Four Commanderies of Han

The Four Commanderies of Han (Chinese: 漢四郡; pinyin: Hàn-sìjùn; Korean한사군; Hanja漢四郡; RRHan-sagun) were Chinese commanderies located in the north of the Korean Peninsula and part of the Liaodong Peninsula from around the end of the second century BC through the early 4th AD, for the longest lasting.[1][2] The commanderies were set up to control the populace in the former Gojoseon area as far south as the Han River, with a core area at Lelang near present-day Pyongyang[3] by Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty in early 2nd century BC after his conquest of Wiman Joseon. As such, these commanderies are seen as Chinese colonies by some scholars. Though disputed by North Korean scholars, Western sources generally describe the Lelang Commandery as existing within the Korean peninsula, and extend the rule of the four commanderies as far south as the Han River.[3][4] However, South Korean scholars assumed its administrative areas to Pyongan and Hwanghae provinces.[5]

Three of the commanderies fell or retreated westward within a few decades, but the Lelang commandery remained as a center of cultural and economic exchange with successive Chinese dynasties for four centuries. At its administrative center in Lelang, the Chinese built what was in essence a Chinese city where the governor, officials, and merchants, and Chinese colonists lived. Their administration had considerable impact on the life of the native population and ultimately the very fabric of Gojoseon society became eroded.[6] Later, Goguryeo, founded in 37 BCE, began conquering the commanderies and eventually absorbed them into its own territory by the early 4th century AD.[7]



Before the fall of Gojoseon a single commandery, called Canghai Commandery, covered an area in northern Korean peninsula to southern Manchuria. Nan Lü (Hanja: 南閭), who was a monarch of Dongye and a subject of Wiman Joseon, revolted against Ugeo of Gojoseon and then surrendered to the Han dynasty with 280,000 people.[a] The commandery was established following this revolt, however in two years, it was abolished by Gongsun Hong.[8]

Four commanderies

Daifang commandery

A commandery that was separated out of Lelang Commandery in the later years of its history was named the Daifang Commandery (帶方郡, 대방군, AD 204-220/210 ~ AD 315).[13][14]


Han dynasty

When Gojoseon was defeated in 108 BC, three commanderies were established in its place: Lelang, Lintun, and Zhenfan. In 107 BC, Xuantu Commandery was also established in the place of Gojoseon's ally, Yemaek. In 82 BC, Lintun was absorbed into Xuantu and Zhenfan absorbed into Lelang. In 75 BC, Xuantu moved its capital to Liaodong due to resistance from the native people. Lintun was transferred to Lelang.[10]

Although often depicted as special administrative units within the Han dynasty, excavated records suggest that these commanderies were governed no differently than those in the core regions of the Han.[18] Neighboring Korean powers such as the Jinhan confederacy and Byeonhan confederacy imported goods from Lelang such as mirrors.[11] As indigenous groups started to assume Han culture, a hybrid Lelang culture developed in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.[18]

Gongsun Du, Kang, Gong, and Yuan

Gongsun Du was born in Xiangping (Liaoyang, Liaoning). In his early years, Du's father fled to Xuantu Commandery, where Du became an office runner. Du attracted the support of the governor Gongsun Yu, whose daughter he eventually married. He rose up the ranks of officialdom in Ji Province until he became regional inspector.[19]

Gongsun Du was appointed Administrator of Liaodong Commandery by Dong Zhuo in 189 on the recommendation of Xu Rong. As a result of his lowly origins, Du harbored an intense hatred for the elite landowning class. Once he became administrator, Du carried out his vendetta against the wealthy by publicly flogging to death the Magistrate of Xiangping and extirpating the gentry. Du dominated the northeast and expanded into the territory of Goguryeo and the Wuhuan. When Cao Cao attempted to bestow titles upon Du, he rejected them and proclaimed himself king. Du died in 204 and was succeeded by his son, Gongsun Kang.[20][19] In 204 Kang expanded into Goguryeo and created Daifang Commandery. When the Wuhuan were defeated by Cao Cao in 207, Yuan Shang, Yuan Xi, and the Wuhuan leaders Louban and Supuyan fled to Kang. Kang killed them and sent their heads to Cao Cao.[21]

In 208, Kang sent aid to Balgi in support of his claim to the Goguryeo throne.[22] According to the 12th century chronicle Samguk Sagi, the invasion was defeated by Gyesu, younger brother of Sansang of Goguryeo.[23] However this is not reported in the Chinese records, which state that the invasion was a success and Balgi was settled in conquered territory. K.H.J. Gardiner says that this is because the Samguk Sagi sought to reverse the reality of defeat in a number of instances and questioned both the existence of Gyesu and his victory.[22] Gongsun Kang took some territory in 209 and Goguryeo was forced to move its capital further east to the Yalu rivery valley near Hwando.[24][25][26] Kang died in 220 when his children were too young to rule, so his brother Gongsun Gong succeeded him. Gong maintained his independence, albeit while accepting titles issued by Cao Pi. Gong became ill and was replaced by his nephew Gongsun Yuan in 228.[27] Yuan ruled independently until Sima Yi invaded in 238 and annexed his territory.[28]

