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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 (698–742,
in modern Dunhua)

Central Capital (742–756)
Upper Capital (756–785)
East Capital (785–793)
Upper Capital (793–926)
or Five Capital System (720-926)[3]
Common languagesTungusic languages,
Koreanic languages,
Classical Chinese
• 698–719
Go (first)
• 719–737
• 737–793
• 818–830
• 907–926
Dae Inseon (last)
• Dae Jung-sang begins military campaigns
• Establishment in Tianmenling
• "Balhae" as a kingdom name
• Fall of Sang-gyeong
14 January 926
• Peak
500,000[citation needed]
Preceded by
Succeeded by
According to the Korean version Goguryeo revival movements
Liao dynasty
Later Balhae
Today part ofChina
North Korea
Korean name
Chinese name
Russian name
Manchu name
Manchu script ᡦᡠᡥᠠ‍ᡳ
Administrative divisions of the Balhae kingdom, with Chinese and Korean names[b]

Balhae (Korean: 발해) or Bohai (Chinese: 渤海; pinyin: Bóhǎi, Russian: Бохай, romanizedBokhay, Manchu: ᡦᡠᡥᠠ‍ᡳ) (698–926) was a multi-ethnic kingdom in Manchuria, the Korean Peninsula and the Russian Far East.[7] It was established in 698 by Dae Joyeong and originally known as the Kingdom of Jin until 713 when its name was changed to the Balhae. Balhae's early history involved a rocky relationship with the Tang dynasty that saw military and political conflict, but by the end of the 8th century the relationship had become cordial and friendly. Numerous cultural and political exchanges were made. Balhae was conquered by the Khitan Liao dynasty in 926. The history of the founding of the state, its ethnic composition, the nationality of the ruling dynasty, the reading of their names, and its borders are the subject of a historiographical dispute between Korea, China and Russia.


Balhae was founded in 698 by Dae Joyeong under the name 震 (진), transcribed as Jin in Korean romanisation or Zhen in Chinese romanisation. The kingdom's name was written as in Chinese character,[8] with the Middle Chinese pronunciation dzyin;[9] King Go's state wrote its name as , with the Middle Chinese pronunciation tsyin.[10] 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 noble title "Prince of Commandery of Bohai (Balhae)" (渤海郡王).[11]: §5.1 ¶3 In 762, the Tang formally elevated Balhae to the status of a kingdom.[12][13][11]: §5.1 ¶11

The transcriptions Bohai[14] (based on Mandarin Chinese) and Parhae[15] (based on Korean) are also used in modern academia.


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


When Emperor Yang of Sui invaded Goguryeo in 612, two local leaders, Dae Jungsang and Geolsa Biu, were settled in Yingzhou.[16] In 696, Li Jinzhong (Mushang Khan) of the Khitans along with his brother-in-law Sun Wanrong rebelled against Tang hegemony, killed an abusive Tang commander, and attacked Hebei. Li died soon after and Sun succeeded him, only to be defeated by the Second Turkic Khaganate.[17] The population settled in Yingzhou fled eastward toward the Liao River during the turmoil. The Tang tried to appease Dae Jungsang and Geolsa Biu by granting them the tiles of Duke of Zhen (Jin) and Duke of Xu respectively. Geolsa Biu rejected the offer but was soon defeated by a Tang force led by Li Kaigu, while Dae Jungsang fled with his followers but also died around the same time. Dae Jungsang's son, Dae Joyeong, left the Liao River valley for Mt. Tianmen (in modern Jilin Province). There, he dealt a heavy defeat to the Tang forces at the Battle of Tianmenling (Cheonmunnyeong), after which he led his followers to set up a state. In 698, Dae Joyeong declared himself King of Jin (Zhen).[18][19][20][21][22]

Another account of the 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.[14]

