Ch'ienhan-shu4 it is written, “In the fifth year of Han emperor Chao-ti (B.C. 82) in the year of Kihae two overseas prefectures were organized, P'yongju Prefecture over the two counties of P'yongna and Hyonto and the East Prefecture over Imtun and Nangnang counties under the administration of the general government.” But the Chao-hsien-Chuan states, “The country was divided into four counties—Chinbon, Hyonto, Imtun and Nangnang.” The P'yongna mentioned in the Ch'ien han-shu is probably Chinbon. (This is yet another account of the Chinese colonies set up in northern Korea by the Chinese Han dynasty. They were first established in 108 B.C. and endured until 313 A.D.)
5. Seventy-Two States
In T'ung-tien it is written, “The natives of Chosun inhabited more-than 70 local states of an area of 100 li each.” (A li is about a third of a mile.)
The Houhan-shu says “(Hsi-Han, the Chinese Han dynasty) first divided the land of old Chosun into four counties which were reorganized into two prefectures later. When more complex laws had to be enacted, the administrative districts were again readjusted into 78 states each comprising 10,000 households. Mahan in the west had 54 small cities, Chinhan in the east had 12 small cities, and Pyonhan in the south had 12 small cities. These small city-states called themselves nations.” (A distinction must be made here. The territory ruled by China was effectively limited to the northwest corner of the peninsula. Mahan etc. were tribal communities not ruled by the Chinese.)
6. Nangnang (Lolang)
During the early Han (Chinese dynasty) period Nangnang was first established. Ying-shao calls it the old Chosun state, and in the commentary on the Hsin T'ang-shu we read “P'yongyang-ch'eng is identical with Nangnang county of the early Han.”
However, in the Samguk Sagi we find the following: “In the 30th year of the reign of King Hyokkose (first recorded Silla king; this would be 27 B.C. by the traditional dating) the men of Nangnang came and surrendered (to Silla), and in the fourth year of King Norye of Silla, King Muhyul (Taemusin), the third sovereign of Koguryo (18-44 A.D.) conquered and destroyed Nangnang, forcing its people together with those of Taebang (North Taebang) to surrender to Silla. Then in the 27th year of the reign of King Muhyul (44 A.D.) Emperor Kuangwu (Kuang Wu Ti of the Han dynasty) sent an army to invade Nangnang and establish counties in the occupied territory. Thus the area north of Salsu (the Ch'ongch'on River) was ruled by China.”
These statements seem to indicate that Nangnang may be identified with P'yongyang-ch'eng. But some scholars maintain that Nangang was the land of Malgal at the foot of Mt. Chungtu and the Salsu is the Taedong River. It is hard to tell who is right.
King Onjo of Paekje (first Paekje king, 18 B.C.-28 A.D.) said, “Nangnang is in the east and Malgal is in the north.” This would make Nangnang one of the Chinese colonies during the Han dynasty. But the people of Silla called their own country Nangnang and even now call a noble lady a lady of Nangnang. This is well shown by the fact that King T'aejo (the founder of the Koryo dynasty) called his daughter, whom he gave in marriage to the surrendered king of Silla the Princess of Nangnang.
(The borders of the Chinese colonies, of which Nangnang was the only permanent one, varied at different times and the area came under increasing attack as the Three Kingdoms gathered strength. Taebang, which is discussed below, was a southern extension of Nangnang.)
(Taebang was divided into two parts, north and south.) North Taebang was originally called Chuktam-song. In the fourth year of the reign of King Norye of Silla (B.C. 27) its people, together with those of Nangnang, surrendered to Silla. These were the two counties established by the early Han dynasty. North Taebang assumed the status of a nation, but its king and subjects all surrendered.
During the T'sao-Wei dynasty5 southern Taebang county (now Namwon-pu) was established. It extended over a thousand li along the seacoast called Han Hae to the south of Taebang. This was the southern coast of Mahan where Taebang was established during the later Han dynasty to which Wai and (Korean) Han were subjugated. (“Mahan” is a mistake, and the county referred to in the last sentence was North Taebang.)
8. Malgal (Mulgil) and Palhae (Pohai)
(Palhae, the Korean pronunciation of Chinese Pohai, was a kingdom which included part of north Korea and a sizable chunk of Manchuria. Its traditional founding date is 711 A.D., not long after the extinction of Koguryo. It considered itself the successor to Koguryo, and Korean historians have always considered it a part of Korean history. It was conquered and overrun by the Khitan tribes in 935.)
According to T'ung-tien, Palhae was originally called Sokmal-Malgal. During the Hsien-tien era of Hsuan-tsung (eighth-century T'ang dynasty Chinese emperor) its chief. Choyong, renamed it Palhae and assumed the title of king. When he died in the seventh year of Kai yuan of T'ang Hsuan-tsung (719), his son gave him the posthumous title Kowang (high king) and was crowned with the acquiescence of the Chinese Emperor. But the new king used his own dynastic era (rather than the Chinese Emperor's, a gesture of independence) and made his country a flourishing nation in the East.
