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
• 793–794
• 794
• 794–809
• 809–812
• 812–817
• 817-818
• 818–830
• 830–858
Dae Ijin
• 858–871
Dae Geonhwang
• 871–895
Dae Hyeonseok
• 895–907
Dae Wihae
• 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
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Mohe Peoples
Goguryeo revival movements
Liao dynasty
Later Balhae
Today part ofChina
North Korea
Korean name
Chinese name
Russian name
Manchu name
Manchu script ᡦᡠᡥᠠ‍ᡳ

Balhae (Korean: 발해, Chinese: 渤海; pinyin: Bóhǎi, Russian: Бохай, romanizedBokhay, Manchu: ᡦᡠᡥᠠ‍ᡳ) (698–926) was a multi-ethnic kingdom whose land extends to what is now today 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. The Tang dynasty would eventually recognize Balhae as Haedong Seongguk or "Prosperous Country of the East".[8][9][10] Numerous cultural and political exchanges were made. Balhae was conquered by the Khitan Liao dynasty in 926. Balhae survived as a distinct population group for another three centuries in the Liao and Jin dynasties before disappearing under Mongol rule.

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. Historical sources from both China and Korea have described Balhae's founder, Dae Joyeong, as related to the Mohe people and Goguryeo.


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,[11] with the Middle Chinese pronunciation dzyin;[12] King Go's state wrote its name as , with the Middle Chinese pronunciation tsyin.[13] 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).[14]: §5.1 ¶3 In 762, the Tang formally elevated Balhae to the status of a kingdom.[15][16][14]: §5.1 ¶11 The kingdom's territories did not overlap with the Bohai Commandery. According to Jin Yufu, the Tang referred to the state as Mohe/Malgal (name of the ethnic group) until 713, and "Balhae" was possibly used as a different transcription of the same name.[17] According to the New Book of Tang, the state was called Mohe before it received investiture from China and assumed the name Bohai.[18]

The transcriptions Bohai[19] (based on Mandarin Chinese) and Parhae[20] (based on Korean) are also used in modern academia. Most Western-language scholarship have opted for Bohai except in the field of Korean studies, however some scholars have chosen the Korean romanization to avoid a "Chinese" narrative spread by the usage of pinyin romanization.[21]


Brick fragment inscribed with the characters shang jing 上京, "Upper Capital" of Balhae, held at the National Museum of China
Brick fragment inscribed with the characters shang jing 上京, "Upper Capital" of Balhae, held at the National Museum of China
Buddha statue from Balhae at the Ohara Museum of Art, Japan.[22] The inscription in Literary Chinese contains a description of the artifact's making in 834 AD, and a poem honoring the dharma.[23]
Buddha statue from Balhae at the Ohara Museum of Art, Japan.[22] The inscription in Literary Chinese contains a description of the artifact's making in 834 AD, and a poem honoring the dharma.[23]


In 696, Li Jinzhong (Mushang Khan) of the Khitans along with his brother-in-law Sun Wanrong rebelled against Tang (Wu Zetian's Zhou Dynasty[24]) 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.[25] The population of Yingzhou (營州, modern-day Chaoyang, Liaoning) fled eastward toward the Liao River during the turmoil. The Tang tried to appease Dae Jungsang and Geolsa Biu, two local leaders, by granting them the titles 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).[26][27][28][29]

Another account of the events suggests that there was no rebellion at all, and the leader of the Sumo Mohe (Malgal) 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]

In diplomatic communications between Silla and Jin, Silla attempted to confer investiture to Dae Joyeong with the title of a fifth rank official: "Dae Achan".[30] The people of Jin did not know the system of ranks used in Silla and thus accepted the title. After a while, Dae Joyeong realized the meaning of the title and sought to change Balhae's international status. In 713 or 714, the Tang dynasty recognized Dae Joyeong as the Prince of Bohai (Balhae), the name for the sea surrounding Liaodong and Shandong.[16][31] Neither the Tang or Silla recognized Balhae as the successor of Goguryeo. The Tang considered it a dukedom while Silla considered it their vassal. The Tang later recognized it as a kingdom in 762.[31] Between 713 and 721, Silla constructed a northern wall to maintain active defences along the border.[32]

