Tales of the Three Kingdoms
Kingdoms of their Own
The Han Dynasty involves itself in Korea following the emergence of the Kingdom of Choson and the Samhan states, beginning a long-lasting relationship between the Korean and Chinese people.Lu Guan, the King of Yen, initiated a revolt in the Liaodong military district of eastern Yen during the winter of 196-195 BC. After Emperor Gaozu's armies suppressed the rebellion, Lu Guan moved his family and troops beyond the "Great Wall" to seek shelter among the northern Xiungnu. One of Lu Guan's lieutenants, Wiman, and about one thousand of his followers escaped through the stockade along the Liao River frontier dressed as local nomads. They crossed the Yalu River into northwestern Korea, where they surrendered to Ki Chun, the ruler of Old Choson. The ambitious Wiman asked if he and his followers could live among the Chinese refugees settled in western Old Choson and would Ki Chun entrust him with the defense of the kingdom's border with Yen. Wiman must have left quite an impression on Ki Chun, who not only granted his request, but appointed him lord over a thirty-mile stretch of the western frontier.
Wiman developed a strong power base over the years, garnering support from among the thousands of Chinese refugees still moving into Old Choson. At one point, Wiman sent an urgent message to Ki Chun alleging that he was being attacked on all sides. He requested permission to return to the capital at Wang'gom-song (near Pyongyang) to guard the king. Following close on the heels of that message, Wiman marched a small army into the ancient capital, drove Ki Chun from the city, and proclaimed himself the new leader of Old Choson. Ki Chun and his retinue fled south down the peninsula where he established himself among the Mahan tribes and broke off all relations with his former kingdom.
Wiman soon created the kingdom of Choson, a new confederation that included many of the men from the Old Choson power structure and which bore all the hallmarks of the much stronger Han Chinese culture. With the Han Chinese preoccupied by internal politics and continuous threats from the Xiungnu, Wiman blocked any potential threat from China by reaching a defense agreement with the Chinese governor of Liaodong. No longer worried about attacks from the west, Wiman directed improvements to strengthen Choson's economy and military power. He used his newly developed strength to extend Choson's authority across the Korean peninsula. He pushed southward through the Chabiryong Pass to the Han River and subjugated the neighboring state of Chinbon. In the northeast, Wiman's forces conquered the Imdun tribes in the southern Hamgyong region. At its height, Wiman Choson controlled several hundred miles of territory across the waist of the Korean peninsula. With a new administrative structure in place and a reliance on the sophisticated knowledge of iron culture brought by migrant Chinese artisans, Wiman Choson began a period of rapid progress.
The death of the Han Emperor Jing in 141 BC, put the sixteen-year-old Emperor Wu on the Celestial Throne. The young ruler, tutored by a Confucian scholar, appointed three Confucianists to his top three government positions. The Emperor's grandmother, Dowager Empress Dou, was a devout Daoist and kept the Confucians under close scrutiny. Not until after her death in 135 BC did Confucianists achieve elevated status in the royal court. Shortly thereafter, an imperial university was established in Changan and the five traditional Confucian classics of Documents, Odes, Changes, Rites, and The Spring and Autumn Annals became the basis of examinations for all government officials.
Emperor Wu picked up right where his father left off in suppressing rebellious warlords, powerful clans and bandits by ordering military action against the more notorious groups, cutting off as many as ten thousand heads at a time. He promoted a number of aggressive and authoritarian officials to key posts in local law enforcement and within the central government, including Ning Zheng and Zhouyang You, the two most notorious kuli from his father's reign. Emperor Wu's law enforcers quickly degenerated from men who honestly decided right and wrong to sycophants who enforced the harsh laws and regulations just to stay out of trouble themselves. When a new concealment law went into effect that called for the execution of officials who did not arrest reported criminals, local officials simply submitted false reports to escape being involved.
It was not a peaceful time in China. The young Han empire endured a constant struggle with the nomadic Xiungnu to the north, where twenty-four tribes had created a federation that extended their influence along a 1,500 mile front across southern Siberia, Mongolia, and parts of western Manchuria. During times of peace, the main body of the Xiungnu traded with Chinese villages for armor, weapons, agricultural products, and silk. In despearate times however, roving bands of mounted Xiungnu archers repeatedly harassed, raided and looted those same northern settlements. The growing Xiungnu threat along with Choson's growing power on the Korean peninsula kept China in a near constant state of alert. Irritated by Xiungnu raids, Emperor Wu, also known as Wu Di, "the Martial Emperor," rejected Emperor Wen's peace agreement of 162 BC, and replaced diplomatic gift-giving with a massive military campaign.
In 133 BC Emperor Wu created an enormous military machine that honed its skills in military expeditions ranging from Vietnam and Burma to Mongolia and Korea. The extensive military action soon proved the chariot to be a woefully inadequate weapon against Xiungnu cavalry in battle. Furthermore, the old strategy of creating economic and cultural dependency among China's neighbors failed. The emperor transformed Chinese military tactics and rearmed his military with iron and steel swords, plate or scale mail and crossbows. New cavalry units were built around highly skilled, experienced mercenaries led by talented generals. Chinese officials, settlers and artisans followed close behind Han victories and imposed cultural hegemony over the conquered territories. Nevertheless, even successful Han military campaigns proved to be very costly.
The Xiungnu's large and mobile armies could easily put over 100,000 horsemen into a major battle and their wars with the Han armies were deadly in the extreme. Both sides frequently fielded a combined strength of half a million men in a single campaign and bloody, ruthless fighting was the rule. Once the two armies joined the fight, there was no turning back. Few prisoners were taken on either side and fewer still were exchanged. Rarely did the Chinese enjoy an outright victory. One Chinese general who began with 60,000 troops returned from a "successful" campaign with fewer than 10,000 soldiers.
The fierce wars among the Xiungnu in Mongolia displaced many barbarian tribes, including the Yuezhi, who fled westward after failing to secure alliances with other tribes or Central Asian states. With no idea of where the Yuezhi had gone, Emperor Wu prepared a mission to seek an alliance with them. Zhangqian, an officer of the imperial bodyguard, set out in 138 BC with 100 retainers on a monumental 2,000 mile journey through rugged, unchartered territory patrolled by a highly mobile enemy. Ten years later, after traveling through several Central Asian states that expressed great interest in trade with the Han, Zhang finally reached the Yuezhi, settled in a region the Romans called Bactria (Ta Xia). Despite his best efforts, he could not convince the Yuezhi to return east to battle their old enemies.
Though he failed his primary mission, Zhangqian returned from his 12 year journey with invaluable political, economic and military intelligence on empires lying farther south and west, including northern India, Parthia and Syria, the eastern outpost of the Roman Empire. With a soldier's interest in horses, Zhang told the emperor about the horses he saw in the small state of Fergana. They were much larger and more beautiful than the sturdy Mongol horses and would make excellent cavalry mounts. He also spoke of Wu-sun, a former Xiungnu protectorate that might be persuaded to attack the Xiungnu to recover its tribal homelands. Zhang sincerely believed that China's destiny lay to the west and convinced Wu Di that such an alliance would clear the way for China to force other western states into submission. Emperor Wu saw great opportunity in Zhang's proposal and ordered him westward with 300 cavalry and an enormous treasure of silks, metals, livestock and other valuables. An alliance was established with Wusun, but the other western states enjoyed their independence and the benefits of trade with China and saw no reason for an alliance. Emperor Wu set out to change their minds.
In 119 BC, Emperor Wu laid plans to conquer the small Central Asian state of Fergana. Using the horses as a pretext for action, Han emissaries traveled to Fergana for a little "horse trading." Their requests were repeatedly refused. After several Chinese envoys were brutally killed during one particularly heated exchange, Emperor Wu sent a large army against Fergana to force the issue. Approximately 140,000 horses began the battle. When the fighting ended, a victorious Han cavalry general had some 40,000 enemy heads to show for his efforts, but fewer than 30,000 horses.
Ever mindful of the bloody price of conquest, China viewed any expansionist behavior of Choson with great alarm. Choson had become a refuge for hundreds of Chinese dissidents, particularly in the Liaodong River valley, and relations between the Changan court and King Ugo, Wiman's grandson, were not good. Elements within the Han court, worried that Choson would side with China's enemies at any moment, exerted ever-increasing pressure on Wu Di to remove the danger to the Liaodong region by asserting positive Chinese control over the Korean peninsula. The Han Emperor, troubled by a court in decline for some time, gradually came to fear the possibility of an alliance between Choson and the Xiungnu in the north.
The strained relationship between China and Choson eventually ruptured; not because of a military alliance with the Xiungnu, but because of a trade dispute. The State of Chin, isolated on the southern end of the Korean peninsula, had a strong desire to enjoy the benefits of Han China's new metal technologies. King Ugo regarded the southern peninsula as part of his domain and barred any direct contact between China and the smaller peninsula states. Since Choson straddled the only land connection with China, Choson effectively became the economic middleman on the Korean peninsula. King Ugo jealously guarded his trade connections with the Han Chinese and moved to increase the profitability of those connections and strengthen Choson in the process. Since Ki Chun had earlier cut off relations between the State of Chin and Choson, he decided to bypass Choson altogether and attempted to establish direct contact with the Han court in Changan. Choson frustrated any hope for direct trade by forcibly preventing the his envoys from ever reaching China.
