Pyeongwon of Goguryeo

Pyeongwon of Goguryeo
Hangul 평원왕, 평강(상호)왕
Hanja 平原王, 平岡(上好)王
Revised Romanization yeongwon-wang, Pyeonggang(sangho)-wang

Emperor Pyeongwon of Goguryeo (ruled 559—590) was a sixth century Korean monarch, the twenty-fifth ruler of Goguryeo, the northernmost of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. During the reign of his father, King Yangwon (양원왕; 陽原王; r. 545 – 559), the kingdom had lost the region of Seoul to an alliance of Silla and Baekje forces, and was threatened with invasions by the Göktürks. Yangwon designated prince Pyeongwon (Go Yang-seong) as his successor two years before his death in 559. Courageous, and skilled in horsemanship and archery, Pyeongwon encouraged the development of agriculture and sericulture, and maintained relatively peaceful relations with the Göktürks and the various Chinese kingdoms of the Northern and Southern Dynasties. The rule of Pyeongwon ended in 590, under undocumented circumstances.


Korean Buddhism reached its highest level under the priest Uiyon (義淵), who was ordered by Pyeongwon to go and study in China, where he conducted a systematic research of Buddhism.

Goguryeo rulers
  1. Dongmyeongseong 37-19 B.C.E.
  2. Yurimyeong 19 B.C.E.-18 C.E.
  3. Daemusin 18-44
  4. Minjung 44-48
  5. Mobon 48-53
  6. Taejo 53-146
  7. Chadae 146-165
  8. Sindae 165-179
  9. Gogukcheon 179-197
  10. Sansang 197-227
  11. Dongcheon 227-248
  12. Jungcheon 248-270
  13. Seocheon 270-292
  14. Bongsang 292-300
  15. Micheon 300-331
  16. Gogugwon 331-371
  17. Sosurim 371-384
  18. Gogugyang 384-391
  19. Gwanggaeto the Great 391-413
  20. Jangsu 413-490
  21. Munjamyeong 491-519
  22. Anjang 519-531
  23. Anwon 531-545
  24. Yangwon 545-559
  25. Pyeongwon 559-590
  26. Yeongyang 590-618
  27. Yeongnyu 618-642
  28. Bojang 642-668


During the reign of King Yangwon ( 양원왕, 양강(상호)왕 陽原王) (?-559, r. 545-559), the twenty-fourth ruler of Goguryeo, the kingdom gradually grew weaker and had to take urgent measures to block foreign invasions. In preparation for war in 547, the king rebuilt Baegam Castle and repaired Sinseong Castle. In 548, he sent 6,000 soldiers against Baekje's Doksan Castle but the Silla general Ju Jin brought forces to relieve them, and the Goguryeo assault failed. In 550, Baekje invaded Goguryeo and sacked Dosal Castle. Goguryeo counterattacked and struck Baekje's Geumhyeon Castle, but Silla took advantage of this to retaliate and seize two more Goguryeo castles.

In 551, the emerging empire of the Göktürks invaded from Central Asia and laid siege to Sinseong; unable to take it, they attacked Baegam Castle instead. King Yangwon sent his general Go Heul and 10,000 troops against the Göktürks, who killed or captured 1,000 of them. In the same year, Silla invaded once again and captured ten districts of the present-day Seoul region. In 552, Jangan Castle was built. In 554, Yangwon's forces attacked Ungcheon Castle in Baekje, but failed to take it.

In 557, Yangwon designated the prince Pyeongwon (Go Yang-seong) as heir to the throne. In the tenth lunar month of the same year, the commander Gan Juri of Hwando Castle rebelled, but the rebellion was put down and he was executed. King Yangwon died in 559, after 15 years on the throne.


The years of Pyeongwon's rule are generally agreed upon by historians, but his year of birth has not been established with any degree of certainty. It is known that he was the eldest son of Emperor Yangwon and became crown prince in 557, two years before assuming full power. He is said to have been courageous, and skilled in horsemanship and archery.

By the time he ascended the throne, royal power had been significantly eroded by the aristocracy. Concerned about the circumstances of his people, Pyeongwon encouraged the development of agriculture and sericulture, and reduced royal expenditures on food.

Pyeongwon maintained tense but relatively peaceful relations with the Göktürks and the various Chinese dynasties, briefly battling the Northern Zhou in the Liaodong Peninsula. As the Sui Dynasty united China, Emperor Pyeongwon prepared for the impending war. As the Silla-Baekje alliance fell apart, Goguryeo’s southern border with the other two Korean kingdoms was relatively peaceful The rule of Pyeongwon of Goguryeo came to an end in 590, which is presumed to be the year of his death, but there is no specific documentation to confirm the circumstances.

