the ancient period. Neither of the rivers was considered to be sacrosanct by the ancient tribes that dotted the plains of Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula. Because the rivers freeze in the winter, large armies were able totraverse them with ease. Even when the rivers were not frozen, armies equipped with iron tools could easily build ships to cross them.The Korean people trace their origins to the founding of the state of Choson. Choson rose on the banks of the Taedong River in the northwestern corner of the peninsula and prospered as a civilization possessing a codeof law and a bronze culture. The Choson people gradually extended their influence not only over other tribes inthe vicinity, but also to the north, conquering most of the Liaodong Basin. However, the rising power of thefeudal state of Yen in northern China (1122-225 B.C.) not only checked Choson's growth, but eventually pushedit back to the territory south of the Ch'ongch'on River, located midway between the Yalu and Taedong rivers. TheChinese had discovered iron by this time and used it extensively in farming and warfare; the Choson people werenot able to match them. Yen became established in the territory vacated by Choson.Meanwhile, much of what subsequently came to constitute China proper had been unified for the firsttime under Qin Shi Huangdi. Subsequently, Yen fell to the Qin state; the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.) was in turnreplaced by a new dynasty, the Han (206 B.C.- A.D. 220). In 195 B.C. a former officer of Yen took over thethrone of Choson by trickery, after which he and his descendants ruled the kingdom for eighty years; but in 109-108 B.C. China attacked Choson and destroyed it as a political entity. The Han Chinese then ruled the territorynorth of the Han River as the Four Eastern Districts; the original territory of Choson became Lolang (or Nangnang in Korean). (North Korean historians have argued that the Lolang District was located more to thenorthwest of the Korean Peninsula, perhaps near Beijing. This theory, however, has not been universallyaccepted.) Until the Han period the Korean Peninsula had been a veritable Chinese colony. During some 400years, Lolang, the core of the colony, had become a great center of Chinese art, philosophy, industry, andcommerce. Many Chinese immigrated into the area; the influence of China extended beyond the territory itadministered. The tribal states south of the Han River paid tribute to the Chinese and patterned much of their civilization and government after Chinese models.
2. The Three Kingdoms Period
The territory south of the Han River is relatively distant from the Asian continent; hence, the peopleliving there were initially able to develop independently, without much involvement with events on thecontinent. The early settlers of this region gradually organized themselves into some seventy clan states that werein turn grouped into three tribal confederations known as Chinhan, Mahan, and Pyonhan. Chinhan was situatedin the middle part of the peninsula, Mahan in the southwest, and Pyonhan in the southeast. Their economies were predominantly agricultural, and their level of development was such that they built reservoirs and irrigationfacilities. These tribal states began to be affected by what was happening in the region north of the Han River around the first century B.C.About the middle of the third century A.D., the Chinese threat began to serve as a unifying political forceamong the loose confederations of tribes in the southern part of the peninsula. Adopting the Chinese politicalsystem as a model, the tribes eventually merged into two kingdoms, thereby increasing their chances of survivalagainst Chinese expansionism. The two kingdoms eventually came to play an important role in Korean history.Geographic features of the southern parts of the land, in particular the configuration of mountain ranges,caused two kingdoms to emerge rather than one. In the central part of Korea, the main mountain range, theT'aebaek Range, runs north to south along the edge of the Sea of Japan, which lies off the east coast of the peninsula. Approximately three-fourths of the way down the peninsula, however, at roughly the thirty-seventh parallel, the mountain range veers southwest, dividing the peninsula almost in the middle. This extension, theSobaek Range, proved politically significant; the tribes west of it were not shielded by any natural barriersagainst the Chinese-occupied portion of the peninsula, whereas those to the southeast were protected. Moreover,the presence of the mountains prevented the tribes in the two regions from establishing close contacts.The tribal states in the southwest were the first to unite, calling their centralized kingdom Paekche. This process occurred in the mid-third century A.D., after the Chinese army of the Wei Dynasty (A.D. 220-65), whichcontrolled Lolang, threatened the tribes in A.D. 245. The Silla Kingdom evolved in the southeast. Silla historianstraced the kingdom's origin to 57 B.C., but contemporary historians regard King Naemul (A.D. 356-402) ashaving been the earliest ruler. Some of the tribal states in the area of the lower Naktong River, along the southcentral coast of the peninsula, did not join either of these kingdoms. Under the name Kaya, they formed a leagueof walled city-states that conducted extensive coastal trade and also maintained close ties with the tribal states in