As printed in A HANDBOOK OF KOREA, 9th, 1993;
Published by the Korean Overseas Information Service


The United Shilla and
Parhae Kingdoms
(8th century)

The Parhae Kingdom

Subsequent to the fall of Koguryo, Tae Cho­yang, a former Koguryo general, formed an army of Koguryö and Malgal (a Tungusic tribe) people, and led a migration to Chinese-con­trolled territory. They settled eventually near Kirin in Manchuria, and there founded a state which was at first called Chin, but in A.D. 713 was renamed Parhae (P’ohai in Chinese). Parhae soon gained control of most of the for- mer Kogurya territory. The ruling class of Parhae consisted mostly of Kogurya (i.e. Korean) people. Parhae declared itself the suc­cessor to Koguryo, and sometimes called itself Koryb-kuk (state of Koryo).

Parhae prosperity reached its height in the first half of the ninth century during the reign of King SOn. At that time, Parhae territory extend­ed from the Sungari and Amur rivers in northern Manchuria all the way down to the northern provinces of modern Korea. Its capital was Tonggyong, in the Kirin area, where the state had originally been founded.

Parhae was to become a victim of the politi­cal confusion and violence which accompanied the fall of the T’ang Dynasty. In 926 the Khitan, who later came to dominate much of Manchuria and northern China, conquered Parhae. Many of the ruling class, who were mostly Koreans, moved south and joined the newly founded KoryO Kingdom, which replaced Shilla at that time.

While the Manchurian portion of the Parhae territory was lost, the area south of the Amnok (Yalu)-Tuman boundary was restored and the people migrated to Korea.

Unified Shilla

Shilla (668-935) reached its peak of power and prosperity in the middle of the eighth cen­tury. It attempted to establish an ideal Buddhist country and constructed the SOkkuram cave shrine and Pulguksa Temple with splendorous masonic art. Extensive printing of Buddhist scripture was undertaken with woodblocks. The oldest imprint of the Dharani sutra, probably printed between A.D. 706 and 751, was brought to light during the recent restoration of a three-story pagoda at Pulguksa.

The nobility of Koguryo and Paekche were treated with some generosity. Scholars special­izing in diplomatic correspondence, medicine, mathematics, and astronomy were installed to bring professional personnel into government service. The distribution of chóngjón (equity land system) was put into practice in 722 for the peasants, and the people in the country then became eligible to cultivate allotted lands. In addition, reservoirs were erected for rice field irrigation. For the allotted land the peasants had to return in kind crops of rice, millet, barley and wheat. Taxation in kind was collected in accordance with the actual crops from the land. In addition, the peasants were bound to plant mulberry trees for silkworms, and walnut and pine nut trees as a side tax to the government and nobility. They raised cattle and horses, two to four head in each household. The Shilla people enjoyed an affluent life. The capital city prospered and there were streets of more than 10 kilometers distance.

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During this period, a prominent monk, Wonhyo, started a new sect of Buddhism among the common people. By his creative thinking, Buddhism was brought to the public as a popular religion.

There was no more war in the eighth century and the desire for learning grew. Idu, a new transcription system of Korean words by the use of Chinese characters, was invented by Shilla scholars of the mid-upper class next to the upper-royal nobility, or Chin gol (true bone). The growing need for scholarly work necessitat­ed the recruitment of mid-upper class scholars, so a quasi-civil service examination system was instituted in 788 to meet the need.

The state cult of Buddhism began to deterio­rate as the nobility indulged in easy luxurious lives. Buddhism began to establish a new Son sect (generally known in the West by its Japanese name Zen) in the remote mountain area. In the cities, the state cult also encountered difficulties as conflict among the nobility in outs lying districts intensified, and the throne contin­ued to lose power as struggles within the Chin gol clan also increased. King Hyegong was assassinated in 780. During this time, there were frequent, but futile, attempts to usurp the throne.

In the outlying areas there also were uprisings initiated by Chingol magistrates. King Aejang was killed by his uncle who succeeded to the throne. Thus Shilla in the ninth century was shaken by intra-clan conflict both around the throne and in district administration. Chang Po­go, a successful merchant, held sway in mar­itime commerce in the ninth century at Ch’ong­hae-jin (Wando), transporting goods to and from Chinese and Japanese ports. He was one among many local leaders to rebel against the Shilla throne.

The government prohibited the building of new temples and extravagant decorations alto­gether in 806.

One of the many prominent scholars, Ch’oe Ch’i-won, who had passed the T’ang civil examination and drafted a manifesto against Huang Tsao, returned to his own home country. However, his suggestions were not taken seri­ously, or put in practice. Although offered a high-ranking office, Ch’oe retreated to Haeinsa Temple to live as a hermit. Scholars and talent­ed persons from the mid-upper class wished for a change from Shilla’s rule.