Ethnic identity

The ethnic identity of Balhae's founder is controversial and disputed. Many Chinese, Korean, Russian, and Japanese scholars of Balhae believe its population was composed of Goguryeo remnants and Mohe tribes.[33] Chinese scholars consider that Mohe people form the ethnic majority of Balhae, and arguments for this opinion are also viewed positively in Russia. While modern Korean scholars usually consider Balhae a Korean state and one of the Northern and Southern States of Korea, Russian and Chinese scholars reject this notion, echoing the position of historical Korean scholars such as Gim Busik, author of the Samguk Sagi.[33]

Some historians view this dispute as the polemics reflecting modern politics rather than historical evidence.[34]

The problem about Parhae history is that many questions are beyond a simple answer. Different, nearly contemporary, sources represent fundamental questions in very different ways with different possible interpretations.[35]

— Johannes Reckel

Historical sources give different accounts of Dae Joyeong's ethnicity and background.[36][37][38] Among the official dynastic history works, the New Book of Tang refers to Dae Joyeong and his state as Sumo Mohe (related to Jurchens and later Manchus) affiliated with Goguryeo.[39][18] The Old Book of Tang also states Dae's ethnic background as Mohe but adds that he was "高麗別種" (gaoli biezhong).[40] 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.[41] According to Jesse D. Sloan, Tang sources divided Balhae's population into two categories, Goguryeo and Mohe. The royalty and upper class were composed of Goguryeo remnants while the majority of Balhae's population were Mohe.[42] In a diplomatic mission to Japan in 727 or 728, the Balhae envoy said that Balhae has "recovered the lost land of Goguryeo and inherited the old traditions of Buyeo."[16] Some consider this divide to be a cause of tension that contributed to Balhae's eventual downfall.[43] Chinese scholars have made claims that Han Chinese were a part of the Balhae population, but apart from Goguryeo and Mohe, no other group is associated with the foundation of Balhae in Chinese, Korean, or Japanese sources.[44]

The question of the ethnic composition of the Bohai state has become a political problem in the East Asian region. Chinese and Korean historians alternatively regard Bohai as a Chinese provincial power or as an independent Korean country, based on intrinsically subjective positions. Certainly, all Korean specialists believe that the Koguryŏ population was dominant in Bohai. But Chinese historians tend to disagree, believing that Bohai was a Chinese province with some political autonomy, with the Mohe people as its main population.[45]

— Alexander Kim and Min Kyounghyoun

According to Choe Chiwon (b. 857), the people of Balhae were Mohe.[44] In the conflict between the joint Tang-Silla forces against Balhae, Silla described Balhae as "rebellious barbarians."[46] Sillan aristocracy tended to view the Balhae population as consisting of solely Mohe people, but this could be due to the antagonistic relations between the two states causing the Sillan nobility to ignore Goguryeo elements of Balhae ethnic composition.[18] The Ruijū Kokushi, a 9th-century Japanese text, says that when Balhae was founded, it spanned 2,000 li and was filled with villages, each of which were Mohe tribes.[47][33] Japanese diplomatic communications with Balhae recognized it as a "state of Go[gu]ryeo."[16] The Samguk sagi, written in the 12th century by Gim Busik, did not consider Balhae a Korean state.[33] The Samguk yusa, a 13th-century collection of Korean history and legends, describes Dae as a Sumo Mohe leader. However, it gives another account of Dae being a former Goguryeo general, citing a now-lost Sillan record.[48] Alexander Kim considers this unlikely since Goguryeo fell in 668 while Dae died in 719, and young men could not receive the rank of general.[49]

As we know in relation to the origin of the Bohai people, when Gouli (Koguryŏ) was not yet destroyed, they [the Bohai people] were the useless tribe of Mohe. Many tribes were the same; its name was that of the small barbarian nation Sumo, and in the past [this tribe], being in competition with Gouli, moved to the inner region [China].[18]

