Three Confederate States of Gojoseon

Last updated

The three Gojoseon kingdoms are states thought to have existed according to Joseon Sangosa [1] (1924–25). The concept gained a following among several fringe historians, [2] [3] [4] [5] although it is not completely accepted by mainstream scholars. [6]


In popular Korean history, drawing on the Korean founding myth, Gojoseon (고조선, 古朝鮮, 2333 BC – 239 BC) was an early state that was established around Liaoning, southern Manchuria, and the northern Korean Peninsula.[ citation needed ] It was anciently known simply as Joseon, but is now referred to as Gojoseon, i.e. "Ancient Joseon" to distinguish it from the much later (14th century) Kingdom of Joseon.

According to some sources, Gojoseon was a kingdom formed by the union of three confederacies, or Samhan : Makjoseon (막조선, 莫朝鮮), Jinjoseon (진조선, 真朝鮮) and Beonjoseon (번조선, 番朝鮮). These three confederacies are said to be also known as Mahan, Byeonhan, and Jinhan. In conventional Korean history, these three confederacies appeared following Gojoseon's break-up, in the central and southern Korean Peninsula, until they were fully absorbed into the Three Kingdoms of Korea around the 4th century CE. Therefore, these later Samhan must be distinguished from the "former Samhan", or Samjoseon.

Government structure

According to Joseon Sangosa , written in 1924–25 by Sin Chaeho, Gojoseon had an organizational system of three states and 5 ministries. The three states consisted of Jinjoseon, Makjoseon and Beonjoseon. Jinjoseon was said to be ruled by the Supreme Dangun. Beonjoseon and Makjoseon were said to be ruled by two Vice-Danguns. The Five Ministries, or Ohga , included Dotga (pig), Gaeda (dog), Soga (cow), Malga (horse) and Shinga according to their areas of east, west, south, north and center. This ministry system using the name of animals was also claimed to be used by Buyeo, which is considered a successor state of Gojoseon by fringe historians (in real life its hard to say it is a successor state as buyeo was coexistent with gojoseon). In wartime, five military troops consisting of a central army, an advanced army, a left army and a right army were said to be organized, according to military commands, by the general of the central army. It is said that the traditional Korean game of Yut is patterned after these five military structures (the real origin was based on the system of sachooldo). Generally, the succession system of the Supreme Dangun and the Vice-Dangun was said to be determined by heredity, and sometimes the ruler said to be succeeded by one of the Ohga, suggesting that the sovereign's power was not absolute.

Territory of Three Confederacies

Gojoseon was developed in the time of bronze wares, and continued to the Iron Age. The territory of the three Gojoseons is recognizable by the occurrence of their unique style of bronze sword, i.e., the mandolin-shaped dagger (비파형동검, 琵琶形銅劍). Their mandolin-shaped dagger is found around Liaoning, Manchuria, the Korean peninsula and even Hebei.[ citation needed ] The shape of the mandolin-shape daggers of Gojoseon is very different from that of those found in China.[ citation needed ] Moreover, the composition of Gojoseon's bronze contains much more tin than that of China.[ citation needed ]

Jinjoseon (2333 BC – 239 BC)

It is usually said that the prefixes Ma, Jin and Beon were borrowed from Chinese characters to represent the Korean language. Jin (or Shin) represents the meanings of "whole" or "general"; thus Jinjoseon refers to the central confederacy of Gojoseon. Asadal (아사달) was the capital city of Jinjoseon governed by Dangun, and the other two Joseons were governed by the vice Danguns. Joseon Sangosa says that Asadal corresponds to the current Harbin. In history books, Jinjoseon was usually called Jin. In 425 BC, the name of Ancient Joseon was changed to Great Buyeo, and the capital city was moved to Jangdang. At this time, Jinjoseon did not have enough power to control Beonjoseon and Makjoseon, and gradually Gojoseon began to disintegrate. In 239 BC, Jinjoseon was conquered by Hae Mosu Dangun, and the state name was changed to Buyeo.

Beonjoseon (2333 BC – 108 BC)

Beon or sometimes Byun means a plain or a field. Because Beonjoseon was a neighbor to the Chinese states, Chinese history usually referred to Beonjoseon as Gojoseon or simply Joseon. According to Shin, Gija Joseon and Wiman Joseon were usurpations of Beonjoseon, and the Danguns allowed Gija and Wiman to rule over Beonjoseon because they were of the Dongyi race. Chinese usually referred to the ancestral Korean race as Dong-yi, meaning eastern barbarians. Dangun had assigned Chidunam (치두남, 蚩頭男) as a vice Dangun of Beonjoseon. Its capital city was "Heomdok" (험독현, 險瀆縣), also called Wanggeom-seong (왕검성, 王儉城). Chidunam was a descendant of Chiyou (치우, 蚩尤) of the Baedal royalty. Hyeomdokhyeon is currently located in Changli (昌黎) County of Hebei Province in the modern People's Republic of China. [7] According to Joseon Sangosa, the Gi family became the kings of Beonjoseon in 323 BC, and the central authority of the Vice-Dangun became very powerful. Beonjoseon of the Gi family was usurped by Wiman in 193 BC; it was called Wiman Joseon henceforth. The last Vice-Dangun, Gijun, fled with his nobles and a large number of people into the Korean peninsula. There, he conquered Makjoseon, and established Mahan.

