Brief Introduction into Korean History


LECTURE 1: The Geographical Settings and Basic Issues of Korean History:


The name of í░Koreaí▒ is derived from the name of Koryŏ Dynasty, which ruled the Peninsula from 936 to 1392 as the first truly unified Korean Kingdom. The first European account this name is mentioned was Marco Poloí»s famous book on his travels in Asia (according to this book, Marco Polo reached the Chinese court around 1275). There are persisting doubts in recent scholarship on the subject of Marco Poloí»s accountí»s authenticity, but even if, as the critics suggest, Marco Polo never actually reached China and received most of his information on East Asia from Persian and Arabian merchants, in relation to Korea it means only that it was already known to the Middle Eastern travelers and became known to the Europeans through the Muslim intermediaries (in fact, in Mongolian period Persia did acted as the transmitter of Chinese knowledge to Europe). In any case, Koreaí»s name  (as well as Japaní»s) became known to the West relatively late, although Muslim merchants visited Korea as early as in the 7th or 8th C. It all bespeaks, in fact, relative í░backwardnessí▒ of Europe in the Middle Age in terms of geographical knowledge.

 Geographically, Korea lies adjacent to China and Japan, between 33íĂ N. and 43íĂ N. latitude. It primarily borders China in the north (natural border being formed by Yalu/Amnok and Tumen/Tuman rivers) and Japan in the south: only about two hundred kilometers separate the Peninsula from the Japanese Archipelago.  As it was frequently pointed out before, this kind of geographical location means that Korea had to necessarily become a í░transmitterí▒ of Chinese (and broader, í░continentalí▒) culture to Japan, and, of course, had no choice but to be deeply influenced by the Chinese culture itself. This is basically right, and we can point out to the pioneering role of the Koreans in disseminating basic elements of common East Asian legacy - Buddhism, Confucianism, rice agriculture and the culture of iron - in the Japanese Islands. The fact that about 70-80% of Koreaní»s modern vocabulary is derived from Chinese bespeaks also the degree of persistent Chinese influence on Korean culture. But other things not to be overlooked are first - the fact that Korea is bounded by seas from three sides: by the Yellow (í░Westerní▒) Sea to the west, the Sea of Japan (í░Easterní▒) to the East, and the Korean (Tsusima) Strait to the south. As the seas, in ancient as well as in modern times, have the tendency to unify the peoples rather than divide them, we can easily infer that, if not artificially forced to isolate itself, Korea as a maritime state has the í░natural dispositioní▒ to wide international contacts and exchanges not necessarily limited to the Sinitic cultural circle. And, in fact, before the country devoted itself to relative isolation and Sinophilic policies in early 15th C. (mostly on ideological and political reasons), it used to be a part of all major international exchange networks: Continental (Northern) and Maritime (Southern) í░Silk Roadsí▒, Muslim trading network of the Indian Ocean, etc. In this context, todayí»s role of South Korea as the worldí»s 12th biggest trading power and a member of the USA-centered world economic system, as well as the policies of í░internationalizationí▒ pursued by the South Korean regimes throughout the 1990th, seem to be only logical and natural in Korean geopolitical situation. Second, Koreaí»s northern border with China is a í░naturalí▒ border two countries are separated not only by the two rivers, but also by the wide and scarcely populated rugged terrain of dense forests. So, it comes as nothing surprising that, while heavily influenced by China in all aspects, Korea remained ethno-linguistically different and usually politically independent from the Chinese í░mainlandí▒. As heavily loaded with the vocabulary of Chinese provenance as it is, Korean retained its basically Altaic grammar, totally different from that of Chinese. The whole Korean Peninsula was never directly ruled by China (although its part sometimes were), and the system of í░formal tributeí▒ relationships between China and Korea, which didní»t change much from 7th to 19th C., guaranteed, in fact, not only Chinese supremacy (usually almost undisputed), but also Korean internal autonomy. So, to summarize all important points on Koreaí»s geopolitical location, I want to repeat that Korea, being indisputably an organic part of í░China-Korea-Japaní▒ triangle and deeply Sinified country, still was all times both willing and able to preserve its distinctively indigenous (non-Chinese) identity, and has the geographical location favorable for intensive contacts with non-Chinese world as well.   

 Koreaí»s northern border is mainly with China, but it also has a 16-kilometer common border with Russia alongside the Tumen River. Russiaí»s political presence in Koreaí»s surroundings is incomparably less old than that of China or Japan: Russia forged first contacts with China in the 17th C. and acquired the territories adjacent to Korea (í░Maritime Provinceí▒) only in 1860. Still, Russia is the only non-East Asian country directly bordering on Korea, and the degree of its influence on Korea should not be overlooked. North Koreaí»s very existence and South Koreaí»s leftist movements of recent times are the most visible evidences of Russian presence in the Peninsula: but manifold Russian influences can be discovered in South Korean literature and art as well. Economically, South Koreaí»s relationships with Russia are still insignificant, mainly due to the deep crisis and disorder in Russia. But in case the situation in Russia will normalize and Korea will unify, Korean Peninsula will swiftly become a í░bridgeí▒ between Japaní»s capital/technology and Russiaí»s resources.

So much for the advantages and disadvantages of Koreaí»s geographical position. Now, letí»s turn our look to the Peninsulaí»s geological and climatic settings. It is easily noticeable that the Tí»aebaek Mountain Range which originates in the mountainous massifs on the Chinese-Korean border and then runs to the south paralleling the east coast constitutes the natural í░backboneí▒ of the Peninsula and drainage divide between its eastern and western parts. Beautiful and gorgeous as it is, it also gravely hampers the communications between the two parts of the country. Its southernmost part, the Sobaek Range, constitutes the natural divide between the two most important regions of the southern Korea, Honam (Chǒlla Provinces) and Yǒngnam (Kyǒngsang Provinces). It used to greatly hinder the exchanges between the two regions in the traditional times, thus somehow contributing to the development of the famed particularist sentiments in both Honam and Yǒngnam which are widely utilized in modern South Korean politics. On the whole, the mountains and hills (mostly the offshoots of the great Tí»aebaek Range) account for the astounding 70 % of all Korean territory leaving only around 30 % of the land for housing and farming. Of course, Korea has exceptionally fertile alluvial soils in the valleys of its bigger rivers typical example is the Han River valley where the modern South Korean capital stays but those fertile plots simply could not satisfied the needs of the disproportionately big populace. In the flatland regions out of the immediate proximity to the river basins, soils are mostly strongly leached, with large granite content and low humus levels, so their fertility level is low without irrigation and artificial fertilizing. In highlands, podzol (ash-gray forest) soils unsuitable to the rice cultivation, dominate. Today South Koreaí»s population density rate is approximately 450 people for 1 sq. km., but, the mountainous areas excluded, the ratio of the people to arable land would be much higher. So, by virtue (or, rather, demerit) of its geological settings, Korea is a country deeply partitioned into the multitude of small and chronically overpopulated arable (but not always fertile) valleys locked by the mighty and vast mountainous ranges and thus blocked from the frequent mutual communication, given the technical level of the pre-modern period. One, social, consequence of this kind of natural disposition is the permanent thread of the í░land hungerí▒ and, of course, literal hunger in case of the harvest failure heavily aggravated also by the vast disparities in the land holding in traditional period. Fatal shortage of land of course, combined with the chronic absence of social justice built a tradition of tenantsí» discontent and unrest, as well as that of emigration abroad for Korea. In this context, the number of ethnic Korean living abroad (currently, more than 3,5 mln.), as well as the persistence of the pseudo-socialist state in the North Korea (built essentially on the tradition of popular anti-elite revolts of landless peasants), should not surprise an observer.

