King Dongcheon was known for his mild personality and generosity. He hardly lost his temper. Since his mother was his father’s second wife, the first queen, Lady Woo, hated and mistreated him even after he became king. For example, she cut off the mane of the king’s horse and spilled soup on his clothes. But King Dongcheon never got angry. On the contrary, the king always treated the wicked queen warmly. Impressed by his devotion, Lady Woo regretted having been so mean to her stepson before she died.
The goodhearted king was also strong and skilled, and he excelled at hunting and archery. His bravery was known to neighboring states, including the Wei kingdom of China. King Dongcheon’s reign was actually characterized by his kingdom’s fierce battles with Wei. In the early 3rd century, three kingdoms appeared in China after the collapse of the Han Dynasty. As one of the three kingdoms, Wei wanted to join forces with the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo to compete with the two other Chinese kingdoms. At first, King Dongcheon joined hands with Wei to keep one of the remaining Han Commanderies in check. When the Goguryeo-Wei alliance was formed in the year 238, the new allies successfully brought down the influential Commandery.
However, the alliance between the ambitious Wei and Goguryeo was short-lived, with Wei becoming a new threat to Goguryeo. Before long, war between the two kingdoms began. When Wei invaded Goguryeo in the year 244, King Dongcheon led the 20-thousand troops himself. He won battles against the Wei army in the initial stage, and the victory made the king overconfident. He told his generals that Wei’s larger forces were not as good as Goguryeo’s smaller forces. But the course of the battle changed. The Wei subdued the Goguryeo army and even took the capital of Hwando, forcing King Dongcheon to flee the capital. The king was in a crisis. According to the Korean history book, The History of Three Kingdoms, a Goguryeo general named Yuyu went to Wei’s camp to surrender on behalf of his king. He carried presents and food, and the Wei commander believed and accepted the offer. But just as he was about to eat the food, Yuyu quickly took a knife from the tableware and killed the Wei commander. He then stabbed himself, too. The sudden loss of the commander caused great confusion in the Wei army. Taking this chance, King Dongcheon counterattacked the troubled Wei forces to drive them out of Goguryeo territory. Goguryeo won the battle and eventually regained all of the territory that had been lost from previous defeats against the Wei.
When the court returned to Hwando, however, it was so devastated that it could no longer serve as a capital. In the year 247, the king relocated the capital and named it Pyongyang. Scholars still have different opinions about the exact location of the new capital. Some say it was located in Liaodong, while others argue that it was in the present-day Pyongyang area in North Korea.
The king had loyal and courageous generals, who saved the country from total destruction. The king had overcome a national crisis, and when he died in the year 248, people lamented the death of their beloved king. It is said that the king was so loved and admired that many people were willing to follow him in death. The king’s son forbade the burial of the living with the dead, but numerous people tried to commit suicide in front of the king’s tomb on the day of his funeral, believing that they could continue to serve the king even after death.