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Gaogouli Role in Chinese History Traced
Archaeological excavations and extensive research have enabled Chinese scholars to delve deeper into the history of the various ethnic groups that rose and fell in today's northeastern China. Ma Dazheng, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Research Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography Studies, shares his findings on the Gaogouli ethnic group.

The Gaogouli (or Kocoryo) were an influential ethnic group in China's border areas in northeastern China between the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24) and the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).

The group's origins, its political system and the administrative annals of successive ancient Chinese dynasties were testimony to its being a political power in northeastern China.

Its continued commitment and subordination to China's central kingdom and the mass exodus of the Gaogouli people into Central China after the demise of their rulers further demonstrate that it remained a local political power.

Brief history

In 108 BC, Emperor Wudi of the Western Han Dynasty built four jun to administer Liaodong (part of today's Jilin Province and Liaoning Province in northeast China) and the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. A jun was the established territorial domain for the emperor's sons or dukes, and the jun were governed directly by the imperial court.

Gaogouli County, located in the Xuantu jun, was also established at that time.

In 37 BC, Zhu Meng, a member of the Fuyu ethnic group, built his regime in Gaogouli County. He then built his own capital in Heshenggu, a city near the county town of today's Huanren County in Liaoning.

The capital was later moved to what the Gaogouli people called Guonei, a city in today's Ji'an city of Jilin, in AD 3 during the reign of Emperor Pingdi of the Western Han Dynasty. In AD 427, the capital was moved to the city of Pyongyang, now the capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

At their prime, the sphere of the Gaogouli people's influence covered the southeastern part of today's Jilin Province, the area to the east of the Liaohe River and the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. The Gaogouli regime existed for 705 years until AD 668, when it was conquered by the joint forces of the Tang Dynasty and the Silla Kingdom from the southeastern part of the Korean Peninsula.

Ethnic origin

Chinese scholars have different conclusions over the exact ancient ethnic tribal group from which the Gaogoulis originated. But their studies all show that the ancestors of the Gaogoulis settled in the Hunjiang River and Yalu River valleys during the Zhou (1046-221 BC) and Qin (221-206 BC) dynasties. Their activities centered on today's Huanren County and Xinbin County in Liaoning Province and Ji'an and Tonghua cities in Jilin Province.

In the official historical annal Zuozhuan from the Zhou Dynasty, northeastern China -- known then as Sushen, Yan and Hao -- was "the northern part of our (Zhou) land."

As a result of years of archaeological research and excavations, several cultural remains from the late Neolithic Age to the Bronze Age -- well before the appearance of the Gaogouli regime -- were found in the Hunjiang River valley.

Such remains included the Taixigou, Yaoshan and Fengming historical sites in Huanren County, the Dazhuxian'gou, Erdaoweizi and Dongcun sites in Ji'an and the Wangwanfabozi site in Tonghua.

On top of the cultural remains of the late Neolithic to the Bronze Age lay relics of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). On the Han Dynasty ruins were relics and ruins left by the Gaogouli regime.

Chinese and international scholars generally agree that the Gaogouli regime built its own capital of Heshenggu in 37 BC, the second year of Emperor Yuandi's reign of the Western Han Dynasty.

In the suburbs of Huanren County in Liaoning Province, archaeologists have found ruins of the ancient city of Xiagucheng on the plains, as well as ruins of an ancient mountain city called Wunushan. The relics from the two sites showed that Wunushan was the capital of the Gaogouli regime in the early part of its history, and the city came under the jurisdiction of the Xuantu jun of the Han Dynasty.

The Western Han Dynasty actually administered the vast area of northeastern China well before the appearance of the Gaogouli regime.

The rule of the four jun -- Xuantu, Lelang, Lintun and Zhenfan -- extended into the northern half of the Korean Peninsula at that time.

Changes were made later in the areas of jurisdiction of the four jun. The capital of Xuantu was moved to Gaogouli County. The Gaogouli regime, which was built near Gaogouli County in Xuantu, was subordinate to Xuantu and later to a neighboring jun of Liaodong.

The Gaogouli described itself as subordinate in its reports to the central government, and it paid tribute to the central government.