Choson's interference with Chin's attempt to seek recognition from Changan became a source of real friction between Choson and Han China. Despite Emperor Wu's repeated attempts to negotiate a settlement with King Ugo, his personal envoys to Wang'gom-song had little impact on their strained relations. The Emperor even went so far as to attempt to divide the peninsula by exploiting cultural differences between the ruling aristocracy and the people in Choson and the provinces of the southern peninsula. In the spring of 109 BC, the Han court sent an envoy named She He to inform King Ugo of China's displeasure. During She He's return trip to China, he murdered his military escort and later boasted he had killed a Choson army general. The Han court rewarded She He for his action by appointing him commander of the eastern sector of Liaodong. The implication of that appointment did not go unnoticed in Wang'gom-song. Later that summer, a group of warriors dispatched from King Ugo's court exacted a measure of revenge by catching up with She He and brutally murdering him.
Border clashes between Choson and Han China escalated throughout the year. Using She He's death as a pretext for action, Emperor Wu dispatched two large armies against King Ugo's kingdom in the autumn of 109 BC. The first expedition, led by Yang Pu, crossed the Gulf of Bo Hai and landed on Korea's west coast. General Xun Zhi marched a second army into Korea from the Liaodong region. Choson's skill in metal culture was every bit as good as China's at the time and King Ugo commanded well-equipped armies. Choson troops engaged and soundly defeated Xun Zhi's army in Korea's northern mountain passes and routed Yang Pu's bogged down assault against Wang'gom-song in the south.
The Choson army's stiff resistance and the inability of generals Hsün and Yang to cooperate with each other prolonged open hostilities between Han China and Choson throughout the year. While the two Chinese armies pulled back to regroup and lick their wounds, Emperor Wu sent yet another envoy to Wang'gom-song in an attempt to overawe King Ugo. This time it appeared that a settlement would be reached. King Ugo agreed to send his own son to the Han court to affect an agreement. Trouble developed on the banks of the Yalu River however, when the young Choson Crown Prince refused to dismiss his armed guard before crossing into Chinese territory. Angered by the refusal, Chinese envoy Wei Shan refused him permission to proceed. When word of this ill-advised behavior reached China, Emperor Wu ordered Wei Shan's execution.
While Choson warriors successfully managed to hold off the Chinese in the north, internal dissension and chaos intensified among Choson's ruling class and the court at Wang'gom-song. During this troubled period a new flood of refugees left Choson. Some fled because they no longer accepted northern rule, while others departed for purely political reasons. Yok-kye, one of King Ugo's high ministers, could not persuade the king to drop the policies that eventually led to the break with China. When it became clear King Ugo would not change his position, Yok-kye reportedly fled south to the State of Chin with over two thousand households. Among the many refugees were skilled metallurgists, competent rice farmers and people experienced in the new Chinese arts of governing. Not only were they eagerly welcomed, but their new knowledge and skills played an important role in the future development of southern Korea.
Communities in southern Korea coalesced around new power centers, creating three new peninsula kingdoms known collectively as the Samhan States. In the T'ung-chia and Yalu River basin region, the Yemaek people consolidated their strength under the leadership of Lord Namnyo, who reportedly ruled a population of some 280,000 people.
Frustrated by the inability of his army to conquer Choson, Emperor Wu ordered an investigation of the military situation on the peninsula. The inquiry led to the arrest and decapitation of General Yang Pu and the transfer of his entire command to General Xun Zhi. General Xun received new orders for an all-out assault against Choson. In the summer of 108 BC, General Xun Zhi's army overran Choson. The increased fighting around Wang'gom-song triggered open dissension within the ruling class and intensified the activities of a peace faction within Choson's royal court. Once the court sensed that all was lost, Choson no longer had the heart to continue. The Choson army held off the Chinese for a time, but increasing defections gradually weakened their ranks and General Xun captured Wang'gom-song in a matter of days.
Han Chinese soldiers conquered adjacent lands in southern Korea and southern Manchuria, meeting only token resistance. In a desperate move to end the bloodshed, a secretive group of Choson court ministers, some of whom were Chinese, brutally assassinated King Ugo and formally surrendered the kingdom to China. The Chinese handsomely rewarded collaborators in Ugo's court who switched sides at the last moment, ensuring their families would continue to enjoy high social status. Others were not so fortunate. Many fled the country. Some even sailed south to Japan. The once ambitious Korean kingdom did to itself what Emperor Wu's armies could not. Wiman Choson perished.
To ensure that Choson would not again become a source of trouble, Emperor Wu ordered the creation of four great military districts known as the <A class=tipmap onmouseover="stm(Text,Style); self.status='The Han Chinese Commanderies';return true" title="Click for IMAP" onmouseout="htm();self.status='Document: Done'" href="http://www.koreanhistoryproject.org/Ket/C01/C0112_M2.htm" target=IMAP>Four Chinese Commanderies. Lolang, a newly-constructed walled-city on the south bank of the broad Taedong River near Wang'gom-song, became the seat of power for China's colonial policy in Choson.
The Chinese enjoyed a rich life as colonial overlords in Lolang, living and working among themselves, apart from the local populace. Lolang's new residents brought new concepts and techniques in art, philosophy, architecture, and government administration. The district governor, his staff and other government officials moved about the city in their canopied chariots on streets paved with brick. The Chinese nobility adorned itself with delicate gold jewelry inlaid with semi-precious stones and dined on excellent lacquerware brought from China. Chinese merchants, artisans, and craftsmen made and sold a variety of iron and bronze products including military weapons, chariot fittings, agricultural tools, textiles, and ceramic ware. As the Chinese colonists settled into their new life in a new land, Lolang became an important trade center, carefully watched over by the district military commander and his troops. For the first time in its history, Korea fell victim to subjugation by a powerful outside presence.
The efforts of the Chinese colonial administration in each military district to bring newly occupied lands under the Celestial Empire's growing influence had a substantial impact on native life in Choson and a lasting effect on the Korean people. In ancient China, streets would be emptied for the passage of ranking officials and imperial tours. Townspeople gave way whenever Chinese officials were around, and it was regarded as unusual when someone failed to do so. When high Chinese officials exercised their influence over the common people in their neighborhood, they neither expected nor endured any challenge. The Han nobility, particularly the powerful nobles, preferred using their influence and diplomacy rather than resorting to force. The major source of Han influence came from active collusion with local government officials at various levels for whom they could arrange things to their favor. Local government needed powerful, influential families in the area to fulfill such duties as collecting taxes and conscripting labor. The powerful families needed the backing, more often the tacit permission, of local government to legitimize their own activities. This symbiotic power-sharing relationship was crucial for any powerful and wealthy individual or family that wanted to maintain influence over the common people. The relationship worked so long as neither side alienated the other.
In order to disrupt the process of unification in Korea, the Chinese commanderies established diplomatic ties with each of the peninsula's walled-town states individually. This divisive policy had the added effect of hindering the development of native self-rule. The Korean people did not bear the weight of their new landlords well and despite the splendor of their surroundings, the Chinese found little tranquillity in their colonial outposts. After twenty-five years of determined opposition by local populations, China abolished the Chen-fan and Lin-t'un military districts. By 82 BC, the areas under their jurisdiction were transferred to the administrative rule of Lolang and Xuantu. Just seven years later, continued resistance from local populations forced the Xuantu Commandery to move from former Yemaek territory to an area in east central Manchuria.
In 57 BC, the six clan chieftains of the King's Council met in the village of Kyongju, capital of the small walled-town state of Saro. They formed a new political alliance among the several smaller tribal states in the old Chinhan territory east of the Naktong River and chose Pak Hyokkose of the Kumnyang clan as their first leader. By consolidation and outright conquest, the walled-town state of Saro linked itself with other walled-town states in the area, gradually expanded its frontier beyond the confines of the Kyongju plain, and evolved into the rather large confederated kingdom of Silla. Chinese institutions and the Chinese way of life dominated each military district, yet the Chinese had no connection to the Korean people. Gradually, inexorably, Chinese culture penetrated the basic fabric of Korean society, progressively weakening people's faith in traditional Korean values. For example, Korea's tribal origins gave people no sense of private property and they never developed the habit of keeping their goods secure from thieves. Chinese merchants took advantage of this characteristic and enriched themselves by continuous stealing. Although Chinese colonial policies were not repressive, the basic cultural differences between the Chinese and Koreans and their close cultural contact set in motion a disintegrative social process in Korea.
Five Puyo clans moved into the rugged mountainous country between the middle-Yalu and Dongjia River basins in Manchuria. By 37 BC, the territory emerged as the confederated kingdom of Koguryo.China's overwhelming presence on the Korean Peninsula affected not only Choson, but the southern Samhan states, where there was strong interest in acquiring the benefits of China's highly advanced culture. China had a great interest in Korea's natural resources, and whenever the Han Chinese sought economic gain or political submission from areas beyond their direct rule, they traditionally granted local leaders titular office and rank, official seals and ceremonial attire. In exchange, the Chinese got what they wanted without having to resort to force. Unlike the volatile Xiungnu to the north, southern Korea's inhabitants were primarily settled people who seemed quite willing to adopt most of the essential elements of Chinese culture. The leaders of the three Samhan States were generally eager participants in this tributary relationship. Through such exchanges, southern Korea's tribal societies not only absorbed the benefits of Chinese culture, they maintained their political independence in the process. Although the entire region tended to remain a Chinese sphere of influence, the Samhan states achieved impressive new developments on their own despite China's presence and sowed the seeds of a new social dynamism in Korea.
Despite the economic benefits that followed the Han expansion, the financial drain of holding such a large empire more than offset any benefits gained from increased trade. Foreign imports actually did more to line the pockets of wealthy men than provide benefits to China's ailing economy. Influential government officials, many of whom still held to the Legalist philosophy, were openly hostile to private merchants and pushed the government toward a more controlled economy. In 119 BC, faced with mounting expenses, the government took control of the salt and iron industries, monopolized the production and sale of alcohol, and established new taxes on wagons, boats, carts, and stock animals. Just four years later, the government appointed officers to equalize distribution. They bought vast quantities of commodities when prices were low and sold them when prices were high, thus preventing prices from being too low or too high and maximizing profit for the government. This process was institutionalized in 110 BC with the creation of a bureau of equalization and standardization.
