Balhae (698 – 926) was an ancient kingdom established after the fall of Goguryeo, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. After Goguryeo’s capital and southern territories fell to Unified Silla, Dae Jo-young, a former Goguryeo general, established Jin, later called Balhae, by uniting various Korean and Malgal tribes.
Balhae occupied southern parts of Manchuria and Primorsky Krai, and the northern part of the Korean peninsula. It was defeated by the Khitans in 926, after which it was partly absorbed by Goryeo.
The Founding of Balhae and Its Political System
After the destruction of Koguryo, the remaining people in Manchuria rose up in a restoration movement.
Tae Cho-yong, a former general of Koguryo, led the remaining people of Koguryo and the Mohe tribe to found a new state in the area of Dongmiaoshan in Dunhuaxian, Jilin calling his country Chin in 698. Later Chin was renamed Balhae.
Balhae recovered almost all of the old Koguryo territory and dominated Manchuria, the Maritime Provinces and northern Korea to become a powerful nation. The ruling classes were mostly composed of the people of Koguryo, and the Mohe tribe formed the greater part of its population.
Balhae, with a strong consciousness as being the successor of Koguryo, stood in confrontation with Tang and Shilla, and maintained friendly relations with Japan and Tujue in the beginning stages. From the mid-8th century on, under the reign of King Mun, Balhae maintained peaceful relations with Tang and actively exchanged culture and goods. The official institutions of Balhae were modelled after the Tang system, consisting of three councils–Chongdangsong, Sonjosong and Chungdaesong–each with six divisions.
This system resembled the Tang structure in form but in terms of operation possessed unique characteristics. Important state affairs were determined at aristocrats’ meetings in Chongdangsong. For local administration, the country was divided into five regional capitals, 15 provinces and 62 counties.
Governors and magistrates were stationed as local rulers in each province and county.
The Height of Prosperity and the Fall of Balhae
Balhae reached its zenith of prosperity under the reign of King Son in the early 9th century.
During that stage Balhae occupied a large territory, reaching out from the Heilong River (Amur) to the north, Yonghung in Hamgyong-namdo to the south, the Maritime Provinces to the east, and Kaiyuan to the west. Balhae imported civilized culture and goods from Tang, and its culture developed so peculiarly that it was referred to as Haedong songguk (a sage country in the east).
However, after King Son, an internal dispute arose among the ruling class, and harmony between the governing Koguryo people and the governed Mohe was broken. Balhae’s power was weakened. During the same time, the Qidans growing in the west of Balhae gained more power with each day.
Balhae was destroyed by the Qidans in 926. Ever since, Manchuria, which had been the center stage for Korea’s national activities, has been estranged from Korea’s history.
After the fall of Balhae and its last king in 926, it was renamed Dongdan by its new Khitan masters, who had control over most of Balhae’s old territories.
However, starting from 927, many rebellions were triggered throughout the domains. These rebellions were eventually turned into several Balhae revivals. Out of these, only three succeeded and established kingdoms: Later Balhae, Jung-Ahn Kingdom, and Dae-Won Kingdom.
These three kingdoms were able to temporarily chase the Khitan and their Dongdan Kingdom out into the Liaodong peninsula, but they were all eventually decimated by the Liao Empire.
In 1034, Dae Gwang-Hyun, the last Crown Prince of Balhae, revolted against their Khitan masters. After being defeated, he fled to Koryo, where he was granted protection and the imperial surname.
This resulted in the Liao breaking off diplomatic relations with Koryo, but there was no threat to invade.