Russian scholars argue that the ethnic composition of Balhae cannot be determined with great precision because no materials exist that can confirm either the Chinese or Korean claims. Some Russian scholars claim Balhae as part of Manchurian history while others believe Balhae was neither a Korean state or Chinese province and there is no direct link between Balhae and either modern China or Korea.[34] E. V. Shakunov believes that Balhae's population also consisted of elements from Central Asia such as Sogdians and Tocharians. Many Uyghurs fled to Balhae after the destruction of the Uyghur Khaganate in 840 but they failed to adapt to Balhae society and caused social unrest.[50]

It is evident that Balhae had a diverse population, including other minorities such as Khitan and Evenk peoples.[51] Archaeological evidence suggests that the Balhae culture was an amalgamation of High Tang Chinese, Korean, and Tungusic cultures.[52]

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.[53] In 721, the Tang asked Balhae for military support against the Khitans but they refused.[54] 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.[55]

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.[55]

— 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.[56][57] 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.[58]

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.[59]

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.[59]

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.[60]

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.[61] 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.[62] Although China recognized him as a king, Balhae itself referred to him as the son of heaven and a king.[63] A record in 834 says that Balhae had both kings and great kings. The epitath of Princess Jeonghyo, daughter of Heummu, states that his father was a "great king."[31] 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 756;[64] 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 to 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. After the death of Mun of Balhae (r. 737–793), Balhae experienced a succession crisis. As a result, Balhae lost territory and bordering Mohe tribes rebelled. Both the reigns of Seon of Balhae (r. 818–830) and Dae Ijin (r. 830–857) saw intrusions by Mohe tribes.[65] Seon annexed the Yuexi Mohe and other tribes along the Amur valley in the north and the Liaodong Peninsula in the west.[66] In the middle of the 9th century, Balhae completed its local administrative system, which was composed of five capitals, 15 prefectures and 62 counties.[65]


In 907, Balhae came into conflict with the Khitan Liao dynasty because of the decision of the Khitans (near modern Chifeng and Tongliao),[67] who recognized the supremacy of Balhae, to become part of the Liao dynasty. The Liao ruler Abaoji took possession of the Liao River basin, which led to a long conflict.[68] In 924, Balhae attacked the Khitans. The next year, a Balhae general, Sindeok, surrendered to Goryeo. In 925, Silla allied with the Khitans and helped them in their war against Balhae. Afterwards, warriors from Silla were rewarded by the Khitan ruler.[69] In 926, the Khitans laid siege to the Balhae capital Sanggyeong yongcheonbu and forced their surrender.[64] In Balhae's place, the Khitans established the autonomous kingdom of Dongdan ruled by the Liao crown prince Yelü Bei.[70] Its independence ended in 929 when a new Liao ruler ordered the relocation of its population.[70] It was soon absorbed into the Liao in 936.[15] The name of Balhae was officially removed in 982.[71] Meanwhile, a series of nobilities and elites led by key figures such as crown prince Dae Gwang-hyeon, were absorbed into Goryeo.[72] Some Balhae aristocrats were forced to move to Liaoyang, but Balhae's eastern territory remained politically independent in Later Balhae, which was later renamed to Jeongan. The Liao invaded Jeongan in 975 but failed to conquer them. In 985–6, the Khitans attacked Jeongan again, this time successfully.[73][74][75]

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.[76][77] However this theory has lost popularity in Korea in recent times and Russian scholars do not consider it a plausible reason for Balhae's collapse. The most paramount reason seems to have been military confrontation with a superior power, the Khitans.[78] 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 and tens of thousands of soldiers.[14]

Later history


Though Balhae was lost, a great portion of the royalty and aristocracy fled to Goryeo, including Dae Gwang-hyeon, the last crown prince.[79][80] 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, who was crowned as Taejo of Goryeo. Koreans believe Goryeo thus unified the two successor nations of Goguryeo.[81] Some other members of the Balhae royalty took the surname Tae (태, 太).[82] According to the Goryeosa jeolyo, the Balhae refugees who accompanied the crown prince numbered in the tens of thousands of households.[83] As descendants of Goguryeo, the Balhae people and the Goryeo dynasts were related.[84][full citation needed] Taejo of Goryeo felt a strong familial kinship with Balhae, calling it his "relative country" and "married country",[85] and protected the Balhae refugees.[86][full citation needed] This was in stark contrast to Later Silla, which had endured a hostile relationship with Balhae.[87] Taejo displayed strong animosity toward the Khitans who had destroyed Balhae. The Liao dynasty sent 30 envoys with 50 camels as a gift in 942, but Taejo exiled the envoys to an island and starved the camels under a bridge, in what is known as the "Manbu Bridge Incident".[88][89] Taejo proposed to Gaozu of Later Jin that they attack the Khitans in retribution for Balhae, according to the Zizhi Tongjian.[85] Furthermore, in his Ten Injunctions to his descendants, he stated that the Khitans are "savage beasts" and should be guarded against.[88][90][full citation needed]

