Korea's location on China's eastern border has played a key role in its development. From its powerful mainland neighbor, Korea received many cultural and technological influences. At various times in history, China extended political control over the Korean peninsula. Korea has also served as a cultural bridge linking China and Japan. Koreans have, from early times, adapted and transformed Chinese traditions before passing them on to the Japanese.
The earliest Koreans probably migrated southeastward from Siberia and northern Manchuria during the Stone Age. They spoke a language unrelated to Chinese and evolved their own ways of life long before any Chinese influences reached the peninsula.
About 108 B.C., the Han emperor, Wudi, conquered the northern part of the peninsula and set up a military colony there. For almost 400 years, the Han administered the area around what is today Pyongyang. From this outpost, Confucian traditions and Chinese ideas about government, as well as Chinese writing and farming methods, spread into Korea.
How did the relative location of the Korean peninsula influence the development of Korean civilization?
Between 100 B.C. and A.D. 676, powerful local rulers forged three separate kingdoms: Koguryo in the north, Paekche in the southwest, and Silla in the southeast. Although they shared the same language and cultural background, the three kingdoms often warred with one another or with China.
Still, Chinese influences continued to arrive. Missionaries spread Mahayana Buddhism, which took root among the rulers and nobles. Korean monks then traveled to China and India to learn more about Buddhism. They brought home the arts and learning of China. A Korean writer of the time explained the benefits that he believed Buddhism could bring to his country:
”If you teach people to rely on this teaching [Buddhism] and practice it, then their minds can be corrected, and their bodies can be cultivated. You can regulate your family, you can govern the state, and you can bring peace to the world.”
—Gihwa, The Exposition of the Correct
The three early kingdoms of Korea shared an ethnic background, culture, and language, although they were frequently at war with each other.
Which of these kingdoms was probably most influenced by Chinese civilization? Why?