Makjoseon (2333 BC – ?)

Ma is generally used to represent "south", and Makjoseon was located to the south of Jinjoseon. Dangun assigned Ungbaekda (웅백다, 熊伯多) as Vice Dangun of Makjoseon. Its capital city was Pyongyang. It is uncertain how long Makjoseon endured, but it is thought to have been conquered by Gijun when he fled from Wiman, and then changed the name of the state to Mahan one of the confederacies of the later Samhan. It seems that Mahan continued until it was conquered by Baekje.

Disintegration of Three Gojoseon

According to Joseon Sangosa, the disintegration of the three Gojoseon started around 400 BC, when Yan attacked Gojoseon, and Gihu became the king of Beonjoseon. At this time, it seems that Gihu did not fall under the jurisdiction of Jinjoseon, and Beonjoseon under the Gi family became independent of Jinjoseon. Thereafter, the influence of Jinjoseon over Beonjoseon and Makjoseon being greatly weakened, the disintegration of Gojoseon became inevitable.



Some Korean scholars point out that the basis of the story is from Shin's interpretation of the following line in the chapter "Treatise on Chosun" (朝鮮列傳) section of the Records of the Grand Historian that Shin introduced in his book Chǒnhu Samhan Ko ("A Study of the Three Hans in Sequence", or "An Inquiry into the Former and Latter Three Han States"; 前後三韓考):


"Zhenfan Commandery and Joseon were already invaded and subjugated in the high days of the Yan."

Since the characters 眞番朝鮮 can be read as Jinbeon and Joseon or Jinjoseon and Beonjoseon, this is thought to be the source of the confusion.

Support for the interpretation of Shin's original opinion

On the collected annotations (集解) of the same section, Guang Xu (徐廣) who was a historian of Eastern Jin, illustrates that Jinbeon is also called Jinmak (眞莫). In the Biographies of the Wuhuan, Xianbei, and Dongyi in the Book of Wei in the Records of the Three Kingdoms , a following detailed paragraph appears that differentiates Jin (辰) and Beon (蕃) which suggests the two entities were separate.

初, 右渠未破時, 朝鮮相歷谿卿以諫右渠不用, 東之辰國, 時民隨出居者二千餘戶, 亦與朝鮮貢蕃不相往來.

"At earlier times before King Ugeo was demolished, a Joseon official called Yeokgyeyung (歷谿卿) expostulated to the king but after his expostulation was refused he went east to the state of Jin (辰國). At that time there were 2000 houses of people who followed his journey, and they never traded with Beon (蕃) which was a tributary of Joseon."


A classification of Three Joseons existed before in the geography section of the Veritable Records of Sejong of the Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty where it illustrates the history of Pyongyang in Pyongan Province. But the classification was of Dangun Joseon, Gija Joseon, and Wiman Joseon.

See also

Related Research Articles

There are various names of Korea in use today, all derived from ancient kingdoms and dynasties. The modern English name "Korea" is an exonym derived from the name Goryeo, also spelled Koryŏ, and is used by both North Korea and South Korea in international contexts. In the Korean language, the two Koreas use different terms to refer to the nominally unified nation: Chosŏn in North Korea and Hanguk in South Korea. Ethnic Koreans living in China and Japan also use the term Chosŏn to refer to Korea.


Jizi or Qizi or Kizi was a semi-legendary Chinese sage who is said to have ruled Gija Joseon in the 11th century BCE. Early Chinese documents like the Book of Documents and the Bamboo Annals described him as a virtuous relative of the last king of the Shang dynasty who was punished for remonstrating with the king. After Shang was overthrown by Zhou in the 1040s BCE, he allegedly gave political advice to King Wu, the first Zhou king. Chinese texts from the Han dynasty onwards claimed that King Wu enfeoffed Jizi as ruler of Chaoxian. According to the Book of Han, Jizi brought agriculture, sericulture, and many other facets of Chinese civilization to Joseon.

Dangun Korean king and deity

Dangun or Dangun Wanggeom was the legendary founder and god-king of Gojoseon, the first Korean kingdom, around present-day Liaoning, Manchuria, and the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. He is said to be the "grandson of heaven" and "son of a bear", and to have founded the kingdom in 2333 BC. The earliest recorded version of the Dangun legend appears in the 13th-century Samguk Yusa, which cites China's Book of Wei and Korea's lost historical record Gogi . There are around seventeen religious groups that focus on the worship of Dangun.

