Kawagoe wrote: The kingdom of Koguryo emerged sometime in the 1st century B.C. The Koguryo people were horse-riders and warriors who, according to Chinese Han shu records, originated from the Puyo people from the Songhua river area in China. (Alternatively they may have originated from the Liaoning area.) There was constant conflict between Koguryo and China, as well as trade between the two. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com |||]

“Until the middle of the 4th century, Koguryo was the strongest of the 3 Korean kingdoms. But Koguryo became engaged in bitter battles with the Paekche kingdom to the south. During the reign of King Kwanggaeto (AD 391-413), Koguryo advanced into the Chinese Liao river basin to the west. King Kwanggaeto's military campaigns were recorded as including the capture of the Chinese colony of Lolang (or Lelang) in AD 313, an attack on Paekche to the south and at the same time, the subjugation of a Japanese Wa force that had attacked Silla in the southeast. |||

“About 2 years after the Paekche king had presented the seven-pronged sword to the Yamato king in 369 in Japan, Paekche soldiers (according to the Samguk sagi) actually invaded the Koguryo capital. But by the end of the century, Koguryo bounced back, achieving sufficient military might to repel Japanese invaders in 391 to win battles against Paekche in 394 and even to attack northern China in 395. Yamato became at odds with Koguryo after Yamato invaded Silla at the turn of the 5th century. The lines of alliances on the Korean peninsula hardened: Koguryo allied with Silla, sent tributary missions and sought support from the courts of north China. Paekche and Yamato allied themselves with the courts of south China. |||

“Between 421 and 478, Yamato Japan is reported in the Southern Sung history to have sent ten tributary missions to the Southern Sung court of China. Koguryo invaded invaded Paekche in 475 defeating Paekche's troops and killing its king. According to Nihon shoki, the Koguryo king rejected a proposal to have Paekche destroyed allegedly because he thought “we have heard that Paekche has long been a royal estate of Japan and, is well known by neighboring states, its king serves the Japanese emperor”. Since two missions from Yamato arrived in 477 and 478 at the Chinese Sung court, it seems the Yamato court was determined to do something about the defeat of Paekche and to contain the aggressiveness of Koguryo. |||

“This was revealed clearly in the memorial of that Yuryaku sent to the Sung court in 478: “In order to [send this mission] by way of Paekche, we have prepared ships and boats. But Koguryo has defied law and schemed to capture them. Moreover, Koguryo has made border raids and committed murder repeatedly. So we have been forced to delay our mission and missed favorable winds…. My deceased father (Ingyo) became indignant with this marauding foe that had blocked our route to Your Majesty's court and, motivated by a sense of justice, mobilized a million archers in preparing to launch a great campaign [against Koguryo]. But before plans for the campaign could be fully developed and implemented, my father and brother (Anko) died, and during the period of mourning a cessation of military activity was required. But inaction does not produce victory. So we are again making preparations for carrying out the wishes of my predecessors. The troops are in high spirits; civil and military officials are prepared for action; and no one is afraid to fight. Your Sovereign virtue extends over heaven and earth. If we can crush this [Koguryo] foe and put an end to our troubles, we will continue to be loyal [subjects]. I therefore implore Your Majesty to appoint me supreme commander of the expedition, give me the status of minister, and award persons under me with [appropriate] ranks and titles. Thus we will be encouraged to remain loyal." |||

“Unfortunately, Yuryaku (according to the Sung account) only obtained the titles and offices that had been awarded to his predecessors: “King of Yamato, and Pacifying General of the East who is in Charge of the Military Affairs of Six Kingdoms (Yamato, Silla, Mimana, Chinhan and Mahan)." His requests to be appointed supreme commander of the expedition against Koguryo and to be put in charge of Paekche were not granted." |||