Ethnic identity

The ethnic identity of Balhae's founder's is controversial and disputed. In Korea, Balhae is considered to be founded by Goguryeo refugees while in China and Russia, it is believed that Balhae was founded by the Tungusic Mohe people.[23][24][25] Historical sources give different accounts of Dae Joyeong's ethnicity and background.[26][27][28] Among the official dynastic history works, the New Book of Tang refers to Dae Joyeong as a Sumo Mohe (related to Jurchens and later Manchus) who was affliated with Goguryeo.[29] The Old Book of Tang states Dae's ethnic background as "高麗別種".[30] The term is interpreted as meaning "a branch of the Goguryeo people" by South and North Korean historians, but as "distinct from Goguryeo" by Japanese and Chinese researchers.[31] The Samguk yusa, a 13th-century collection of Korean history and legends, also describes Dae as a Sumo Mohe leader. However, it gives another account of Dae being a former Goguryeo general, citing a now-lost Tang dynasty book.[32]

It is evident that Balhae had a diverse population, including other minorities such as Khitan and Evenk peoples.[33] Balhae had a high level of craftsmanship and engaged in trade with neighboring polities such as the Göktürks, Nara Japan, Later Silla and the Tang dynasty.[34] Archaeological evidence suggests that the Balhae culture was an amalgamation of High Tang Chinese, Korean, and Tungusic cultures.[35]

Expansion and foreign relations

Dae Joyeong died in 719 and was succeeded by his son, Dae Muye (r. 719–737). While Muye accepted Tang gifts and title upon his succession, he showed his independence by giving his father a posthumous Temple name, Gowang (high king). Muye adopted his own reign title in 2020.[36] To check Balhae's influence, the Tang appointed a chieftain of the Heishui Mohe as prefect of Bozhou (in modern Khabarovsk) in 722. In 725, the Andong Protectorate suggested stationing an army in the region. In response, Tang officials dispatched an administration staffed by the leaders of smaller tribes under the command of the Youzhou governor-general. Muye was convinced that the Heishui Mohe and the Tang were plotting to attack him and required a preemptive strike. He ordered his brother, Dae Munye, to attack the Heishui Mohe. Munye, who had stayed at the Tang capital as a hostage and understood the implications of attacking a Tang ally, was reluctant to carry out the order. He advised Muye to abandon the plan twice.[37]

When Goguryeo was at its peak, the country had 300,000 elite soldiers. It resisted the Tang court and refused to submit itself to China. As soon as the Tang troops reached the country, however, Goguryeo was swept into the dust. Now the population of Balhae is several times less than that of Goguryeo. Yet you want to betray the Tang court. We must not do it.[37]

— Dae Munye

Muye paid his brother no heed, and using his reluctance as pretext, removed Munye from command. Munye fled to the Tang dynasty. A Balhae envoy arrived at the Tang court in 732 requesting the execution of Munye. In response, the Tang secretly sent Munye to Central Asia while informing Muye that his brother had been banished to South China. The reality of events, however, leaked out, enraging Muye. A Balhae naval force led by Jang Mun-hyu attacked Dengzhou on the north shore of the Shandong Peninsula and killed its prefect.[38][39] The Tang ordered Gim Chungsin, the nephew of Seongdeok of Silla and courtier in the Tang court, to return to Silla and organize an attack on Balhae. Chungsin excused himself from the request by asking to remain in China as the emperor's bodyguard. In his place, the Tang sent Gim Saran, a low ranking Sillan diplomat, and a Tang eunuch. Munye was also recalled to recruit soldiers in Youzhou. In the meantime, Balhae struck again, sacking the city of Madushan (northwest of modern Shanhaiguan), and killing 10,000 Tang soldiers. The Balhae force raided and pillaged along the Liao River and the coast of the Liaodong Peninsula. In 733, Tang and Sillan forces attempted a joint attack on Balhae but were accosted by a blizzard that blocked all roads and killed half of the 100,000 Tang-Silla army, forcing them to abort the invasion.[40]

Muye continued to try to kill his brother. He sent an agent to Luoyang to plot the assassination of his brother. Munye was attacked in broad daylight near the Tianjin Bridge outside the imperial palace but escaped unharmed.[41]

In 734, Silla attacked Balhae with no success. In an effort to curb Balhae's ambitions, the Tang granted Silla's request to place troops in the Baesu region (Daedong River) in 735.[41]

