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The forgotten glory of Koguryo
Korea WebWeekly
10/14/2003

Koguryo, one of Korea's ancient three kingdoms, existed for 700 years ruled by 26 wise kings. All kings strove to better people's welfare and strengthen the military. Koguryo had to fight invaders from north and its citizens were well organized and train ed in the art of warfare. It developed unique culture and remarkably advanced educational, socio-political and military systems. Koguryo murals are rich in color and tone. Women dancing, warriors in practice, birds in the sky, dragons, fish in rivers, beasts in forests, wind and clouds of the murals appear so real and fresh, one fears they may jump out of the canvas at any time.

Both North and South Korea want the United Nations to designate Koguryo archeological sites a world cultural heritage in the same class as the Egyptian pyramids and the Mayan temples. After so many years of neglect and plunder, the past glory of Koguryo is fast disappearing.

Koguryo relics are situated in North Korea and Manchuria. South Korea is off limit to these sites. North Korea has limited technical and financial resources to explore and preserve the sites in North Korea. China has little interest in preserving its f ormer ruler of Manchuria.

Last year, thieves stole priceless Koguryo frescos from the Kilrim site in China. The thieves are still at large. China is building a dam, which will ruin several sites. Koguryo forts and structures are being pulled down and used as building materials by the local residents. Apartments stand where Koguryo castles used to stand. Ancient sites are cleared for factories. King Kwangkaeto's burial mound remains desecrated and unattended.

Early in the first century AD, Koguryo was established from several warring tribes in Manchuria and North Korea. In 342 AD, Koguryo was invaded by the Chinese Yen. The Chinese were driven out after years of intense fighting.

In 372 AD, Koguryo officially adopted Buddhism as the state religion. Koguryo established a state academy to educate the nobility and compiled a state history consisting of 100 chapters before the introduction of Buddhism. State codes were promulgated to initiate a legal system to rule the people.

In about 610 AD, Sui Emperor Yang-ti invaded Koguryo with more than one million troops. In 612 AD, Koguryo General Ulchi Mundok held key fortresses against Yang-ti's army and navy for several months and destroyed the Sui troops in retreat. An ambush at Salsu (Ch'ongch'ongang River) killed all but 2,700 Sui troops out of 300,000 men.

Sui fell to T'ang soon after Yang-ti's defeat by Gen. Ulchi Mundok. T'ang's emperor T'ai-tsung tried to topple Koguryo in 644 AD, 648 AD and 655 AD - all repulsed by Koguryo. The years of constant warfare eventually brought down the once mighty Koguryo. Ironically, the end came when a fellow Korean state Silla joined up with T'ang in 668 AD and invaded from south while T'ang moved in from north. This two-front war was too much for Koguryo.

Koguryo's last king, his officials and 200,000 prisoners were taken to China and Koguryo's territory was annexed to T'ang. Many of the Korean prisoners served T'ang emperors well. For example, Ko Sagye, a famous Koguryo general, joined the T'ang army. Hi s son Ko Son-ji rose to a high rank and led a T'ang army to subdue Tashkent in the mid-eighth century and introduced the art of paper-making to the Arabs.

In 674 AD, T'ang invaded its former ally Silla. Silla defeated the T'ang army and freed Koguryo capital Pyongyang. In 735 AD, Silla regained the Koguryo territory south of Taedonggang. Subsequent Korean kings regained the lost territory south of Yalu and Tumen.

The last king of Koryo attempted to invade Manchuria to regain the rest of Koguryo territory. Unfortunately, the general in charge, Yi Sung Gye, mounted a coup instead and founded the Chosun (Yi) Dynasty.

A Koguryo revival is going on in S Korea. New books on Koguryo are being published. Several airlines include Koguryo murals in gift packages. Various commercial products (T-shirts, ties, scarves, etc.) use Koguryo motifs. TV dramas, musicals, martial ar ts and commercials draw upon the glory of Koguryo. The revival has been helped by well-attended exhibitions of Koguryo artifacts.

A South Korean entrepreneur Miss Um started 'ROK Cafe Koguryo' a few years ago after falling in love with things Koguryo. Its walls are covered with photos of Koguryo murals and other artifacts. Replicas of Koguryo monuments guard the entrance. Authent ic recitals of Koguryo ceremonies are presented periodically. People stand for hours in line to get inside.

Miss Um has 6 locations at present. She plans to expand to 45 locations by the end of 1997. Next year, she plans to expand to Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. Miss Um wants to propagate Koguryo images throughout the world by working closely with mult i-national chains such as TG Friday and Benigans.

The Koguryo revival ('boom') hit the right cord with the youth of Korea. Today, 70 million Koreans are crowded into a tiny peninsula. Once upon a time, the mighty Koguryo lorded over a large chunk of today's Chinese territory, and today's Korean nationa lists view the 'lost' territory with a hungry eye.

The glory of Koguryo is a proud heritage of Korea for all Koreans. All of us must do the right thing to preserve and promote all things Koguryo.

*This is a selection from Korea WebWeekly.

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