Exodus en masse on part from the Balhae refugees would continue on at least until the early 12th century during the reign of King Yejong.[91][b] Due to this constant massive influx of Balhae refugees, the Goguryeo population is speculated to have become dominant[93][94][95][page needed][96][page needed] in proportion compared to their Silla and Baekje counterparts that have experienced devastating war and political strife[97][98][99] since the advent of the Later Three Kingdoms. By the end of the Later Three Kingdoms, territories populated by the original Silla people and considered that of ‘Silla proper’ (原新羅) was reduced to Gyeongju and bits of the vicinity.[100][non-primary source needed] Later Baekje fared only little better than Later Silla before its fall in 936. Meanwhile, of the three capitals of Goryeo, two were Kaesong and Pyeongyang which were initially populated by Goguryeoic settlers from the Paeseo Region (패서, 浿西) and Balhae.[101]

Khitan conquest of Balhae resulted in Goryeo's prolonged hostility towards the Khitan Empire.[102]

Liao dynasty

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.[103] In the summer of 1029, a distant descendant of Balhae royalty, Da Yanlin, rebelled at the Eastern Capital of the Liao dynasty. He imprisoned minister Xiao Xiaoxian and his wife, killed the tax commissioners and chief military commander, and declared his own Xing Liao dynasty. He requested aid from Goryeo but they refused to help. Other Balhae people serving in the military also refused to join him. Instead only a handful of Jurchens joined his regime. A year later, one of Da Yanlin's officers betrayed him and opened the Eastern Capital's gates to the Khitans. His short lived dynasty came to an end. The old Balhae nobility were resettled near the Supreme Capital while others fled to Goryeo.[104] In 1114, Balhae descendants took advantage of the Jurchen-Khitan war and rebelled. They defeated Khitan armies twice before they were destroyed.[105] In 1116 another rebellion occurred at the Eastern Capital when a Balhae officer named Gao Yongchang declared himself emperor of the Yuan dynasty and requested aid from the Jin. Liao troops sent to quash the rebellion were themselves led by those of Balhae descent.[106] The Jin relief troops to Yuan easily repulsed the Liao troops but then turned on the Balhae rebels and killed Gao Yongchang.[107]

Jin dynasty

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.[108] 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.[109] A Song observer notes that during the Liao era, Balhae people were not employed in the government, as a result they were the first to defect to the Jin.[110] An 1125 embassy noted that Jin protocol officers included Khitans, Jurchens, as well as Balhae. They all spoke Chinese.[111] A descendant of the Balhae royal family, Da Gao (1086-1153), served in the Jin army and was given command of eight Balhae battalions in the war against the Song dynasty. One Balhae commander, Guo Yaoshi (active 1116–1132) fought in the Liao, Jin, and Song armies at one point or another.[112] The Balhae played a critical role in supporting Emperor Shizong of Jin's accession to the throne.[113]

Families of Balhae descent were able to rise high in the Jin hierarchy, including Zhang Rulin (d. 1190) and Zhang Rubi (d. 1187), who were key advisers of Emperor Shizong, and Li Yin (jinshi 1194, d. 1214), who died fighting against the Mongols. Balhae descendants also participated with success in the Jin imperial examinations. Many Balhae literati-officials such as Gao Kan (d. 1167), Gao Xian (jinshi 1203), Zhang Rulin, Zhang Runeng, Zhang Ruwei (fl. 1150), Zhang Rufang, and Wang Tingyun (1151-1202) were entrusted as arbiters of culture and cultivated taste.[114] Wang Tingyun's family received literary distinctions. His eldest daughter became a Daoist priestess, named Congqing, and was a poet at the imperial court. Intermarriage between Balhae civil elites in the Jin dynasty was common. In 1190, Wang Ji identified two families he encountered in Liaodong as Balhae. Writing after the fall of the Jin dynasty in 1234, Liu Qi identified the military commander Li Ying as a "Bohai man of Liaodong."[115]

