North Korea Table of Contents

Silla and Paekche had sought to use Chinese power against Kogury, inaugurating another tradition of involving foreign powers in internal Korean disputes. But Silla's reliance on Tang forces to consolidate its control had its price. Because Silla had to resist encroaching Tang forces, its sway was limited to the area south of the Taedong River. Nevertheless, Silla's military power, bolstered by an ideal of the youthful warrior (hwarang), was formidable. It seized Tang-occupied Paekche territories by 671, pushed Kogury still further northward, and drove the Tang commanderies off the peninsula by 676, thereby guaranteeing that the Korean people would develop independently, without outside influences.

The broad territories of Kogury, however, were not conquered, and in 698 a Kogury general named Tae Cho-yng established a successor state called Parhae above and below the Yalu and Tumen boundaries. Parhae forced Silla to build a northern wall in 721, and kept Silla forces below a line running from present-day P'yongyang to Wnsan. By the eighth century, Parhae controlled the northern part of Korea, all of northeastern Manchuria, and the Liaodong Peninsula. Both Silla and Parhae continued to be heavily influenced by Tang Chinese civilization.

Silla and Tang China had a great deal of contact inasmuch as large numbers of students, officials, and monks traveled to China for study and observation. In 682 Silla set up a national Confucian academy to train high officials and later instituted a civil-service examination system modeled on that of the Tang. Parhae modeled its central government even more directly on Tang systems than did Silla and sent many students to Tang schools. Parhae's culture melded indigenous and Tang influences, and its level of civilization was high enough to merit the Chinese designation "flourishing land in the East."

Silla in particular, however, developed a flourishing indigenous civilization that was among the most advanced in the world. Its capital at Kyngju in present-day South Korea was renowned as the "city of gold," where the aristocracy pursued a high culture and extravagant pleasures. Tang dynasty historians wrote that elite officials possessed thousands of slaves, with like numbers of horses, cattle, and pigs. Officials' wives wore gold tiaras and earrings of delicate and intricate filigree. Scholars studied the Confucian and Buddhist classics, built up state administration, and developed advanced methods for astronomy and calendrical science. The Dharani sutra, recovered in Kyngju, dates as far back as 751 and is the oldest example of woodblock printing yet found in the world. Pure Land Buddhism (Buddhism for the Masses) united the common people, who could become adherents through the repetition of simple chants. The crowning glories of this "city of gold" continue to be the Pulguksa temple in the city and the nearby Skkuram Grotto, both built around 750. Both are home to some of the finest Buddhist sculpture in the world. The grotto, atop a coastal bluff near Kyngju, houses the historic great stone Sakyamuni Buddha in its inner sanctum; the figure is situated so that the rising sun over the Sea of Japan strikes it in the middle of the forehead.

Ethnic differences between Kogury and the Malgal people native to Manchuria weakened Parhae by the early tenth century, just as Silla's power had begun to dissipate a century earlier when regional castle lords splintered central power and rebellions shook Silla's foundations. Parhae, coming under severe pressure from the Kitan warriors who ruled parts of northern China, Manchuria, and Mongolia, eventually fell in 926. Silla's decline encouraged a restorationist named Kynhwn to found Later Paekche at Chnju in 892 and another restorationist, named Kungye, to found Later Kogury at Kaesng in central Korea. Wang Kn, the son of Kungye who succeeded to the throne in 918, shortened the dynastic name to Kory and became the founder of a new dynasty by that name, from which came the modern term Korea.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress