Sources: “History of the Balhae Empire” – Forward, Contents and Afterword

Balhae Empire c720

Seo Byeong-guk 서병국. 2010: 발해제국사: 발해가 고구려의 계승국인 34가지 증거 (History of the Balhae Empire: 34 pieces of evidence that Balhae was the successor state to Goguryeo). Gyeonggi-do Paju: 한국학술정보(주)

General warning: this is a good example of Korean subjectivity in the history dispute with China.  I do not particularly agree with the arguments presented.

Translation notes: the verb ggeul’eodeul’ida 끌어들이다 has been directly translated throughout as “to pull in” to maintain its clear nuance, although in the context it would sound more natural as “to incorporate”.  The loaded terms minjok 민족 and jongjok 종족 are both translated here as “people” or “ethnic group”.


Following the collapse of the great empire of Goguryeo in northeast Asia, what could be called ‘the great exodus of a people (민족)’ continued for more than thirty years where the remnants (유민) of the Goguryeo people and the Malgal, who had been under Goguryeo’s rule, left their beloved homeland and [moved] to an unfamiliar foreign country, or else had to move their livelihoods to alien land (i.e. exactly the same thing.) Through this exodus of a people, the territory of our [Korean] people (우리 민족) received a mortal wound. Silla unified the peninsula but because they were unable to occupy the former Goguryeo territory north of Pyeongyang, an expansive area was expelled from our (i.e. Koreans’) historical interest.

Time passed, and the country of Balhae established itself (들어서다) in the land of the Songmal-malgal (粟末靺鞨 Ch. Sumo-mohe) which had been formerly governed by Goguryeo and so the ethnic chaos which had been stirred up by the great exodus of a people entered into a stage of calm. However, the lack of interest in the territory north of Pyeongyang remained the same.

So, how did Balhae come to be established? Tang caused the downfall of Goguryeo, but had been unable to advance into its former land north of the Yalu River (압록강) and so [the territory there] was in a state of empty vacuum. This vacuum was a prime requirement for founding a country and it was Balhae that was established here. Because Balhae was established outside of the region of Tang control, the only ethnic group (종족) who could have established it were either the remnants of Goguryeo or the Malgal.

Both during the Goguryeo period and after its collapse, the Goguryeo and Malgal people successfully maintained a relationship of mutual reliance. The founding of Balhae was achieved through this cooperative relationship. Goguryeo had originally been a multiethnic state and Balhae too, established on former Goguryeo land, was a country with a similar personality. Demonstrating in particularly that Balhae was a multiethnic state [is the fact that] Balhae was established immediately following the Khitan led rebellion against the Tang in Yingzhou (營州, modern Chaoyang 朝陽 west of the Liao River), in which the Goguryeo remnant people and Malgal had participated as a joint force.

But even in multiethnic states, it is inevitable that there will be [one] ethnic group (종족) which controls the whole territory. Just as in the multiethnic state of Tang, the principle power was the [Chinese] Han (漢), so in Balhae must there have been a dominant power (주체 세력). If so, was it of Goguryeo or Malgal lineage? The ethnic lineage (종족 계열) of the dominant power can be distinguished both by looking collectively at the relationship between the two during the Goguryeo period and [also] which ethnic group ruled the Balhae after its establishment.

However, this issue has not yet been properly resolved. Although the history of Balhae has largely been elucidated through written records (문헌), there is a need for further research. Even whilst research on this problem is so urgent, there are people who [would] deny this. They are the Chinese. This is because they blindly follow only the record in the ‘Bohai-zhuan’ (渤海傳 ‘Account of Balhae’) chapter in the Xin-Tangshu (新唐書 New Book of Tang) which says, “The Songmal-malgal (粟末靺鞨 속갈말갈 Ch. Sumo-mohe) established Balhae.”

However, to the same extent that the ‘Bohai-Mohe-zhuan’ (渤海靺鞨傳 ‘Account of the Balhae Malgal’) section of the Jiu-Tangshu (舊唐書 Old Book of Tang) provides an antithesis [to this], detailed historical examination is required into the issue of the dominant ethnic group. Unless this problem is solved, even if Balhae history is pulled onto the stage of our [Korean] history, it will not be acknowledge [as Korean] by the rest of the world. The Chinese have managed to separate the history of Balhae from us and pulled it into their own history. This is all because the problem of who the dominant ethnic group of Balhae was has not been researched.