Korguryo Influence on Japan

Kawagoe wrote: “The Koguryo people built many tombs, of which ten thousand are known. Mounded tombs with stone-built chambers sometimes with mural paintings developed in the Pyongyang area to which Koguryo had relocated its capital in AD 427. Seventy-six of the tombs are decorated with mural paintings in the inner chambers." [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com |||]

A total of “484 decorated tombs have been found in Japan with colored interiors and engravings throughout Japan, 122 are concentrated in the Kikuchi River basin in northern Kyushu. Experts believe that emigrants had taken the techniques of constructing the Koguryo-type stone chamber tomb and the practice of painting murals inside tombs, from Koguryo to Japan. Refugees are thought to have fled and sought refuge in Japan around the fall of Koguryo in 668. |||

“Evidence of Chinese and Korean influences can be seen from the late 6th century Korean-style Fujinoki tomb in Ikaruga that yielded gilt bronze ornaments and horse harness (a Korean import) along with a stone coffin, and from the Takamatsuzuka tomb in Nara dated to AD 700. Mural paintings of animals of the four directions in the Takamatsuzuka tomb resemble those of the Koguryo tombs. Paintings of the female attendants on the west wall wear long jackets over pleated skirts, showing similarity of fashions displayed in the Koguryo tombs. Another of the more famous of these tombs with painted geometric designs on its walls, is the Chibusan Tomb in Yamaga City. Other Koguryo influences are believed to be seen in the 5th century long lamellar suits of warrior armour that resembled those made by Koguryo. |||

Migrations of Koreans to Japan in the Late 7th Century

Kawagoe wrote: During the 660s, large numbers of Korean immigrants entered Japan following the Tang invasions of Korea … we know this both from Nihon shoki references as well as from the Korean styles and methods indicated in architecture, art and artefacts of the time. The immigrants came in two waves, one in 663 from Paekche and another in 668 from Koguryo. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com |||]

“From the Nihon shoki report, in the 663 migration wave, four hundred Paekche commoners were settled in the province of Omi, probably where new land was opened up for cultivating rice. According to the same report, one high-ranking Paekche refugee was granted court rank in Japan. Shortly after, two former Paekche ministers of state arrived in Japan with more than seven hundred Paekche men and women who were subsequently settled in the Kamo District of Omi Province. In the second wave of migration, 56 persons from Koguryo were settled in the province of Hitachi and 1,799 more Koguryo migrants were placed in Suruga as well as elsewhere in the east. |||

“Many of the immigrants were members of the elite, and among the Korean migrants flooding Japan were artisans, builders, administrators and various specialists whose special knowledge and services were used to strengthen the state, increase revenues and implement controls. In the year 671 as many as seventy Paekche officials were awarded Japanese court rank. The various fields in which these immigrants specialized e.g., military science, medicine, yin-yang philosophy, Confucian classics and the high ranks conferred upon them showed the Japanese court intended to make extensive use of Korean experts in what was probably an accelerated program of modernization of the country. Out of Paekche to Japan also came calendar makers, priests and diviners, temple builders, bronze casters and roof tile makers, specialists on continental music and dance and Chinese court ceremonies." |||

Research and Study of Koguryo

Yonson Ahn wrote in Japan Focus: “ Koguryo/Gaogouli heritage and/or history had attracted little attention in Korea and China prior to the year 2000.Although Koguryo history is one of the proudest and most significant chapters of national history of North Korea, North Korea has limited financial and outreach resources to investigate, preserve and lay claim to the remains and relics it views as its ancient patrimony. Studies of ancient history in South Korea have focused on Silla (57 B.C. – 935 A.D.) rather than Koguryo, since Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms that eventually formed Korea, was located in the South. Moreover, it has not been easy for South Korean or international researchers to gain access to Koguryo heritage sites, most of which are located in northeast China and in North Korea, particularly before South Korea and China agreed to establish diplomatic relations in 1992. Since the mid-1990's, there has been a proliferation of research and exhibitions on Koguryo history, art and cultural heritage. [Source: Yonson Ahn, Japan Focus, January 1, 2008]

“Even though archaeology in China's northeastern provinces had been particularly well developed during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, historical remains and relics in China's peripheral areas including the remote northeast were more or less neglected prior to the 1980's. However, from the late 1970's, the unified archaeological picture of Neolithic China originating in the Yellow River Valley faced increasing challenges as new evidence from outlying archaeological cultures emerged.