The strategic landscape began to turn on Balhae in 734-735, when the Khitan chieftain, Ketuyu, and his Turkic allies were defeated by Tang forces. In addition a force of 5,000 Kumo Xi cavalrymen surrendered to the Tang. The defeat of the Khitans and Turks, and the submission of the Kumo Xi removed the buffer zone that had formed between Balhae and the Tang. Sensing the change in strategic developments, Muye decided to reconcile with the Tang. In 737, Tang sailors and civilians detained in Balhae were repatriated. In 738, an envoy from Balhae requested Tang ritual codes and dynastic histories in a symbolic gesture towards peace. Muye died soon after.[42]

Muye's son and successor, Dae Heummu (r. 737–793), continued the course of reconciliation with the Tang. At the same time, trouble with the Tibetan Empire to the west forced the Tang to withdraw all military forces from Korea and adopt a defensive stance. Heummu cemented the geopolitical balance by sending an envoy to the Japanese court, which his father had done as well in 728 to threaten Silla with an ally 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.[43] In 755, the An Lushan Rebellion broke out, causing the Tang to lose control of the northeast, and even after the rebellion's end in 763, warlords known as jiedushi controlled the former northeastern part of the Tang empire. In 762, Emperor Daizong of Tang formally recognized Balhae as a state and Heummu as its king.[44] Although China recognized him as a king, Balhae itself referred to him as the son of heaven and a king.[45] During Heummu's 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.

The bilateral relationship between the Tang and Balhae grew friendlier. From 766-779, 25 missions from Balhae paid respect to Daizong. By the end of Heummu's reign in 793, princes from Balhae's royal family were serving as guards at the court of Emperor Dezong of Tang of their volition. Peace with the Tang allowed Balhae to further expand its territory. During the reign of Dae Insu (r. 818–830), Balhae annexed the Yuexi Mohe and other tribes along the Amur valley in the north and the Liaodong Peninsula in the west.[46] 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 administrative system, which was composed of five capitals, 15 prefectures and 62 counties.


In 907, Balhae came into conflict with the Khitan Liao dynasty because of the decision of the Tongliao Khitans,[47] who recognized the supremacy of Balhae, to become part of the Liao Empire. The Liao ruler Abaoji took possession of Tongliao, which led to a long conflict.[48] In 924, Balhae attacked the Khitans. The next year, a Balhae general, Sindeok, surrendered to Goryeo. In 926, the Khitans laid siege to the Balhae capital Sanggyeong yongcheonbu and forced their surrender.[49] In Balhae's place, the Khitans established the autonomous kingdom of Dongdan ruled by the Liao crown prince Yelü Bei, which was soon absorbed into the Liao in 936.[12] Meanwhile, a series of nobilities and elites led by key figures such as crown prince Dae Gwang-hyeon, were absorbed into Goryeo.[50] Some Balhae aristocrats were forced to move to Liaoyang, but Balhae's eastern territory remained politically independent in Jeongan. The Liao invaded Jeongan in 975 but failed to conquer them. In 985-6, the Khitans attacked Jeongan again, this time successfully.[51]

Some scholars consider that the eruption of Mount Baekdu in 930–940s dealt a final blow to the surviving forces of Balhae, based on records of massive population displacement of Balhae people to the Liaodong peninsula of the Khitan empire and the Korean peninsula of Goryeo.[52][53] The Khitan conquest of Balhae was one of the factors behind Goryeo's prolonged hostility against Khitan Liao dynasty. At its start, the kingdom had around 100,000 households[11] and a population of about 500,000.

Aftermath and legacy

After the fall of Balhae and its last king in 926, the autonomous satellite state of Dongdan was founded by its new Khitan rulers.[54] Restoration movements by displaced Balhae people established Later Balhae, which was later renamed to Jeongan.[55]

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.[56] 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. Nevertheless, the 13th century census of Northern China by the Mongols distinguished Balhae people who belonged to the Khitan Empire from other ethnic groups such as Goryeo, Khitans and Jurchens.[57]

Though Balhae was lost, a great portion of the royalty and aristocracy fled to Goryeo, including Dae Gwang-hyeon, the last crown prince.[58][59] They were granted land and the crown prince was given the family name Wang (왕, 王), the royal family name of the Goryeo dynasty, and included in the royal household by Wang Geon. Koreans believe Goryeo thus unified the two successor nations of Goguryeo.[60] Some other members of the Balhae royalty took the surname Tae (태, 太).[61] 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 prolonged hostility towards the Khitan Empire.[62] Goryeo once proposed a joint-invasion of the Khitan empire to the Song dynasty in retribution of Balhae's fall. This hostility culminated in the Goryeo–Khitan Wars from 993 to 1019.