As wealthy merchants bought and hoarded more and more goods for profit, Emperor Wu tried to curb profiteering by issuing new currency and severely punishing counterfeiters. He also ordered a series of major projects on a grand scale to refill his imperial treasury, including the construction of China's great canal systems. The canals not only improved crop irrigation, but made the transportation of tax grains to the capital city much easier.
China's wealthy families sought a hedge against insecurity by buying land; lots of land. Many Han bureaucrats, large land owners themselves, took advantage of their office to buy choice plots and often managed to make their property tax exempt. This trend toward ever-larger land holdings, much of it tax-exempt, and the dramatic rise in the population of common peasants created a land shortage. Although government action eliminated treasury deficits and provided adequate supplies to armies stationed along the frontier, the people were left to eat without salt because of its high cost and had to use inferior iron tools to farm. The growing tax burden forced ordinary peasants to borrow money, often at usurious rates, just to meet their debts. This dramatically altered Chinese agriculture by triggering a decline in farming productivity. Peasants unable to pay their taxes and increased rents were evicted or forced to leave farming, which made more land available for the aristocracy. Conscription into labor and military service added to the peasantry's growing discontent. Some who left farming resorted to banditry. Some sold their children into slavery just to survive.
The situation in China outraged Dong Zhongshu, China's most renowned Confucian scholar. He loudly complained that wealthy families owned vast amounts of land, leaving the poor with nowhere to plant their own two feet. He also railed against the idea of peasants having to give up as much as fifty percent of their harvests as rent. Dong Zhongshu understood the dilemma faced by farmers who could not afford to buy iron tools and had to till the soil with wood and weed their fields by hand. He complained that common peasants had to sell their crops when prices were low then turn around and borrow money in the spring at high interest rates just to start planting. He also complained about the thousands put to death every year for banditry.
Dong Zhongshu proposed to solve the economic crisis by reducing taxes on the poor, reducing the state labor conscription of peasants, abolishing the government's monopoly on salt and iron, and improving the distribution of farm lands by limiting the amount of land that any one family could own. He faced a Confucianist aristocracy that was not about to support reforming a system that ran counter to their own economic interests. Emperor Wu wanted the peasants to prosper, but he needed the cooperation of wealthy landowners to finance his military campaigns and did not want to offend them by redistributing their property. Instead, the emperor imposed higher taxes on the wealthy and clamped down on attempted tax evasion.
Emperor Wu expanded the Han Empire across much of East Asia by the final century of the first millennium BC, from the barren Tarim Basin in the west to Korea in the northeast. The successful military and diplomatic campaigns of Emperor Wu and Zhangqian left China secure to trade, rebuild and regroup, but at a terrible cost of lives and treasure. Chinese commanders lost most of their men in several major battles during the Xiungnu wars between 103 and 90 BC, with casualties numbering in the tens of thousands. In 91 BC tens of thousands were arbitrarily executed for witchcraft and black magic. The entire campaign put an enormous financial strain on the Han Dynasty and the heavy costs associated with maintaining large occupation armies protecting new conquests placed a heavy burden on China's economy.
With so much of China's wealth dependent on trade, envoys were sent to western lands lured by the incentive of making money. In 105 BC, a Chinese ambassador, following the trail blazed by Zhangqian over a generation earlier, reached the borders of Iran. When he was presented to the Parthian monarch, King Mithridates II, he laid rich, luxurious silks at the ruler's feet. King Mithridates reciprocated by presenting the envoy with an ostrich egg and a troupe of conjurors as gifts to Emperor Wu. The exchange of gifts marked the birth of the fabled Silk Road, a trade artery that over time transformed the history of China in the East and Rome in the West. Camel caravans heavily laden with silks and treasures set out regularly from Changan (Xi'an), China, traveling westward nearly 6,400 km (4,000 mi) along a series of well-worn trails through Gansu Province to Samarkhand and on to Antioch, Baghdad, Alexandria, and the Mediterranean coast. Guard posts established all along the Silk Road protected China's lucrative gateway to the West against Xiungnu raids.
As Emperor Wu's fifty-four year reign neared its end in 91 BC, violent warfare erupted around Changan over who would succeed him on the Celestial Throne. Wu Di's empress and his heir apparent battled the family of one of the emperor's concubines and the two families came close to destroying each other. Just before Emperor Wu died in 87 BC, a compromise heir was finally chosen: the emperor's eight year-old son from a concubine of neither family, who was enthroned as Emperor Zhao and put under the regency of former Han general Huo Guang.
Huo Guang, born a commoner, implemented a number of reforms to revitalize the exhausted empire. Loans were made to the poor; payments and taxes were remitted in bad years or could be made in kind when grain prices were low. Horses were no longer demanded. The size of government was reduced, and imperial lands were distributed to the people. In 81 BC, Huo Guang sponsored a conference to hear the grievances of Emperor Chao's subjects. He summoned sixty scholars from around the empire to a public debate on the issues, including both Legalist government officials and worthy representatives of Confucianism.
During this great dialog, known as the Discourses on Salt and Iron, the Legalists argued strongly for maintaining the status quo, claiming it was their economic policies that successfully provided iron tools to the peasants, increased trade and wealth, and helped maintain China's defenses against the Xiungnu's continued hostility. They complained the government was protecting the people from the exploitation of traders, and argued in favor of the government's policy of western expansion on the grounds that it brought the empire horses, camels, fruits and various imported luxuries, such as furs, rugs and precious stones. Both sides complained bitterly about the growing dishonesty and moral decay in the empire.
The Confucianists saw the people's grievances as a moral issue and argued it was not the government's role to involve itself in trade or to compete with private merchants. Anyway, they complained, the imported goods so admired by the Legalists found their way into only the houses of the rich. The reformers emphasized moral principles and complained that government officials were using their positions to increase their incomes to incalculable levels, a practice Confucius disapproved. They also argued that expansion and foreign adventures had weakened China without maintaining safety. China should live in peace with its neighbors and stay within its own borders. It had no business in Central Asia. Those in power countered by criticizing the scholars for talking but not acting and asked them if they could devise a means to bring peace to the country and subdue foreign lands so that they would not raid and attack the frontiers.
The Discourses on Salt and Iron revealed clear divisions between the realistic legalists in power and the principled scholars who wanted reforms. After all the debate and posturing at the conference, the government retained its imperial monopolies on salt and iron, but replaced its control over alcohol with taxation. Aside from a small tax reduction and opening peace negotiations with the Xiungnu chieftains, little really changed.
Emperor Zhao's death in 74 BC triggered yet another round of conflict in the Changan palace. When he learned of the emperor's death, one of the possible heirs raced to Changan and was placed on the throne. The young man became so enthralled with the insatiable pleasures of palace life he forgot all about mourning his predecessor and was removed from office after 27 days. Huo Guang and the ministers replaced him with the eighteen-year-old Emperor Xuan. Xuan had been taught the Odes, Analects, and Filial Piety and was kind, benevolent, and loving to others. He was also someone Huo thought he could control. Huo Guang continued to run the government until his death just six years later. The dangerous Huo clan was methodically and completely removed from power over the next two years, leaving Xuan-di free to rule for himself.
Raised as commoner, Emperor Xuan understood the people's suffering and instituted a number of reforms to ease their plight. He gave grants to the heirs of capable officials who died poor, exempted those in mourning from required services, abolished laws banning gatherings of people, and increased salaries of lower officials to prevent extortion. He also reduced the number of military garrisons, loaned government land to the poor, opened the royal preserves to cultivation, and lowered the price of salt. Kind officials were promoted. Harsh officials were demoted. Corrupt officials were allowed to resign. Emperor Xuan also implemented a number of legal reforms. He ordered the appointment of special judges for difficult cases, pardons for those hiding relatives, investigations into prison deaths, and exemptions for punishing the elderly. Capital punishment required the emperor's consent. One official, who used capital punishment with such regularity he became known as "Uncle Butcher," was publicly executed for his cruel tyranny.
In the north, an internal dispute of inheritance split triggered a civil war among the Xiungnu, who split into the southern and northern Xiungnu. The southern Xiungnu led by Hu Hanye, looking for support, visited the Chinese court in Changan in 51 BC. Instead of resenting the man's imperial title, Emperor Xuan honored him as a guest and presented him with rich gifts. The same year Julius Caesar conquered the Gauls and invaded Britain, Hu Hanye bowed his head in submission to Emperor Wu's great-grandson, surrendered his 5,000 people, and settled in Shanxi Province, where they guarded the Han's northern border and fought against the Xiungnu. The grand strategy to guarantee Han China's security devised by Emperor Wu and, to a large extent by Zhangqian, had finally come to pass.
Near the end of his reign, Emperor Xuan noted that reductions in military service and forced labor had done little to eliminate poverty and corrupt officials. While it seems he did his best to harmonize the virtues of legalistic discipline and Confucian benevolence, despite modest successes he never managed to win support of scholars, some of whom called for his abdication.
Emperor Xuan reigned for twenty-eight unremarkable years as the last effective ruler of the Former Han Dynasty. The emperor's twenty-seven year-old son, Emperor Yuan, succeeded him in 48 BC, the first of a long string of dysfunctional Han rulers. While still the Crown Prince, Yuan criticized his father for applying laws too severely and suggested he employ more Confucian masters in government. Once on the throne, Yuan-di appointed Confucians to run his government, whose modest reforms reduced expenditures and lightened punishments. Under their influence, the civil service examination system was expanded to include a moral component as well as the literary test. Emperor Yuan's adoption of Confucian rituals and principles also led to favoring relatives in the name of filial piety. The resulting nepotism and matriarchal influences contributed to the eventual fall of the Former Han dynasty within two generations.