Until now both Korea and China have relied only on fragmentary records. China has consciously avoided approaching the problem whilst Koreans have failed to deeply investigate from more than one angle. China avoids the issue because of a selfish judgement that [to do so] is beneficial to their national interests.

In the spring of 1990, this author participated in ‘The First International Conference on Balhae History’ sponsored by Yanbian University, established in China’s Korean Autonomous Prefecture; he was able to directly observe live what kinds of opinions Chinese scholars of Balhae history had regarding the history of Balhae [nice tautology!] The concluding report (합의문) presented during the closing ceremony suggested leaving the problem of [what] the dominant ethnic group of Balhae [was] for future research. Since then twenty years have passed but absolutely nothing has changed concerning this issue.

As noted above, the Chinese have completely ignored researching (or ‘research on’) this matter. Consequently it cannot but be our responsibility (몫). Concerning the problem of ethnicity, neither us [Korea] nor China will retreat an inch, but if we research this problem with a sense of historical mission (사명감), the assertions of the Chinese can be changed. This author heard a potentially shocking hint from ethnic Korean [Chinese] scholars who participated in the international conference on Balhae history. They themselves acknowledged that Balhae had been established with the remnants of Goguryeo as the central [people], but they were under pressure by Chinese authorities not to express this in words or writing.

Everyone has the hope that at sometime, even in China, academic freedom will be realized such that the history of Balhae, too, could be researched in a rational manner, but this may be an unrealizable fantasy. Since time immemorial the Chinese have regarded, as if [a matter] of ethnic pride, the complacent comfort [안주하는] [found in their] Hua-Yi historical perspective (華夷史觀 lit. ‘Chinese civilization [vs] barbarians’) which always views the history of the surrounding ethnic groups through a Sinocentric [outlook] (lit. ‘with their own country as the centre) and as a consequence even if in the future academic freedom is achieved, it is difficult to expect that the previous distortions of Balhae’s history will be correctly addressed (정립하다 lit. ‘to establish a [correct] thesis’).

That the sources on the Chinese side concerning the dominant (주체) [ethnic group of] Balhae are false has its very origin in the Hua-Yi historical perspective. Tang was absorbed in this historical outlook and so treated Balhae as a yidi barbarian (夷狄 Korean: ijeok) [entity]; whereupon Balhae became transformed into a country established by the Malgal (靺鞨 Chinese: Mohe) who for a long time had been the representative yidi people of Northeast Asian.

Tang [Chinese] viewed Balhae as a yidi [entity] and so would have been satisfied with [their] particular spiritual self-importance (자존), but what do Chinese people feel today? Different to their ancestors they point out the territorial satisfaction they feel. The Tang regarded the northeastern region of Goguryeo as useless land and so relinquished [thoughts of conquering] it but, through a sense of moral duty that the region is exclusive territory which must on no account be conceded to non-Han (漢) peoples, Chinese today are wiping away any remaining trace of the Goguryeo lineage. This is the byproduct of a modern version of the Hua-Yi historiographic perspective.

That Chinese scholars today pull Balhae into the history of their own country is a concrete expression of behaviour of this. On the question of which ethnic group the dominant power of Balhae emerged from, to say whether it was Goguryeo or Malgal based on a conclusion arrived at through pure research would be the academic approach. However, ignoring research and speaking from the dimension of national interest is not an academic approach. Here Chinese scholars’ research on Balhae history cannot be said to be free.

However it may be, recently there are people amongst ourselves, too, who are under the illusion (착각) that understanding Chinese people’s historical view of Balhae is [simply] a new research trend in [the study of] Balhae history. This is irresponsible behaviour, abandoning oneself in the distorted Hua-Yi historiographic perspective. If the results of research carried out with a serious attitude said that it were so, an understanding [for the Chinese perspective] could be found, but if they are words issued in a shallow manner without [having done that research] they then will be rejected.

When participating in the conference on Balhae history and directly coming into contact with the actual Chinese [scholars’] exclusionary historical view of Balhae, this author could not contain his indignation. But at the same time it gave him a new sense of mission. The result is this book.

