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The territory of Balhae in 830, during the reign of King Seon of Balhae.[1][2]
The territory of Balhae in 830, during the reign of King Seon of Balhae.[1][2]
CapitalDongmo Mountain

Central Capital

Upper Capital
East Capital

Upper Capital

or Five Capital System
Common languagesTungusic language and Goguryeo language (Koreanic)
• 698–719
Go (first)
• 719–737
• 737–793
• 794–809
• 809–812
• 812–817
• 818–830
• 830–857
Dae Ijin
• 906–926
Dae Inseon (last)
Historical eraAncient
• Dae Jung-sang begins military campaigns
• Establishment in Tianmenling
• "Balhae" as a kingdom name
• Fall of Shangjing
January 14, 926
• Peak
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Khitan Liao
Today part ofChina
North Korea
Korean name
Chinese name
Russian name
Manchu name
Manchu script ᡦᡠᡥᠠ‍ᡳ
Part of a series on the
History of Manchuria
The locations of Jurchen tribes in 1600s.jpg

Balhae (698–926) was a multi-ethnic kingdom in Manchuria, Korean peninsula and Russian Far East.[6] Balhae was established by refugees from the fallen Korean kingdom of Goguryeo and Tungusic Mohe tribes in 698,[7][8] when the first king, Dae Joyeong, defeated the Wu Zhou dynasty at Tianmenling.[9][10][11]

Balhae's original capital was at Dongmo Mountain in modern Dunhua, Jilin, China. In 742 it was moved to the Central Capital in Helong, Jilin. It was moved to the Northern Capital in Ning'an, Heilongjiang in 755, to the Eastern Capital in Hunchun, Jilin in 785, and back to the Northern Capital in 794.[12] Along with Goguryeo refugees and Mohe tribes, Balhae had a diverse population, including other minorities such as Khitan and Evenk peoples.[13] Balhae had a high level of craftsmanship and engaged in trade with neighboring countries such as Göktürk, Japan, Silla and Tang.[14]

In 926, the Khitan Liao dynasty conquered Balhae and established the autonomous kingdom of Dongdan ruled by the Liao crown prince Yelü Bei, which was soon absorbed into the Liao.[12] Meanwhile, a series of nobilities and elites led by key figures such as crown prince Dae Gwang-hyeon, were absorbed into Goryeo.

Administrative divisions of Balhae kingdom, with Chinese and Korean names [note 1]

According to a Chinese source[which?], the kingdom had 100,000 households and a population of about 500,000. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Balhae culture was an amalgamation of Chinese, Korean, and Tungusic cultures.[15]


Balhae was founded in 698 under the name 震, transcribed as Jin in Korean romanisation or Zhen in Chinese romanisation. The kingdom's name was written as in Chinese character,[16] with the reconstructed Old Chinese pronunciation /*[d]ər/ and the Middle Chinese pronunciation dzyin;[17] King Go's state wrote its name as , with the Middle Chinese pronunciation tsyin.[17] The former state's character referred to the 5th Earthly Branch of the Chinese zodiac, a division of the orbit of Jupiter identified with the dragon. This was associated with a bearing of 120° (between ESE and SE) but also with the two-hour period between 7 and 9 am, leading it to be associated with dawn and the direction east.

In 713, the Tang dynasty bestowed the ruler of Jin with the title of Head of Balhae Commandery, and in 762 the Tang recognized it as a kingdom and renamed it "Balhae".[12][18]

The transcriptions Bohai[19] and Parhae[20] are also used in modern academia.



During the Khitan rebellion against Tang, Dae Jung-sang, a former Goguryeo official[citation needed] led Goguryeo refugees, allied with Geolsa Biu, a leader of the Mohe people, against the Tang in 698.[citation needed] After Dae Jungsang's death, his son, Dae Jo-yeong, a former Goguryeo general[21] or chief of Somo Mohe[22] succeeded his father, who received orders from the last King of Goguryeo to found a succeeding country. Geolsa Biu died in battle against the Tang army led by the general Li Kaigu. Dae Jo-yeong managed to escape Tang territory with the remaining Goguryeo and Mohe soldiers. He successfully defeated a pursuing army sent by Wu Zetian at the Battle of Tianmenling. which enabled him to establish the state of Jin in the former region of Yilou as King Go.[citation needed]