Goguryeo re-established in its former territory and established dominance over the tribes at the mouth of the Yalu River sometime before 233. In 238, Goguryeo allied with Cao Wei to overthrow the Liaodong regime.[29][30]

Cao Wei, Jin, and Xianbei

Goguryeo raided the Xuantu Commandery in 242. In retaliation, Cao Wei invaded Goguryeo from 244 to 245. The Wei general Guanqiu Jian sacked the Goguryeo capital of Hwando, sent its king fleeing, and broke the tributary relationships between Goguryeo and the other tribes of Korea that formed much of Goguryeo's economy. Although the king evaded capture and eventually settled in a new capital, Goguryeo was reduced to such insignificance that for half a century there was no mention of the state in Chinese historical texts.[30][29]

Afterwards, the Lelang, Daifang, and Xuantu commanderies were ruled by Cao Wei, the Jin dynasty, and the Murong Xianbei until they were conquered by Goguryeo in the early 300s.[11]


Lelang Commandery was ruled by the Jin dynasty (266–420) until 313. Due to civil war, the Jin dynasty was unable to send officials to govern its territory in northern Korea. The leaders of Liaodong and Lelang led over one thousand households to break away from Jin and submitted to the Xianbei warlord of Former Yan Murong Hui. Murong Hui relocated the remnants of the commandery to the west within Liaodong. Goguryeo attacked and annexed the commandery in 313.[31][32] Daifang was conquered in 314-315 and Xuantu in 319.[11][14] After the collapse of the Han commanderies, Goguryeo accepted émigrés of Chinese origin to strengthen their control over the region.[18]

K.H.J. Gardiner argues that even though the commanderies had been conquered by Goguryeo, it did not rule Lelang directly until after the death of Dong Shou in 357.[33] Dong Shou was a general from Former Yan who fled to Goguryeo in 336 and was given a position in the former territory of Lelang.[34]


In the North Korean academic community and some parts of the South Korean academic community, the Han dynasty's annexation of parts of the Korean peninsula have been denied. Proponents of this revisionist theory claim that the Han Commanderies (and Gojoseon) actually existed outside of the Korean peninsula, and place them somewhere in Liaodong Peninsula, in modern-day China, instead.[35][36][37]

The stigmatization of colonial Japanese historical and archaeological findings in Korea as imperialist forgeries owes in part to those scholars' discovery and promotion of the Lelang Commandery—by which the Han dynasty administered territory near Pyongyang—and insistence that this Chinese commandery had an impact on the development of Korean civilization.[38] Until the North Korean challenge, it was universally accepted that Lelang was a commandery established by Emperor Wu of Han after he defeated Gojoseon in 108 BCE.[39] To deal with the Han Dynasty archeological remnants such as tombs, jewelry and laquerware North Korean scholars have reinterpreted them as the remains of Gojoseon or Goguryeo.[38] For those artifacts, whose artistic style is undeniably originating in Han China and contrasts the previous Gojoseon Bronze dagger culture, they propose that they were introduced through trade and international contact, or were forgeries, and "should not by any means be construed as a basis to deny the Korean characteristics of the artifacts".[40] The North Koreans also say that there were two Lelangs, and that the Han actually administered a Lelang on the Liao River on the Liaodong Peninsula, while Pyongyang was ruled by an "independent Korean state" called Nangnang, which existed between the 2nd century BCE until the 3rd century CE.[39][41] The traditional view of Lelang, according to them, was expanded by Chinese chauvinists and Japanese imperialists.[39]

While promoted by the academic community of North Korea, and supported by certain writers and historians in South Korea, this theory is not recognized in the mainstream academic circles of South Korea, the United States, China, and Japan.[38][42][43][44][45] Most Korean scholars in the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties considered the location of Lelang county somewhere around today's Pyongyang area based on the Korean history record Samguk Yusa. There were also scholars who believe that Lelang was in Liaodong, such as Bak Ji-won, a Joseon dynasty silhak scholar who had conducted field research in Manchuria during his visit to Qing in 1780. Bak claimed that the location of commandries were actually in the Liaodong area in The Jehol Diary.[46][better source needed] Ri Ji Rin (Lee Ji Rin), a respected North Korean historian who obtained his Ph.D. in history from China's top university Peking University in 1961, in his published Research on Ancient Korea suggests that based on the initial records of Chinese texts and archaeological findings in Liaodong, the Han commanderies were located in Liaodong Peninsula.[47] Another historian from South Korea, Yoon Nae-hyun also published a similar research in 1987, suggesting the Han commanderies were not in Korean peninsula.[48]


See also


  1. ^ Book of the Later Han, Treatise on the Dongyi (元朔元年武帝年也. 濊君南閭等【集解】 惠棟曰, 顏籀云, 南閭者, 薉君之名.畔右渠, 率二十八萬口詣遼東內屬, 武帝以其地爲蒼海郡, 數年乃罷.)


