Sources: the Shiji 史記 “Account of Chaoxian” 朝鮮列傳

The following is a draft translation of the “Account of Chaoxian” (K. Joseon) found in the Shiji (史記 c.87 BCE), the earliest of the 25 Dynastic Histories of China. This is the earliest detailed attestation of the ancient and enigmatic state known as Chaoxian/Joseon, which Koreans have long regarded as the “earliest Korean state” (also referred to in Korean sources as Old Joseon – a term helping distinguish it from the later Joseon dynasty 1392-1910, but actually already attested in the earlier Samguk-yusa 三國遺事 c.1280s).

The Shiji account principally deals only with the final Chinese Han invasion of Chaoxian which resulted in its overthrow and the establishment of the Four Han Commanderies; in premodern, orthodox Korean historiography this period was termed Wiman Joseon (衛滿朝鮮). Wiman Joseon is the last of three Joseon periods, the first being the mythical Dan’gun era (not attested in any Chinese sources), and the second being the semi-legendary Gija Joseon. The 195 BCE usurption of Gija Joseon by Wi Man, is attested in the later Sanguozhi (三國志 C3rd CE) specifically quoting passages from the now lost Weilüe (魏略). Much controversy surrounds Wiman Joseon and the subsequent Han Commanderies, mainly owing to modern post-colonial sensitivities.

In the Shiji account below, Wi Man (衛滿 Ch. Wei Man) is identified only as Man (滿), whilst the Four Commanderies are not named; the latter were added in the subsequent Hanshu (漢書 96 CE) “Chaoxian Account” whilst Man’s surname, Wi/Wei, is first attested in surviving Weilüe passages cited in the Sanguozhi.

Excluded here, the Shiji account much later had many annotations added which date to the early C5th CE and the C8th; these are potentially valuable but should be treated with caution because they represent later tradition (I may add them in the future, or as a separate post).

Japanese colonial era (1910-45) archaeology identified the Lelang Commandery as located in the vicinity of modern Pyongyang, however, no definite archaeology specific to the preceding Wiman Joseon state capital of Wangheom-seong (王險城 Ch. Wangxian-cheng – referred to in earliest Korean sources as Wanggeom-seong 王儉城) has been found.

It should be emphasized this translation is imperfect and some passages are potentially ambiguous or, in any event, difficult to decipher.

史記卷一百一十五
Shiji Book 115 

朝鮮列傳第五十五
“Account of Chaoxian” No.55 [of the liezuan ‘biographic’ accounts]

朝鮮王滿者,故燕人也。自始全燕時嘗略屬真番、朝鮮,為置吏,筑鄣塞。秦滅燕,屬遼東外徼。漢興,為其遠難守,復修遼東故塞,至浿水為界,屬燕。燕王盧綰反,入匈奴,滿亡命,聚黨千餘人,魋結蠻夷服而東走出塞,渡浿水,居秦故空地上下鄣,稍役屬真番、朝鮮蠻夷及故燕、齊亡命者王之,都王險。

The Chaoxian king, Man (滿), was originally a person of Yan (燕). From the time of its consolidation/flourishing, Yan attacked and subjugated Zhenfan and Chaoxian {真番·朝鮮 or ‘Zhenfan Chaoxian’} placing officials [there] and constructing fortifications. Qin overthrew Yan and subjugated [this] Liaodong outer frontier (外徼) {or ‘and made it subordinate to the Liaodong outer frontier}. [When] Han arose, [they found] it distant and difficult to defend so they reestablished the old Liaodong defences, making the Pei-shui (浿水) river the border and subordinating Yan. The Yan king, Luwan (盧綰) rebelled and went to the Xiongnu. Man [also] fled; assembling a group of one thousand, [he/they] bound their hair (魋), put on barbarian clothes and went east beyond the defences. Crossing the Pei-shui they resided in the upper and lower defences (鄣) of the old Qin ’empty land’ [zone]. Gradually [Man] conscripted and subjugated the barbarians of Zhenfan and Chaoxian, and refugees from former Yan and Qi (齊), who made him king and established the capital at/of Wangxian (王險).