In the predominantly rural country where the size of arable land and its fertility are severely limited by the Nature, the only way to solve the permanent eco-demographical crisis other than emigration (or mass hunger death of the í░excessí▒ population) was the technical improvement of the agriculture, i.e., first and foremost, irrigation. The acute need for the artificial management of hydraulic resources was also exacerbated by such peculiar feature of Koreaí»s monsoon climate as the heavy concentration of rainfall in summer rainy season. Rainy season precipitation constitutes more than a half of the annual average, while winter rainfall/snowfall amount is only 10%. The rivers, usually too shallow to provide enough water to wet the paddy fields during the sowing season, are so swollen by the torrential rainstorms of June-July that riverbank villages and fields unprotected by the dams are sure to be severely damaged. In such circumstances, the artificial hydraulic management building and constant maintenance of dikes, reservoirs, and dams is more of necessity that luxury, and it comes as no surprise that from the times of state formation on the Peninsula (4-6th C.) those tasks were usually undertaken by the state the strongest social organism of unrivaled capabilities. The maintenance of hydraulic order used to be as important state function in traditional Korea as the preservation of normal socio-political order. It is also hardly surprising that, for building and maintaining the huge dams and artificial lakes, the state had to mobilize the local commoners (as it used to be in the case of war), and they did not have any grounds to protest this sort of corvėe labor, for it was benefiting them ultimately. In this way, the tradition of state intervention into economy, as well as the habit of popular acceptance of state-led mobilizations for presumably í░common goodí▒ causes, was formed. So, when today South Korean state administers the restructuring of conglomerates or banks (even after acknowledging that too much of state intervention in past was the root cause of the economic troubles), or North Korean state mobilizes annually students of almost all levels for í░helping the countryside with the sowing/harvestí▒ (i.e. for unpaid collective labor in the state farms), we should see this as continuation however anachronistic in its appearance of time-honored traditions and customs conditioned by the natural settings of the country.

So, to summarize our observations on Koreaí»s natural disposition, we should say, that however advantageously the Peninsula is located for the exchanges with both the Continent (formerly China only, now China and Russia) and the Maritime world (formerly Japan only, now the USA-centered world system as a whole), it is bound to face the permanent eco-demographical crisis due to the traditionally unfavorable ratio of the populace to the size of arable land. In traditional society where the options of industrialization were hardly imaginable the only way to resolve this crisis was through state-led agro-technical development (primarily in the form of state-organized irrigation). This contributed to making Korea a heavily etatist society where the state used to be perceived as í░the saviorí▒ and í░benefactorí▒ of the ruled, and duties of the subject to the state usually were put ahead his/her personal rights and needs. Korean tendency to emphasize the stateí»s duty and trust its ability to í░feed the multitudesí▒ of the populace played essentially positive role in building the popular consensus over the issue of state-led economic development in South Korea in the past, but it also seriously hampers the introduction of knowledge-based postindustrial free market economy now.

        Now, I want to add several remarks on the main physico-geographical and climatic zones the country is divided into with its mighty mountainous ranges. Also it is useful to familiarize ourselves with the basics of Koreaí»s administrative geography on this occasion. The North of Korea, generally speaking, is divided by the Tí»aebaek Range into the North-Western and North-Eastern parts. In the North-West, the flatlands dominate, the fertile valley of River Taedong being the location of the traditional administrative and cultural centers for more than 2,500 years even now the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, is situated there. For today, the main North-Western arable river valley (that of Taedong River, with its tributaries), totaling appr. 1000 sq. km. of fertile soil, basically feeds the rest of the country with rice, maize, and vegetables. The region has large deposits of coal and high-grade iron ore, the former being especially needed by the North Koreaí»s dominating military industry. The average temperature there is around 8 C., the climate, with relatively long and harsh winter, being something of a mixture between Siberian cold and North-East Asia moderate monsoon zone. Administratively, the North-Western region consists of Pí»yŏngan and Hwanghae Provinces, and nicknamed í░the granary of the countryí▒. In old times, the assignment to Pyongyang district in the Taedong valley was considered a great advancement for a magistrate, for in this fertile and relatively affluent region there were so many opportunities to squeeze money from the richer people and to enrich oneself. At the same, this district is also known as the center of modern Koreaí»s Christianity, for the richer farmers, small and medium landlords and traders of this burgeoning region were the first to adopt modern Western forms of life, as soon as the opportunity was offered.

Compared to the resplendence of the North-Western economy, the North-East looks quite poor. It does not possess much of the fertile land, for the mountains there often drop abruptly to the sea (Sea of Japan). The climate there, with the temperatures averaging 6 C., is the harshest in the country, sometimes strongly resembling that of neighboring Siberia (the thermometerí»s mercury drops to –20-25 regularly in winter, the lowest recorded temperature being –43 C. in mountains, and the weather is extremely windy). It is no accident that relatively poor elites of this area were usually alienated from the state power; even if an ambitious native of this place could establish a dynasty or establish his standing serving new dynasty (that is what happened in 1392, when the family hailing from the North-East founded new Chosŏn Dynasty, or after 1945, when North-Eastern natives, as Kim Il-sung guerilla comrades, came to power en masse), they never could develop their power base in this poor area. This constant state of socio-politic frustration – along with acute í░land-hungerí▒ - explains to some degree the fact that the North-Eastern people constituted the backbone of the groups fleeing to Russian maritime Province after 1860. Still, the region and surrounding mountains have probably the richest magnesite (magnesium carbonate) deposits in the world and also reach in gold. Administratively, that is Hamgyŏng Province.