  1. ^ Dane Alston. "Contested domains: The Poetic Dialogue between a Ming Emperor and a Chosŏn Envoy". Retrieved 2 April 2012.
  2. ^ Lim Jie-Hyun. "The Antagonistic Complicity of Nationalisms". Retrieved 2 April 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Early Korea". Archived from the original on 2015-06-25. Retrieved 2015-06-15.
  4. ^ Carter J. Eckert, el., "Korea, Old and New: History", 1990, pp. 13
  5. ^ Yi Pyong-do, 《The studies of the Korean history》 Part 2, Researches of problems of the Han commanderies, PYbook, 1976, 148 p
  6. ^ Eckert, Carter J.; el. (1990). Korea, Old and New: A History. p. 14. ISBN 978-0962771309.
  7. ^ 'Ki-Baik Lee', "A New History of Korea", 1984 Harvard University Press, page 24'
  8. ^ 창해군 한국민족문화대백과 Encyclopedia of Korean Culture
  9. ^ 《前漢書》卷二十八〈地理志〉第八:"樂浪郡,武帝元封三年開。莽曰樂鮮。屬幽州。戶六萬二千八百一十二,口四十萬六千七百四十八。有雲鄣。縣二十五:朝鮮;□邯;浿水,水西至增地入海,莽曰樂鮮亭;含資,帶水西至帶方入海;黏蟬;遂成;增地,莽曰增土;帶方;駟望;海冥,莽曰海桓;列口;長岑;屯有;昭明,高部都尉治;鏤方;提奚;渾彌;吞列,分黎山,列水所出,西至黏蟬入海,行八百二十里;東暆;不而,東部都尉治;蠶台;華麗;邪頭昧;前莫;夫租。"Wikisource: the Book of Han, volume 28-2
  10. ^ a b c Park 2013, p. 203.
  11. ^ a b c d Park 2013, p. 204.
  12. ^ 玄菟郡,武帝元封四年開。高句驪,莽曰下句驪。屬幽州。戶四萬五千六。口二十二萬一千八百四十五。縣三:高句驪,遼山,遼水所出,西南至遼隊入大遼水。又有南蘇水,西北經塞外。上殷台,莽曰下殷。西蓋馬。馬訾水西北入鹽難水,西南至西安平入海,過郡二,行二千一百里。莽曰玄菟亭。Wikisource: the Book of Han, volume 28-2
  13. ^ Barnes 2001, p. 40.
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ 通典 邊防 朝鮮 武帝元封三年、遣樓船將軍楊僕從齊浮渤海、兵五萬、左將軍荀彘出遼東、討之。朝鮮人相與殺王右渠来降。遂以朝鮮為真蕃、臨屯、楽浪、玄菟四郡。今悉為東夷之地。昭帝時罷臨屯、真蕃以并楽浪、玄菟。
  16. ^ 《三國志》卷30 魏書 烏丸鮮卑東夷傳 穢 自單單大山領以西屬樂浪、自領以東七縣、都尉主之、皆以濊為民。後省都尉、封其渠帥為侯、今不耐濊皆其種也。漢末更屬句麗。Wikisource: the Records of Three Kingdoms, volume 30
  17. ^ 《後漢書》卷85 東夷列傳 濊 至元封三年、滅朝鮮、分置樂浪・臨屯・玄菟・真番四郡。至昭帝始元五年、罷臨屯・真番、以并樂浪・玄菟。玄菟復徙居句驪、自單單大領已東、沃沮・濊貊悉屬樂浪。後以境土廣遠、復分領東七縣、置樂浪東部都尉。the Book of Later Han, volume 85
  18. ^ a b c Park 2013, p. 210.
  19. ^ a b "Gongsun Du 公孫度, Gongsun Kang 公孫康, Gongsun Gong 公孫恭, Gongsun Yuan 公孫淵 (".
  20. ^ de Crespigny 2007, p. 266.
  21. ^ de Crespigny 2007, p. 268.
  22. ^ a b de Crespigny 2007, p. 385.
  23. ^ "History: King Sansang". KBS. March 2015. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  24. ^ Barnes 2001, p. 22-23.
  25. ^ de Crespigny 2007, p. 988-989.
  26. ^ Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms. Vol. 30. 建安中,公孫康出軍擊之,破其國,焚燒邑落。拔奇怨爲兄而不得立,與涓奴加各將下戶三萬餘口詣康降,還住沸流水。
  27. ^ de Crespigny 2007, p. 267.
  28. ^ de Crespigny 2007, p. 271.
  29. ^ a b Barnes 2001, p. 44-45.
  30. ^ a b Byington, Mark E. "Control or Conquer? Koguryǒ's Relations with States and Peoples in Manchuria," Journal of Northeast Asian History volume 4, number 1 (June 2007):93.
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