Government and culture

Buddha statue from Balhae at the Ohara Museum of Art, Japan.[63] The inscription in Literary Chinese contains a description of the artifact's making in 834 AD, and an poem honoring the dharma.[64]


Balhae's population was composed of former Goguryeo people and Tungusic Mohe people in Manchuria. Because of the lack of developed agriculture also, most of the kingdom's population was semi-nomadic.[65]

According to Korean scholars, Mohe made up the working class which served the Goguryeo ruling class.[61][66] Mohe people dominated common society, their influence was mainly restricted to providing labor.[67] Some historians believe that ethnic conflicts between the ruling Goguryeos and underclass Mohe weakened the state.[61]

On the other hand, the Russian historian Polutov believes that Goguryeo descendants did not have political dominance, and the ruling system was open to all people equally.[68] 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 family.[24]

The class system of Balhae society is controversial. Some studies suggest there was stratified and 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.[69] Other studies have shown there was a clan system but no clear division of classes existed where the position of the clan leader depended on the strength of the clan. A clan leader could become any member of the clan if he had sufficient authority. There were also religiously privileged shaman clans. The main part of society in Balhae was free in a personal capacity and consisted of clans.[70]


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 (海東盛國)."[66][71][72] The bureaucracy of Balhae was modeled after the Three Departments and Six Ministries and used literary Chinese as the written language of administration.[12][73] 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.[69] Although Balhae was a formal vassal of the Tang dynasty, 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, and sent ambassadors to neighbor states such as Japan in an independent capacity.[74]

Balhae had five capitals, fifteen provinces, and sixty-three counties.[75] Balhae's original capital was at Dongmo Mountain in modern Dunhua, Jilin Province, China. In 742 it was moved to the Central Capital in Helong, Jilin. It was moved to the Upper Capital in Ning'an, Heilongjiang in 755, to the Eastern Capital in Hunchun, Jilin in 785, and back to the Upper Capital in 794.[12] Sanggyong (Upper Capital) was organized in the way of the Tang capital of Chang'an. Residential sectors were laid out on either side of the palace surrounded by a rectangular wall. The same layout was also implemented by other East Asian capitals of the time.[76][77]

Language and script

Balhae used multiple languages. The indigenous language of Balhae is unclear, as no extant text or gloss of the language survived.[26] One term that the people of Balhae used to describe "a king" was Gadokbu, which is related with the words kadalambi (management) of the Manchu language and kadokuotto of the Nanai language.[78][79] Alexander Vovin suggests that the Balhae elite spoke a Koreanic language, which has had a lasting impact on Khitan, Jurchen and Manchu languages.[26][80] Diplomatic missions between Balhae, Japan and the Tang dynasty were primarily conducted in the Chinese language. Based on administrative and diplomatic records, a number of Japanese historians and linguists have further suggested that Chinese was the lingua franca of Balhae.[81][82] Some Korean historians believe that a record in Shoku Nihongi implies that the Balhae and Silla language were mutually intelligible: a student sent from Silla to Japan for Japanese language interpreter training assisted a diplomatic envoy from Balhae in communicating with the audience of a Japanese court.[83][84]

Excavated epigraphic materials indicate that the Chinese script was the only widely used script in Balhae.[85] According to Russian scientific research, the Bohai writing system is based on Chinese characters, among the many characters that were used only in the state "Wu". However, the recording was phonetic.[86][87]