“Recently, the political and cultural significance of Gaogouli increased, leading to active efforts to claim, investigate and display its sites, relics and history. The Chinese state has interpreted Korea’s historical claims to the region and its artistic legacy as posing the threat of irredentism. Chinese central and local governments have paid attention and supported research on the history and relics of the region and, for excavation, preservation, and protection from looting Gaogouli relics, examples of which occurred even during the last decade. Most strikingly in 2002, China launched the “Northeast Project” (its full name is the Northeast Borderland History and the Chain of Events Research Project), a five-year state-funded project, which dealt with various problems related to history, geography and ethnicity in China’s Northeastern provinces, Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning. The project stimulated a Koguryo “boom” in practicing history, including art history, and a flurry of media activity, including TV series on Koguryo history in South Korea.”

China Claims Koguryo is Chinese Vassal State not Korean Kingdom

The Chinese have claimed that the ancient kingdom of Koguryo was Chinese not Korean. The Han Dynasty (202 B.C. - A.D. 220) held much of present-day Manchuria and North Korea as imperial colonies and established trade centers and military outposts throughout the region. Artifacts in Koguryo tombs indicate Chinese influences on the evolving Koguryo state. Korean scholars view the inhabitants of Koguryo as Koreans.

According to the South Korean government the Koguryo Kingdom was a regional Korean power fighting off Chinese invaders. The territory it once held is now home to many ethnic Koreans in Korea as well as China. In China, scholars say Koguryo was founded in its territory and was a vassal state. They say the descendents of the royal house were assimilated into the Han Chinese people. "Koguryo was part of the Han Dynasty," said Li Boqian, who runs the Center for the Study of Ancient Civilizations at Beijing University. "But the Han Dynasty later declined, and it split off." [Source: Jon Herskovitz, Reuters, April 25, 2007; Edward Cody, Washington Post Foreign, September 22, 2004]

Taylor Washburn wrote in The Atlantic: “Much of the Korean Peninsula and Manchuria were ruled by the kingdom of Goguryeo [Koguryo]. Although governed in its final two centuries from Pyongyang, the kingdom's early capitals sat north of the Yalu River, which today demarcates the western portion of the China-Korea border. At its height, in the fifth century, Goguryeo controlled lands that would now include parts of South and all of North Korea, as well as contiguous land in northeast China and a sliver of maritime Russia.” [Source: Taylor Washburn, The Atlantic, April 15, 2014]

James Brooke wrote in the New York Times: “Koreans see the kingdom as the forerunner of their nation, a flourishing civilization that bequeathed to modern Korea its name....China's state-controlled New China News Agency called the kingdom a ''subordinate state that fell under the jurisdiction of the Chinese dynasties and was under the great influence of China's politics, culture and other areas.''” [Source: James Brooke, New York Times, August 25, 2004]

In 2004, “the Chinese Foreign Ministry deleted references to Koguryo from the Korean history section on its Web site. For two years, a Chinese government study group, the Northeast Project, has been issuing academic papers bolstering the position that the ancient kingdom was merely a Chinese vassal state. Behind the campaign, China fears that one day the two million ethnic Koreans in northeastern China will support a ''greater Korea'' that will spill over modern borders. ''The history of Koguryo is related to Korea's politics, society, diplomacy and security today and in the future,'' Kim Woo Jun, a diplomatic history professor at Yonsei University, said in an interview on Tuesday. ''Fundamentally, China wants to have complete control over the areas where ethnic Koreans reside. They are getting ready for the future.''