In her heyday Palhae had five regional capitals, 15 prefectures and 62 provinces. She was conquered at last in the T'iencheng era of Hou-T'ang and ceased to exist.
In the Sankuo-shih it is written “In the third year of I-feng of Kao-tsung even in the year of Muin (i.e. about the middle of the 7th century) a defeated Koguryo general led his followers north to the land around T'aebaek mountain, where he established a new state, calling it Palhae. In the 20th year of Kaiyuan, T'ang Mingwang sent out a general to conquer Palhae. In the 32nd year of the reign of King Songdok (early 8th century) during the reign of Hsuan-tsung the armies of Palhae and Malgal crossed the sea to attack T'engchow in the T'ang empire but were repulsed by the emperor's troops.”
The Old Book of Silla says “The family name of Choyong (a general of Koguryo) was Tae. He gathered his defeated soldiers on the southern side of Taebaek mountain and established a new state which he called Palhae.”
These two statements give the impression that Palhae was another name for Malgal, even though the dates when the two kingdoms were established are different.
According to an old map drawn by Tungp'o, Palhae was situated beyond the Great Wall (of China), to the northeast.
Katan's Nakuo-ch'ih indicates that four of the prefectures of Palhae (Amnok, Namhae, Puyo, and Ch'usong) were former Koguryo lands, with 39 post stations between Ch'onjong county (in present Hamgyong province) and Yusong in Silla. The geography book Tili-chih places Ch'onjong county in Sakju prefecture. It is now Yongju.
The Sankuo-shih says, “At the fall of Paekje, Palhae, Malgal and Silla divided its lands.” Judging from this, it appears that Palhae was divided into two parts.
The people of Silla declared that Palhae in the north, Wai (Japan) in the south and Paekje in the west attacked their country. (There is evidently some chronological confusion here. Paekje was conquered before the establishment of Palhae.) They said “Malgal is a menace to Silla's territorial integrity due to its geographical propinquity to Asulla province.”
In the book Tongmyong-gi it is written “The boundary of Cholbonsong was adjacent to Malgal (now called Tongchin).”
In the 14th year of the reign of King Chima of Silla a large host from Malgal invaded the northern frontier, attacking Taeryongch'aek and passing through Niha.
In the Houwei-shu Malgal is called Mulgil (Wuchi) and in the Chijang-to Palou and Wuchi are represented as Suksin. It is clear from the map drawn by Tungp'o that to the north of Chinhan lay the territory of Northern and Southern Huksu (Heisui).
Ten years after the coronation of King Tongmyong (of Koguryo, 27 B.C.), Koguryo destroyed Northern Okjo. In the 42nd year of the reign of King Onjo (of Paekje, 14 A.D.) 20 families from Southern Okjo surrendered to Silla, and in the 52nd year of the reign of Hyokkose (of Silla, 5 B.C.) Eastern Okjo presented fine horses to Silla. These recorded facts seem to establish the existence of Okjo in the early Three Kingdoms period. The Chijang-to locates Huksu north of the Great Wall and Okjo south of it.
In the fourteenth year of King Norye the men of Iso-guk attacked Kumsong. In the Old Book of Unmun Temple (a record of farmland donated to the temple) it is written, “In the sixth year of Chen-kuan Yongmi Temple in Kumo-ch'on village, Iso county, offered farms.” Kumo-ch'on is now Ch'ongdo, which is identical with the old Iso county.
10. The Five Kaya States
According to the “Legends of Karak,” a purple ribbon with six round eggs came down from heaven. Five of these eggs went one to each city while the sixth stayed in the castle, where it hatched King Suro of Kumgwan. The others produced the chiefs of the five Kaya tribes. Naturally, therefore, Kumgwan should not be included in the five states. In the Outline History of the Koryo Dynasty (i.e. the official chronicles compiled regularly by the government) Kumgwan is included in the Kaya states with its capital at Ch'angnyong, but this is a mistake. The five Kaya tribes were Ara-Kaya (Haman), Konyong Kaya (Hamnyong), Tae Kaya (Koryong), Songsan Kaya (Kyongsan or Pyok-chin) and So Kaya (Kosong). (The Kaya tribes lived on the south coast and along the Naktong River. They remained independent and distinctive for some time, but were ultimately conquered and absorbed by Silla.)
11. Northern Puyo
(This is likely to cause some confusion. “Puyo” is the name of a place in Manchuria, the name of a Korean tribal group prior to the Three Kingdoms, and the name of a city in southwestern Korea which was for some time the capital of the Paekje kingdom. Moreover, these three facts are related. The area in Manchuria is named for the tribal group, whose territory lay to the north of Koguryo. After Koguryo defeated the Puyo people, many of them went south and played a part, among other things, in the founding of Paekje. Generally speaking, the northerners had more political cohesiveness and sophistication than the southerners in ancient Korea, and the movement of civilization was from north to south.)
