Balhae (Korean: 발해) or Bohai (Chinese: 渤海; pinyin: Bóhǎi, Russian: Бохай, romanizedBokhay, Manchu: ᡦᡠᡥᠠ‍ᡳ) (698–926) was a multi-ethnic kingdom in Manchuria, the Korean Peninsula and the Russian Far East[6] which had been founded by Dae Joyeong after the fall of Goguryeo. 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 and China.

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)
Central Capital (742–756)
Upper Capital (756–785)
East Capital (785–793)
Upper Capital (793–926)
or Five Capital System (720-926)[3]
Common languagesGoguryeo language (Koreanic),
Tungusic languages
• 698–719
Go (first)
• 719–737
• 737–793
• 818–830
• 907–926
Dae Inseon (last)
Historical eraAncient
• Dae Jung-sang begins military campaigns
• Establishment in Tianmenling
• "Balhae" as a kingdom name
• Fall of Sang-gyeong
January 14, 926
• Peak
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Liao dynasty
Later Balhae
Today part ofChina
North Korea
Korean name
Chinese name
Russian name
Manchu name
Manchu script ᡦᡠᡥᠠ‍ᡳ
Administrative divisions of the Balhae kingdom, with Chinese and Korean names[b]


Balhae was founded in 698 by Dae Joyeong under the name 震 (진), transcribed as Jin in Korean romanisation. The kingdom's name was written as in Chinese character,[7] with the Middle Chinese pronunciation dzyin;[8] King Go's state wrote its name as , with the Middle Chinese pronunciation tsyin.[9] 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).[10]: §5.1 ¶3 In 762, the Tang formally elevated Balhae to the status of a kingdom.[11][12][10]: §5.1 ¶11

The transcriptions Bohai[13] (based on Mandarin Chinese) and Parhae[14] (based on Korean) are also used in modern academia.


Balhae was established by refugees from Goguryeo and Tungusic Mohe tribes in 698,[15][16] when the first king, Dae Joyeong, defeated the Wu Zhou dynasty at Tianmenling.[17][18][19] Along with Goguryeo refugees and Mohe tribes, Balhae had a diverse population, including other minorities such as Khitan and Evenk peoples.[20] Balhae had a high level of craftsmanship and engaged in trade with neighboring countries such as Göktürk, Japan, Silla and Tang.[21]

In 926, the Khitan-led Liao dynasty conquered Balhae and established the autonomous kingdom of Dongdan ruled by the Liao crown prince Yelü Bei, which was soon absorbed into the Liao.[11] Meanwhile, a series of nobilities and elites led by key figures such as crown prince Dae Gwang-hyeon, were absorbed into Goryeo.[22] 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[10] and a population of about 500,000. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Balhae culture was an amalgamation of High Tang Chinese, Korean, and Tungusic cultures.[23]


Brick fragment inscribed with the characters shang jing 上京, "Upper Capital" of Balhae, held at the National Museum of China
Stele from Balhae at the National Museum of Korea

During the Khitan rebellion against the Tang and Wu Zhou dynasties, Dae Jung-sang allied with Geolsa Biu, a leader of the Mohe people, and led Goguryeo refugees against the Wu Zhou in 696. After Dae Jung-sang's death, his son, Dae Jo-yeong, a former Goguryeo general[24] or chief of Sumo Mohe[25][26] succeeded his father. Geolsa Biu died in battle against the Wu Zhou army led by the general Li Kaigu, but Dae Jo-yeong managed to escape with the remaining Goguryeo and Mohe soldiers. He successfully defeated a pursuing army sent by Empress Wu Zetian at the Battle of Tianmenling that enabled him to establish the state of Jin (진, 震) in the former region of Yilou as King Go.[27]

Another account of the events suggests that there was no rebellion at all, and the leader of the Sumo Mohe 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.[13]

Expansion and foreign relationsEdit

The second King Mu (r. 719–737), who felt encircled by Tang, Silla and Heishui Mohe along the Amur River, ordered a punitive expedition to Tang with his navy in 732 and killed a Tang prefect based on the Shandong Peninsula.[28] At the same time, the king led troops overland to Mt. Matou (마두산; 馬頭山) in the vincity of the Shanhai Pass (about 300 kilometres east of current Beijing) and occupied towns nearby.[citation needed] He also sent a mission to Japan in 728 to threaten Silla 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.[29] Later, a compromise was forged between Tang and Balhae, by which Tang agreed to diplomatic recognition of Mun of Balhae, who succeeded to his father's throne as King of Balhae.