Researchers Related to the Chinese and Korean Origins of Koguryo

Yonson Ahn wrote in Japan Focus: “kingdom, which Korean nationalists consider an ancestral state of Korea, was an ethnic regime which constitutes a part of China’s national history. Wei Cuncheng, a Chinese professor of Jilin University and an expert on the Koguryo issue, also considers Koguryo a regime established by ethnic groups in northern China, representing an important part of Chinese culture. These claims have given rise to political tensions between Korea and China. For China, Gaogouli became a symbol of national integrity and stability in the northeastern border region where a flood of North Korean refugees and territorial boundary disputes pose a threat of instability. China’s concern for its northeastern border centers on how the issues might play out in the aftermath of Korean reunification, underlining the determination to secure the borderland together with its history and relics along the Yalu River between North Korea and China. The Gaogouli remains in China are correlated with buttressing mass support through cultural patriotism emphasising the historical and cultural integrity of the borderlands, thereby reinforcing national myths of unity. [Source: Yonson Ahn, Japan Focus, January 1, 2008]

“In reexamining the ancient history of the region, project researchers conclude that the Gaogouli Koguryo has always been treated as an ancestral state within the Korean historical tradition which both nurtures and unites people under one national identity. The Koguryo issue has led to an escalation in the debate over sites of “ethnic origins” and national continuity in Korea. With the eruption of the controversy, it became a central symbol both for distinguishing Korea from China and for consolidating or uniting North and South Korea. In order to claim the Koreanness of the Koguryo heritage and history, North and South Korean historians emphasise distinctiveness of Koguryo culture. For example, in the work of Ri Ki Ung in North Korea and Kim Il-Gwon in South Korea, rather than acknowledging influences and interaction across the region and particularly across contemporary borders between China and Korea.

“China’s claims over the ancient kingdom and its heritage have had an effect on North and South relations. In confronting to the China’s claims, the two Koreas actively cooperated in the interest of claiming the nation’s common heritages and shared national ancestry. Ri Ui Ha, head of the North Korean delegation, in a remark made at the UNESCO meeting shortly after the 2004 decision to register Koguryo relics as a World Heritage, highlighted this commonness: He said, “Koguryo culture is the Korean nation’s common heritage, which unites our national blood vessels.” Furthermore, North-South cooperation on the relics and remains has been deemed symbolic of reconciliation in the Korean peninsula. It is even viewed as “a spiritual and cultural basis of the reunification” by both North and South Korea.”

“Koguryo murals have been hailed as illustrative of the early formation of an advanced culture in East Asia. A consistent aspect of distinctiveness and uniqueness of the relics, especially in the tomb structure and the pictorial motifs of the murals, is often emphasised by South Korean art historians such as Pak Arim and Kang Hyun-sook. Kang claims that the Koguryo tombs “reveal high status as a powerful cultural center — not as mere imitations of their Chinese counterparts but as distinctive.” She concludes that the influence of Koguryo cultural forms in Japan and the Korean peninsula demonstrates its prominent position as a powerful regional state (Kang 2004: 106-107)

“China, for its part, stresses Han dynasty influence on Gaogouli. According to Wang Mianhou, the three capital cities of Gaogouli, (Guonei City, Wandu Mountain City and Wunu Mountain City) in contemporary China and the capital Pyongyang in North Korea present the clearest evidence of Han cultural influence on Gaogouli institutions. As another example, the Haotaiwang/Kwanggaeto stele, dedicated to King Haotaiwang/Kwanggaeto, who reigned 391-413 A.D., was erected in 414 and has 1,775 Chinese characters inscribed, is deemed to show the impact of Chinese culture on the Koguryo, who did not develop their own writing.”.

