The Four Commanderies of Han (Hangul: 한사군; Hanja: 漢四郡) were the Chinese colony located in northern Korean Peninsula and part of the Liaodong Peninsula. The commanderies were set up to control the populace in the former Gojoseon area as far south as the Han River, with a core area at Lelang near present-day P'yongyang by Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty in early 2nd century BC after his conquest of Wiman Joseon. Though disputed by North Korean scholars, Western sources generally describe the Lelang Commandery as existing within the Korean peninsula, and extend the rule of the four commanderies as far south as the Han River (Korea). However, South Korean scholars assumed its administrative areas to Pyongan and Hwanghae region.
Three of the commanderies fell or retreated westward within a few decades, but the Lelang commandery remained as a center of cultural and economic exchange with successive Chinese dynasties for four centuries. As its administrative center in Lelang, the Chinese built what was in essence a Chinese city where the governor, officials, and merchants, and Chinese colonists lived. Their administration had considerable impact on the life of the native population and ultimatedly the very fabric of Gojoseon society became eroded.Goguryeo, a later founded, a mixed Koreanic and Yemaek kingdom, slowly began conquering the commanderies and eventually absorbed them into its own territory.
In the North Korean academic community and some parts of the South Korean academic community, the Han dynasty's annexation of the Korean peninsula have been denied. Proponents of this revisionist theory claim that the Han Commanderies actually existed outside of the Korean peninsula, and place them somewhere in Liaodong Commandery, China instead.
The demonization of Japanese historical and archaeological findings in Korea as imperialist forgeries owes in part to those scholars' discovery of the Lelang Commandery—by which the Han Dynasty administered territory near Pyongyang—and insistence that this Chinese commandery had a major impact on the development of Korean civilization. Until the North Korean challenge, it was universally accepted that Lelang was a commandery established by Emperor Wu of Han after he defeated Gojoseon in 108 BCE. To deal with the Han Dynasty tombs, North Korean scholars have reinterpreted them as the remains of Gojoseon or Goguryeo. For those artifacts that bear undeniable similarities to those found in Han China, they propose that they were introduced through trade and international contact, or were forgeries, and "should not by any means be construed as a basis to deny the Korean characteristics of the artifacts". The North Koreans also say that there were two Lelangs, and that the Han actually administered a Lelang on the Liao River on the Liaodong peninsula, while Pyongyang was an "independent Korean state" of Lelang, which existed between the 2nd century BCE until the 3rd century CE. The traditional view of Lelang, according to them, was expanded by Chinese chauvinists and Japanese imperialists.
While promoted by the academic community of North Korea, and supported by certain writers and historians in South Korea, this theory is not recognized in the mainstream academic circles of South Korea, United States, China (and Taiwan) and Japan. See the "Further Bibliography" section at the end of this artile.
Korea in 108 BC. Wiman Joseon before destroyed by Han dynasty
^'Ki-Baik Lee', "A New History of Korea", 1984 Harvard University Press, page 24'
^《前漢書》卷二十八〈地理志〉第八：“樂浪郡，武帝元封三年開。莽曰樂鮮。屬幽州。戶六萬二千八百一十二，口四十萬六千七百四十八。有雲鄣。縣二十五：朝鮮；□邯；浿水，水西至增地入海，莽曰樂鮮亭；含資，帶水西至帶方入海；黏蟬；遂成；增地，莽曰增土；帶方；駟望；海冥，莽曰海桓；列口；長岑；屯有；昭明，高部都尉治；鏤方；提奚；渾彌；吞列，分黎山，列水所出，西至黏蟬入海，行八百二十里；東暆；不而，東部都尉治；蠶台；華麗；邪頭昧；前莫；夫租。”Wikisource: the Book of Han, volume 28-2
^ abPai, Hyung Il (2000), Constructing "Korean" Origins: A Critical Review of Archaeology, Historiography, and Racial Myth in Korean State Formation Theories, Harvard University Asia Center, pp. 127–129
^Armstrong, Charles K. (1995), "Centering the Periphery: Manchurian Exile(s) and the North Korean State", Korean Studies, 19: 11–12, doi:10.1353/ks.1995.0017
(sorted by Family Name of the first author)
Armstrong, Charles K. (1995), "Centering the Periphery: Manchurian Exile(s) and the North Korean State", Korean Studies, 19: 1–16, doi:10.1353/ks.1995.0017
"North Korean historiography from the 1970s onward has stressed the unique, even sui generis, nature of Korean civilization going back to Old Chosön, whose capital, Wanggömsöng, is now located in the Liao River basin in Manchuria rather than near Pyongyang. Nangnang, then, was not a Chinese commandery but a Korean kingdom, based in the area of Pyongyang."