Another account of events suggests that there was no rebellion at all, and the leader of the Sumo Mohe rendered assistance to the Tang by suppressing Khitan rebels. As a reward the Tang acknowledged the leader as the local hegemon of a semi-independent state.[19]

Expansion and foreign relations[edit]

The second King Mu (r. 719–737), who felt encircled by Tang, Silla and Heishui Mohe along the Amur River, ordered a punitive expedition to Tang with his navy in 732 and killed a Tang prefect based on the Shandong Peninsula.[23] In the same time, the king led troops taking land routes to Madusan (마두산; 馬頭山) in the vincity of the Shanhai Pass (about 300 kilometres east of current Beijing) and occupied towns nearby.[citation needed] He also sent a mission to Japan in 728 to threaten Silla from the southeast. Balhae kept diplomatic and commercial contacts with Japan until the end of the kingdom. Balhae dispatched envoys to Japan 34 times, while Japan sent envoys to Balhae 13 times.[24] Later, a compromise was forged between Tang and Balhae, which led Tang diplomatically recognize Mun of Balhae, who succeeded to his father's throne, as King of Balhae.

The third King Mun (r. 737–793) expanded its territory into the Amur valley in the north and the Liaodong Peninsula in the west. During his reign, a trade route with Silla, called "Sillado" (신라도; 新羅道), was established. King Mun moved the capital of Balhae several times. He also established Sanggyeong, the permanent capital near Lake Jingpo in the south of today's Heilongjiang province around 755; stabilizing and strengthening central rule over various ethnic tribes in his realm, which was expanded temporarily. He also authorized the creation of the Jujagam (주자감; 胄子監), the national academy, based on the national academy of Tang. Although China recognized him as a king, Balhae itself referred to him as the son of heaven and a king.[25]

The tenth King Seon reign (r. 818–830), Balhae controlled northern Korea, Northeastern Manchuria and now Primorsky Krai of Russia. King Seon led campaigns that resulted in the absorbing of many northern Mohe tribes and southwest Little Goguryeo kingdom, which was located in the Liaodong Peninsula, was absorbed into Balhae. Its strength was such that Silla was forced to build a northern wall in 721 as well as maintain active defences along the common border. In the middle of the 9th century, Balhae completed its local system, which was composed of five capitals, 15 prefectures and 62 counties.


Following the reign of King Seon (830), there is no surviving written records of Balhae. Some scholars believe that the 946 eruption of Paektu Mountain may have caused a national level catastrophe leading to its final fall to the Khitan Liao Dynasty, based on records of massive population displacement of Balhae people to the Liaodong peninsula of the Khitan empire and the Korean peninsula of Goryeo.[26] A significant territory of what was used to be Balhae was mostly depopulated, especially around the Paektu volcano, which was at the heart of Balhae territory. Other historians believe that ethnic conflicts between the ruling Goguryeos and underclass Mohe weakened the state.[27] The Khitans were centered in Liaoning and Inner Mongolia, which overlaps Balhae's purported territories in the west. A Khitan invasion took the capital of Balhae after a 25-day siege in 926. After defeating Balhae, the Khitans established a puppet state founded by its new Khitan rulers, the Dongdan Kingdom, which was annexed by Liao in 936. Some Balhae aristocrats were forced to move to Liaoyang, but Balhae's eastern territory remained politically independent.

Aftermath and legacy[edit]

After the fall of Balhae and its last king in 926, the autonomous satellite state of Dongdan was founded by its new Khitan rulers.[28] Restoration movements by displaced Balhae people established Later Balhae, which was later renamed to Jeongan.[29] The Balhae people played a pivotal role in the politics, literature, and society of northern China under the Liao and Jin dynasties. After the dissolution of Balhae by the Khitan empire, the term "Bohai" was used through the fourteenth century to denote a subset of the populations of the Liao, Jin, and Mongol empires.[30] Though Balhae was lost, a great portion of the royalty and aristocracy fled to Goryeo, a newly formed Korean kingdom that was, like Balhae, founded by Goguryeo descendants.[31][32] There, they were given places to live along with positions in accordance to their status before the fall. The Goryeosa notes the existence of additional mass emigrations of the dispersed Balhae people before the fall of Jeongan.

Khitan conquest of Balhae resulted in Goryeo's intense and prolonged hostility towards the Khitan Empire.[33] Goryeo once proposed a joint-invasion of the Khitan empire to China in retribution of Balhae's fall. This hostility culminated in the Goryeo–Khitan Wars from 993 to 1019.