To the south of the hills and flatlands of Hwanghae Province, lays the valley of Han River, traditional center of economical and social life on the Peninsula from the time immemorial. The region was populated already in the Early Neolithic Age (5000 years before Christian era). Relatively good soils and mild climate, resulting in high fertility, together with its central location in the middle of the Peninsula, all made the region strategically important, hotly contested place even in the time of early kingdoms (3-5th C. A.D.). So, it is no wonder that here was situated the capital city of Chosŏn Kingdom (1392-1910) and Japanese colony of Chosen (1910-1945), as well as todayí»s South Koreaí»s capital, Seoul (which means plainly í░capital cityí▒ in Korean). The region – now main industrial, scientific, and administrative center of South Korea – is even more overpopulated and over-polluted that the rest of the country, with more than 20 million people crowded in the area of roughly 10,000 sq. km (large part of this area consists of the hills unsuitable for settlement). With Kimpí»o International Airport and Inchí»ŏn Sea Port (the Yellow Sea), the region is the gateway to the country for the foreigners; as the most developed and well-connected part of the land, it is also the home to the most of its non-Korean populace, highly visible in uniquely homogeneous Korea (traditional Chinese minority in Inchí»ŏn, Asian workers in industrial suburbs of Seoul, American military camps, etc.). Administratively, the central region is known as Kyŏnggi (í░Capitalí▒) Province.

Further to the south from the unwieldy conurbation of Seoul, lay the valleys of two other important Rivers, Kūm (in the north) and Yŏng (in the south), falling into the Yellow Sea. Both of them were homes to the agriculture-based traditional policies in the formative period of Korean history (1-5th C.), but the latter is especially famed for its warm and humid climate (annual average is 11-13 C., normal summer temperatures are in the range of 30 C., and winter temperatures are usually 0-2 C.) and fertile soil. Home to mighty and refined landlords in traditional times, the region (especially the extreme south-west of Korea) was strongly disadvantaged politically in modern period, for the dictatorial ruling elites of South Korea before 1990th were hailing mostly from the rival South-East (Yŏngnam region), and very much disliked the South-West as the home land of the famed anti-governmental dissidents (todayí»s President Kim Daejung is among them). As a result, the area remained mainly agricultural, with poor infrastructure and little industry, many young people being forced to migrate to Seoul to work as manual laborers there. Resulting discontent and permanent social tension is one of the worst problems inherited by the Kim Daejung government from its predecessors. Administratively, the northern part of the region (highland and a part of Kūm River valley) is Chí»ungchí»ŏng Province, and the south-westernmost part of Korea is comprised by Chŏlla Province (Honam).

Honamí»s more successful traditional rival to the other side of Sobaek Range, Kyŏngsang Province in the south-eastern part of the Peninsula, is mostly mountainous area with only one big river (Naktong) making more fertile the small plots of flatland around it. It is nothing strange, consequently, that, unlike Honam landlords, the south-eastern elites preferred traditionally pursuing a bureaucratic career in Seoul to running their plantation themselves, thus establishing the tradition of bureaucratic success for the natives of the region, which is alive even in our days. Still, economically, the predominance of Kyŏngsang Province – and consequent decline of Honam – dates back mostly to the days of Japanese colonialism, when the port of Pusan (previously a small township) – an ideal point for communicating with Japan – was industrially developed, and Seoul-Pusan railway was laid giving great stimulus to the development of the whole area. The trend set in motion by the Japanese continued after the Liberation, Pusan now being a burgeoning conurbation of 4 mln., second only to Seoul in importance. Still, with the decline of Kyŏngsang-based military ruling elites and advent of formal democracy in the 1990th, the disparity between Kyŏngsang and Honam is being gradually righted.

Two remaining areas of the country are better known for their beautiful landscapes that for their commercial or bureaucratic prowess. Kangwŏn, mountainous province to the north from Kyŏngsang, was once a coal-mining district, but now pins most hopes on the development of tourism. Subtropical Cheju Island to the south of the Peninsula – also a separate province administratively – is a normal destination for honeymoon couples and is developing itself now into an international tourist attraction.

 Summarizing all said now about Koreaí»s regions, I should conclude that Korea – extremely small as it is – is a rare example of regional diversity, natives of, say, Hamgyŏng and Chŏlla Provinces speaking each a different dialect and having distinctive regional identity. In this sense traditional Korea – where the communications were badly developed and Tí»aebaek or Sobaek Ranges constituted serious hindrances for travelers – was a real museum of the multitude of local cultures, every small valley and district having the linguistic peculiarities, food culture, preferred clothes and favorite annual customs and rites of its own. Culturally, traditional society exhibited rare pluralism – of course, tempered with the predominance of state-centered bureaucratic ideology. Now, when most of the economical and cultural life is concentrated in giant conurbations of Seoul and Pusan, much of this í░traditional pluralismí▒ is gone – fashions, customs, modes of life and thinking are much more uniform than before, also very much due to the unique ethnic homogeneity of the country. So, we have the case of economical and social progress at the expense of much of the cultural diversity and richness of the country.                       


LECTURE 2: The Prehistory of Korea:


 Like that of neighboring China, the prehistory of Korea began with the Paleolithic (Old Stone) Period, first proto-humans emerging in the Peninsula approximately 400-500 thousand years B.C.. The remnants of that time have been in both South and North Korea in 1960th and 70th and constitute mostly of crude and primitive choppers, scrapers, and gravers. It is very important to point out, that Paleolithic inhabitants of the Peninsula developed the techniques of stone-tool making very much comparable to that of the Paleolithic populace of Europe and West Asia the í░flakingí▒ of the quartz nuclei to make a hand-axe, and so on. For that period, todayí»s state, ethnic and regional borders seem to have been largely irrelevant, and Korean Paleolithic culture was just an organic part of the Paleolithic cultural massive of Africa and Eurasia. In both Korea and China, the climate was much warmer than then now, and, just like their Chinese counterparts, Korean Paleolithic inhabitants were largely involved in the hunting of the big game (rhinoceros, elephants, cave bears, etc.; most of those animals belonged to now extinct species). Other important methods of subsistence included, first of all, gathering of fruits and berries. Paleolithic stone tools, as we know it, were mostly used   for chopping and mincing the carcasses of the animals and digging out the edible plants. It is almost sure that the men of the Later Paleolithic (40-12 thousand years B.C.) already could utilize the fire for processing the food. Basically, the economical basis of the Paleolithic is frequently referred to as í░foragingí▒ (or í░acquisitive economyí▒) the peoples just lived upon the edible substances easily obtainable from the Nature instead of exploiting (i.e. domesticating) the plants and animals or building the economic realm of their own. One good feature of the period was that the absence of the sizable surpluses meant also the absence of any serious warfare (as distinguished from small communal conflicts) people had neither the tools (weapons) to fight with nor more importantly any reasons to fight for.

