An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Bohai 渤海

Dec 31, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

The kingdom of Bohai 渤海 (Korean reading Parhae) was a native state in the north of modern Manchuria (modern province of Heilongjiang). It flourished during 8th and 9th centuries and was a tributary state to the Tang empire 唐 (618-907) in China.

This state was founded by a people called Mohe 靺鞨 (Korean reading Malgal). The royal dynasty of Bohai had the family name Da 大 (Korean reading Tae). They founded a state called Zhen 震 or Mohe. In 713 the Tang dynasty bestowed Da Zuorong 大祚榮 (Tae Choyŏng; posthumous title King Gao (Ko) of Bohai 渤海高王, r. 698-719) the title of commandery prince (junwang 郡王) of Bohai, a place name that was from then on adopted as the name of the country and state.

The people of the Mohe were, according to Chinese historiography, descendants of the Sushen 肅慎 and Yilou 挹婁 of ancient times. The Sushen and Yilou lived of fishing and hunting and were a tributary people to the state of Fuyu 夫余 during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) . From the 4th century on they threw off the yoke of the Fuyu and became independent. From the Northern Dynasties period 北朝 (386-581) on the inhabitants of this region the Wuji 勿吉 (ancient reading like "Mugi") emerged, which is another transcription for "Mohe". The people of the Mohe was able to overcome the state of Fuyu and to expand southwards and therefore became the sole political entity in the northeastern region.

Map 1. The Kingdom of Bohai and its Surroundings
The Kingdom of Bohai and its surroundings c. 820. Based on Tan Qixiang 譚其驤, ed. (1995), Zhongguo lishi ditu ji 中國歷史地圖集, Vol. 5, Sui, Tang, Wudai, Shiguo shiqi 隋唐五代十國時期 (Beijing: Zhongguo ditu chubanshe, 1996). Borders are indicated very roughly. "Uncivilized" tribes in italics, the prefectural cities of Bohai in normal letters, the five capital cities in bold.

It is known that around 600 there were seven large tribes of the Mohe that were by the Chinese called Sumo 粟末靺鞨, Baishan 白山靺鞨, Boduo 伯咄靺鞨, Anchegu 安車骨靺鞨, Haoshi 號室靺鞨, Funie 拂涅靺鞨 and Heishui 黑水靺鞨. Of these, the tribes of Sumo and Heishui were the largest and most powerful. In 605 the Sumo were defeated by the state of Koryŏ 高麗 (i.e. Korea). Its chieftain Tudiji 突地稽 thereupon decided to submit to the Sui empire 隋 (581-618) under which China had just been reunited. The Sui court ordered the Sumo tribe to settle down around Liucheng 柳城 (modern Chaoyang 朝陽, Liaoning). The other tribes of the Mohe were subjugated by Koryŏ. In 668 the Tang empire was able to crush the power of the kingdom of Koryŏ and forced those of the Mohe that had supported the troops of the Korean kingdom to settle down in Yingzhou 營州 near Liucheng. These tribes rebelled against the Tang in 696, together with a Kitan 契丹 tribesleader called Li Jinzhong 李盡忠. Several Mohe tribes used this occasion to move back to their homelands.

Da Zuorong, chieftain of the Sumo, also returned to east of the Liao River 遼河 and founded the state of Zhen in the region between Mt. Dongmou 東牟山 (modern Dunhua 敦化, Jilin) and River Aolou 奧婁河 (modern River Mudan 牡丹江). He decided to declare his obedience to the khanate of the Türks 突厥 that reigned over the northern steppe zone. Only in 707 the Tang court sent out Zhang Xingji 張行岌 and was able to convince Da Zuorong to become a vassal of the Tang empire. In 713 Cui Xin 崔忻 was sent to his court to give him the title of Commandery Prince and to bestow him the title of commander-in-chief (dudu 都督) of the indirectly administered prefecture (jimizhou 羈縻州) of Huhan 忽汗. Da Zuorong's descendants were reconfirmed in these positions and developed relatively peaceful relations with the Tang empire. It was only under the second king Da Wuyi 大武藝 (Tae Muye; King Wu (Mu) 渤海武王, r. 719-737) that military conflicts arose. After the demise of the Tang, the king of Bohai continued paying tributes to the Later Liang 後梁 (907-923) and the Later Tang 後唐 (923-936) dynasties (see Five Dynasties 五代, 907-960) that ruled over northern China.