"Despite recent suggestions by North Korean scholars that Lelang was not a Chinese commandery, the traditional view will be adhered to here. Lelang was one of four commanderies newly instituted by the Han Dynasty in 108 BC in the former region of Chaoxian. Of these four commanderies, only two (Lelang and Xuantu) survived successive reorganizations; and it seems that even these had their headquarters relocated once or twice."
page 11: "Han China resumes its effort to subdue Korea, launching two military expeditions that bring much of the peninsula under Chinese control; it sets up four commanderies in conquered Korea."
page 193: "After a period of decline, Old Choson falls to Wiman, an exile from the Yan state in northern China. Wiman proves to be a strong ruler, but his ambitious program of expansion eventually brings him into conflict with the Han dynasty of China. The Han defeats Wiman Choson and establishes a protectorate over northern Korea in 108 b.c. Resistance to Chinese hegemony, however, is strong, and China reduces the territory under its active control to Nang-nang colony with an administrative center near modern Pyongyang."
"Chinese commanderies at Lelang (modern Pyongyang) functioned as the political and military arm of Chinese dynasties, beginning with Han, as well as the major contact point between the advanced Chinese civilization and the local population."
"Lelang commandery, with its seat in modern Pyongyang, was the most important of the four."
Byington, Mark E., Project Director of the Early Korea Project (2009). Early Korea 2: The Samhan Period in Korean History. Korea Institute, Harvard University. p. 172. ISBN978-0979580031.
"The latter, associated with Han China, are important, as their discovery permits us to infer the existence of relations between the Han commanderies and the Samhan societies."
Ch'oe, Yŏng-ho (May 1981), "Reinterpreting Traditional History in North Korea", The Journal of Asian Studies, 40 (3): 509, doi:10.2307/2054553, JSTOR2054553.
"North Korean scholars, however, admit that a small number of items in these tombs resemble those found in the archaeological sites of Han China. These items, they insist, must have been introduced into Korea through trade or other international contacts and "should not by any means be construed as a basis to deny the Korean characteristics of the artifacts" found in the P'yongyang area."
"Chinese forces subsequently conquered the eastern half of the peninsula and made lolang, near modern Pyongyang, the chief base for Chinese rule. Chinese sources recall how China used not only military force but also assassination and divide-and-conquer tactics to subdue Chosŏn and divide the territory into four commanderies."
Connor, Edgar V. (2003). Korea: Current Issues and Historical Background. Nova Science Publishers. p. 112. ISBN978-1590334430.
"They place it northwest of the peninsula, possibly near Beijing, in order to de- emphasize China's influence on ancient Korean history."
Eckert, Carter J. (1991). Korea Old and New: A History. Ilchokak Publishers. ISBN978-0962771309.
page 13: "The territorial extent of the Four Chinese Commanderies seems to have been limited to the area north of the Han River."
page 14: "As its administrative center, the Chinese built what was in essence a Chinese city where the governor, officials, merchants, and Chinese colonists lived. Their way of life in general can be surmised from the investigation of remains unearthed at T'osong-ni, the site of the Lelang administrative center near modern P'yongyang. The variety of burial objects found in their wooden and brickwork tombs attests to the lavish life syle of these Chinese officials, merchants, and colonial overloads in Lelang's capital. ... The Chinese administration had considerable impact on the life of the native population and ultimatedly the very fabric of Gojoseon society became eroded."</ref>
"These tombs are associated with the Lelang commandery, which was established by the Han dynasty of China, successor to the Qin. Han generals conquered the armies of Wiman's grandson Ugo and established control over the northern part of the Korean peninsula."