Dae Gwang-hyeon, the last crown prince, and much of the ruling class of Balhae sought refuge in Goryeo, where they were granted land and the crown prince included in the royal household by Wang Geon, Koreans believe thus unifying the two successor nations of Goguryeo.[34] The Goryeo scholar Choi Seungno referred these events in the Shimu 28 (Korean: 시무 28조, Chinese: 時務二十八條).

Stele from Balhae at the National Museum of Korea.

Goryeo actively accepted people of Balhae.[35] Goryeosa records the arrival of tens of thousands of Balhae households to Goryeo, led by a general escaping from the Khitans in 925, one year before the final collapse of the kingdom. The rest of the Balhae people were assimilated into the Khitan polity as well as the Jurchens who would revolt against the Khitans later in the century. Some descendants of the Balhae royalty in Goryeo changed their family name to Tae (태, 太) while Crown Prince Dae Gwang-hyeon was given the family name Wang (왕, 王), the royal family name of the Goryeo dynasty. Balhae was the last state in Korean history to hold any significant territory in Manchuria, although later Korean dynasties would continue to regard themselves as successors of Goguryeo and Balhae.[27]

The Khitans themselves eventually succumbed to the Jurchen people, the descendants of the Mohe, who founded the Jin dynasty. Jurchen proclamations emphasized the common descent of the Balhae and Jurchens from the seven Wuji(勿吉) tribes, and proclaimed "Jurchen and Balhae are from the same family". The fourth, fifth and seventh emperors of Jin were mothered by Balhae consorts. The 13th century census of Northern China by the Mongols distinguished Balhae people who belonged to khitan from other ethnic groups such as Goryeo, Khitan and Jurchen.[36]

Government and culture[edit]

Monarchs of Korea
  1. Go 698–719
  2. Mu 719–737
  3. Mun 737–793
  4. Dae Won-ui 793
  5. Seong 793–794
  6. Gang 794–809
  7. Jeong 809–812
  8. Hui 812–817
  9. Gan 817–818
  10. Seon 818–830
  11. Dae Ijin 830–857
  12. Dae Geonhwang 857–871
  13. Dae Hyeonseok 871–894
  14. Dae Wihae 894–906
  15. Dae Inseon 906–926

Balhae's population was composed of former Goguryeo peoples and Tungusic Mohe people in Manchuria. Because of the lack of developed agriculture also, most of the kingdom's population was semi-nomadic.[37] The Mohe made up the working class which served the Goguryeo ruling class.[27][38] Mohe people dominated common society, their influence was mainly restricted to providing labor.[39] Nevertheless, there were instances of Mohe and other indigenous populations moving upward into the Balhae elite, however few, such as the followers of Geolsa Biu, who supported the establishment of Balhae, were awarded to the title of "Suryeong", or "chief", which is derived from Goguryeo language, people from different ethnicities play a part in the ruling elite. Another view is that Goguryeo descendants did not have political dominance, and the ruling system was open to all peoples equally.[40] Its ruling structure was based on the military leader-priestly management structure of the Mohe tribes and also partly adapted elements from the Chinese system. After the 8th century, Balhae became more centralized, and power was consolidated around the king and the royal famiily.[41]

After its founding, Balhae actively imported the culture and political system of the Tang Dynasty and the Chinese reciprocated through an account of Balhae describing it as the "flourishing land of the East (海東盛国)."[38][42] The bureaucracy of Balhae was modeled after the Three Departments and Six Ministries and used Chinese characters to write their native language for administrative purposes.[12] Balhae's aristocrats and nobility traveled to the Tang capital of Chang'an on a regular basis as ambassadors and students, many of whom went on to pass the Imperial examinations.[43] Unlike Tang government, the Balhae "taenaesang" or the "great minister of the court" was superior to the other two chancelleries (the left and the right) and its system of five capitals originates from Goguryeo's administrative structure.[44] Although Balhae was a formal vassal of the Tang Empire, it followed its own independent path, not only in its internal policies, but also in its foreign relations. Furthermore, it regarded itself as an empire, always send ambassadors to neighbor states such as Japan in an independent capacity.[45]

The class system of Balhae society is controversial, some studies suggest there was stratified into a rigid class system similar to other Korean kingdoms. Elites tended to belong to large extended aristocratic family lines designated by surnames. The commoners in comparison had no surnames at all, and upward social mobility was virtually impossible as class and status were codified into a caste system.[43]

Balhae had five capitals, fifteen provinces, and sixty-three counties.[46] Archaeologists studying the layout of Balhae's cities have concluded that they shared features common with cities in Goguryeo, indicating that Balhae had retained cultural similarities with Goguryeo.[47] However cities of the kingdom differed very strongly from the region, the capital of Sanggyong was organized in the way of Tang's capital of Chang'an. Residential sectors were laid out on either side of the palace surrounded by a rectangular wall.