As for the problem of biological and racial affiliation of the Paleolithic inhabitants of Korea, the question í░Who were they?í▒ in our case seems to be hardly fully answerable due to the extreme dearth of fossilized Paleolithic humans in the Peninsula (as compared to China). Usually, the Early Paleolithic (400-150 thousand years B.C.) proto-humans of the Peninsula are conceived to have been akin to the Sinanthrops (Early Paleolithic inhabitants of China), while their Middle Paleolithic (150-40 thousands years B.C.) successors are judged to have belonged to the Neanderthal kind, and the existence of any continuation between those two groups is strongly doubted. The Later Paleolithic (40-12 thousands years B.C.) dwellers of the Peninsula are usually seen as Homo Sapiens Sapiens (i.e. the full equals of modern humans) belonging already to the proto-Mongoloid race. Those people with much probability conceived to have been the most remote direct ancestors of modern Koreans have not been, of course, the offspring of the earlier Neanderthal populace of the Peninsula (those two kinds are totally different physiologically), but came to the eastern fringe of the Eurasia from its more western parts (Near East and Central Asia). So, to the earliest part of Korean pre-history the label of í░Koreannessí▒ is hardly suitable, for the ancient proto-humans wandered over the vast territories without any regards to the modern ethnic and state borders. Only from the Later Paleolithic times onward we can speak and still with many reservations and caveats about some kind of cultural continuity in the Peninsula.

The Mesolithic (12-5 thousand years B.C.) culture is very poorly represented in the Peninsula, as well as in China. Only with the advent of the Neolithic culture (5000-1000 B.C.) can we speak of the distinctively peninsular style in material life (somehow influenced by the Later Paleolithic legacy), of the existence of some entity definable as, at least, í░proto-Koreaní▒ (í░Korean Paleolithicí▒ is geographical and not cultural term). Still, the first thing we have to point out about Korean Neolithic is that it very much defies the traditional definition of í░the Neolithicí▒ in Western academic literature. It is well known that the í░Neolithic Revolutioní▒ (roughly, 10000-5000 B.C.) in the Near East (typically, Asia Minor and Palestine) meant the emergence of the producing (as opposed to the í░acquisitiveí▒, í░foragingí▒) agricultural and pastoral (cattle-breeding) economy on the basis of the domestication and exploitation of the animals and plants, surpluses of food, ceramics to store those surpluses, warfare and long-distance trade aimed at re-distributing resources and surpluses, and, consequently, the first walled settlements to protect the better-to-do communities from each other. Advent of large-scale redistribution, professional handicraft and warfare meant also the acceleration of functional and, in consequence, class divide in the society. Neolithic human became what we are still now the settled, producing creature subdued to various chains of hierarchical obedience and non-hierarchical exchange. But what battles us in Korean case is the presence of only one important feature of the Neolithic the ceramics during approx. 2 millennia (5000-3000), without any traces of producing economy and domestication of flora and fauna. It strongly differs Korea from China of the same period, where Neolithic culture of Yangshao was already known for domestication of millet and pig. What was the reason for such an early divide between the fringe peninsular area and the future regional center of East Asia?

 One possible key to this riddle is the classic trademark style of Korean Neolithic ceramics known as í░chulmuní▒ (˝ţ┘■) – herringbone-like patterns topped with spotted design of the neck. Very similar patterns were widely known throughout the vast continental Eurasian area – from the Maritime province in the east to North-West Russia in the west. In Russian archeology, this style is known as í░comb-potted ceramicsí▒ and identified with the classic (í░developedí▒) Neolithic of the North Eurasia (5-3 millennia B.C.). In the Urals and Siberia, in the continental regions with harsh climate and unfertile soils, the agriculture could not become the cornerstone of the í░comb-potted ceramicsí▒ culture. Instead, the populace had to rely more upon abundant fishing resources – lakes and rivers are manifold in the area – supplementing the fishing gains with some meat acquired through hunting (dear, bear, etc.). When, as we hypothesize now, the populace of Siberian provenance with í░comb-potted ceramicsí▒ and good fishing and hunting skills came first to populate the Peninsula in 5th millennium B.C., they found there abundant and untapped maritime (coastal) fishing resources and relatively good game (mainly boars and dears) and, consequently, felt no necessity to early develop agricultural techniques. So, the Peninsula became aligned to the vast northern area of fishing/hunting Neolithic economy and, thus, distinctively different from the nascent proto-Chinese agricultural civilization (millet cultivation and black-painted ceramics of Yangshao at that stage). This early, Neolithic divide accounts to very high degree for the ethnic and cultural distinctiveness of the Koreans today, for their eventual refusal to Sinicize themselves ethnically (combined with much eagerness to utilize the needed elements of what was perceived as í░advanced Chinese cultureí▒).

The little we can say about the ethnic affiliation of the Neolithic proto-Koreans does not go beyond the realm of the hypothetical. It seems to be very probable that the Neolithic populace of South Siberia, Maritime Province of Russia, Korea, and Japan (people of Jōmon Neolithic culture) was later partly assimilated and, to the much lesser degree, extinguished by the new waves of settlers, now brandishing with bronze weapons in hands. In those most rugged and inhospitable part of the region the newcomers had little incentive to intrude – the island of Hokkaido, the Amur basin, Okhotsk Sea littoral, etc. – the descendants of the Neolithic populace of the North-Eastern Asia remained and became later known as í░Paleoasiaticí▒ people – for their languages do not fit into any of the known linguistic groups of modern Asia. Typical of the í░Paleoasiaticsí▒ are the Gilyaks (Nivkhs) of the Amur valley and the Ainu of Hokkaido – small Mongoloid ethic groups mostly subsisting on fishing and known for their bear cults. There are ample grounds to think that life and beliefs of the Neolithic proto-Koreans looked very much like this, especially if the traces of archaic Siberian í░bear mythologyí▒ in the earliest layers of Korean folklore are taken into consideration. Still, the ethno-genesis of many í░Paleoasiaticí▒ people does not seem now as simple as before, and it is evident that, as we know them now, those peoples are the product of long-time and complicated inter-cultural interactions and cross-influences. It would be very naïve to think that they preserved the Neolithic traits in their entirety and purity.