This timid intellectual, more interested in personal pleasure than ruling a great empire, left power in the hands of his eunuch secretaries and members of his mother's family, while he spent a great deal of time with concubines. Confucian influence in the palace was checked somewhat by the eunuch Shi Xian, the Chief Palace Writer, who had many Confucians arrested and executed for criticizing him. Things were no better under the rule of his son, Emperor Cheng, who ascended the Celestial Throne in 32 BC at age nineteen and ruled for twenty-seven years. Shi Xian was exiled and the office of Palace Writer was abolished to remove power from the eunuchs. Like his father, Cheng Di had little enthusiasm for governing and put his maternal relatives into prominent government positions. Also like his father, he enjoyed food, wine, music and such personal pleasures as visiting prostitutes at night.
With Han China in a quagmire of ineffective rule, the Korean peninsula earnestly began another period of restructuring and launched itself on a nearly two thousand year long struggle for unity. Tribes and clans sought strength in numbers and forged new alliances with each other to increase their political and military power. Many walled-towns, then the seat of local ruling power, expanded their collective wealth and influence by joining to form confederated kingdoms. When that wasn't possible, tribal clans moved into other regions and established their aristocratic way of life among the local population.
During the latter half of the 1st century BC, Tungusic Puyo tribes moved south from the broad flatland of Manchuria's Sungari River basin towards the foothills and high plains between the middle-Yalu and T'ung-chia (modern Hun Jiang) River basins. The region was populated by agricultural clans of the Yemaek, who were already in the process of developing a tribal league among the scattered villages and farms that dotted the countryside. Five Puyo clans led by Chu-mong rode into the rugged mountainous country of the Yemaek and established new settlements of their own. Although Chu-mong's followers were not native to the area, clan chieftain Tong-myong's strong leadership and Puyo's ruling elite gradually gained control of the region. By 37 BC, the territory emerged as the confederated kingdom of Koguryo.
The aristocratic societies of Puyo and Koguryo evolved around the person of the taega, a king-like figure traditionally chosen alternately from two or more royal clans by a kind of elective process. Each clan selected its own clan chieftain. The council of chieftains then selected one of their own to lead the entire community. This body of clan leaders held the authority to decide important issues like royal succession, declaring war, and concluding treaties. From their earliest beginnings, each of Korea's kingdoms gave its leader the Chinese title wang, or king, to put the mark of legitimacy on their leadership and their own status. People took the ability to command very seriously and not only held their king responsible for their welfare, but they held him personally accountable for virtually everything that happened to them. Among the Puyo clan, it was not uncommon to quickly remove a king from the throne, even kill him, in response to a disastrous harvest. Once a royal clan established its right to rule, succession came to rest within that clan and leadership became a heredity entitlement, passing from father to son.
Once established, the kingdoms of Puyo and Koguryo developed at a relatively rapid pace. The old style of rule by councils of chieftains and tribal alliances gradually gave way to a centralized state dominated by a king and supported by an aristocratic political power structure. Three distinct groups comprised Koguryo's ruling class and each shared political power nearly evenly: the royal family, the nobility, and the warriors. The king, whose family held the right to the throne by birth, ruled the kingdom. The nobility, which had the privilege of being allowed to marry members of the royal family, directed the administration of state affairs. The warriors, those responsible for defending the kingdom, held the military power. The actual political power to rule rested not with the king himself, but among the large number of the king's retainers and their loyalty to him. These were either nobles, senior members of the royal family, or members of the various clans from which the queens were selected.
Kings possessed not only political power, but great economic wealth; exquisite Chinese-style tableware, silk clothing and furs that were the envy of the Chinese, and crown-like headgear extravagantly adorned with gold and silver. The kingdom measured its true wealth in more practical terms however, how much land it controlled and how many slaves it owned. A kingdom needed land for grazing and agriculture and it needed slaves to produce food, make weapons, and supply other necessities for the aristocracy. The land belonged exclusively to the king and he could do with it as he wished. He also owned a considerable number of slaves and had first claim on tax levies collected from the peasants through village leaders. As a measure of the king's power, in extreme cases he could command that upon his death as many as one hundred servants should be killed and buried with him. It was only natural such men commanded the reverential respect of the societies they ruled.
Koguryo's early tribes lived among the high mountain valleys along the Manchurian side of the Yalu River near modern T'ung-kou. The scarce arable farmland in this region meant that survival, let alone prosperity, depended heavily on a tribe's hunting skills. To preserve its very existence, the kingdom needed a strong military force. To increase its wealth and power, Koguryo needed land and slaves. Clan chieftain Tong-myong met these needs during his early struggles with other tribes in the area by turning Koguryo's warriors from the pursuit of food to the acquisition of new lands and slaves. His warrior aristocracy pursued no other type of productive activity beyond training for combat, and they learned the art of warfare well. In their quest to secure more permanent sources of food and productive labor, young Koguryo's aristocratic society of mounted warriors made territorial expansion their principal objective. Koguryo emerged within the territory administered by China's Xuantu Commandery and developed in the context of a nearly continuous conflict with the Chinese. King Yuri-myong, who succeeded Tong-myong in 19 BC, ruled Koguryo from his rugged mountain stronghold at Kungnae-song (modern Ji'an), just north of the Yalu River. He regularly dispatched his warriors on raids into agricultural regions of the surrounding lowlands and local farming populations governed by the Chinese, raids that became regular missions of tribute. Yuri-myong's armed cavalry developed a consuming interest in the spoils of war; land, slaves, and domestic animals. The tribute and booty taken in these raids not only increased Koguryo's wealth, but further enhanced and consolidated the power of the king. Unlike the Puyo kingdom to the north, Koguryo gave China every impression of being a vigorous, warlike people with a fondness for attacking their neighbors.
Descent from Heaven
The Earlier Han Dynasty, weakened by a succession of dysfunctional emperors, fell to Wang Mang, who created the short-lived and disastrous Hsin Dynasty.The declining quality of monarchs following Emperor Wu's reign led some Confucian scholars to declare openly that the Han Dynasty had lost its Mandate from Heaven. The belief became widespread, particularly after Emperor Ngai, the last emperor of the Former Han Dynasty, ascended the throne as Cheng Di's successor. Ngai Di, it seems, enjoyed living in the company of homosexual boys, one of whom he appointed commander-in-chief of his armies. The pleasure-seeking emperor ruled only twelve years.
In 9 AD, the palace at Changan came under the domination of the family of Yuan-di's widow, who replaced Ngai Di on the throne with a two year-old and appointed her nephew, Wang Mang, regent over the infant ruler. Wang was a Confucianist, a member of a consort family with a reputation for Confucian virtues and a talent for intrigue. Hoping to see China once again under the rule of moral purpose, many Confucianists looked to him for leadership. Some looked to him to create a new dynasty. Encouraged by such widespread support, within a year Wang Mang arranged for the abdication of the infant emperor, declared himself emperor and brought the Han Dynasty to an end. He soon began a long struggle for recognition of his legitimacy.
Following his enthronement, Wang Mang proclaimed the beginning of the Xin (New) Dynasty. Hoping to win support from commoners by reforms, Emperor Wang dramatically announced the recent discovery of books written by Confucius, supposedly found when Confucius' house had been torn down more than two hundred years before . He claimed he was doing what the first Zhou king or Confucius would do if they were in his position. In accordance with the writings in his "Confucian scripture," he decreed a return to that golden age when every man had his measure of land to till - land that in principle belonged to the state. Families with fewer than eight members that owned over fifteen acres were obligated to distribute the excess acreage to those without land.
Emperor Wang moved to reduce the tax burden on peasants and devised a plan where the state would lend money to anyone in need at only ten percent interest compared to the usurious thirty-percent rate being charged by private lenders. In an attempt to discourage wealthy individuals from hoarding grain and profiting from price fluctuations, the emperor made plans to create state-sponsored granaries in order to stabilize prices by instituting a "leveling" program. The government bought surplus commodities when prices fell and sold them when scarcity caused prices to rise. He also appointed officials to regulate the economy and to fix prices every three months, adding that critics of his plan would be drafted into the military.
The Xin dynasty was an unmitigated disaster from the start. Emperor Wang Mang believed that his subjects would obey his decrees. To succeed however, he needed more than a belief. He needed a broad base of loyal support and a strong force to move against those who violated his land reform laws. Unfortunately, he remained too timid and too attached to his pacifistic idealism to make his plans work. Among the wealthy aristocracy, particularly the large land-owners, Confucianism took a back seat to their interest in holding and increasing their personal wealth. Many of the wealthy merchants employed by the government to implement the reforms quickly succumbed to bribery and spent most of their time enriching themselves. Furthermore, with no means of mass communication available to spread the word, local people remained totally unaware of the emperor's reforms. Instead of mobilizing a large peasant army to enforce his decrees, Emperor Wang soon discovered that the great land owners had begun mobilizing a peasant army against him.
By 10 AD, Emperor Wang faced the emergence of a well-organized and disciplined peasant movement led by a former brigand chief in Shandong Province near the mouth of the Yellow River. In Hebei Province, yet another rebellion arose and soon their were revolts underway across China. Landlords led some of these rebellious peasant armies, and one in particular was led by a Han prince named Liu Xiu. Peasant armies murdered and plundered their way across the North China Plain. Emperor Wang ordered his troops against the peasant armies, but even they turned against him, either joining the rebels or engaging in wild sprees of looting and plundering, taking what little food they could find.