"In the corridor between the peninsula and northeast China, the Chinese Han dynasty established four “commanderies” that ruled over parts of the peninsula and Manchuria, much as modern imperial powers governed their colonies."
page 128: "At present, the site of Lelang and surrounding ancient Han Chinese remains are situated in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. Although North Korean scholars have continued to excavate Han dynasty tombs in the postwar period, they have interpreted them as manifestations of the Kochoson or the Koguryo kingdom."
page129: "When material evidence from the Han commandery site excavated during the colonial period began to be reinterpreted by Korean nationalist historians as the first full-fledged "foreign" occupation in Korean history, Lelang's location in the heart of the Korean peninsula became particularly irksome because the finds seemed to verify Japanese colonial theories concerning the dependency of Korean civilization on China."
"He then divided the country into military districts, of which the most important was that of Lolang, or Laklang, with headquarters near the modern Pyongyang. Tomb excavations in this area have produced much evidence of the influence of Han civilization in northern Korea."
"Nangnang commandery centered around Pyeong'yang was established when Emperor Wu of Han China attacked Gojoseon in 108 BC and was under the rule of Wei from 238. Wei is the country that destroyed the Later Han dynasty."
"Chinese civilization had started to flow into the Korean Peninsula through Nang-nang. This was the only time in Korean history that China could establish its colonies in the central part of Korea, where occupation forces were stationed. The Han Empire not only occupied Korea, but expanded westward to Persia and Afghanistan."
"But when Emperor Wu conquered Choson, all the small barbarian tribes in the northeastern region were incorporated into the established Han commanderies because of the overwhelming military might of Han China."
page 17: "The Chinese, having conquered Choson, set up four administrative units called commanderies. The Lelang commandery was located along the Ch'ongch'on and Taedong rivers from the coast to the interior highlands. Three other commanderies were organized: Xuantu, Lintun, and Zhenfan. Lintun and originally Xuantu were centered on the east coast of northern Korea. Zhenfan was probably located in the region south of Lelang, although there is some uncertainty about this. After Emperor Wu's death in 87 BCE a retrenchment began under his successor, Emperor Chao (87-74 BCE). In 82 BCE Lintun was merged into Xuantu, and Zhenfan into Lelang. Around 75 BCE Xuantu was relocated most probably in the Tonghua region of Manchuria and parts of old Lintun merged into Lelang. Later a Daifang commandery was created south of Lelang in what was later Hwanghae Province in northern Korea. Lelang was the more populous and prosperous outpost of Chinese civilization."
page 18: "For the next four centuries a northwestern part of the Korean peninsula was directly incorporated in to the Chinese Empire.... The Taedong River basin, the area where the modern city of P'yongyang is located, became the center of the Lelang commandery."
page 19: "The way of life maintained by the elite at the capital in the P'yongyang area, which is known from the tombs and scattered archaeological remains, evinces a prosperous, refined, and very Chinese culture."
"Soon after, the Wei fell to the Jin and Koguryŏ grew stronger, until in 313 they finally succeeded in occupying Lelang and bringing to an end the 400 years of China's presence in the peninsula, a period sufficient to ensure that for the next 1,500 it would remain firmly within the sphere of its culture."
"Han Chinese built four commanderies, or local military units, to rule the peninsula as far south as the Han River, with a core area at Lolang (Nangnang in Korean), near present-day P'yongyang. It is illustrative of the relentlessly different historiography practiced in North Korea and South Korea, as well as both countries' dubious projection backward of Korean nationalism, that North Korean historians denied that the Lolang district was centered in Korea and placed it northwest of the peninsula, possibly near Beijing."
"Lelang Commandery was crucial to understanding the early history of Korea, which lasted from 108 BCE to 313 CE around the P'yongyang area. However, because of its nature as a Han colony and the exceptional attention paid to it by Japanese colonial scholars for making claims of the innate heteronomy of Koreans, post 1945 Korean scholars intentionally avoided the issue of Lelang."