Economy and trade

The place where Balhae existed now has a cold climate. Although the climate was mild at the time, the climate served as a big boost to the development of the kingdom.[citation needed] The agriculture, livestock, fishing, and industry sectors were popular however fishing remained the most prevalent and became very developed. Whaling was also done, albeit this was mostly done as tribute to the Tang. Balhae sent a large number of envoys to Japan, called Bokkaishi [ja]. Fur from Balhae was exported to Japan while textile products and precious metals, such as gold and mercury, were imported from Japan. In Japan, the fur of the 貂 (ten, i.e. sable or other marten) was very valuable due to its popularity among Japanese aristocrats.[88][89] Similarly, Balhae builders used Japanese fortification techniques and with prevailing Japanese culture in their construction of the port of An [ru].[90] Balhae's musical works Shinmaka (Japanese: 新靺鞨しんまか) have been preserved by the Japanese court.[91]


The historic position of Balhae is disputed between Korean and Chinese historians.[92] Korean scholars consider Balhae to be the successor state of Goguryeo, and part of the North–South States Period of Korean history, while Chinese scholars argue Balhae was a state of the Mohe people, and is a part of Chinese history due to its close cultural and political ties with Tang China.[13]

The Russian scientific archaeological school has its own view of the history of this state, which has significant contradictions with the Korean, and different from the Chinese.


Balhae features in the Korean film Shadowless Sword, which is about the last prince of Balhae. The Korean TV drama Dae Jo Yeong, which aired from 16 September 2006, to 23 December 2007, was about the founder of Balhae.[citation needed]

Balhae is the name of the lunar research facility in the Korean TV series The Silent Sea.[93]

See also


  1. ^ See the Emperor at home, king abroad.
  2. ^ Map of Balhae


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  2. ^ "渤海の遼東地域の領有問題をめぐって : 拂涅・越 喜・鉄利等靺鞨の故地と関連して" (PDF). Kyushu University Institutional Repository. 2003.
  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]. BUDDHIST RELIGIOUS ARCHITECTURE OF PARHAE (BOHAI) LOCATED IN NORHERN PART OF KOREAN PENINSULA (in Russian). Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  5. ^ 古畑徹 (2017). 渤海国とは何か 歴史文化ライブラリー (in Japanese). 吉川弘文館. ISBN 978-4642058582.
  6. ^
  7. ^ 정석배 JUNG Suk-bae (2016). "발해의 북방경계에 대한 일고찰 (Study on northern borders of Balhae)". 고구려발해연구 The Koguryo Balhae Yongu (in Korean). 고구려발해학회 Association of Koguryo Balhae. 54: 88.
  8. ^ "「渤海と古代の日本」" (PDF). 2010 年度第 6 回日本海学講座. 酒寄 雅志.
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  10. ^ Baxter & Sagart; p. 20.
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  17. ^ Wang 2013, p. 85.
  18. ^ Wang 2013, p. 87.
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  20. ^ Walker, Hugh Dyson (2012), East Asia: A New History, Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, p. 177
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  22. ^ Kim, Djun Kil Kim (2014), The History of Korea, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, p. 54
  23. ^ Diakova, Olga V. (2014). Pohai state: Archaeology, history, politics. Moscow: Nauka — Vostochnaya Literatura.
  24. ^ a b Alexander lvliev (2007). "Balhae studies in Russia". Northeast asian history foundation. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  25. ^ 京大日本史辞典編纂会 (2007). 日本史事典 (in Japanese). ISBN 978-4010353134. 【渤海】7世紀末から10世紀前半にかけて、中国東北地方にあったツングース系民族の国家。高句麗の同族である靺鞨から出た大祚栄により建国された
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External links

  • Britannica Concise Encyclopedia
  • Columbia Encyclopedia
  • U.S. Library of Congress: Country Studies
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Bohai Kingdom in academia
  • Stearns, Peter N. (ed.). Encyclopedia of World History (6th ed.). The Houghton Mifflin Company/ the state of Parhae (or Bohai in Chinese)
  • (in Japanese) Bohai country Research Center 渤海国交流研究センター
  • (in Korean) Han's Palhae of Korea 한규철의 발해사 연구실
  • (in Russian) History of Bohai country Государство Бохай (698-926 гг.)