The Old Book quotes the Ch'ienhan-shu as follows: “In the third year of Shen-chueh of Hsuan-ti (B.C. 58) even on the eighth day of the fourth moon in the year of Imsul, the Heavenly King, riding on a carriage drawn by five dragons, descended to Solsunggol6 Castle (north of the Yalu River), which he chose as his royal residence. There he assumed the title of king, calling his country Northern Puyo and himself Haimosu. Later, at the command of heaven, the king moved his residence to Eastern Puyo. King Tongmyong succeeded him on the throne of northern Puyo, and moved his capital to Cholbon-ju. King Tongmyong was the founder of Koguryo (traditional date 37 B.C.)”
12. Eastern Puyo
Aranbul, the grand vizier of Haiburu (son of Haimosu, mentioned above) dreamed a dream: A most august god descended from heaven and said to him, “My heavenly children will reign over a kingdom on earth in this land. I command you to move to another place. (This foretold the rise of King Tongmyong.) On the shore of the Eastern Sea there is a land called Kasopwon, where milk and honey flow in abundance. Go there and settle down and build your royal residence.” Aranbul told the king about this dream and the king accordingly moved east and called his nation Eastern Puyo.
King Haiburu was growing old and he had no son, so he offered sacrifices to mountains and streams, praying for an heir to be his successor. One day as he was returning to his palace from a mountain, his favorite steed suddenly halted before a large stone at Konyon (Pond of Heaven, Paektu Mountain) and shed tears from both eyes. Wondering at this, the king had his servants turn over the stone. Beneath it they found a handsome little boy who looked like a golden frog. The king was greatly pleased, saying that heaven had blessed him with a son. He named the boy Kumwa (golden frog), adopted him, and made him crown prince.
Kumwa grew into a strong youth and in due time inherited the throne, which in his turn he passed on to his son Taiso. But in the third year of Tihwang of Hsin Wang Mang (11 A.D.) Muhyul, king of Koryo (Koguryo) attacked and killed Taiso, destroying his nation.
(Again there seems to be some chronological confusion. The date given is much later than the traditional founding dates of both Koguryo and Paekje.)
Koguryo is Cholbon Puyo. Some say it was situated where Hwaju and Songju now stand, but this is a mistake. Cholbon-ju is on the Liao-tung Peninsula.
The Samguk Sagi states that the sacred ancestor King Tongmyong's family name was Ko and his given name was Chumong. Before he founded Koguryo King Haiburu of Northern Puyo moved to Eastern Puyo and adopted Kumwa to succeed him.
One day when Kumwa was hunting on a mountain called T'aebaek he saw a beautiful woman by the stream known as Ubalsu. When he asked who she was, she replied, “I am the daughter of Habaek,7 the dragon king in Soha (West River) and Yuhwa (Willow Flower) is my name. When I was out with my sisters on a picnic a strong man came up to me and said, 'I am a heavenly prince and Haimosu is my name.' He took me into a cottage on the bank of the Yalu River near Ungsin-san (Bear God Mountain). There he enjoyed me and then left me, never to return. When my father and mother learned what had happened they were angry, and sent me into exile in this lonely place.”
The Book Tangun-gi says “Tangun fell in love with the daughter of Habaek and begot a son who was called Puru.” Since the above story says that Haimosu enjoyed the daughter of Habaek and she bore Chumong, it would seem that Puru and Chumong were half brothers.
Kumwa was puzzled by the woman's story, and confined her in a dark room. But the blazing sunlight clasped her and cast its warmest rays over her body long and tenderly, till she conceived and gave birth to a giant egg.8 Kumwa was surprised. He cast the egg before his dogs and swine, but they would not eat it; he cast it on the road, but the horses and cattle would not tread on it; he cast it in a field, but the birds and beasts covered it with their feathers and fur. The king tried to crack the egg, but to no avail. At last he gave it back to its mother, who wrapped it in a soft cloth and laid it in a warm place. Soon the shell cracked, and out sprang a lovely boy who looked noble and gracious, like a great prince.
By the time he was seven years old the child was as strong as a mature man. He made a bow and arrows for himself and used them with such good marksmanship that he was called Chumong, the good bowman, according to the custom of the country in those days.
Kumwa had seven sons, none of whom was a match for Chumong in any art, civil or military. Taiso, the eldest, said to the king: “Chumong is not the son of a mortal man and the sooner he is killed the better it will be for the throne.” But the king would not listen, and commanded Chumong to feed the horses. Now Chumong was a good judge of horseflesh, and knew a flying horse from a plodding horse. So he made a steed lean by giving it little to eat and he made a packhorse fat by giving it much to eat.