Japanese sources on Balhae, too, unanimously say that the dominant power of Balhae was Goguryeo. But that Chinese people, in spite of this, inevitably insist it was Malgal is because the Hua-Yi historiographic perspective which refuses change continues to exist. Only when the Hua-Yi perspective changes will their view of Balhae history [start to] change. Unfortunately it is difficult to expect of Chinese people that [their] Hua-Yi perspective, viewing all nearby peoples as yidi barbarians, will change. But if we [Koreans] correctly establish a historical view of Balhae history, then the day will come when the twisted Hua-Yi perspective of the Chinese will change too.

This author’s comprehensive (종합적) research into the dominant power of Balhae is with the sole aim of trying to rectify the distorted view of Balhae history which is [itself] the dark side (이면) of the biased Hua-Yi perspective. As much as it is now the 21st century in which a new millenium has begun, we must no longer accept twisted views of history. Only rational views of history acknowledged by all, will guarantee peace and equality between countries.

In order to demonstrate the historical fact that the dominant power of Balhae was of Goguryeo lineage, this author will devote his whole energies (심혈 lit. ‘heart and blood’) to finding relations between the two. In concrete terms he will try to form connections between whether facts and events appearing in each topic [related to] Balhae also appear in Goguryeo. That is to say, he will focus on proving that the roots of historical facts which can be seen in Balhae, [can be traced to] Goguryeo. Because resolving this problem is the emphasis of this book, criticism and refutations of the twisted assertions and opinions of Chinese [scholars] cannot be neglected.

The uniqueness of this book is in its new method of research which has not until now been attempted. That is to divide the connections between Balhae and Goguryeo into thirty-four categories such as politics, diplomacy and culture and to take pains that the reader has no difficult in understanding [the discourse]. [The author] believes that anyone who knows [no more than] the name Balhae, should have no problems in understanding [this book].

August 2010
Seo Byeong-guk


1 Dae Joyeong (大祚榮), establishing Balhae
2 The name of the country established by Dae Joyeong was Balhae
3 Balhae was an empire
4 Balhae and Jin-guk (振國/震國) were different
5 The majority of Balhae’s inhabitants were of Goguryeo lineage
6 Criticizing sources which write Balhae as Malgal
7 Examining the meaning of the expansion of anti-Balhae power in Tang
8 Silla acknowledged Balhae as the successor to Goguryeo
9 Goryeo acknowledged Balhae as the successor to Goguryeo
10 Japan viewed Balhae as the same as Goguryeo
11 Examining Gung’ye’s (弓裔) view of Balhae
12 Finding out the world view of Balhae’s people
13 Goguryeo and Malgal lineages coexisted in Balhae
14 Balhae was the successor to Goguryeo
15 Balhae inherited Goguryeo’s policy [towards the] Tujue (突厥 돌궐) people
16 Balhae utilized Goguryeo’s knowledge of foreign countries
17 Balhae customs were Goguryeo type
18 The culture level of Balhae was the same as Goguryeo’s
19 The artist technology of Balhae was the same as Goguryeo’s
20 Balhae developed Goguryeo music
21 Balhae developed Goguryeo literature
22 On the front of [archaeological] remains and relics, Balhae was the successor to Goguryeo
23 The roots of Balhae polo (擊毬 격구) was Goguryeo
24 The roots of Balhae’s agriculture was Goguryeo
25 The roots of Balhae falconry was Goguryeo
26 The remnants of Balhae were acknowledged as the same ethnicity as Goryeo
27 The remnants of Balhae participated in the governments of the Khitan and Jurchen
28 The Liaoyang (遼陽) remnants of Goguryeo were the ancestors of Balhae people
29 The Khitans Balhae imperial guard (儀仗) were of Goguryeo lineage
30 Liaoyang is the homeland of both Goguryeo and Balhae people
31 Balhae and the Jurchen were not the same people
32 The Balhae of the Five Dynasties means Goguryeo lineage
33 Hwang Uidon (黃義敦 1890-1964) regarded Balhae as the same ethnic identity as Silla
34 Correct understanding of the Southern and Northern states (南北國 aka Silla and Balhae) period