The millet agriculture – strongly influenced by the developments in China – started in the Northern part of Korea in 3rd millennium B.C. and already in the mid-2nd millennium B.C. made its impact felt in the economy. New important tool started to be developed – the í░half-mooní▒ (crescent-shaped) harvesting stone knife, to reap the millet in autumn. The populace starts to grow quicker, the scale of the settlements increases, and new, tougher and stricter stratified forms of leadership, based on new weaponry and new ideologies of power, start to be needed. Such was the historical background for the introduction of bronze tools and weapons, which accelerated on the unprecedented scale the tempo of the historic evolution in the Peninsula.

 The development of the regional bronze culture started in the basin of the Liao River (to the north of the Peninsula), mostly with the status-symbolizing ritual implements such as í░mandolin-likeí▒ daggers and knobbed mirrors (symbols of secular and sacred authority respectively). It seems to be very evident that early Liao Basin bronze culture was heavily influenced by successive Siberian and Central Asian early Metal cultures, such as Karasuk and Tagar (2nd-1st millennia B.C.), as well as Shang and Early Chou Bronze of China. Ethnically and linguistically, those Manchurian early bronze culture people are usually classified as proto-Tungusic, or, at least, generally proto-Altaic (although some proto-Scythian element also can be easily traced in the motifs of the decorations). In early Chinese sources, those people are frequently referred to as í░ye maekí▒ (š█ěš), and this ethnonym is generally used to refer to Bronze Age proto-Koreans. Approximately in 10th C. B.C. this ethno-cultural group seems to have started diffusing to the Peninsula, and, as a result, in 4-3rd. C. B.C. the Bronze Age dominated even in the southernmost parts of Korea. The diffusion from the North meant the uneven development of the Northern and Southern halves of the Peninsula, and we will have to outline their historical ways separately.

If in the North, first Korean proto-state, known as í░Ancient Chosŏní▒, emerged in 4-3rd C. B.C. (we will speak about it at the next lecture), the South (basically, the areas to the south of Han River, where todayí»s Seoul stays) remained much less affected by the Chinese and, broadly, continental influence, being consequently more backward. Still, up to the 2-1st C. B.C. almost whole of Korean peninsula, including the southern areas, entered the Iron Age; also, the cultivation of wet rice (which remain Koreaí»s main staple even now), much more calorie-rich that previously cultivated millet, was widely introduced. It meant that the process of social development and stratification would necessarily be greatly accelerated. The use of iron for rice-farming meant much increased productivity and, consequently, more surpluses, and iron weaponry gave the emerging elite the means to effectively relocate and redistribute those surpluses, by either military (plunder of the weaker communities) or more í░peaceful and organizedí▒ (imposing tribute on the weaker communities) ways. As a result, the ruling groups of the superior communities became by late 3rd-late 4th C. strong enough to re-make their tributaries into the í░regular subjectsí▒ – tax-paying and corvee-performing people clearly perceiving themselves as the í░juniorsí▒ and í░servantsí▒ of their rulers. Korea became a state society, rigidly stratified and highly conscious of the relationship of command and obedience – the basic form Korean society retained until today no matter how the concrete institutions changed.

Before ending this lecture on primitive Korea, letí»s take a look at the picture of the southern part of the Peninsula at Early Iron Age (1st C. B.C. – 3rd C. A.D.), at the time when the process of class stratification gradually changed the primitive society. Our main sources are the records of the Chinese observers (known from a Chinese dynastical history, í░San Guo Jií▒) and the archaeological findings, for the native sources for this period are not totally reliable.

First of all, even at the faraway times, the southern part of Korea was very densely populated – the wet rice cultivation on the fertile soils of river valleys could feed denser population than, say, wheat agriculture of Iron Age Northern Europe. According to the Chinese source, the southern part of the Peninsula was populated by more than 140 thousands of households, which means, at least, about 700-800 thousands of people (so, the population density was around 10 people per sq. km., but, given the large share of unpopulated mountainous areas, the real density of populace in the flatlands was 3-4 times higher). Politically, this relatively small area was divided between approximately 80 local chiefdoms with very unequal degrees of cultural development and economic/military strength. While some of the bigger chiefdoms could rule over more than 10000 households (around 50000 people), the smaller ones had no more than 3-4 thousands of inhabitants. Culturally, also, some better developed regions, with rich resources of iron ore and some Chinese and Chosŏn migrants (knowledgeable of more advanced economical and social practices) settled in their lands, could export iron to the Chinese, establish horse-riding armed squads and walled settlements, and institute certain norms of social discipline liked by the Chinese observers – kneeling to the superiors, for example. Still, in more backward regions, people, who lived í░without the walls and fortressesí▒, í░did not treasure gold and silverí▒, í░did not kneel to each otherí▒, sometimes tattoed their bodies, and í░used their horses and oxen only for the sacrifices to the deadí▒, resembled í░the bands of prisoners and slavesí▒ in the eyes of Chinese historians. No wonder, that, in the result, the better developed and stronger chiefdoms could eventually subjugate the weaker and more backward ones in their periphery, thus creating first pristine states in 3-5th C.

It is clear that in both more and less advanced communities, the economic basics of the life were provided through the agriculture (grain and millet cultivation), horticulture, poultry-raising, sericulture, and weaving. Such products of the Southern Proto-Koreans as millet, big chestnuts (í░as big as pearsí▒), double-threaded or fine-textured cloth, or long-tailed chickens (í░with the tails more the five feet longí▒) were well known to the Chinese observers and probably traded for the products of Chinese artisans. In fact, one can argue that the basics of Koreaí»s traditional agricultural economy were already laid in that formative period (1-3rd C.), and that the further technical improvements of the following centuries were, overall, just adjustments. But it is also very important to point out that, the economy of the Southern proto-Koreans being natural and agriculture-based on the whole, the inhabitants of that part of the Peninsula produced one strategically important good – the iron. Their iron was sold to both Chinese and proto-Japanese, and also used as a kind of primitive money in commercial transactions. The iron trade was probably the single most important factor, which facilitated the accumulation of the wealth in the hands of the upper stratum of the society, thus leading to the acceleration of the state formation.

