King Sansang was the third son of the eighth king, Sindae, and the younger brother of the ninth king, Gogukcheon. When the ninth king died, his younger brother, Yonu, succeeded to the throne to become King Sansang. But the process was far from smooth.
When King Gogukcheon died without an heir in the year 197, his queen, Lady Woo, chose her deceased husband’s younger brother, Yonu and helped him to become the next king. She then became the new king’s wife to once again obtain the status of queen. This shows that the custom of Levirate marriage was still practiced in Goguryeo. It is also assumed that the ambitious queen sought to continue wielding her royal power.
Yonu had an older brother named Balgi, who was furious about the new king and the queen since he believed he was the legitimate successor. He went to the Liaodong Peninsula and asked the warlord there to request 30-thousand troops to assist him in attacking the new Goguryeo king and recovering his lost kingship. The warlord regarded it as a good chance to expand his power to the neighboring state of Goguryeo, so he accepted the request.
When Balgi returned to Goguryeo to attack the new king, the king ordered his younger brother, Gyesu, to suppress the rebel force. Gyesu defeated the troops led by Balgi, who eventually killed himself. In the end, King Sansang had to have his younger brother conquer his older brother to secure his throne.
That was not the end of the king’s dramatic life. In the winter of 208, in the twelfth year of his rule, the king and his ministers were preparing for a ritual. A sacrificial pig escaped from the scene and the king and the officials chased the animal into the forest. There, a beautiful, young woman helped them catch the pig. Captivated by the charms of the woman, the king spent the night with her.
Of course, Lady Woo was unhappy when she heard the news. Burning with jealousy, the queen sent soldiers to kill the woman, whose name was Hunyeo. The poor woman tried to escape by disguising herself as a man, but she was soon caught by the soldiers. However, they did not dare to kill the woman as she claimed that she was pregnant. King Sansang was overjoyed to hear that, as he had no heir. When Hunyeo gave birth to a son in the year 209, the king named the baby boy Gyoche and made Hunyeo his second wife. The child was proclaimed crown prince in 213 and later became King Dongcheon, the eleventh monarch of Goguryeo. Lady Woo was not pleased at all, and she hated the prince and treated him badly even after he became king.
In the year 217, the king granted refuge to a thousand households from the Liaodong region and let them resettle in present-day Hunchun area in northeast China’s Jilin Province. He died in 227, ending his 30-year reign.
The life of King Sansang was something like a drama, characterized by Levirate marriage, bloody conflict with his own brother, a secret romance and a child out of wedlock.