Even though we [Koreans] are the protagonists of Balhae’s history, the Chinese do not acknowledge this. Much of the cause is due to us. It is because we have not made it clear through scholarly research that we are the masters (주인) of Balhae history. Until now we have only said in words that Balhae history belongs to us without any academic evidence (뒷받침). As a result who [do we expect] Chinese would consider Balhae history to belong to? Currently they insist that Balhae history belongs to them, but previously they asserted that it belonged to the Malgal people. That the [perceived] ownership of Balhae history has changed from the Malgal to the Chinese [themselves] is set against the context of an exclusionary Chinese view of history that pulls in the histories of all the ethnic groups that were [previously] inside the territory of present day China.

The Chinese are going to great lengths to make Balhae history Chinese history based on the fact that the former rulers of Manchuria – the Goguryeo, Balhae and Manchs (descendants of the Malgal) – have since been assimilated as Chinese. There are twenty-five official Chinese histories (正史); they include the histories of northern ethnic groups, namely the Liao, Jin, Yuan and Qing. These states voluntarily entered into the Chinese mainland and governed the Chinese people for extended periods of time and so it is natural that their histories should be included (편입) as Chinese history.

However, should that make it okay to, in this way, [also] artificially pull the histories of Goguryeo and Balhae into Chinese history when they had [previously] existed with solemn dignity (엄연히) outside of Chinese history?! Chinese would say that it is okay but they would not find it easy to gain acceptance [for this idea] from people of other countries. But in spite of that we cannot afford to stand idly by. The Chinese claims shake up rational recognition (인식) of Balhae history face on and so we, as Koreans, must establish a counter logic (대응논리).

This author believes that he established a counter logic with his Goguryeo-jeguksa (고구려제국사 History of the Goguryeo Empire), published in 1997. And in his Balhae Balhae’in (발해 발해인 Balhae, Balhae People), published in 1990, he brought into clear relief [the idea] that Balhae history is the history of the remnants of Goguryeo through [examining] the way of life of the remnants of the Balhae people.

The accounts (열전) of the remnant people of Balhae recorded in the Liaoshi (遼史) and Jinshi (金史) are valuable written sources clearly showing the real identity (정체) of Balhae. In spite of that, Chinese do not take notice of these sections and pretend not to know about them. This is because they well know that there are no other written sources showing the identity of Balhae as accurately as these.

When discussing the identity of Balhae, the history of the remnants of Balhae recorded in the Liaoshi and Jinshi must not be ignored. As has been pointed out, it is regrettable that Chinese [scholars] ignore these sections and only make obstinate claims running counter to reason. They only talk about the identity of Balhae in a manner convenient [to themselves].

Although the [former] territory of Balhae is now inside the present day territory of China, it [can only be considered] appropriate and reasonable to say that the dominant (주체적) ethnic group (종족) of Balhae was of Goguryeo lineage. Anyone with even a modicum of basic common sense about history would be able to think like this, so why do only the Chinese think differently? The cause [of this] is filled up with the Chinese people’s traditional Hua-Yi historical perspective and so it is here that the answer must be found.

What forms the basis of this Hua-Yi historical perspective is the Chinese people’s traditional sense of history. Their sense and view of history is self-righteous, exclusionary and uncompromising. But it was the northern peoples who opposed this Hua-Yi historical perspective. In order to render it impotent they established a Yi-Hua historical perspective (夷華史觀) [in its place]. It was not an absolutely stubborn (무조건) opposing [view], but a rational one. The central content of the Yi-Hua historical perspective is to say that the Chinese mainland cannot only be governed always by Chinese Han, but that it can be governed also by non-Han (northern) peoples. That is to say, non-Han ethnic groups can also be the owners of the Chinese mainland.

The fate of this Yi-Hua historical perspective followed that of the northern peoples’ states. Whereupon the Hua-Yi historical perspective which had been suppressed by the Yi-Hua perspective, was revived and [since then we have been in a situation where the Chinese] have been asserting with free abandon that Goguryeo and Balhae history are all [a part of] Chinese history. In the past, the Chinese did not say that Goguryeo and Balhae history are Chinese. That presently the Chinese government is even saying that Balhae history is Chinese shows that the Hua-Yi view of history has become still more exclusionary [than before].