 Politically, the lack of unity between small and diverse chiefdoms of the southern part of the peninsula was also strongly exacerbated by the divisive politics of the Chinese colonial authorities to the north. Chinese used their valuable prestige goods (such as luxurious ceremonial hats, finely made bronze mirrors with extravagant design, bronze tripods, and so on) as the tools of their politics granting various rival chiefs with those symbols of authority and power and thus creating diverse centers of legitimate political influence. Attracted by the splendor of the gorgeous Chinese culture (and by lavish remunerations for loyalty), many smaller chiefs sided rather with Chinese authorities than with their own fellow proto-Korean leaders in case of various disputes. In a sense, the South of the Peninsula represented a classical í░peripheryí▒ of a í░world-systemí▒ – a picture of relentless rivalry of smaller polities dependent politically and symbolically on the bigger neighbor (í░core powerí▒). Still, political dependence did not mean cultural homogeneity in that age (as it doesní»t mean it now in the relationship between the í░firstí▒ and í░thirdí▒ worlds). Religiously, the proto-Koreans kept their traditional autochthonous cults centered around season festivals (usually held in spring and autumn, after the seeding time and harvest respectively) and í░sodoí▒ beliefs. í░Sodoí▒ meant special sacred space, with large tree (representing the í░world axeí▒) decorated with bells and drums in the center. í░Sodoí▒ priests (called í░the Heavenly Lordsí▒) were practically independent from the secular authorities and had the right of giving asylum to all refugees. í░Sodoí▒ rituals, with ecstatic music and dances performed í░to get into contact with spiritsí▒, laid the base for the development of Korean shamanism, which remains an important cultural force in the Peninsula even now.

To end this talk on the Korean prehistory, I should emphasize the importance of this period for the further developments in the culture. As we could see, many foundations of Korean culture were laid in that í░formativeí▒ time – the agricultural natural economy (centered around wet rice cultivation with iron tools and sericulture), close relationship with Chinese and proto-Japanese, shamanist cults, and so on. At the same time, this period bequeathed many problems to the future generations, the hardest of them being the unequal nature of the relationship with China (which already became a regional í░coreí▒ power, denigrating the inhabitants of the Peninsula to the periphery status), and symbolic and economic dependence on the Chinese. To redefine the relationship with much bigger and stronger neighbor, Korea needed what China already had much before – strong centralized statehood.



LECTURE 3: The Early States of Korean Peninsula: Ancient Aristocratic Society in Korea. 

 a) Ancient Chosŏn

Usually the beginnings of the statehood in the Korean Peninsula are traced in the polity known from Chinese sources as Ancient Chosŏn (literary translated as í░The country of Morning Calmí▒ – poetical name of Korea). According to purely Korean later pseudo-mythological tradition, that polity came into existence in 2333 B.C. – approximately in the same age with first Chinese legendary sage-kings. The tradition says that in ancient time people of the northern part of Korea and Manchuria were ruled by a divine being named Hwangung, a son of the utmost heavenly deity called Hwanin. Residing in the City of Gods atop sacred Tí»aebaek Mt., Hwangung ruled over the people and spirits by truly divine methods – through the services of the gods of clouds, rain and winds he employed as his underlings. Having given the sacred medicine – garlic and mugworts – to a she-bear, Hwangung helped her to transform into a women and married her, thus giving birth to a child named Taní»gun Wanggŏm. Taní»gun Wanggŏm inherited the sacred kingdom of his divine father and continued to rule it with the same methods for one thousand and five hundred years, becoming after this a mountain spirit instead of simply dying as a mortal. Taní»gun, the half-human and half-deity, was usually considered to be a single progenitor of Korean race in late traditional Korea.

How should we understand the deeds of the í░trinityí▒ Hwanin-Hwangung-Taní»gun? What kind of information gives us the myth about the social and cultural realities of ancient Korea? The basic structure we can trace in this myth is the firm belief in sacred, Heavenly determined character of the kingly power, and also strong indication of the magical functions of the Chosŏn kings as shamans and divinators. As we can see, Ancient Chosŏn as presented in this myth very much resembled the classical model of ancient theocracy, the ruler being honored as 1) the son of heavenly and earthly (sacred bear) gods, 2) the possessor of magic powers able to rule over the spirits (of clouds, rain, and so on), 3) the sacred being representing the Supreme Heavenly God on the earth and destined to become a mountain god after the death. The theocratic character of the kingly powers in Chosŏn can be seen even in the name Taní»gun-Wanggŏm, which is supposed to be rather the title of Chosŏn rulers than just a personal name. Taní»gun seems to be a priestly title (meaning something like í░the Lord of Heavení▒), while Wanggŏm seems to mean í░the earthly rulerí▒ (í░imgūmí▒ - í░kingí▒ in modern Korean). So, the double title Taní»gun-Wanggŏm represents the very nature of Chosŏn theocracy, and it is very important that the priestly title is put first: seemingly, the secular powers were considered the extension of sacred authority.

But were the Chosŏn rulers in reality powerful enough to establish something comparable with classical theocracies known from the history of Egypt, Shang-Yin Dynasty of China, or ancient Mesopotamia? And can such early date for the establishment of first Korean state as 2333 B.C., be taken seriously? Archaeological evidences suggest, that the appearance of first proto-states in Northern Korean and Manchuria has, of course, taken place much later. Then, Chinese sources give evidences that, in reality, theocratic models of Chosŏn foundation myths were more of a political pretension than reality – Chosŏn rulers really started as priest-kings, but were very far from exercising total and undisputed power over their area.

According to the archeological materials, in 5-4th C. B.C. significant changes took place in the material culture of the northern part of Korea and nearby Manchurian lands. Traditional í░mandoline-likeí▒ bronze daggers became more slender and even more impractical – they were now used as purely ritual implement emphasizing the power of military leaders. Along with this kind of dagger, other prestige good emerges in big numbers – the ceremonial bronze mirror with geometrical design (characteristically proto-Korean, very different from contemporary Chinese tradition). Daggers and mirrors, usually found in the same earth-pit graves in big numbers, show two main sides, military and sacred, of the leaderí»s charisma. At that stage, certain chiefs – especially those who could monopolize the production and distribution of iron, newly introduced from China – started to make pretensions to represent all the proto-Korean chiefdoms of the region. Some of them were successful enough in promoting their pretensions to earn the title of í░Chosŏn kingsí▒ from their Chinese contemporaries. Of course, those í░kingsí▒ were hardly more than rulers of small chiefdoms who achieved temporary predominance over their more or less homogeneous neighbors by military force or through control over iron/prestige goods distribution network.