All of the regime's documents found so far are in Chinese. Its officials obtained official costumes, which were awarded by rulers of the Han Dynasty, from the authorities of the Xuantu and Liaodong jun. Many Han people also joined the Gaogouli regime.

Archaeologists conducted trial excavations in the ruins of the city of Guonei in Ji'an in 1976 and 1995. Within the stone city walls built by the Gaogouli regime, they found ruins of city walls made of rammed soil, built by the Han Dynasty authorities. They also unearthed iron and pottery artifacts that were typical of the Han Dynasty.

In the 705 years of the Gaogouli regime, it expanded into the Xuantu, Liaodong and Lelang jun and moved its capital several times. Its capitals -- including Heshenggu, Guonei and Pyongyang -- were all within the area of the four jun under the rule of the Han Dynasty for centuries.

In China's domain

It is no wonder that each dynasty in ancient China from the Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty, including those dynasties established when the country was divided, believed that the Gaogouli regime was an ethnic political power within their overall administration.

From the end of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC) to the beginning of the Han Dynasty, the areas where the Gaogoulis' ancestors lived belonged to Jizi, who was granted a dukedom by the Zhou Dynasty emperor. It was named Jizi Chaoxian (or Jizi Korea).

In the Han Dynasty, Jizi Chaoxian was replaced by Weishi Chaoxian (Weiman or Wiman Korea as it is called in the West), which was still a vassal state of the Han Dynasty. It used the same administrative rules as those in the Central Plains.

Over the seven centuries between the Han and Tang dynasties, successive dynastic rulers governed in different ways but all the rulers maintained that the territory under the local Gaogouli regime was part of ancient China. In the 6th century AD, the Sui emperors began to take direct control over the land with force.

The third emperor of the Tang Dynasty successfully removed the local Gaogouli rulers.

Meanwhile, in the seven centuries that the Gaogouli held sway over the northeastern part of ancient China, it maintained its subordinate status to the central government despite the dynastic changes in the Central Plains.

After the founding of the Tang Dynasty, the Gaogouli rulers printed a map with the words shang feng yu tu or "Map of the Territory Granted by His Highness, the Emperor." This showed the Gaogouli regime's recognition of the Tang Dynasty and its status as a subordinate to the central government.

After the demise of the Gaogouli regime, quite a number of local Gaogoulis joined the Tang Dynasty administration and left their names and contributions recorded in history books such as History of the Tang Dynasty and New History of the Tang Dynasty.

In AD 668, the first year of the rule of Emperor Gaozong, the Gaogouli regime fell and the Tang Dynasty quickly incorporated "690,000 households" of its residents, according to New History of the Tang Dynasty.

The number represents the total number of households resident in the Gaogouli area, including many households of other ethnic groups.

Recent research by Chinese scholars has shown that the population of the Gaogouli ethnic group numbered about 700,000 when the regime was removed.

Of those, about 300,000 migrated to areas in the Central Plains. More than 100,000 went to Bohai, a kingdom founded by the Mohe ethnic group, which established its rule in areas further north in part of today's Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces in Northeast China. About 100,000 Gaogouli people migrated to Silla (Xinluo) on the Korean Peninsula, while more than 10,000 went to areas inhabited by the ancient Turks.

Historians believe that most of the Gaogoulis were assimilated into the Han ethnic group.

From all of the above, we can come to the conclusion that the Gaogouli formed an ethnic group in the border area of what is now northeastern China.

We have always believed that research into Gaogouli history should be included in mainstream academic research. We do not accept any tendencies or practices in the research into Gaogouli history aimed at politicizing academic studies.

The history of the Gaogouli is a subject worthy of in-depth research by scholars of Chinese history and also scholars of the history of the Korean Peninsula.

It is a researcher's responsibility to conduct research with great concentration, to provide scientific conclusions to academic circles and thus to promote in-depth research into Gaogouli history.

As for differences in research conclusions, we can always exchange and debate our ideas within the academic arena and seek common ground, while reserving differences with mutual respect.

If this can be done, great progress will be made in research into Gaogouli history through the common efforts of scholars from various countries.

(China Daily June 24, 2003)

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