Daejoyeong, the Father of Balhae

2010-10-29

An eternal empire
Balhae was a powerful state that survived in Manchuria for 229 years and along with the Unified Silla Kingdom, wrote a new chapter in the history of the Korean nation. As the state succeeding Goguryeo Kingdom, the Tang Dynasty even called Balhae “the most powerful state in Northeast Asia, because its territory even reached the Far Eastern areas of today’s Russia. But after its collapse, scores of Balhae refugees were displaced when the capital of Balhae was brought down to ashes. For a long time, the state of Balhae was forgotten in the history of Korea, but the name of its founder, King Daejoyeong, lives on to this day.

Goguryeo refugees establishing a state
In 668, Goguryeo, which was the most powerful state in the history of Korea, was crushed by the Silla and Tang Dynasties. As a result, the vast territory of Goguryeo fell under the Tang Dynasty’s rule and some 100,000 Goguryeo refugees were forced to go to the Tang Dynasty, where they were severely exploited. After three decades of suffering, in 698 the Georan tribe staged a revolt in the area. That’s when one of the Goguryeo refugees seized the chance and led his compatriots to the former Goguryeo area across the Liao River. This was none other than Daejoyeong.

The exact year of Daejoyeong’s birth is unknown. He was the son of General Dae Jung-sang, who perished in war in a bid to rescue his country. Daejoyeong was presumably born during the late Goguryeo period and, like his father, he was determined to restore Goguryeo. He joined hands with the military leader Geol Sabiu of the Malgal tribes to relocate the Gogureo refugees and the Malgal tribes to the northeastern region. The Tang Dynasty tried to defeat Daejoyeong, but Daejoyeong and his army crushed the enemy. After years of exploitation and frequent migration, the Goguryeo refugees were exhausted physically but they had grown into a strong group and displayed their best fighting skills in the battle. Daejoyeong made 1000 ambushes in the area and his strategy proved successful in resisting some 200,000 Tang Dynasty soldiers. Thanks to his courage and successful strategies, Daejoyeong won the battle and after traveling 5,000 kilometers finally built a fortress at Mount Dongmo in 698 and declared a new state named Daejin.

The 15th king and 230-year history of Balhae
After the word spread that Goguryeo descendants had built a fortress on Mount Dongmo and settled down there, the refugees pulled together to help shape their state. In 713, Daejoyeong renamed his country “Balhae” and devoted his entire life to restoring the glory of Goguryeo Kingdom. Before his death in 719, Daejoyeong urged his followers to protect Goguryeo. His legacy had a great influence on his descendants, who built a powerful empire stretching all the way from the northern part of the Korean Peninsula to Siberia and from the northeastern region of China to the Russian Far East. Even the Tang Dynasty recognized Balhae’s sovereignty while Japan even requested trade ties and protection from Balhae. Balhae grew into a powerful state that flourished economically and culturally and even had trade ties with Persia, while its capital-city, Donggyeong, became one of the biggest cities in the world. But as strife for power intensified among Balhae aristocrats, the state collapsed, and was destroyed in 926 by Emperor Taizu of Liao, who wanted to expand his territories.

Awakening Balhae
About 230 years after its founding, Balhae disappeared into history. It has received little attention so far, but its founder, Daejoyeong, left an indelible trace in the history of Korea by restoring the glory of the Goguryeo Kingdom and giving hope and courage to Goguryeo refugees. Daejoyeong is no longer a lonesome hero, because his achievements played a crucial role in the shaping of Korea.

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