Goguryeo Kingdom

The Göktürks (Kök-Türks, or Ashina) were an ancient Central Asian Turkic people, known in medieval Chinese sources as Tujue (突厥 Tūjué). Under the leadership of Bumin Khan (d. 552) and his sons, they succeeded the Xiongnu as the main Turkic power in the region and took hold of the lucrative Silk Road trade. Having excelled both in battle and diplomacy, Bumin declared himself Il-Qaghan ("great king of kings") of the new Göktürk empire at Otukan, the old Xiongnu capital, but died a year later. His son Mukhan consolidated his conquests into an empire of global reach. Bumin's brother Istämi (d. 576), titled yabghu of the west, collaborated with the Persian Sassanids to defeat and destroy the White Huns, who were allies of the Rouran, and drove the Avars into Europe, strengthening the Ashina hold on the Silk Road.

Istämi's policy of western expansion brought the Turks into Eastern Europe. In 576 the Göktürks crossed the Cimmerian Bosporus into the Crimea. Five years later, they laid siege to Tauric Chersonesus; their cavalry kept roaming the steppes of Crimea until 590[1]. In the south they came into conflict with their former allies, the Sassanids of Persia. Much of Bactria (including Balkh) remained a dependency of the Ashina until the end of the century[2]. In 588, they were under the walls of Herat but Bahram Chobin ably countered the invasion during the First Perso-Turkic War.

In the eastern part of their extensive dominions, the Göktürk Empire maintained close political ties with the Goguryeo Empire, which controlled Manchuria and the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. The exchange of gifts, mutual provision of military support, and free trade were some of the benefits of this close mutual alliance. Both rival states in north China paid large tributes to the Göktürks from 581.


Goguryeo carefully maintained diplomatic relationship with each of the Chinese states and presented tribute to the suzerains of Northern Qi Dynasty, Northern Zhou Dynasty and Chen Dynasty. The period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (Chinese: 南北朝; pinyin: nánběicháo; 420-589 C.E.), which followed the Sixteen Kingdoms and preceded Sui Dynasty in China, was an age of civil war and political disunity. However, it was also a time of flourishing in the arts and culture, advancement in technology, and the spread of foreign Mahayana Buddhism and native Daoism. Distinctive Chinese Buddhism also matured during this time and was shaped by the northern and southern dynasties alike. Daoism gained influence from the outline of Buddhist scriptures, and two essential Daoist canons were written during this period.

Although multiple-storied towers such as guard towers and residential apartments had existed previously, during this period the distinct Chinese pagoda tower (for storing Buddhist scriptures) evolved from the stupa, traditional Buddhist structures built to protect sutras in ancient India.

Buddhism in Goguryeo

Buddhism was originally introduced to Korea from China about 800 years after the death of the historical Buddha. In 372, the Chinese monk Sundo (順道, or Shundao in Chinese) was sent by the Former Qin ruler Fujian (符堅) to the court of the King Sosurim (小獸林) of Goguryeo, bearing Chinese texts and statues. In Korea, shamanism was the indigenous religion, but as Buddhism was not seen to conflict with the rites of nature worship, the Goguryeo royalty and their subjects quickly accepted his teachings. Mountains that were believed to be the residence of spirits in pre-Buddhist times became the sites of Buddhist temples.

Korean Shamanism held three spirits in especially high regard: Sanshin (the Mountain Spirit), Toksong (the Recluse), and Chilsong (the Spirit of the Seven Stars, the Big Dipper). Korean Buddhism accepted and absorbed these three spirits and special shrines were set aside for them in many temples. The Mountain Spirit received particular recognition in an attempt to appease the local mountain spirits, on whose land the temples stood. This blend of Buddhism and Shamanism became known as Korean Buddhism, although the fundamental teachings of the Buddha remained.

The rudimentary Buddhism of China, consisting of the law of cause and effect and the search for happiness, had much in common with the predominant Shamanism. The Goguryeo court was attracted to the broad worldview of Buddhism, and wished to teach it to the people to enhance their spiritual development. Korean Buddhism reached its highest level under the priest Uiyon (義淵), who was ordered by Pyeongwon to go and study in China, where he conducted a systematic research of Buddhism. Uiyon especially focused his research on Prajñā (Sanskrit) or paññā (Pali), translated as "wisdom," "understanding," "discernment," "cognitive acuity," or "know-how."

Another feature of Goguryeo Buddhism was its close association with Japan. The Nihon Shoki (日本書紀), the second oldest book of classical Japanese history, mentions the names of many Goguryeo monks. For example, the father of the first Japanese Buddhist nun (善信尼) was an immigrant from Korea, and her Buddhist master a Goguryeo monk. Prince Shotoku’s Buddhist master was also a Goguryeo monk.

See also


  1. René Grousset, 1970, The empire of the steppes; a history of central Asia, New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, p. 81.
  2. René Grousset, 1970, The empire of the steppes; a history of central Asia, New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, p. 81.



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