The first capital (called jiuguo 舊國 "ancient city") of the Bohai kingdom was located near modern Dunhua, Jilin, but soon shifted to Longquan 龍泉 (called Shangjing 上京 "Superior" or "Upper Capital", modern Ning'an 寧安, Heilongjiang). Da Renxiu 大仁秀 (Tae In-su; King Xuan (Sŏn) 渤海宣王, r. 818-830) was able to defeat the state of Silla 新羅 in the south of the Korean peninsula and to subdue the tribes living north at the banks of River Amur and the Eastern Sea. The southern neighbour of the kingdom of Bohai was Silla, the northern neighbours the tribes of the Shiwei 室韋 (ancestors of the Jurchens), and to the west, the Kitans were living that were soon to found their powerful khanate that would eventually conquer northern China. For each geographical direction of this large state, an own capital was founded. The people living in the kingdom of Bohai were Malgal, Kitans, Türks, Shiwei, Koreans, and some Chinese in the southwestern parts. At the foundation of the kingdom of Bohe, the number of registered households accrued to more than 10,000, with about 3 million inhabitants at the end of the 9th century.

Under the influence of the Tang empire, the administration system of the kingdom of Bohai was shaped in a style similar to the Chinese one. The central government consisted of three departments (sansheng 三省), namely the Department of State Affairs (zhongtai 中臺), an office of transmission (? xuanzhao 宣詔) and the Administration Chamber (zhengtang 政堂), and six ministries whose names were given according to Confucian ethics, namely loyalty (zhong 忠), humankindness (ren 仁), propriety (yi 義), ritual (li 禮), wisdom (zhi 智) and trustworthiness (xin 信). There were also seven courts (si 寺) administering the needs of the central government.

The local administrative structure also imitated that of the Tang empire, with prefectures (first-class fu 府 and second-class zhou 州) and districts (xian 縣). At the height of its power the kingdom of Bohai encompassed 15 first-class prefectures, 62 second-class prefectures, and more than hundred districts. The military was organized in 16 guards (wei 衛), as in the Tang empire.

The capitals of Bohai were five, following the pattern of the Tang that had a central capital with several secondary capitals.

Table 1. Capitals of the Bohai Kingdom
capital (Korean reading) prefecture (Korean reading) modern place
Shangjing (Sangkyŏng) 上京 Superior Capital Longquan (Yongch'ŏn) 龍泉府 Ning'an 寧安, Heilongjiang
Dongjing (Tongkyŏng) 東京 Eastern Capital Longyuan (Yongwŏn) 龍源府 Hunchun 琿春, Jilin
Xijing 西京 (Sŏkyŏng) Western Capital Yalu (Aplok) 鴨淥府 Ji'an 集安, Jilin
Nanjing 南京 (Namkyŏng) Southern Capital Nanhai (Namhae) 南海府 Hamhŭng 咸興, DPR Korea
Zhongjing 中京 (Chungkyŏng) Central Capital Xiande (Hyŏntŏk) 顯德府 Dunhua 敦化, Jilin

With the foundation of capitals commerce and trades (metalwork, porcelain) flourished in the kingdom of Bohai. While the inhabitants of the north continued pursuing their traditional business of hunting and fishing, it was especially in the southern regions that agriculture played an important role. Under the influence of Tang China, the production of silk products flourished. Some craftsmen were specialized in the fabrication of products made from the fur of rabbits, for instance, brush tips. The cities of Bohai included many buildings erected in the style of imitating the glorious palaces of Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi), capital of the Tang empire. It was especially in the field of cultural acheivements that people from Bohai were attracted by the splendour of Chang'an and brought back Confucian learning, the religion of Buddhism, the Chinese script, Chinese music, and painting. Bohai produced several famous scholars like Pei Ting 裴頲 (Pae Chŏng) and Prince Da Mouze 大某則 (Tae Mo-ch'ik) who composed Chinese poems.