There were still limitations on Balhae people in the Jin dynasty. In 1136, the Jurchen official Wanyan Puluhu revoked the pardon of a man when his origin was determined to be Balhae. Policies to restrain and weaken Balhae were increased over time. In 1140, an edict abolished Han Chinese and Balhae hereditary military garrisons but not Kumo Xi and Khitan garrisons. The Jin government also targeted the Balhae population for relocation. Over the years, the Balhae were resettled east of the Taihang Mountains, which was completed by 1141. Another relocation south of Zhongdu was planned in 1149, but the Balhae court attendant Gao Shouxing protested to Empress Daoping, who told the emperor, resulting in the beating and death of the two officials planning the relocation.[108] In 1177, a decree was passed to abolish the "old Bohai custom" of marriage through mock abduction. Although the Balhae experienced less restrictions under the Jin, there was also less emphasis on Balhae as a distinct group. During the Jin era, Balhae was no longer geographically identified with Liaodong.[116]

Balhae people either fled or were assimilated into Chinese culture. In 1135, Nansali was chosen as an emissary to Goryeo, for which he changed his name to the Sinitic Wang Zheng. Wang Tingyun also invented a genealogy record on his epitaph tracing his lineage to Taiyuan rather than Liaodong. The epitaph acknowledges that his most recent ancestors were in the employ of Balhae but added that they only "lived dispersed among the eastern barbarians", rejecting his Balhae identity. The practice of inventing fictitious genealogies to hide ancestry outside of the "Central Territories" was widespread from Song times onward.[117]

Mongol Empire

The term "Balhae" became noticeably less prevalent under the rule of the Mongol Empire. There is no trace of Balhae descendants from the defunct Jin dynasty and no epitaphs from the Mongol era claim a Balhae identity.[118] Balhae was only used as a toponym in the early 14th century and Balhae disappeared entirely from historical sources by the late 14th century.[119] Near the end of Mongol rule, Tao Zongyi (c. 1316–1402) put Balhae under the category of Hanren, which is not surprising given that most of them at the time of the Mongol conquest were literati, officials, or attachments to the Jin bureaucracy. Many chose to use Chinese style names, similar to Jurchens, probably for inclusion in the Hanren (Northern Chinese) category under the Mongol hierarchy, rather than the inferior fourth category, Nanren (Southern Chinese).[120] Aside from legal references to the Taihe Code of the Jin dynasty, the term "Balhae" is absent from the Yuan legal compendium.[118] The referenced passages have to do with limitations on levirate marriage for Han and Balhae and restrictions on marriage during mourning.[121]

Some Balhae adopted Mongol or Tatar culture rather than Chinese. The biography of You Xingge (d. 1227) identifies him as Balhae. As the Jin dynasty was collapsing from the Mongol invasions, You established an independent fort near Gaozhou (modern Chifeng). They fought off several military detachments until they were besieged by Muqali. After You surrendered, Muqali praised him to Genghis Khan, who bestowed on him the Mongol name Halabadu. He later fought for the Mongols at Taiyuan in 1227. You Xingge's son is only referred to by the name Mangqutai, which denotes him as part of the Mangqutai tribe.[122]

The decline of Balhae identity was not a gradual and steady process. According to Toyama Gunji, "the Bohai remained alive and well for three hundred years of history" after the state was destroyed.[123]


Balhae's population was composed of former Goguryeo people and Tungusic Mohe people in Manchuria. Within sixty sites identified as Balhae settlements, many had dwellings with heating stoves, ceramic roof tiles, and vessels. Iron agricultural implements suggest that sophisticated agriculture was practiced in parts of Balhae. These finds indicate that much of the population even outside the capitals were sedentary.[124]