The failed reforms and peasant unrest were too much for Emperor Wang. When he attempted to deal with the revolts by endless elaboration of Confucian rituals and new regulations, he merely alienated his supporters. The unrest in China was amplified by a great natural disaster in 11 AD, when the massive dike system holding the mighty Yellow River in its channel to the sea collapsed. Devastating floods spread from Shandong Province to the river's mouth on the Gulf of Bo Hai, killing hundreds of thousands of people and creating a huge, wandering mass of starving and desperate peasants. The government had failed, as usual, to provide enough grain storage for hard times and the situation quickly degenerated into a widespread famine.
Not only threatened at home, Emperor Wang still faced a growing Xiungnu threat along his northern frontier as well. He viewed the Korean kingdom of Koguryo, now firmly established north of the Yalu River, and the Xiungnu as potential threats to his short-lived Xin Dynasty. The Chinese saw the growing strength of the confederated kingdom of Puyo in Manchuria as an added menace. Ironically, the rulers of Puyo also saw themselves in a precarious position. They had long had hostile relationships with Koguryo to the south and the emerging Xianbei to the north, a nomadic tribe that developed as an independent power near the Khingan Mountains in the upper Amur River basin.
Hoping to channel some of Koguryo's aggressive energy, Emperor Wang issued orders in 12 AD that tribal warriors should take part as auxiliaries in a military campaign against the Xiungnu. Rather than fight the Xiungnu, the Koguryo warriors reconsidered their position. They turned against the Chinese and murdered a local Chinese governor in the ensuing revolt. The Chinese military could not suppress the resulting violent flash of tempers that quickly flared into a general revolt against Chinese authority. Stunned and angered, the Chinese military district commander invited a tribal leader from Koguryo to a meeting ostensibly to discuss the situation. Chinese troops promptly murdered him when he arrived. This episode marked not just the first overt act against a foreign power by Koguryo, but it marked the beginning of a truly independent kingdom.
The combined effects of peasant unrest, natural disaster and widespread famine took a terrible toll on the population. By 14 AD, cannibalism became an option for some desperate to survive. Man's basic goodness, the strongly held belief of Confucianists, appeared to have vanished. Since Wang Mang had come to the Celestial Throne as a sage, the Chinese saw all these disasters as Heaven proving him to be a fake. Finally convinced that his reforms had failed, Emperor Wang withdrew the program, but it really no longer mattered. Armed and determined resistance to his rule had already begun.
Various peasant groups merged in 18 AD to form a large rebel army known as the "Red Eyebrows," so-called because of their distinctive bright red mark (red was the cosmological color of the Han Dynasty). Prince Liu Xiu and his clan descendants were laying plans to reclaim the Celestial Throne and reestablish the Han Dynasty. As the Xin Dynasty slowly collapsed on itself, angry peasants marched toward the capital, killing government officials along the way. In 23 AD, a large rebel army poured into the Wei River valley, where they sacked and burned China's great capital city of Changan. Rebel soldiers found Emperor Wang Mang in his throne room, calmly reciting from his collection of Confucian writings, perhaps still trying to cast some magic spell to halt the advance of the enemy armies. One soldier silenced the emperor's voice by decapitating him in mid-sentence. In the end, Wang Mang seems to have been more a victim of the social demand for a sage ruler and his own self-delusions than a cynical fraud.
Wang Mang died without a designated heir to the throne and for the next five years vicious fighting in China resulted in millions of deaths as rival factions battled each other for power. Prince Liu Xiu of the royal Liu family led the most successful faction. Popular among his troops and people with whom he had contacts, Prince Liu surrounded himself with educated men. His army was the only group that did not loot a captured town and his leadership ability won the hearts and minds of those conquered. Liu Xiu took control over the conquered capital city of Changan in 28 AD, proclaimed himself Emperor Guang Wu and restored the Han Dynasty. Shortly afterward, he moved the capital to the city of Luoyang, which his forces also controlled. Liu Xiu spent the next eleven years combating rivals, absorbing some groups of Red Eyebrow rebels into his army and killing thousands more.
Ironically, the reforms Wang Mang tried to peacefully accomplish during his life came to pass violently after his death. So many people died in the upheaval that ended the Xin Dynasty that land became available to literally anyone who wanted to own a piece of China. The vast number of money lenders among the dead freed vast numbers of peasants from debt. Emperor Guang Wu helped the ravaged economy by lowering taxes by as much as he thought possible, down to as little as one tenth or one thirteenth of a farmer's profits or harvest.
During his thirty-two year reign, Liu Xiu promoted scholarship and curtailed the influence of eunuchs and others around the royal family. He defended China's western and northern borders by launching successful military campaigns on these frontiers, pushing back the Xiungnu, enabling him to take control of Sinkiang in extreme northwestern China. Though once considered a major threat by Wang Mang's Xin Dynasty, the Kingdom of Puyo had long desired friendly ties with China. Puyo envoys arrived at the court of Emperor Guang Wu in 49 AD seeking cordial relations with the Eastern Han Dynasty.
With Chinese support assured, Puyo sought first to preserve then expand its sovereign power. China came to welcome the rise of Puyo, largely because the kingdom lay on the Manchurian Plain between the Xianbei on China's northern frontier and Koguryo to China's northeast. Throughout its history, Puyo defended itself against the incursions of Koguryo and the Xianbei nomads by reaching accommodation with a succession of Chinese states. With his northeastern flank secured, Emperor Guang Wu tightened China's grip on the area around the Liao River and northern Korea, eventually expanding control over all that had been China. The restored Han dynasty appeared to have the won back the Mandate of Heaven.
Koguryo's founder, Chu-mong, had three sons: Crown Prince Yuri by his first wife, and princes Piryu and Onjo by his second wife. After Prince Yuri ascended the Koguryo throne in 19 BC, his two brothers, their families, and a number of former Puyo refugees left the area and traveled south and west into the Mahan territory. The following year, Prince Onjo settled in the city-state of Paekche, (Boji in Chinese), one of the Ma-han's 55 small town states. Prince Piryu separately established another state in the region.
Being foreigners from the far north, the royal family, court nobility, and ruling administrators took great care to maintain their distance from commoners as if to reinforce the distinction between themselves and the local population. Puyo's aristocracy did not command the loyalty of the Mahan people, in fact their very way of life made that a near impossibility. They lived separate from everyone else in great castles built by the forced labor of local peasants. These castles housed not only residences, but military headquarters and tax collection offices as well. The nobility cared little about actually governing the population. Their real interest lay in collecting taxes from the peasants. Toward that end, they enlisted the aid of influential locals as administrative retainers and authorized them to collect taxes. This the retainers did willingly, and twice; once for the nobility and once for themselves.
Gradually, Prince Onjo and his descendants brought the villages of Mahan under their control and formed the new Kingdom of Paekche. Even though Paekche possessed rich agricultural lands, a warm climate and a large population, it never developed a very strong culture, economy, or significant military presence. Under the leadership of the Puyo royal lineage from Manchuria, Paekche represented a kingdom of alien rule. For centuries, a large segment of the heavily taxed population had been worked as slaves in the fields and generally exploited by local ruling aristocracies. Because Paekche's native population had no experience in self-government, the people of Paekche, particularly those who lived along the southwest coast, lived under Chinese rule longer than any other group in Korea. Never in its entire existence did Paekche have its own native rulers. By the beginning of the 1st century AD, Koguryo had developed to the point where King Yuri-myong felt strong enough to break out of his territorial confines in all directions. His armed horsemen rode southwest across the Liaodong Peninsula into the Liao River basin and south to the Taedong River. Koguryo rapidly conquered and dominated Han China's military districts and the outlying territory that lay within China's sphere of influence. Koguryo warriors pushed northwest into the Puyo territory of the Sungari River basin and southeast across the Kaema Plateau onto the plains of Korea's northeast coast, where the Okcho and Eastern Ye held a tenuous position. The emergence and subsequent expansion of Koguryo became particularly unsettling to the Chinese who saw in Koguryo a new and growing danger to their northeastern frontier.
Decline of the Han Dynasty
The fabled Silk Road and wondrous scientific advances were no match for the administrative weakness, financial corruption and heavy taxation that led to the emergence of powerul warlords who accelerated the internal collapse of a once vibrant Han Dynasty.The Han Dynasty's economic recovery begun by Emperor Guang Wu continued under his son, Emperor Ming. China's trade reached new heights in an atmosphere of rising prosperity, and education took on a new importance. The newly formed Imperial University in Luoyang attracted thousands of students, many of whom attended history lectures given by the emperor himself. The successful Silk Road made silk a familiar commodity to people as far away as the Roman Empire and brought the Chinese glass, jade, horses, precious stones, tortoise shell, and fabrics.
The disappearance of the Xiungnu as a direct threat to China diminished the strategic importance of holding the northeastern frontier and made it possible for China turn its attention westward. With China's attention directed elsewhere, two new threats emerged in the northeast, each with the potential to threaten Chinese hegemony over the Manchurian Plain and the Liaodong River valley: the Xianbei nomads and the growing power of the Kingdom of Koguryo.
The threat to China from Koguryo became even more real in 53 AD, when King Taejo ascended the throne and permanently secured the right to rule for the Ko house of the Kyeru lineage . Under his rule, Koguryo mounted repeated attacks against the Liaodong and Xuantu commanderies, eventually forcing the Han government to move its administrative headquarters even further west. Taejo's warriors swept across the entire northeast coast of the Korean peninsula and subjugated the tribes of Okcho and Eastern Ye. The military campaign not only secured a power base at Taejo's rear, it also gave him meaningful material support to further his territorial expansion.