In 4-3rd C., with the intensification of Chinese expansion into Liao valley and wider introduction of iron working tools, the political balance among proto-Korean chiefdoms started to undergo important changes. On one side, better tools meant bigger harvests and, consequently, more surplus product to be redistributed by the chiefdom rulers. On the other side, Chinese threat – as it frequently happens – gave the stimulus to the indigenous polities to unite themselves against the common enemy and to build more rigid power structures able to withstand the onslaught of Chinese statehood. At that stage, friable and loose confederation of proto-Korean (í░yemaekí▒) chiefdoms started to acquire some features of a proto-state, like certain coercive powers, elaborate mythology needed to prop up the theocratic pretensions (see the Taní»gun myth above), etc.

The decisive point in Chosŏn history was 194 B.C. when an educated Chinese refugee (or, probably, a sinified proto-Korean), named Wei Man (Kor.: Wi Man) usurped the throne of the Chosŏn proto-state, styling himself as the í░king of Chosŏní▒. Through Wei Man and his Northern Chinese underlings, Chinese culture, both material and spiritual, started to inundate Chosŏn society. It is evident from the tombs of that period, famous for the abundance of Chinese í░knife-moneyí▒ (mingdao) and chariots (main vehicle for aristocratic combat in China in that time). From the document, we can see that Wei Man tried hard to establish some kind of sinitic state order in Chosŏn, granting Chinese titles like í░ministerí▒ to the native chieftains and promoting the commander of his own guard (mainly Chinese by birth) – main instrument of his power – into í░assistant kingí▒. Wei Maní»s professional army armed with best Chinese weapons was strong enough to control local chieftain and protect them from new Chinese intrusions at the same time; his trade network was effective enough to lavish Chinese prestige goods on local nobles, thus combining stick and carrot in controlling Chosŏn territory. Wei Maní»s trading relations with Chinese were based on the exchange of Chosŏn iron and horses for Chinese prestige goods, but at that time the iron – state monopoly in Han China – was stimulus powerful enough to induce new Chinese intrusion. As a result of the attack by Han Imperial troops in 100-108 B.C., the regime of Wei Maní»s descendants was overthrown, and the North of Korea became a Chinese colony for the following 4 centuries.

As we can see from this brief sketch of Wei Man Chosŏní»s political structure, Chinese bureaucratic elements were superimposed on very loose autochthonous political structure – the feature characteristic for other early Korean states too. Ruling regime acted as intermediary in introducing í░coreí▒ (Chinese) culture into peripherial region, legitimizing itself by the redistribution of í░coreí▒-made prestige goods. It is a feature common for many newly-born peripherial states on the fringes of great empires. At the same time, as in case of many other states on Chinese boundaries, the threat of Chinese invasions was the single most important factor in consolidating local polities into a proto-state. So, the interaction with Chinese culture played the dominant role in shaping Chosŏn identity, but this role was complex, with an intrinsic contradiction between the political emphasis on anti-Chinese resistance and politico-cultural necessity to emulate some features of highly prestigious Chinese culture to withstand its onslaught. This contradictive dichotomy of resistance/emulation of the í░coreí▒ much stimulated the development of uniquely Korean culture in the future, prompting Koreans to strive to í░catch and overtakeí▒ Chinese in all spheres, playing by the latterí»s rules, but keeping the í░core powerí▒ at the bay at the same time. 

b) Koguryŏ


In approximately 1st C. B.C., the historical tradition of Ancient Chosŏn was inherited and continued by other native proto-state, named Koguryŏ. According to the myth, it have been founded in 37 B.C. by the divine chief, named Chumong (which means í░good archerí▒), in the valley of the Yalu (Amnok) River, where the latter moved in as result of clan quarrels in his native northern lands. In the myth Chumong – not unlike Taní»gun – is pictured as a son of a Heavenly Deity who descended to the Earth, and a River Goddess. Of course, such kind of universal í░divine kingshipí▒ myth basically reflects the ideology of early ruling lineages who wished to sanctify their right to rule through the evocation of the most important religious symbols of the time – the almighty heavenly deity (male) and fertility-granting river deity (female), who, as a pair, constituted the Sacred Universe of northern Proto-Koreans. Although it cannot be ruled out that some of the noble families of early Koguryŏ were natives of northern lands, the majority of the ruling class of the í░foundation timesí▒ seems to have hailed from the economical and political center of the new state – middle reaches of the Yalu River. There stayed one of the earlier capitals of the new, named Kungnaesŏng (todayí»s Tí»unggou in China). Their main interest causing them to be active and positive in delegating some of their traditional powers to the state, was to check the advance of the Chinese onto their power bases and to enable themselves to conquer and exploit the weaker tribes outside their homeland, the Yalu valley. So, from the very beginning Koguryŏ demonstrated highly militaristic orientation, was very stubborn in repulsing foreign invasions and unusually vigorous in building up the í░small empireí▒ of their own.

Early state in Koguryŏ, which has taken definite shape during the reign of king Tí»aejo (í░Great Founderí▒; 53-121), was based on very large autonomy left to the constituent territorial and administrative units, so-called í░puí▒ (Ţ╗). í░Puí▒ – basically, large regions ruled by traditional local nobility without much of state interference – were officially responsible for filling key posts in emerging state bureaucratic system and supplying state army with territorial detachments, thus performing basic tasks of the statehood. Basically, state was hardly more than quite fragile coalition/federation of autonomous í░puí▒, mostly responsible for external relationship – diplomacy, war, and supply of Chinese luxurious good. Still, it was not just a coalition of equals – early Koguryŏ was definitely dominated by the strongest í░puí▒ (Kyerubu), which claimed to have Chumong as its divine ancestor. The strongest í░puí▒ monopolized the throne, as well as sacrificial powers – it was responsible for all-Koguryŏ tongmaeng festivities, the symbol of state unity and cohesion. The system, which enabled the strongest tribal group to represent the state as a whole, while delegating a lot of power to local aristocratic lineages, also existed in China in Eastern Chou times, before its unification in 221 B.C.