會孝惠、高后時天下初定,遼東太守即約滿為外臣,保塞外蠻夷,無使盜邊;諸蠻夷君長欲入見天子,勿得禁止。以聞,上許之,以故滿得兵威財物侵降其旁小邑,真番、臨屯皆來服屬,方數千里。

Only at the time of [Emperor] Xiaohui (孝惠 r.195-188) and Empress [dowager] Gao (高后 {his mother}) did all-under-heaven {i.e. China} first become stable; the Liaodong governor made an agreement with Man, making him an ‘outer vassal’ to defend {against?} the outer barbarians and thwart border raids. All of the barbarian chiefs wanted to enter [China] and pay court to the Celestial Son; it was not prohibited. Hearing [of this] the Emperor granted permission. Consequently, Man obtained military might and resources, overthrew those small border states; Zhenfan and Lintun all came and submitted. The territory [acquired] extended a thousand li.

傳子至孫右渠,所誘漢亡人滋多,又未嘗入見;真番旁眾國欲上書見天子,又擁閼不通。元封二年,漢使涉何譙諭右渠,終不肯奉詔。何去至界上,臨浿水,使御刺殺送何者朝鮮裨王長,即渡,馳入塞,遂歸報天子曰「殺朝鮮將」。上為其名美,即不詰,拜何為遼東東部都尉。朝鮮怨何,發兵襲攻殺何。

[Power] passed to Man’s son and then his grandson, Youqu (右渠 K. Ugeo). [The number of] fugitives enticed from Han greatly multiplied. [Youqu] never paid court [to the Emperor]; further, various states bordering Zhenfan sought to send a letter to the Celestial Son, but it was blocked [by Youqu]. In the second Yuanfeng (元封) year (109 BCE), Han [sent] She He (涉何) to remonstrate Youqu, but Youqu refused to acknowledge the imperial command. [She] He departed and reached the border; just before the Pei-shui, he sent his servants to stab and kill the one seeing him off, secondary Chaoxian king, Zhang (長 K. Jang). Crossing the river, he galloped to the defences. Finally he returned [to the capital] and reported to the Celestial Son, “I have killed the Chaoxian leader”. The emperor praised his name and did not reprimand him; he appointed He as Eastern Liaodong duwei (都尉 ‘commandant’). Regarding He an enemy, Chaoxian dispatched soldiers who killed He in a surprise attack.

天子募罪人擊朝鮮。其秋,遣樓船將軍楊僕從齊浮渤海;兵五萬人,左將軍荀彘出遼東:討右渠。右渠發兵距險。左將軍卒正多率遼東兵先縱,敗散,多還走,坐法斬。

The Celestial Son recruited criminals to attack Chaoxian. That autumn he dispatched Tower Ship General, Yang Pu (楊僕), who from Qi (齊) crossed the Bohai sea, and General of the Left, Xun Zhi (荀彘), who [with] fifty thousand men set out from Liaodong to attack Youqu. Youqu sent out soldiers to resist at a narrow location. Left general zuzheng (卒正 ‘sub general’) Duo (多) led troops from Liaodong and prematurely set them loose [to attack], but these were defeated and scattered; Duo fled back [where], convicted by law, he was beheaded.

樓船將軍將齊兵七千人先至王險。右渠城守,窺知樓船軍少,即出城擊樓船,樓船軍敗散走。將軍楊僕失其眾,遁山中十餘日,稍求收散卒,復聚。左將軍擊朝鮮浿水西軍,未能破自前。

Leading seven thousand, the Tower Ship General arrived first to Wangxian. Guarding the fortress, Youqu observed that the Tower Ship army was small; he went out and attacked the tower ships. The Tower Ship army was defeated and scattered. Losing many, general Yang Pu hid in the mountains for more than ten days; gradually he searched out the scattered soldiers and regrouped. The Left General {Xun Zhi} attacked Chaoxian’s Peishu west army, but was unable to break them and move forwards.

天子為兩將未有利,乃使衞山因兵威往諭右渠。右渠見使者頓首謝:「願降,恐兩將詐殺臣;今見信節,請服降。」

Considering the two generals to have failed in achieving [any] gain, the Celestial Son thereupon had emissary Wei Shan (衞山) go with military strength to parley (諭) with Youqu. In an audience with the emissary, Youqu shook his head apologizing, “I wanted to submit, but worried the two generals would deceive and kill [your] vassal. Now, seeing [your imperial] insignia, I request to submit.”