Taejo allowed native chieftains to retain their local authority and through them he assessed tribute from the local population; cloth made by the Yemaek, salt, fish and other seafood, and hand-crafted goods. The people of Okcho carried Taejo's tribute on their backs 200 to 300 miles to the Koguryo capital at Kungnae-song. They also sent their most beautiful women to Taejo's capital as servants and concubines, where they were always treated as slaves.
Taejo's aggressive pursuit of territorial expansion intensified the growing conflict between Koguryo and China and made open warfare between them inevitable. Taejo's raids became such a serious threat that the Chinese governor of Liaodong and other officials in the northeast territories organized a large-scale military expedition against Koguryo in 121 AD. The campaign had marginal success, but it enraged King Taejo to the point of seeking retaliation. He secured his northern frontier through an alliance with the Xianbei tribes in Manchuria and within a year further strengthened Koguryo's position against China. With Chinese troops scattered away from their bases, a combined force of Xianbei and Koguryo cavalry swept across the Liaodong countryside in a major assault against the capital garrison of the Xuantu Commandery. The Chinese escaped annihilation only by the timely intervention of Puyo's crown prince, whose army of horsemen severely defeated Taejo's warriors.
King Taejo died not long after this defeat and circumstances compelled his successor to make peace with China. Beginning with King Taejo and continuing under the banners of a succession of kings down to the reign of Kogukch'on, the young warrior kingdom pursued a policy of expansion that inevitably came at China's expense. Koguryo repeatedly attacked Chinese commanderies in the Liao and Taedong river basins, all the while further centralizing its governing structure, strengthening the ruling authority of its king, and making and breaking alliances with neighboring states to suit its own ambitions.
Beginning with Emperor Zhang in 76 AD, all Han emperors took the throne as adolescents, some as young as 2 years old. Most began their reign with their mother, the Dowager Empress, serving as regent. These women remained isolated in the palace and dependent upon men, usually their male relatives. As an emperor grew to adulthood, if he rejected his mother's relatives as advisors he often turned to the only other males with whom he had contact - the eunuchs - and appointed them to high positions as a counter to his mother's influence. The court of Emperor Ho (85 to 105 AD) reflected China's new prosperity by growing in both size and luxury to equal the courts of previous Han emperors. Ho Di brought a great many eunuchs to his court to guard and attend his hundreds of wives and concubines. Family consorts and eunuchs, many of whom had the ear of the emperor, soon acquired a great deal of influence.
By the 2nd century AD, Han Chinese science and technology had caught up with, and in some ways actually surpassed Europe and the Near East. The use of paper was becoming common. Horse collars and stirrups were in widespread use. China had a machine that sowed seeds, a machine for husking grain, water pumps and, unlike the Roman civilization, it had the wheel barrow. Chinese doctors were improving their use of herbal medicines, learning more about human anatomy and the diagnosis of physical disorders, using minor surgery and acupuncture, and learning the significance of a good diet. China had a water clock with an accuracy unknown to Europeans until the next millennium. In 132 AD, the Chinese invented a seismograph, a massive bronze instrument that measured eight feet across. Chinese astronomers observed sun spots, which would not be seen by Europeans until Galileo. They charted the positions of 11,520 stars, measured the elliptical orbit of the moon, and had a lunar calendar that would be consulted well into the twentieth century.
Despite China's great achievements however, peasant life under the reign of Emperor Shun (126 to 144 AD), remained harsh. The government still took too much from them in taxes and had not stored enough grain for natural disasters. The peasants still had to endure forced labor once a month for the emperor and still suffered harsh punishments. People were executed for traveling down the center of a highway, an area reserved for the emperor alone. Rumors began spreading among China's peasants that the Han emperors had again lost the Mandate of Heaven and scattered peasant revolts began to reappear across the empire.
When the Dowager Empress died in 159 AD, the palace eunuchs sensed an opportunity to eliminate rival political influence and arranged the extermination of her entire clan. That left the young emperor totally dependent on the eunuchs, to whom he delegated a great deal of power. They soon filled government positions with their kinsmen, obliging every official or general they appointed to pay for the favor in gold. China's Confucianist aristocracy, who favored law and order and good government, considered the eunuchs an uneducated lot and not long after twelve-year-old Emperor Ling came to the throne, a major clash occurred between the two groups triggered by the prophecy of a Daoist magician. The magician prophesied that soon the government would decree a general clemency. To prove his confidence in such a claim, he had his own son murder someone. Well, the man's son happened to be a henchman of the eunuchs, who immediately stayed the magician's execution. Nevertheless, the provincial governor executed the son for murder. The angered eunuchs accused the governor of violating an imperial decree and conspiring with students and scholars to form an illegal alliance against the government.
The general decline in respect for authority spread through the provinces as local magistrates and governors lost their authority to local wealthy aristocrats, men who used bribery to gain special influence with the palace eunuchs. These same aristocrats used their wealth to hire armed mercenaries to protect their special interests. At the same time, army generals commanding troops in the provinces with the blessings of the court's eunuchs were growing evermore independent. Between 168 and 170 AD, warfare erupted between the eunuchs and the Confucian bureaucrats, who felt that the eunuchs had usurped their rightful position of influence in government. The entire organization of Han China's economic and political system began falling apart in much the same way the Roman Empire began to disintegrate at approximately the same time. Neither empire could effectively adjust to its increased population, manage the growth of its wealth, or even control the complex institutions that centralized state rule had made possible. Despite repeated attempts by China's central government to build an efficient bureaucracy based on merit, far too many officials achieved their positions through inheritance, patronage, bribery, or the open manipulation of appointments by those in charge.
The roots of this decline were deeply embedded in China. The great aristocratic families had consolidated their hold on large private estates during the late first century BC, and by the time of the Later Han period, the position of these great landowners was quite secure. Private land owners paid insignificant land taxes and could easily protect their wealth by holding a high government position. In creating the centralized state rule of the Later Han period, the government found it had to make a greater compromises with large private land owners than had the emperors of the Earlier Han Dynasty. The great officials of China's centralized government proved to be their own worst enemy. They were unendingly greedy in rewarding huge grants of land, peasants and slaves in perpetuity to outstanding generals, administrators, bureaucrats, relatives, and themselves.
Something much more profound than a mere administrative breakdown occurred in China. The near constant need to mount an effective military defense against nomadic raids demanded manpower, food, horses, and weapons. To maintain itself, the central government imposed increasingly heavy taxes on the peasants in the north. The growing power of China's private land owners however, brought a dramatic drop in the number of tax-paying peasants, particularly in North China and the northern frontier regions. Eventually, the tax burden became unbearable. Many peasants fled south where taxes were lower, or moved onto the estates of the great land owners, where rent was a far less crushing burden than the taxes paid by free peasants. The inevitable result of this population shift was a dwindling number of tax-paying peasants in the north. The government persisted in its demands for money, imposing an ever-increasing tax burden on a diminishing tax base. Hard-pressed peasants faced the choice of turning to banditry or open revolt, either of which further weakened the dynasty's finances. Once this downward spiral began, nothing would stop it.
The decline of the Later Han Dynasty accelerated toward the end of 2nd century, yet the Chinese government took no effective measures to control the disintegration of its empire. While Chinese bureaucrats spent much of their time redistributing the empire's wealth among themselves, the collapse of the tax-paying peasantry ruined both the forced manual labor system and the peasant draft army. China's professional armies generally became the private forces of the rich land-owning generals who commanded them. These private armies grew in both size and power until the generals became virtually independent warlords, men too powerful to be curbed by the central government. Soon, these warlords completely overshadowed the central Chinese government; in fact, they controlled it.
As things went from bad to worse, a Daoist named Zhang Jue, calling himself "The Good Doctor of Great Wisdom," traveled the countryside offering a magical healing he called the "Way of the Highest Peace," a way to convert mankind and bring peace and order to all. He based his teachings largely on ideas contained in the "Books of Higher Peace," texts that emperors and the aristocracy had long considered subversive because of their numerous denunciations of the greed and egoism of emperors, and their claim that society was for common people. Some of these books proclaimed that peace and equality would be established by heavenly intervention. One book, known as the Taiping jing, envisioned a world where arms and armor were thrown away and people lived forever in peace.
In his fight for improved living conditions, the faith-healer Zhang Jue claimed the Han rulers had lost the Mandate of Heaven, and he predicted their imminent fall. Within ten years, hundreds of thousands of devout believers identified themselves as followers of Zhang Jue. The symbol of their devotion to Zhang was a bright yellow turban, which gave the sect its name; the Yellow Turbans. With such a large following and the pervasive atmosphere of discontent among the peasants, Zhang Jue decided to accelerate the collapse of the Han Dynasty by force. He chose the fifth day of the third moon in the year 184 AD as the time for a general uprising, but after the court got word of the impending revolt and executed local rebel leaders, Zhang quickly changed plans. He called for an immediate uprising, urging his followers to burn official residences and loot the towns. Yellow Turbans from all corners of the empire began a rampage of arson, robbery and murder as they swarmed toward the capital at Luoyang.
The eunuchs and intellectual bureaucrats in Luoyang soon put aside their differences in mutual fear and opposition to the Yellow Turbans. The court ordered fortifications built around Luoyang and authorized provincial governors to organize their own armies to combat the rebels. As wealthy land owners organized armies to defend themselves against the onslaught, governors and local magistrates fled to escape death. Town after town fell to the Yellow Turbans as the rebellion spread its devastation across eight Chinese provinces. Ironically, the mysticism at the core of this Daoist revolt was also the cause of its eventual destruction. The Yellow Turbans believed their gods had elected them as a force for good, that they were invulnerable and did not even need weapons - a view not conducive to effective military operations. They were no match for the Chinese Imperial Army, which cut them down one after another with remorseless efficiency. Zhang Jue's rebellion died out in less than a year. Sporadic revolts continued for another five years, but little by little peasant supporters of the Yellow Turbans faded into the vast numbers of disappointed commoners and returned to tedious work to survive. Their only consolation was the hope of a coming paradise in the afterlife.