In 2-3rd C., Koguryŏ grew larger, mostly due to new conquests in South-East (todayí»s Hamgyŏng Province), where tribal people, Okchŏ and Ye (of very similar proto-Korean stock), were now obliged to supply fish, salt, sea-food, and women-slaves as the tribute to their Koguryŏ overlords. As the confederation grew in size and tribute income, it gradually became more centralized, with central bureaucrats supplanting í░puí▒ nobles as main agents of power. Some í░puí▒ collapsing and other strengthening as a result of conquests, Kyerubu could consolidate and further institutionilize its hegemony, building new standing army (instead of í░puí▒ territorial corps), first regular local administration, and new top-down apparatus of power.

Newly strengthened state could afford itself aggressive and self-asserting external policy. It bravely assaulted the Chinese colony of Lolang (built by the Han Empire on the place of Ancient Chosŏn), unabashed by some great defeats, such as that of 242, when Koguryŏ capital was stormed and sacked by Wei (Chinese) troops. It seems that main incentive for dangerous attacks on Lolang was the ruling claní»s desire to plunder high-value Chinese luxury items and then to earn more authority through the redistribution of the war booty to the aristocratic clans. As a result of political chaos in China proper, as well as Koguryŏí»s unabated war efforts of more than a century, Lolang and Daifang – two principal Chinese colonies in Northern Korea –were overrun and destroyed in 313, yielding to the Koguryŏ conquerors thousands of talented and highly skilled Chinese craftsmen – great contribution to the technological development of the proto-Korean state. After this conquest, Koguryŏí»s fledgling bureaucratic structures, as well as arts and culture as a whole, experience strong Sinitic influence.

Still, military luck of early 4th C. was followed by a series of disasters Koguryŏ had to suffer at the hands of the new overlords of Northern China – Hsienpei (ÓěŢń) nomads. In 342, the latter sacked Koguryŏ capital, taking even the mother and consort of Koguryŏ king – as well as the coffins of his ancestors - prisoners. The unlucky king found his death later, in 371, when a southern proto-Korean state, Paekche, ravaged the southern and central part of Koguryŏ, defeating Koguryŏ troops in the great battle of Pí»yŏngyang.

Greatly humiliated by northern nomads and southern proto-Koreans, Koguryŏ could still rebuild itself and reach the period of efflorescence in late 4th C., under king Sosurim (371-384). Having built close connections with the í░barbarianí▒ states of Northern China, Sosurim laid the fundament for full-fledged Sinitic bureaucratic system – first in Korean history – founding the National University (372; for training the cadres of officials), accepting Buddhism from China (372; it greatly help to spread the Chinese writing system and to raise the overall cultural standarts), and issuing written laws (yullyŏng). As a result of this activist policy, the arch-rival Paekche received lots of humiliating blows. But real humiliation for Paekche came later, during the time of rule of the two mightiest Koguryŏ kings, Kwanggaetí»o (391-413) and Changsu (413-491). Kwanggaetí»o – í░the King who extended his landsí▒ – built Koguryŏ into a kind of small Empire, subjugating most of Southern Manchuria, making one southern proto-Korean state – Silla – its vassal, and dealing devastating blow not only to Paekche, but even to Paekcheí»s Japanese allies. In his magnificent stele – first big written text in Korean history – he boasted than he stormed and conquered 64 fortresses in his life. After his son, Changsu (í░Long-livingí▒), conquered even the Paekche capital on River Haní»gang (approximately where modern Seoul is) and killed Paekche king, Koguryŏ became one of the strongest states of East Asia and possible threat to Chinese domination there. That was the reason several succeeding Chinese dynastic governments did not spare any efforts to defeat and eliminate Koguryŏ – and succeeded at the end.

Troubles with China started mainly in late 6th C., when China was unified by Sui Dynasty (589), and Koguryŏ, on the contrary, was weakened by aristocratic strifes and unsuccessful wars with Silla (which recaptured the strategic Haní»gang valley from Koguryŏ). Still, however weakened Koguryŏ was, it possessed professional cavalry army, excellent knowledge of the terrain, and vigorous ethnic determination – all those factors strong enough to bring the victory over the invaders. First Sui attack (army of 300,000) was repulsed by stubborn Koguryŏ resistance, as well as by inhospitable weather. Next Sui army (estimated at 2-3 millions), willing to revenge the humiliation, stroke Koguryŏ in 612. Still, the debacle was repeated: the Chinese overstretched their supply lines and suffered from unknown weather and illnesses (as well as from the lack of morale on the part of rank-and-file draftees), while Koguryŏ stubbornly defended their fortresses, exhausted the enemies, and then entrapped and ambushed them. As sources tell us, of the battle vanguard of the Chinese (300,000), only 2,700 soldiers could return alive. This devastating defeat exhausted Sui resources and brought about the downfall of the humiliated dynasty.

To conquer Koguryŏ and avenge the unbearable humiliation of the í░defeat by barbariansí▒ became one of the most important tasks of the next unified dynasty, Tí»ang (founded in 618). Koguryŏ tried its best to survive, building the Great Wall on its border with China, and at the same time sending tribute embassies to Tí»ang court and making Taoism – favored by Tí»ang emperors – the state religion. Still, the animosity against the í░defiant barbariansí▒ persisted. Koguryŏ, ruled by military dictators – alike Japanese shoguns of later times - from 642, concentrated all national resources and successfully fought off 3 consequent Tí»ang invasions in 645-648. Still, the stateí»s resources were already depleted, and the dictatorial government – needed in this extraordinary situation – incited lots of enmity on the part of less favored groups of aristocracy. As a result, new Chinese invasion of 667-668 became lethal for the warrior-state – it had been conquered and then partitioned between Tí»ang and new overlord of the Peninsula, Silla,

Koguryŏí»s defiant posture provoked the unprecedented wrath of the Chinese, and the eventual downfall of the proto-Korean state. At the same time, Koguryŏí»s military prowess seems to have saved the fledgling proto-Korean ethnos from being conquered and assimilated by the Chinese. Be Sui invasions successful, not only Koguryŏ, but also Silla and Paekche could very well become nothing more than mere parts of newly formed unified Chinese Empire. The material reason which enabled Koguryŏ to withstand the fierce Chinese attacks, was high level of development of administrative organization and culture in general, compatible with that of current China. Koguryŏ, being basically an aristocratic society, already had professional standing army, effective bureaucracy, developed system of capitation tax, and practical right of households to buy and sell their land. It was a multi-ethnic and highly diverse society, with rich artistic traditions, partly local, and partly China-influenced. It was the strongest of ancient proto-Korean states, and the first to develop to the level of full-fledged ancient statehood.