Koreans Incensed That China Claims Koguryo is Chinese

In 2006, Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “The latest dispute over Koguryo began flaring a month ago when South Koreans discovered a set of papers posted on the Web site of the Center of China's Borderland History and Geography Research. There, government- paid Chinese scholars described Koguryo as a "provincial" vassal kingdom under the suzerainty of China - not the fiercely independent Korean state that fought and often repelled the Chinese, as generations of Koreans have been taught in school. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, International Herald Tribune, October 12, 2006]

To South Koreans, the Chinese argument, which echoes Beijing's stance on Taiwan and Tibet, is as preposterous as calling kimchi, the spicy, pickled Korean cabbage, a Chinese dish. Newspaper headlines screamed that Korean history had been "shanghaied." Protesters marched, waving national flags, while on the Internet, groups of "euibyong" - named after the Korean guerrillas who fought Chinese and Japanese invaders in ancient times - launched a boycott of China as a tourist destination. A nationalist demonstrator bit, chewed and spit out a Chinese flag before the television cameras. "Koreans trace their roots to Koguryo; the name Korea stems from Koguryo," said Kim Woo Jun, a history professor at Yonsei University in Seoul. "The Chinese claim shakes the core of Koreans' national identity."

“For its part, China has grown increasingly unhappy with South Korea's nationalistic approach to the history of Koguryo. Two-thirds of Koguryo's territory lies within contemporary China, and Beijing wants to forestall any future Korean claim over its northeastern territory, which is home to large ethnic Korean communities, experts said. Many South Koreans are already demanding that a unified Korea must reclaim a strip of land called Kando, near the Chinese border with North Korea, which they believe was illegally given to China by the Japanese colonial authorities in the early 20th century.

“The controversial Chinese papers were written by historians participating in China's Northeast Asia Project. Testifying before the National Assembly in Seoul, You Hong June, head of the Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea, said the project was part of China's state-financed rewriting of the history of its border regions to create a greater sense of belonging among its potentially restless ethnic minorities, including Korean-Chinese. But South Koreans suspect a deeper, sinister Chinese design. By accentuating its historical links with Koguryo, China is preparing to make a territorial claim, or install a puppet regime, in North Korea in case the regime there collapses, they say.”

South Korean TV Dramas Used to Portray the Korean Side on Koguryo Issue

Jon Herskovitz of Reuters wrote: “South Korea is fighting a battle with China over ancient history using one of the most powerful weapons in its arsenal — sappy TV dramas watched by hundreds of millions of viewers in Asia. “The Koguryo issue may be one of the smaller problems that China has but it is everything for Korea. Koguryo symbolizes the identity of Korea,” said Kim Woo-jun, a professor at the Institute of East and West Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul. [Source: Jon Herskovitz, Reuters, April 25, 2007]

“Three South Korean television dramas on the Koguryo kingdom released in the past six months were hits at home and abroad, with scenes of galloping horses, court intrigue and sword fights. But the television shows raised hackles in China and Hong Kong, where viewers supporting China’s claims to Koguryo crossed swords in cyberspace with those defending South Korea’s position. The dispute became so emotive that the user-generated Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia blocked readers from contributing to the section on Koguryo “until disputes have been resolved”.

“Debates over historical versus modern borders are argued all over the world. But they rarely fire up the passions of television viewers in the way that the argument over the Koguryo kingdom has in North Asia. Television producer Lee Joohwan’s historical drama “Jumong” was a big hit in South Korea where it was a ratings winner. But some Chinese viewers railed against the series on the Internet, branding it a Korean attempt to rewrite history. A Hong Kong broadcaster went so far as to change the names of the entities in the series to make the show more palatable to its Chinese-speaking viewers. “Despite the controversy, I don’t think the drama would have been popular if it hadn’t been interesting,” said Joohwan.

“But there is little chance that the dispute will end soon as South Korea prepares to fire a new salvo in the historical debate with the launch of a big budget blockbuster television drama. “Taewang Sasingi” is the story of what Koreans consider to be one of the greatest kings of Koguryo and will air in September starring Bae Yong-jun, a favorite for fans in many parts of Asia.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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