Self-absorbed with internal problems at home, China turned inward and virtually ignored the domestic affairs of its outlying frontier territories. Over the years Chinese administrators of the Lolang Commandery in Korea became so ineffective that the governor of Lolang could not even prevent Korea's petty chieftains from warring against one another. The Chinese could do little beyond investing various native chieftains in Okcho and Eastern Ye with titles and the perquisites of office. The collapse of Luoyang's administration left Chinese settlers in the Lolang Commandery completely cut off from communications with China. Relations between the Chinese in Lolang and the southern tribes of the Samhan states gradually deteriorated to the point where southern tribes regularly raided the colonial district, looting villages and taking Chinese settlers as slaves. During one particular raid, tribal raiders captured some fifteen-hundred Chinese men, women and children while they were out cutting wood. Raids of this nature forced many Chinese to flee into remote and inaccessible areas to escape enslavement.
China's severe financial and administrative weakness handicapped its ability to control the Liaodong Peninsula. Amidst all this chaos, Xiungnu raiders reappeared along the northern frontier and Koguryo's mounted warriors increased their pressure against Chinese rule on the peninsula. The death of thirty-three-year-old Emperor Ling in 189 AD left real power in China divided among the various military governors, or warlords. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Chinese warlord General Dong Zhou moved from his base along the northeastern frontier and seized control of the Lolang Military District in Korea almost without opposition. He defended his conquest by sending Gongsun Tu, the son of a minor Xuantu official, into Liaodong to hold the outlying districts. Gongsun Tu not only took control of the territory, but after a few years of effectively exploiting the anarchy in the region, he became a warlord in his own right. He created the Daifang Commandery in 196 AD to stabilize the rebellious population of central Korea, and governed Korea's southernmost provinces from a site near the modern city of Seoul. He marshaled so much power that Koguryo's King Kogukch'on and Puyo's King Mayo, acknowledged his regional authority as the independent ruler of Liaodong and the Xuantu Military District.
Meanwhile, in Luoyang, the Dowager Empress' half-brother, a popular army general, began scheming to assert his leadership at the palace. To increase pressure on the eunuchs and their supporters, he invited General Dong Zhou and his northern army to the capital. Before General Dong arrived however, murderous fighting broke out in the palace. Almost as soon as it started, a eunuch murdered the Empress' half-brother, which sent his allies into a rage. They burned the palace and killed every eunuch they could catch, even men who "looked" like a eunuch because of their lack of a beard. More than two thousand died in and around the royal palace.
When General Dong Zhou arrived in Luoyang, he quickly executed the newly installed Emperor Shao and the Dowager Empress and installed a nine-year-old prince on the throne as a front for his own brief reign of terror. As General Dong swaggered about the court with his sword drawn, terrorizing anyone and everyone in sight, his troops, many of whom were Xiungnu warriors, ran wild through Luoyang, pillaging and murdering as they pleased. With his thirst for blood satisfied, Tung Cho left Luoyang to do battle with rival generals in the north. The child-emperor Hsien-di and his ineffective palace militia put Luoyang to the torch and began a long journey westward to the former Han capital at Changan. It is said that over one million citizens of Luoyang followed the royal party west, and that most of them died of starvation or exhaustion along the way.
General Dong Zhou's short temper, thirst for blood, and complete lack of concern for the hearts and minds of the people finally turned against him in 192 AD, when his own generals assassinated him and tossed his corpse to a mob that hated him. Just four years later, in 196 AD, General Cao Cao located the child Emperor Xian in Changan and took control over the boy, declaring himself the "Imperial Minister" and protector of the empire. A bright and vigorous leader with a talent for poetry, General Cao drafted a new army in the name of Xian Di, an army said to have numbered as many as one million men. He then fought numerous bloody battles across northern China, defeating warlord after warlord until order was finally restored.
Koguryo's King Kogukch'on died in 204 AD without leaving a male heir. When the men of Koguryo rejected the king's older brother, Palgi, as being an unworthy successor, the throne went to Kogukch'on's younger brother, Yon-u, who reigned as King Sansang. This struggle between the king's two brothers over the matter of royal succession triggered a civil war in Koguryo. That same year, the Chinese warlord Gongsun Kang succeeded his father and sent troops into the Lolang Military District to reestablish control over the area and resettle thousands of Chinese refugees. Shortly thereafter, he invaded Koguryo and devastated the countryside in an apparent attempt to punish the kingdom for harboring his enemies among Koguryo's northern tribes.
Palgi and a group of some 30,000 people including the entire leadership of the Yonnubu clan surrendered to Gongsun, who resettled them in a new buffer state in the Liaodong region. General Gongsun's intervention in the Lolang District forced King Sansang to move his capital back to the Kungnae-song fortress, where it remained for the next two hundred years. Although Gongsun Kang's military campaign dealt Koguryo a serious blow, it had a negligible effect on the tributary relations Koguryo still maintained with the Okcho and the Eastern Ye tribes in northeast Korea. It was from these areas that Koguryo later rebuilt its power base.
In 208 AD, General Cao Cao, "Protector of the Dynasty," marched south in a campaign to reunify China. Gradually, a three-way division of power developed among China's leading warlords. From his capital at the modern site of Nanjing, General Sun Quan commanded the vast State of Wu, a region that included the entire south coastal region below the Yangtze River and extended well into Southeast Asia. To the west in Chengdu, General Liu Bei, a member of the Han royal family, lorded over the State of Shu Han, which included the region of Sichuan Province in east central China. General Cao Cao controlled the largest of the three kingdoms, Wei, which encompassed all of north China, the Liaodong Peninsula, and the Lolang Commandery in Korea. Shortly after Cao Cao's death in 220 AD, the last puppet emperor of the Han Dynasty officially ceded the throne to Cao Cao's son, who became the heir to an empire and the first ruler of the Wei Dynasty. The complete collapse of the Han Dynasty split China split into three separate empires, each more or less at the mercy of its own great families and generals. Shu Han in the south, Wu in the west and Wei in the north. This division of China exemplified little more than a formal recognition of the fact that a truly unified central government was no longer possible.
Koguryo vs China
China clamped down on the growing power of Koguryo and reasserted its control in Korea. The emerging power of the northern nomads pressured Koguryo and pushed China towards a complete breakdown of order.In the early 3rd century AD, the Gongsun warlords ranked among the most powerful families in the State of Wei. They dominated much of the Liaodong Peninsula and the Lolang Commandery when Koguryo's King Sansang died at Kungnae-song in 227 AD. Wi-gung, his illegitimate son, ascended the Koguryo throne as King Tongch'on. Determined to recover lost territory, Tongch'on began to rebuild Koguryo's former strength in hopes of the offensive against the Gongsun warlords in the Liaodong region. General Gongsun Kang died before he could press the attack however, and his younger brother, Gongsun Kung, was appointed to replace him. Along with the prestigious appointment, the State of Wei gave him the military title, "General of Chariotry and Cavalry." No glorious title could compensate for the young warlord's own weakness and self-indulgence and he proved wholly incapable of withstanding Koguryo's growing strength. Within six years, Tongch'on's warriors captured the city of Xianping at the mouth of the Yalu River and successfully cut the land route linking mainland China with its colony at Lolang. The disastrous defeat prompted Gongsun Yuan to depose his uncle and throw him in prison. It made little difference however, since by this time the Gongsun warlords had lost all control over Koguryo.
In an attempt to protect himself from possible reprisals by his patrons in the Wei capital at Xuchang, General Gongsun Yuan heedlessly allied himself with the State of Wu, then trying to encircle its northern rival. Using secretive, skillful diplomacy, the Wei court induced Gongsun Yuan to break his alliance with Wu and murder the Wu envoys visiting the warlord's capital garrison at Xuantu. To prove his loyalty, Gongsun Yuan did as requested and sent the envoy's heads to the Wei court. Word of the executions caused a minor panic in Xuantu. A group of between three and four hundred people, including a number of surviving Wu officials, escaped over the city walls and fled east to Kungnae-song to seek the protection of King Tongch'on. It was at this point that Koguryo became drawn into the quagmire of Chinese interstate politics.
The Wu officials persuaded King Tongch'on to ally himself with Wu against both Wei and the traitorous warlord Gongsun Yuan. Tongch'on agreed to the alliance and ordered his envoys to escort the Wu officials back to China by sea along with a gift of one thousand sable pelts for the Wu court. Koguryo presented the Wu court in Nanjing several hundred of its finest mountain ponies as a gift the following year. King Tongch'on still sought to dominate the Liaodong territory however, and three years after entering his self-serving alliance with the State of Wu, Tongch'on suddenly switched sides. He accentuated the strength of his new position by executing the Wu envoys visiting Kungnae-song and sending their heads to the Wei court.
Angered by General Gongsun Yuan's treachery against his own sponsors, the State of Wei went on the offensive against the warlord in 237 AD. The Wei army launched a major military expedition into the Xuantu military district, aiming directly for the capital garrison in Liaodong. Thousands died in the fighting that raged across the Liao River valley for several months, including General Gongsun Yuan. Liaodong finally fell after the Chinese decimated the capital garrison's population. The following year, General Sima I, Wei's most famous military commander, led a massive land and sea invasion against Koguryo to reassert Chinese control in Korea. His army met little substantive resistance and subjugated both the Lolang and Daifang commanderies almost simultaneously. Following this second major military campaign, Koguryo no longer mattered very much to the Chinese.