The third King Mun (r. 737–793) expanded its territory into the Amur valley in the north and the Liaodong Peninsula in the west. During his 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 755; 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. Although China recognized him as a king, Balhae itself referred to him as the son of heaven and a king.[30]

The tenth King Seon reign (r. 818–830), Balhae controlled northern Korea, Northeastern Manchuria and now Primorsky Krai of Russia. King Seon led campaigns that resulted in the absorbing of many northern Mohe tribes and southwest Little Goguryeo kingdom, which was located in the Liaodong Peninsula, was absorbed into Balhae. Its strength was such that Silla was forced to build a northern wall in 721 as well as maintain active defences along the common border. In the middle of the 9th century, Balhae completed its local system, which was composed of five capitals, 15 prefectures and 62 counties.


Following the reign of King Seon (830), there are no surviving written records of Balhae. Some historians believe that ethnic conflicts between the ruling Goguryeos and underclass Mohe weakened the state.[31] The Khitans were centered in Liaoning and Inner Mongolia, which overlaps Balhae's purported territories in the west. A Khitan invasion took the capital of Balhae after a 25-day siege in 926. After defeating Balhae, the Khitans established a puppet state founded by its new Khitan rulers, the Dongdan Kingdom, which was annexed by Liao in 936. Some Balhae aristocrats were forced to move to Liaoyang, but Balhae's eastern territory remained politically independent. Some scholar 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.[32][33]

Aftermath and legacyEdit

After the fall of Balhae and its last king in 926, the autonomous satellite state of Dongdan was founded by its new Khitan rulers.[34] Restoration movements by displaced Balhae people established Later Balhae, which was later renamed to Jeongan.[35] 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.[36] Though Balhae was lost, a great portion of the royalty and aristocracy fled to Goryeo, a newly formed Korean kingdom that was, like Balhae, founded by Goguryeo descendants.[37][38] There, they were given places to live along with positions in accordance to their status before the fall. The Goryeosa notes the existence of additional mass emigrations of the dispersed Balhae people before the fall of Jeongan.

Khitan conquest of Balhae resulted in Goryeo's intense and prolonged hostility towards the Khitan Empire.[39] Goryeo once proposed a joint-invasion of the Khitan empire to China in retribution of Balhae's fall. This hostility culminated in the Goryeo–Khitan Wars from 993 to 1019.

Dae Gwang-hyeon, the last crown prince, and much of the ruling class of Balhae sought refuge in Goryeo, where they were granted land and the crown prince included in the royal household by Wang Geon, Koreans believe thus unifying the two successor nations of Goguryeo.[40] The Goryeo scholar Choi Seungno referred to these events in the Shimu 28 (Korean: 시무 28조, Chinese: 時務二十八條).

Goryeo actively accepted people of Balhae.[41] Goryeosa records the arrival of tens of thousands of Balhae households consisted of mainly of royals and aristocrats but commoners as well to Goryeo for a span of approximately 190 years from the year 926 to 1116.[42] Since both nations were successor states of Goguryeo that held a sense of kinship towards one another,[43] the Balhae people despite their consecutive mass exodus were welcomed by Goryeo. The remainder of what was left of the Balhae people were assimilated into the Khitan polity as well as the Jurchens who would revolt against the Khitans later in the century. Some descendants of the Balhae royalty in Goryeo changed their family name to Tae (태, 太) while Crown Prince Dae Gwang-hyeon was given the family name Wang (왕, 王), the royal family name of the Goryeo dynasty. Balhae was the last state in Korean history to hold any significant territory in Manchuria, although later Korean dynasties would continue to regard themselves as successors of Goguryeo and Balhae.[31]

The ruling elites of Balhae were of Goguryeo ethnic and were the custodians of the Balhae culture.[44] Since the ruling elites of Balhae left behind the indigenous Mohe people when they took refuge to Goryeo; the culture of Balhae was not transmitted as a result.[44] After almost two centuries under the rule of the Khitans, the Mohe people eventually founded the Jin dynasty.[44]

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. Nonetheless, the Balhae people stranded across Manchuria and Inner Mongolia were exploited by the ruling Jurchens as military personnel, laborer sent as forefront soldiers. This sparked animosity between the two ethnic groups that lasted for decades.[45] The 13th century census of Northern China by the Mongols distinguished Balhae people who belonged to khitan from other ethnic groups such as Goryeo, Khitan and Jurchen.[46]