Language and script[edit]

Brick fragment inscribed with the characters shang jing 上京, "Upper Capital" of Balhae. Held at the National Museum of China

Linguistic analysis of Koreanic, Khitan, Jurchen and Manchu languages indicate the Balhae elite spoke a Koreanic language, and this Koreanic language had a lasting impact on Khitan, Jurchen and Manchu languages.[21][48] Shoku Nihongi implies that the Balhae language and Silla language were mutually intelligible:[49] a student sent from Silla to Japan for an interpreter training in the Japanese language assisted a diplomatic envoy from Balhae in communicating during the Japanese court audience.[49][50]

Archaeological excavations indicate that Chinese characters was commonly used in Balhae under the influence of the Tang Dynasty.[51] Evidence of Balhae script comes from the remains of roof tiles used in Balhae architecture, where 370 letters were found.[50] 135 of the letters were found to be Chinese characters. However, 151 of the letters were unidentifiable as any known script. Korean scholars believe these unidentifiable letters are part of a unique Balhae script like the Idu script of Silla. On the other hand, Chinese scholars dismissed them as miswritten Chinese characters.[52]

Economy and trade[edit]

The place where Balhae existed now has a cold climate. Although it was mild at the time, it was a big boost to the development of the kingdom. Agriculture, livestock industry and others are also popular, especially fishery has been developed. It seems that whaling has been done as often as there are processed whales in the tribute to Tang.

Fur from Balhae, textile products and gold and mercury from Japan were exported, it seems that good dealings were made. At that time, among the aristocrats in Japan, the fur of the 貂 (Team / Itachi family member) was prized, so the import from Balhae was greatly welcomed,[53][54] and the port of An [ru] built with the use of Japanese fortification techniques and with prevailing Japanese culture.[55]


The historic position of Balhae is controversial between Korean and Chinese historians.[56][57] Due to its origins as the successor state of Goguryeo, Korean scholars consider Balhae as part of the North–South States Period of Korean history, while Chinese scholars argue Balhae was a part of the Chinese empire and is a part of Chinese history.[18] Historians in Russia generally believe that Balhae consisted primarily of Mohe peoples with a significant minority of Goguryeo peoples.[41] Shavkunov, an influential archaeologist on Balhae in Russia, criticized the Chinese perspective that Balhae was a local administration of the Chinese empire, and also criticized the Korean perspective that Balhae was an exclusive domain of Korean history. Nonetheless, Sahvkunov, based on archaeological data, pointed out that Balhae played a critical role in the history of Korea. Meanwhile, some recent Russian specialists considered Balhae a part of Korean history in their works.[41]


Balhae features in the Korean film Shadowless Sword, about the last prince of Balhae, and Korean TV drama Dae Jo Yeong, which aired from September 16, 2006 to December 23, 2007, about its founder.

See also[edit]




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  2. ^ 동북아역사재단 편 (Northeast Asian History Foundation) (2007). 새롭게 본 발해사. 동북아역사재단. p. 62. ISBN 978-89-6187-003-0.
  3. ^ Kradin Nikolai Nikolaevich (2018). "Динамика урбанизационных процессов в средневековых государствах Дальнего Востока" ["Dynamics of urbanization processes in the medieval states of the Far East"]. Siberian historical research. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  4. ^ Stoyakin Maxim Aleksandrovich (2012). Культовая архитектура Бохайского времени в северной части Кореского Полуострова ["Religious cult architecture of the Bohai time in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula"]. BUDDIST RELIGIOUS ARCHITECTURE OF PARHAE (BOHAI) LOCATED IN NORHERN PART OF KOREAN PENINSULA (in Russian). Retrieved 5 February 2019.
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  56. ^ 姜成山 2014、p4
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External links[edit]