General Sima I divided the responsibility for governing the Samhan tribes in the south between the Lolang and Daifang commanderies. These two colonial districts administered the lands from the Liao River across the Liaodong Peninsula and into west central Korea as far south as the Han River. He instructed his commanders to confer titles and gifts upon the local Samhan tribal chieftains to win them over to his new Wei Dynasty. Ironically, the necessary official documents contained "discrepancies in translation." Whatever error the Samhan chieftains read, it antagonized and angered the people to the point of open rebellion. Tribes from the Samhan region began attacking Chinese troops camped in the Daifang district with regularity.
With the military situation in Liaodong settled, and Chinese attention focused in southern Korea, King Tongch'on resumed his raiding activities in the north. It may have been that Koguryo's warriors merely got back to their "normal" tribute raids among the farming villages, or that Tongch'on became active again in response to General Sima I's conquest of the Lolang and Daifang commanderies. Whatever the reason, the Chinese interpreted the activity as a great provocation. In 244-45 AD, China mounted a massive expedition of reprisal against Koguryo. Wei Chinese armies led by General Guan Qiujian defeated Tongch'on's warriors, assaulted the Koguryo capital at Kungnae-song, and sacked the city. Tongch'on and the remnants of his forces escaped to the distant northeast coastal region of Korea, where he and a number of his retainers took refuge among the Okcho tribes.
In their attempt to disrupt local development and prevent the growth and consolidation of power among the Samhan States, Chinese military forces swarmed out of the Lolang and Daifang commanderies in 246 AD. The Koreans put up stiff resistance to the massive attack southward across the Han River and inflicted a number of defeats on the Chinese in fighting that raged across the Han river basin. Kung Tsun, governor of the Daifang Commandery, died in the fighting. Eventually however, the stronger Chinese army crushed the uprising and reestablished much firmer control over the southern peninsula.
With southern Korea no longer much of a problem, the following year General Guan Qiujian dispatched the Governor of Xuantu, General Wang Qi, on a military campaign against the Okcho and Eastern Ye territories to capture King Tongch'on. General Wang's armies overran the northern and eastern peninsula tribes without effort and took several thousand prisoners who were later deported to China for resettlement. Despite the fact that King Tongch'on evaded capture for a second time, General Wang could still claim a successful campaign, for he had virtually destroyed Koguryo's tributary system, the basis of its power. The Okcho and Eastern Ye campaign was the strongest reassertion of Chinese authority Korea had seen since the days of the original Han conquest. Although Koguryo remained intact as a kingdom, the Chinese had reduced it to such impotence that it became an insignificant factor on the Korean peninsula for nearly fifty years.
The Three Kingdoms period in China was a time of incessant warfare among the States of Wu, Wei, and Shu Han. The State of Wei managed to destroy and annex Shu Han in 263 AD, but in less than two years a Wei general usurped the Wei throne from Cao Cao's heirs, took the title of Emperor Wu (yet another "Marshal Emperor") and founded the Western Jin Dynasty in 265 AD. Emperor Wu ushered in a period of relative order and prosperity, trying valiantly to restore the old Han system. Diplomatic contacts with other states were resumed and, driven by a desire to curb the power of China's great families, the royal court in Luoyang attempted a number of important fiscal and political reforms. The official tax census during his reign dropped to 16,163,863, a strong indication that a large segment of China's population was beyond effective taxation or control by the central government. No single man could turn back the tide of history however, and by not forcefully breaking up the aristocracy's large estates and getting the peasants back on the tax registers, Emperor Wu's brief flirtation with glory ended almost as quickly as it began.
After conquering the southern state of Wu in 280 AD, Emperor Wu managed to reunite the country briefly, but the Western Jin proved to be a one-man dynasty, established by a strong general and lost within a few generations by his heirs. By the reign of Emperor Min (313 to 317 AD), the familiar signs of dynastic decay were firmly in-place: the collapse of the central government, decentralized military control of the provinces, the rise of powerful warlords, famine, widespread banditry and messianic peasant movements. Just when the Chinese commanderies had their hands full dealing with troublesome local populations in Korea, the entire region of northern China suffered a complete breakdown of social order. Turkic-Mongol hordes of Xiungnu warriors began exerting continuous pressure on northern China in the latter half of the third century and the resulting chaos became an epidemic. The effects of all this disorder in the heart of China quickly spread to outlying military and frontier districts, including the Lolang and Daifang commanderies in Korea. Just as quickly, the ever-mobile nomads moved into the resulting power vacuum.
The Murong tribe of the Xianbei nomads, who fought as auxiliaries against Koguryo with the armies of General Kuan-ch'iu Chien in the campaigns of 244-245 AD, settled into the northern frontier region of Liaodong. Within a single generation they became powerful enough to begin plundering neighboring Chinese territories. The young Xianbei chieftain Murong Hui commanded a major force that overran and conquered the Puyo kingdom in 285 AD. The Xianbei so completely devastated China's old ally in Manchuria that Puyo's King Uiryo committed suicide in despair.
China was far from debilitated however, and still had the capacity to project a major military force against external threats. A Chinese expeditionary force came to Puyo's rescue and defeated Murong Hui after a number of fierce engagements. The late Puyo king's son, Uira, returned to the Puyo throne. Pressured by expansive nomadic tribes in northeastern Manchuria, the Xianbei in west central Manchuria, and Koguryo in the south, the Puyo royal clan and court nobles led a large number of refugees through Koguryo territory into northeastern Korea, where the lineage of the Puyo royal clan found sanctuary among the Okcho tribes.
The pendulum of conquest, which for centuries had swung outward from China into the northern steppes, began its inevitable return to the heart of the Middle Kingdom. Many of the Xiungnu warriors that surrendered to China and settled as semi-agricultural tribes along China's northern borders had been absorbed into the Chinese defense system. As the Chinese Empire disintegrated, these tribes, and the still purely pastoral nomads further north, found it easy to penetrate deep into the North China Plain in their search for better pastures and loot. In 304 AD, Murong Hui declared his independence from China, settled his tribe at Jicheng near modern Tianjin, and established a capital west of Liaodong. From this new strategic position, the Xianbei severed the land link between China and Korea and gradually brought the entire Liaodong Peninsula under their control. The emergence and subsequent expansion of the Xianbei Earlier Yen state did not come without resistance. Whenever the Xianbei sought to extend their control beyond their bases in Liaodong, Koguryo warriors fought them with fierce tenacity.
China attempted to placate the northern tribes and secure their collaboration by resorting to the age-old tactic of conferring rank and titles. The Xiungnu leader received the grand title Shanyu, "Supreme Ruler of the Five Hordes." It proved to be a fruitless offering. In 312 AD, Shanyu launched a whirlwind assault into northern China. Four years later, his armies sacked the Jin capital at Luoyang, burned the city, captured Emperor Min, and slaughtered some thirty-thousand inhabitants . Vast numbers of Chinese attempted to escape Xiungnu depredations by fleeing southward to the relative safety of Sichuan Province and regions south of the Yangtze River basin. The Xiungnu held firm control of most of northern China .
Koguryo resumed raiding in force within the Lolang and Daifang commanderies around 310 AD. King Mich'on, the great-great-grandson of King Tongch'on, fought the Chinese for years without a break. He eventually seized the initiative in the former domain of Old Choson and within three years wrested the entire Lolang Commandery from China, thereby taking control of the entire Taedong River basin.
The year after the Xiungnu conquest of Luoyang, Chinese refugees pouring across the Yangtze River multiplied the region's population several times over. In 317 AD, a Jin prince in the capital at Nanjing (appropriately meaning "Southern Capital") declared himself Emperor Yuan and created the Eastern Jin Dynasty. The burgeoning capital city grew into a great metropolis that continued the luxurious ways of the former Han Dynasty. Emperor Yuan gradually consolidated his control over the territory south of the Yangtze River, but his government was weak and continually at the mercy of its great warlord generals. Though it was obsessed with the idea of reconquering the North, its numerous wars against the Xiungnu produced few permanent gains. The government, controlled by changing groups of aristocratic clans, was plagued by revolts and attempts against the throne almost from its inception.
With the remnants of Puyo isolated in the north and the turmoil in northern China continuing unabated, Koguryo's preoccupation with protecting its western frontier erupted in bloody warfare to maintain control of the Liao River basin. This time it had disastrous consequences. After forming a weak alliance with the northern Xianbei tribes and the Yü-wen nomads, Koguryo launched an assault against Murong Hui's capital at Jicheng. The unstable tribal alliance quickly broke apart however, and the Murong retaliated by seizing territory from King Mich'on and annexing the entire Liaodong Peninsula. The nearly twenty-five-year-long struggle between China and Koguryo was accompanied by a major power shift in China that resulted in the emergence of the north China state of Yen. During the winter of 342-43 AD, only eleven years after King Mich'on's son and successor, King Kogugwon, ascended the Koguryo throne, the Xianbei chieftain Mu-jang Huang led a massive invading army out of Yen and laid siege to Koguryo's capital at Kungnae-song. After sacking the city and setting the royal palace ablaze, Yen troops took nearly fifty thousand prisoners, including the queen mother, and marched them back to Yen. They even raided the tomb of Kogugwon's father, King Mich'on, and dug up his corpse. Defeated in battle, Koguryo accepted the Yen emperor as its suzerain and finally established peaceful relations with its western neighbor. The peace did not last long.
From:http://www.koreanhistoryproject.org go to there if you want to read more tales.