Government and cultureEdit

Balhae's population was composed of former Goguryeo peoples and Tungusic Mohe people in Manchuria. Because of the lack of developed agriculture also, most of the kingdom's population was semi-nomadic.[47] The Mohe made up the working class which served the Goguryeo ruling class.[31][48] Mohe people dominated common society, their influence was mainly restricted to providing labor.[49] Nevertheless, there were instances of Mohe and other indigenous populations moving upward into the Balhae elite, however few, such as the followers of Geolsa Biu, who supported the establishment of Balhae, were awarded to the title of "Suryeong", or "chief", which is derived from Goguryeo language, people from different ethnicities play a part in the ruling elite. Another view is that Goguryeo descendants did not have political dominance, and the ruling system was open to all peoples equally.[50] 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.[51]

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)."[48][52][44] The bureaucracy of Balhae was modeled after the Three Departments and Six Ministries and used Chinese characters to write their native language for administrative purposes.[11] 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.[53] Unlike Tang government, the Balhae "taenaesang" or the "great minister of the court" was "superior" to the other two chancelleries (the left and the right) and its system of five capitals originates from Goguryeo's administrative structure.[54] Although Balhae was a formal vassal of the Tang Empire, 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, always send ambassadors to neighbor states such as Japan in an independent capacity.[55]

The class system of Balhae society is controversial, some studies suggest there was stratified into a 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.[53] 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 society of the kingdom was personally free and consisted of clans.[56]

Balhae had five capitals, fifteen provinces, and sixty-three counties.[57] Archaeologists studying the layout of Balhae's cities have concluded that they shared features common with cities in Goguryeo, indicating that Balhae had retained cultural similarities with Goguryeo.[58] However cities of the kingdom differed very strongly from the region, the capital of Sanggyong was organized in the way of Tang's capital of Chang'an. Residential sectors were laid out on either side of the palace surrounded by a rectangular wall.

Balhae's original capital was at Dongmo Mountain in modern Dunhua, Jilin, China. In 742 it was moved to the Central Capital in Helong, Jilin. It was moved to the Northern Capital in Ning'an, Heilongjiang in 755, to the Eastern Capital in Hunchun, Jilin in 785, and back to the Northern Capital in 794.[11]

Language and scriptEdit

Balhae used multiple languages. 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.[59][60] Linguistic analysis of Koreanic, Khitan, Jurchen and Manchu languages indicate the Balhae elite spoke a Koreanic language, which has had a lasting impact on Khitan, Jurchen and Manchu languages.[24][61] 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.[62][63]

Archaeological excavations indicate that Chinese characters were commonly used in Balhae as a result of the Tang Dynasty's influence.[64] Evidence of Balhae script comes from the remains of roof tiles used in Balhae architecture, where 370 letters were found.[63] Of the letters, 135 of them were found to be Chinese characters while 151 of them were unidentifiable to any known script. Korean scholars believe these unidentifiable letters are part of a unique Balhae script similar to the Idu script of Silla. Russian expert Shavkunov suggested the Balhae script as being different from Chinese characters, and was clearly based on Silla's Idu script. However, Chinese scholars have dismissed them as miswritten Chinese characters.[63]

Economy and tradeEdit

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 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. 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.[65][66] Similarly, Balhae builders used Japanese fortification techniques in their construction of the port of An [ru].[67] Balhae's musical works Shinmaka (Japanese: 新靺鞨しんまか) have been preserved by the Japanese court.[68]


The historic position of Balhae is disputed between Korean and Chinese historians.[69][citation not found][70] Korean scholars consider Balhae to be the successor state of Goguryeo, and part of the North–South States Period of Korean history, while Chinese scholars argue Balhae was a state of the Mohe people, and is a part of Chinese history due to its close cultural and political ties with Tang China.[12] Historians in Russia generally believe that Balhae consisted primarily of Mohe peoples with a significant minority of Goguryeo peoples.[51]

Shavkunov, an influential archaeologist on Balhae in Russia, criticized the Chinese perspective that Balhae was a local administration of the Chinese empire and the Korean perspective that Balhae was an exclusive domain of Korean history. Nonetheless, Shavkunov pointed out that Balhae, based on archaeological data, played a critical role in the history of Korea. Additionally, some recent Russian specialists also considered Balhae a part of Korean history in their works.[51]


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 September 16, 2006, to December 23, 2007, was about the founder of Balhae.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit



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