遣太子入謝,獻馬五千匹,及饋軍糧。人眾萬餘,持兵,方渡浿水,使者及左將軍疑其為變,謂太子已服降,宜命人毋持兵。太子亦疑使者左將軍詐殺之,遂不渡浿水,復引歸。山還報天子,天子誅山。

[Youqu] sent the crown prince to go and apologize, and offered five thousand horses and military rations. More than ten thousand armed soldiers [accompanied the crown prince]; when they were just about to cross the Pei-shui, the emissary and Left general became suspicious that they could revolt, and so told the crown prince because he had already submitted, he should order the men not to carry weapons. The crown prince was also suspicious that the emissary and Left General would cheat and kill him, so in the end he did not cross the Pei-shui and returned home. Shan returned and reported to the Celestial Son. The Celestial Son had Shan put to death.

左將軍破浿水上軍,乃前,至城下,圍其西北。樓船亦往會,居城南。右渠遂堅守城,數月未能下。

The Left General broke the [Chaoxian] Pei-shui army and went forwards reaching to below the fortress {presumably Wangxian-cheng}, where he surrounded the northwest. [Meanwhile] the Tower Ship [General] also went to meet up, and camped {lit. ‘resided’} south of the fortress. Youqu firmly defended the fortress and after several months it had not surrendered.

左將軍素侍中,幸,將燕代卒,悍,乘勝,軍多驕。樓船將齊卒,入海,固已多敗亡;其先與右渠戰,因辱亡卒,卒皆恐,將心慙,其圍右渠,常持和節。

The Left General, originally [as] shizhong (侍中), was favoured by the emperor; he led soldiers of Yan and Dai (代), and being fierce they sensed victory and the army became arrogant. The Tower Ship [General] led soldiers of Qi (齊); travelling by sea, they had already suffered many defeats and losses. When they first battled Youqu they had been humiliated and lost soldiers, so the [remaining] soldiers were all afraid; the general was ashamed. They surrounded Youqu but always maintained peace.

左將軍急擊之,朝鮮大臣乃陰閒使人私約降樓船,往來言,尚未肯決。左將軍數與樓船期戰,樓船欲急就其約,不會;左將軍亦使人求閒郤降下朝鮮,朝鮮不肯,心附樓船:以故兩將不相能。左將軍心意樓船前有失軍罪,今與朝鮮私善而又不降,疑其有反計,未敢發。

The Left General suddenly attacked. Thereupon the Chaoxian high minister (大臣) secretly sent emissaries to privately negotiate a surrender to the Tower Ship [General]; they returned with a message but it was not yet decided. The Left General and Tower Ship [General] set a time for battle [against Chaoxian], but the Tower Ship [General] wanted to quickly conclude [the secret] agreement [with Chaoxian] and did not rendezvous. The Left General also sent emissaries seeking the possibility (? 閒卻) of Chaoxian’s surrender, but Chaoxian did not accept; [their] hearts were [already] on the side of the Tower Ship [General]. Consequently the two generals did not cooperate {lit. ‘get along/be in harmony’} with one another. The Left General thought to himself, “The Tower Ship [General] has the crime of previously losing [many] soldiers, and now he is being privately amicable with Chaoxian; further, Chaoxian does not surrender.” He was suspicious of a plot but did not dare to declare it.

天子曰將率不能,前(及)〔乃〕使衞山諭降右渠,右渠遣太子,山使不能剸決,與左將軍計相誤,卒沮約。今兩將圍城,又乖異,以故久不決。

The Celestial Son said, “The generals are unable to lead. Previously, emissary Wei Shan negotiated Youqu’s surrender and Youqu sent the crown prince, but Shan was unable to exclusively decide things (?剸決) and plans were misunderstood between [him] and the Left General, and so the [negotiated] agreement [with Chaoxian] was suddenly terminated. Now the two generals have surrounded the fortress, but they are again discordant and a resolution will not be found any time soon.”

使濟南太守公孫遂往(征)〔正〕之,有便宜得以從事。遂至,左將軍曰:「朝鮮當下久矣,不下者有狀。」言樓船數期不會,具以素所意告遂,曰:「今如此不取,恐為大害,非獨樓船,又且與朝鮮共滅吾軍。」

[Thereupon] he dispatched Jinan governor, Gongsun Sui (濟南太守公孫遂) to rectify the situation and manage matters appropriately (有便宜得以從事). [When] Sui arrived, the Left General told him, “Chaoxian has been on the verge of capitulation for a long time. That they have not surrendered is due to [our own] circumstances.” And he told of the Tower Ship General’s multiple failures to rendezvous. He spoke his thoughts to Sui, “Now matters are such, if we do not capture [the Tower Ship General], I fear there will be great harm caused; not alone, but combined with Chaoxian, the Tower Ship [General could] destroy our army.”