Table 2. Prefectures of the Bohai Kingdom
prefecture (Korean reading) modern place
長嶺府 Changling (Changryŏng)
扶余府 Fuyu (Puyŏ)
鄚頡府 Mojie (Makkal / Malgal)
定理府 Dingli (Chŏngri)
安邊府 Anbian (Anpyŏn)
率賓府 Shuaibin (Solpin)
東平府 Dongping (Tongp'yŏng)
鐵利府 Tieli (Ch'ŏlli)
安遠府 Anyuan (Anwŏn)
懷遠府 Huaiyuan (Hoewŏn)
獨奏州 Duzou (Tokchu)

In the late 9th century the royal house lost its dominance over the nobles of Bohai. The Mohe of Heishui began to make themselves free of the dynasty of the family Da. Their rebellion, and internal weakness resulted in an external vulnerability. The increasing attacks by the Kitans in the early 10th century could not be warded off. In 926 they occupied the ancient city of Fuyu and rushed forward to the Supreme Capital Huhan. In the same year Da Yinzhuan 大諲譔 (Tae Insŏn), the Last King 渤海末王 of Bohai (r. 907-926), submitted to the Kitans.

Table 3. Kings of Bohai 渤海 698-926
title (Korean reading) reign personal name (Korean reading)
Bohai Gaowang 渤海高王
King Gao (Ko Wang)
(r. 698-719) Da Zuorong 大祚榮
(Tae Choyŏng)
Bohai Wuwang 渤海武王
King Wu (Mu Wang)
(r. 719-737) Da Wuyi 大武藝
(Tae Muye)
Bohai Wenwang 渤海文王
King Wen (Mun Wang)
(r. 737-793) Da Qinmao 大欽茂
(Tae Hŭm-mu)
The Deposed King (Bohai Feiwang 渤海廢王, P'ye Wang) (r. 793) Da Yuanyi 大元義
(Tae Wŏnŭi)
Bohai Chengwang 渤海成王
King Xuan (Sŏng Wang)
(r. 793-794) Da Huayu 大華璵
(Tae Hwayŏ)
Bohai Kangwang 渤海康王
King Kang (Kang Wang)
(r. 794-809) Da Songlin 大嵩璘
(Tae Sung-rin)
Bohai Dingwang 渤海定王
King Ding (Chŏng Wang)
(r. 809-812) Da Yuanyu 大元瑜
(Tae Wŏn-yu)
Bohai Xiwang 渤海僖王
King Xi (Hui Wang)
(r. 812-818) Da Yanyi 大言義
(Tae Ŏn-ŭi)
Bohai Jianwang 渤海簡王
King Jian (Kan Wang)
(r. 818) Da Mingzhong 大明忠
(Tae Myŏng-ch'ung)
Bohai Xuanwang 渤海宣王
King Xuan (Sŏn Wang)
(r. 818-830) Da Renxiu 大仁秀
(Tae In-su)
(r. 830-857) Da Yizhen 大彝震
(Tae Ijin)
(r. 857-872) Da Qianhuang 大虔晃
(Tae Kŏn-hwang)
(r. 872-894) Da Xuanxi 大玄錫
(Tae Hyŏn-sŏk)
(r. 894-907) Da Weixie 大瑋瑎
(Tae Wi-hae)
The Last King (Bohai Mowang 渤海末王, Mal Wang) (r. 907-926) Da Yinzhuan 大諲譔
(Tae Insŏn)
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