In this maelstrom of [confused] historic awareness, the [only] thing we can do is to discover multi-angled approaches which can prove the fact that Balhae history is the history of the remnant people of Goguryeo, and to secure rational evidence. Owing to our overly devoted confrontation [inherited from Silla against Goguryeo/Balhae; or simply against modern Chinese historiography], we have forgotten the true value of Goguryeo and Balhae history, but the Chinese who, with their uncompromising Hua-Yi perspective, are familiar with debasing the history of neighbouring countries, have been silently progressing in their government supported project to pull Goguryeo and Balhae history into Chinese history.

If the history of Goguryeo and Balhae becomes that of China, we will receive an indescribable wound. That is to say, we will become a people without history and so lose [our] ethnic dignity and experience the fate of the disappearance of the Korean people’s existence. Therefore we must absolutely defend Goguryeo and Balhae history with our own strength. With what method shall we protect it?

The defence of Goguryeo and Balhae history is a matter of the survival of a people which cannot be relaxed. Consequently we must search for the method through history. The most certain method is to disarm (무력화시키다) the forced logic of the Chinese. In Goguryeo history [we must] demonstrate that Goguryeo was not a minority regional government (정권) of China but that it was an empire; in Balhae history, [we must] prove from many angles that Balhae was the successor empire to Goguryeo.

The case of the latter was the objective in writing this book. The accounts in Chinese written sources concerning Balhae which mention Balhae being the successor to Goguryeo are fragmentary, but they are not few. Based on these sources, this author has minutely examined the nature of inheritance (계승성) as thirty-four [separate] items. The conclusion reached from this is the fact that Balhae was jointly established by [people of] Goguryeo and Malgal lineage but those who led its development were clearly of Goguryeo lineage.

There has been a limit to the methods previously employed [to develop] the [most] certain counter logic which can turn around the forced logic of the Chinese and so [this author] introduced a new research method which has never been tested until now. This is a method to demonstrate the correlations focusing on the records related to Goguryeo from amongst the fragmentary records concerning Balhae in Chinese and our own Korean historical literature.

Up until now, concerning the question of [which] ethnic group was dominant in the foundation and development of Balhae, opinions and assertions have in actuality been at loggerheads according to the national interests of the involved parties [Korea and China], saying it was either of Goguryeo or Malgal lineage. As long as this kind of research continues, the explication of this problem cannot but remain unresolved. But China suddenly came out from its previous approach (태도) and forcibly pulled Balhae history into Chinese history. A part of Balhae’s [former] territory is inside present day Russian Primorsky Krai but Russia does not claim Balhae as Russian history. They simply say it was the history of the Malgal.

When looked at from this position, it cannot be that the Chinese claims [of Malgal over Goguryeo lineage] are not convincing. As a result we must not let go [of the matter]. [This author] has tried to make clear the connections between Goguryeo and Balhae [working] from the conviction that we must deeply investigate through scholarly [research] the unreasonable Chinese claims and create a perfect counter logic [to them]. In the final evaluation, [he] confidently believes that he has obtained the effect of [showing] the dominant ethnic group [involved] in Balhae’s foundation and development was of Goguryeo lineage. He hopes for nothing more than if a better research method than this emerges hereafter.

One thought on “Sources: “History of the Balhae Empire” – Forward, Contents and Afterword

  1. It’s not to deny a Goguryeo connection to Balhae, but Balhae, in my opinion, was far more Magal-ized than Goguryeo was. There are two surviving Balhae words which are for king (kondufu) and sable (furuki) which are more Malgal type words. Even the term “Bahae” (which was given to them by the T’ang government) may have more Malgal etymology than Koreonic.

    Looking at Balhae tombs, we see a lot more Malgal artifacts, particular Malgal style fluted water vessels. In the tomb of Jeonghyo, the tomb murals clearly show a warrior with a curved stick type weapon with a bulb like business end. That is a weapon that Manchurian tribesman have been known to use.

    The surviving information on clothes seems to show more Tang-like or Manchurian styles rather than Koreonic. A lot of furs and fish skins are seen for the more common people. Japanese records indicate that most of the goods from Balhae were raw material goods such as furs and skins of various types. This is not consistent with the type of products Koguryo was known for.

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