遂亦以為然,而以節召樓船將軍入左將軍營計事,即命左將軍麾下執捕樓船將軍,并其軍,以報天子。天子誅遂。

Sui agreed with this, and with [the authority of] his imperial insignia, he summoned the Tower Ship General to the Left General’s camp where they plotted; thereupon the Left General ordered his men to arrest the Tower Ship General, and they merged the two armies. Upon reporting this to the Celestial Son, the Celestial Son had Sui put to death.

左將軍已并兩軍,即急擊朝鮮。朝鮮相路人、相韓陰、尼谿相參、將軍王唊相與謀曰:「始欲降樓船,樓船今執,獨左將軍并將,戰益急,恐不能與,(戰)王又不肯降。」陰、唊、路人皆亡降漢。路人道死。

The Left General had already merged the two armies and quickly attacked Chaoxian. Chaoxian minister Luren (路人), minister Han Yin (韓陰), Nixi minister San (參), and general Wang Jia (王唊) plotted between themselves, saying, “At first we wanted to surrender to the Tower Ship [General], but he is now captured; the Left General has alone merged [the armies] and escalated the war. We are unable to assist, but the king will not accept surrender.”

Yin, Jia and Luren all fled and submitted to Han. Luren died on the road.

元封三年夏,尼谿相參乃使人殺朝鮮王右渠來降。王險城未下,故右渠之大臣成巳又反,復攻吏。左將軍使右渠子長降、相路人之子最告諭其民,誅成巳,以故遂定朝鮮,為四郡。

In summer of the 3rd Yuanfeng year (108 BCE), Nixi minister San had men kill Chaoxian king Youqu, and [then] came and surrendered, but Wangxian fortress [still] did not capitulate. The high minister of the late Youqu, Chengsi (成巳) again rebelled and attacked [Han] officials (?吏 {perhaps better read as ‘troops’}). The Left General had Youqu’s son, Changjiang (長降) and minister Luren’s son, Zui (最) inform the people [of Chaoxian’s surrender] and execute Chengsi. Thus, finally Chaoxian was pacified and became the Four Commanderies (四郡).

封參為澅清侯,陰為荻苴侯,唊為平州侯,長〔降〕為幾侯。最以父死頗有功,為溫陽侯。

[The following] enfeoffments [were bestowed]: [former Nixi minister] San became lord of Huaqing (澅清侯), [former minister] Yin became lord of Diju (荻苴侯), [former general] Jia became lord of Pingzhou (平州侯), and Chang[jiang] became lord of Ji (幾侯). Taking into account his father’s death, Zui had considerable merit and so became lord of Wenyang (溫陽侯).

左將軍徵至,坐爭功相嫉,乖計,弃{棄}市。樓船將軍亦坐兵至洌口,當待左將軍,擅先縱,失亡多,當誅,贖為庶人。

The Left General [was] summoned and arrived; for quarreling over merit, acting jealously and acting contrary to the plan, he [was] executed and his body displayed in the market. The Tower Ship General, too, should have been executed for sustaining great losses when, [with his] troops having reached the mouth of the Lie (洌) [river], he should have awaited the Left General but instead took it upon himself to let loose [his army, however, he was partially] redeemed/ransomed and [instead] was made a commoner.

太史公曰:右渠負固,國以絕祀。涉何誣功,為兵發首。樓船將狹,及難離咎。悔失番禺,乃反見疑。荀彘爭勞,與遂皆誅。兩軍俱辱,將率莫侯矣。

The Grand Historian {i.e. Shiji compiler Sima Qian} says, “Youqu relied on the strategic [defensive] geography [of Chaoxian] and so discontinued the country’s sacrifices [to heaven] {or ‘paying court to China’}. She He made false merit and so was the primary cause for the outbreak of military hostilities. The Tower Ship [General] was narrow [minded] and in the face of difficulty, he acquired fault (離咎); regretting his loses in foreign lands (番禺), he was consequently viewed with suspicion. [Left General] Xun Zhi fought over meritorious accomplishment, and together with [Gongsun] Sui, [was] executed. The two generals both incurred dishonour; none of the [Han] commanders (將率) were [made] lords.

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