A record of the journey of Hong Hao (1088-1155) in Jin territory describes the Balhae people as primarily martial and not adherent to Confucian norms. Balhae women were described as "fiercely jealous"[125] and prevented the men from deviating from martial fidelity. Balhae men were described as "full of cunning, surpassing other nations in courage, such that there exists a saying 'Three Bohai are a match for a tiger.'" Some Balhae people practiced Buddhism.[125] However Balhae cultural markers evidently did not deviate to the point of preventing assimilation into neighboring societies. There was widespread usage of "Chinese" style surnames in Balhae and no distinct cultural marker prevented them from integrating into Chinese literati society. There is no evidence of any friction in this process. Their practices overlapped with other groups.[126]


According to Korean scholars and other historians, Mohe made up the working class which served the Goguryeo ruling class.[82][8] Mohe people dominated common society, their influence was mainly restricted to providing labor.[127][page needed][better source needed] Some historians believe that ethnic conflicts between the ruling Goguryeos and underclass Mohe weakened the state.[82] Other historians offer dissenting views. Han Ciu-cheol agreed that Mohe people were the majority of Balhae's population but disagreed that they were any different from Goguryeo or Balhae. According to Han, the origins of "Malgal" and "Mulgil" lie in the Goguryeo language, and "the Malgal language and customs were the same as those of Goguryeo and Balhae."[128]

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.[129] 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.[130]

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.[131] 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.[132]


Administrative divisions of the Balhae kingdom, with Chinese and Korean names[c]
Administrative divisions of the Balhae kingdom, with Chinese and Korean names[c]

See also: List of Balhae monarchs

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)."[8][9][10] The bureaucracy of Balhae was modeled after the Three Departments and Six Ministries and used literary Chinese as the written language of administration.[15][133] 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.[131] Three students are recorded in 833 and a royal nephew in 924.[134] Although Balhae was a tributary state 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.[31]

Balhae had five capitals, fifteen provinces, and sixty-three counties.[135] 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.[15] 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.[136][137]

Language and script

The epitaph of Princess Jyeongho, the second daughter of Mun of Balhae (r. 737–793)
The epitaph of Princess Jyeongho, the second daughter of Mun of Balhae (r. 737–793)

Balhae used multiple languages. The indigenous language of Balhae is unclear, as no extant text or gloss of the language survived.[36]

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.[138][139]

Alexander Vovin suggests that the Balhae elite spoke a Koreanic language, which has had a lasting impact on Khitan, Jurchen and Manchu languages.[36][140] 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.[141][142]

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.[143][144] Classical Chinese was also used for two tomb inscriptions for members of the Balhae royal family.[145] Excavated epigraphic materials indicate that the Chinese script was the only widely used script in Balhae.[146] According to Russian scientific research, the Balhae writing system is based on Chinese characters, and among the characters used, many were used only in the state "Wu". However, the recording was phonetic.[147][148] Some of the names of Balhae's emissaries were similar to Chinese names while others were unique to Balhae: Wodala, Zhaoheshi, and Nansali. The unique Balhae names were the minority.[125]

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. The statement about the climate is doubtful since it is not found in scientific sources. 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.[149]

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.[150] 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.[151][149] Similarly, Balhae builders used Japanese fortification techniques and with prevailing Japanese culture in their construction of the port of An [ru].[152] Balhae's musical works Shinmaka (Japanese: 新靺鞨) have been preserved by the Japanese court.[153]


Main article: Balhae controversies

See also: Northeast Project of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

The historic position of Balhae is disputed between Korean, Chinese, Russian, and Japanese historians.[154][155] Korean scholars consider Balhae to be the successor state of Goguryeo, and part of the North–South States Period of Korean history. Chinese scholars argue that Balhae was a local administration of the Tang dynasty and composed of Mohe people, making it a part of Chinese history due to its close cultural and political ties with Tang China.[16] The Russian archaeological school views Balhae as a state of primarily Mohe people while Japanese scholars consider it a tributary state.[155][156][157][158]


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.[159]

See also


  1. ^ See the Emperor at home, king abroad.
  2. ^ For example, 3,000 Balhae households came to Goryeo in 938.[92]
  3. ^ Map of Balhae


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