III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > E. East Asia, to 1527 > 3. Korea, 540–918
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See Geography)
3. Korea, 540–918
This period began with Korea divided into three contending kingdoms at war with one another: Silla, Paekche, and Kogury. When the Sui dynasty reunified China (589), it attempted to incorporate Korea militarily into the new empire, but was unsuccessful. The Silla state eventually reunited the kingdoms into a single state on the Korean Peninsula (668), and this lasted for two and a half centuries before breaking up again. The major Sinitic schools of thought and religion continued to penetrate Korean society and culture, and many Koreans actually traveled to China to study with great teachers at the source, returning home to sponsor new schools, reform programs, doctrines, and the like.  1
During the reign of King Chinhng, Silla's expansion progressed. Silla launched an attack, together with Paekche (551), and took the entire Han River Basin area. The Paekche king Sng (r. 523–54) moved the capital from Ungjin to Sabi and then attacked Silla, thus ending an alliance of 121 years. Silla won, thus opening a window for sea contact with southern China across the Yellow Sea.  2
The small Kaya kingdom at the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula was finished off by Silla.  3
The Sui reunified China and confronted the Tujue from the northern steppe (See 589). Kogury allied with the Tujue against the Sui; Paekche, Kogury's erstwhile ally, linked up with the Wa state in Japan; Silla joined forces with the Sui.  4
Kogury attacked across the Liao River. Wendi of the Sui responded militarily but was beaten back.  5
Yangdi of the Sui sent a huge force of more than one million against Kogury, but was defeated and suffered many casualties.  6
The Sui fell after several more attempts to conquer Kogury, which then prepared for Tang invasions.  7
Chinese political institutions, Buddhism, Confucianism, and the Chinese writing system were imported to all three of the principal Korean kingdoms, in spite of changing conditions of war and peace with various Chinese states.  8
The Three Kingdoms period was an age of strong, centralized aristocracy in all three states. The best known was Silla's “bone-rank” system, which implied a hereditary bloodline; it had a detailed differentiation of social strata, with stratified privileges. Bureaucratic administrations were also uniformly structured around the aristocracies in all three kingdoms. The highest aristocrats controlled politics, often in collegial bodies such as Silla's Council of Nobles. Although the states were each subdivided into administrative units (districts), centralized authority remained in the capitals. The military was also organized under each state's king.  9
Gradually the idea emerged that the king owned all the land, even though aristocrats held immense landed estates; others were given land for meritorious deeds. The states theoretically had control over the farming populace, which paid taxes and performed corvée labor.  10
In culture, the Three Kingdoms witnessed a wide usage of Chinese writing, with various adaptations attempting to accommodate the Korean language, which is radically different in structure from Chinese. The first historical compilations in, respectively, Kogury, Paekche, and Silla were: Sinjip (New Compilation) by Yi Mun-jin (600); Sgi (Documentary Records) by Kohng (mid-4th century); and Kuksa (History of the Nation) by Kch'ilbu (545). None of these is now extant, but they were said to have later been used by Kim Pu-sik (1075–1171) in his magnum opus, Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms). All three states pushed Confucianism as a way to preserve the aristocratic orders.  11
Buddhism was adopted in all three states as a part of the Chinese cultural package. It was probably seen by the elite as supportive of the aristocratic state structure. High monks acquired political clout as royal advisers.  12
Paekche attacked Silla (early 640s), and Silla sought out Chinese help. Two Tang expeditions against Kogury (645–47) ended in defeat for the Chinese.  13
King Muyl (r. 654–61) seized the throne, commencing a trend toward a more autocratic Silla royal institution, at the expense of the aristocracy.  14
Tang armies attacked Paekche, took the capital at Sabi, forced the surrender of King ija (r. 641–60), and destroyed the state of Paekche.  15
Tang and Silla joined forces to attack Kogury, already weakened by war and internecine dissension. Kogury was defeated the following year.  16
Unified Silla reunited the Korean Peninsula. The Tang wanted to retain control over the terrain of the former Kogury and set up commanderies there, some headed by Koreans. Silla became apprehensive about Tang objectives. Silla took Sabi from the Chinese (671), and with it control over Paekche. After 676 the Tang dynasty accepted Silla as master over the peninsula, though much of the Manchurian territory under former Kogury control did not fall into the hands of Unified Silla. The capital was placed at Kyngju, where the Silla aristocracy settled.  17
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.