|Revised Romanization||Gyeon Hwon|
Gyeon Hwon (867 - 9 September 936, reigned 900-935) was the king and founder of Hubaekje, one of the Later Three Kingdoms of Korea. Some records render his name as "Jin Hwon" (진훤). He was also the progenitor of the Hwanggan Gyeon clan. Substantial accounts of his life are preserved in the Samguk Sagi, which presents a single narrative, and the Samguk Yusa, which presents excerpts about him from various sources.
Records say that Gyeon Hwon was born Lee, not Gyeon. Most accounts agree that Gyeon Hwon's father was Ajagae, a farmer of the Lee clan, and that he was born in what is today Gaeun-eup in Mungyeong, North Gyeongsang province, as the oldest of six children. His mother was from the Gwangju area, but her exact identity is not known; Ajagae had two wives, Lady Sangwon and Lady Namwon, and Gyeon Hwon was born to his first wife. However, legend says that his mother was from Gwangju and gave birth to her firstborn son after having physical contact with a worm disguised as a man, and that Gyeon Hwon grew up drinking the milk of a tiger.
The Silla court of Queen Jinseong was heavily corrupted and embroiled with political confusion. Widespread famine ravaged the country, driving many of the people into rebel forces. Village headmen, and new military forces arose and created power bases all over the country. The government who had tried to implement a forceful taxation plan found itself in the face of rebellions led by bandits, local nobles, and rebel leaders. It was during this time that Gyeon Hwon's father Ajagae, led a local peasant revolt and set up base in Sangju.
Early life and founding of Hubaekje
Gyeon Hwon is said to have left home at 15 to join the Silla army and became the commander of Silla forces in the Jeolla region. While his father grabbed power in the Sangju region, he independently marshalled local peasants to his cause, and soon gathered many followers. In 892, Gyeon Hwon seized the cities of Wansanju and Mujinju, taking over the old territory of Baekje and winning the support of the people in the area who were hostile to Silla.
Gyeon Hwon declared himself the king of Hubaekje ("later Baekje") and established his capital at Wansanju in 900. He established government, made diplomatic ties with China, and continuously pursued the expansion of his kingdom amongst much conflict with Gung Ye of Hugoguryeo.
After crowning himself as ruler of Hubaekje, Gyeon Hwon sent his army to present-day Hapcheon, southwest of the Silla capital Gyeongju, but the campaign failed and the army retreated. Then in 910, when Wang Geon, the general of the rival kingdom of Hugoguryeo attacked and captured the city of Naju, the very city in which Gyeon Hwon had started his rebellion, he made an attempt to retake the city from Wang but failed.
In 918, Gung Ye, who had been maintaining his rule by acts of terror, was dethroned and murdered by his own army commanders. General and chief minister Wang Geon was crowned as their new ruler, marking the beginning point of Goryeo.
Gyeon Hwon sent another major expedition to Hapcheon in 920 and finally succeeded in taking over the region, forcing King Gyeongmyeong into an alliance with Goryeo. Then he invaded the present-day Andong area, but his troops were defeated by local Silla guards. Gyeon Hwon was forced to make peace with Goryeo after the battle, through a hostage exchange of royal family members. However, when his nephew died, he killed the Goryeo hostage, cousin of Wang Geon, and resumed war against Goryeo.
In 927, Gyeon Hwon led his army himself and directly attacked the Silla capital of Gyeongju. King Gyeongae was unprepared to this attack and he chose suicide over capture by the invading army of Hubaekje. Gyeon Hwon then established Kim Bu as the next Silla king, who became King Gyeongsun. On his way back, he was met by the forces led by Wang Geon, and easily defeated the Goryeo army, killing many of Wang's notable generals and warriors, with Wang barely escaping through the daring self-sacrifice of his general Shin Sung-gyeom and Kim Nak. One year later he took over the city of Jinju from Silla.
Decline and fall
Hubaekje and Goryeo were in constant state of hostilities without one being completely dominant over the other. However, in 930, the Hubaekje troops faced a heavy defeat at the Battle of Gochang (present-day Andong) and was unable to recover from the loss. Gyeon Hwon attempted to reverse the current by sacking the Goryeo capital of Gaeseong, but his army suffered another defeat in the year of 934.
Not only was Hubaekje reeling from military defeats, the kingdowm was in internal disarray. In 935, Gyeon Hwon's eldest son Singeom, who had been slighted as heir to the throne in favor of his younger brother Geumgang, overthrew Gyeon Hwon with the aid of his brothers Yanggeom and Yonggeom. Singeom killed Geumgang and confined Gyeon Hwon to Geumsan Temple, but Gyeon Hwon escaped and fled to his old enemy Wang Geon in Goryeo, who welcomed him and provided him with land and slaves.
Gyeon Hwon died the same year of an inflamed tumor.
Unlike his rival Gung Ye, Gyeon Hwon was active in diplomacy; he was formally confirmed by the Chinese kingdoms of Wuyue and Later Tang as the legitimate ruler of Hubaekje. In addition, he sought an alliance with the newly formed Liao Dynasty in the north, which was founded by the Khitans, in order to surround Goryeo from both north and south. Gyeon Hwon also sent envoys to Japan during his reign for mainly commercial reasons; the Jeolla region, where Gyeon Hwon began his kingdom, was the center of trade in East Asia during the period and had already served as the base for traders such as Jang Bogo.
However, despite all of his diplomatic, military and trade abilities Gyeon Hwon lacked the political astuteness to found a viable state; his Hubaekje government system was not very much different from the one of Silla, which had been proven to be ineffective in centralizing the power of the local landlords and merchants. In the end, Hubaekje was not able to exercise influence over many of its people, giving the way for Goryeo to incorporate the kingdom and unify the Korean peninsula.
- (Korean) Gyeon Hwon at Doosan Encyclopedia
- (Korean) Gyeon Hwon at Britannica Korea
- Il-yeon: Samguk Yusa: Legends and History of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea, translated by Tae-Hung Ha and Grafton K. Mintz. Book Two, page 125. Silk Pagoda (2006). ISBN 1-59654-348-5
- (Korean) Gyeon Hwon at Encyclopedia of Korean Culture
- (Korean) Ajagae at Doosan Encyclopedia
- Park Yeonggyu (박영규), Annals of the Silla Dynasty (신라왕조실록) pp 427-433, Woongjin, Seoul, 2004. ISBN 89-01-04752-7
- Choi Yong Beom (최용범), Korean History in One Night (하룻밤에 읽는 한국역사), Paper Road, Seoul, 2008. ISBN 978-89-92920-61-2
- Lee Hyun-hee, Park Sung-soo, Yoon Nae-hyun, translated by The Academy of Korean Studies, New History of Korea pp 263-265, Jimoondang, Paju, 2005. ISBN 89-88095-85-5
- (Korean) Taejo at Doosan Encyclopedia