Wi Man or Wei Man was originally a military leader of the Kingdom of Yan. When king Lu Wan of Yan was defeated by the Han in 195 BCE, Wi Man fled to Gojoseon in north-western Korea and later usurped power from its king in 194 BCE, establishing Wiman Joseon. Recorded in the Records of the Grand Historian and the Book of Han, Wiman was the first ruler in the history of Korea to have been recorded in documents from the same time period.

Gojoseon Ancient state, based in northern Korean peninsula and Manchuria

Gojoseon, is the first Korean kingdom with written historical records, founded by Dangun, the legendary founder of Korean nation. It was a period in the History of Korea lasting from 2333 BCE (?) to 108 BCE. Gojoseon possessed the most advanced culture in the Korean peninsula at that time and was an important marker in the progression towards the more centralized states of later periods. The addition of Go, meaning "ancient", is used to distinguish it from the much later Joseon dynasty.

Gija Joseon

Gija Joseon refers to the period of Gojoseon following the alleged arrival of the sage Jizi (Gija). As with Dangun, concrete evidence for Jizi's role in the history of Gojoseon is lacking, and the narrative has been challenged since the 20th century.

Mahan confederacy

Mahan was a loose confederacy of statelets that existed from around the 1st century BC to 5th century AD in the southern Korean peninsula in the Chungcheong and Jeolla provinces. Arising out of the confluence of Gojoseon migration and the Jin state federation, Mahan was one of the Samhan, along with Byeonhan and Jinhan. Baekje began as a member statelet, but later overtook all of Mahan and became one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

Jinhan was a loose confederacy of chiefdoms that existed from around the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD in the southern Korean Peninsula, to the east of the Nakdong River valley, Gyeongsang Province. Jinhan was one of the Samhan, along with Byeonhan and Mahan. Apparently descending from the Jin state of southern Korea, Jinhan was absorbed by the later Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

Jin (Korean state) Korean state during the Iron Age

The state of Jin was a confederacy of statelets which occupied some portion of the southern Korean peninsula during the 2nd and 3rd centuries BCE, bordering the Korean kingdom Gojoseon to the north. Its capital was somewhere south of the Han River. It preceded the Samhan confederacies, each of which claimed to be successors of the Jin state.

Samhan Period of Korean history

Samhan, or Three Han, is the collective name of the Byeonhan, Jinhan, and Mahan confederacies that emerged in the first century BC during the Proto–Three Kingdoms of Korea, or Samhan, period. Located in the central and southern regions of the Korean Peninsula, the Samhan confederacies eventually merged and developed into the Baekje, Gaya, and Silla kingdoms. The name "Samhan" also refers to the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

The Dongguk Tonggam is a chronicle of the early history of Korea compiled by Seo Geo-jeong (1420–1488) and other scholars in the 15th century. Originally commissioned by King Sejo in 1446, it was completed under the reign of Seongjong of Joseon, in 1485. The official Choe Bu was one of the scholars who helped compile and edit the work. The earlier works on which it may have been based have not survived. The Dongguk Tonggam is the earliest extant record to list the names of the rulers of Gojoseon after Dangun.

Proto–Three Kingdoms period

The Proto–Three Kingdoms period refers to the proto-historical period in the Korean Peninsula, after the fall of Gojoseon and before the maturation of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla into full-fledged kingdoms. It is a subdivision of what is traditionally called Korea's Three Kingdoms Period and covers the first three centuries of the Common Era, corresponding to the later phase of the Korean Iron Age.

King Jun of Gojoseon was king of the Gojoseon. He was succeeded by the Chinese military leader Wiman, whose usurpation of the throne began the Wiman Joseon period of Gojoseon.

Four Commanderies of Han Chinese commanderies set up to control the populace in the former Gojoseon area

The Four Commanderies of Han were Chinese commanderies located in the north of the Korean Peninsula and part of the Liaodong Peninsula from around the end of the second century BC through the early 4th AD, for the longest lasting. 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 Pyongyang by Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty in early 2nd century BC after his conquest of Wiman Joseon. As such, these commanderies are seen as Chinese colonies by some scholars. 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. However, South Korean scholars assumed its administrative areas to Pyongan and Hwanghae provinces.

Han is the typical romanized spelling of the Korean family name. Other alternate spellings for 한 include Hahn and Haan. In Sino-Korean, it translates to "King”, “Kingdom”, “country" or/and “Korean people”. Han is the oldest name in Korea.

Yemaek or Yamaek were an ancient tribal group in the northern Korean Peninsula and Manchuria who are regarded by many scholars as the ancestors of modern Koreans. They had ancestral ties to various Korean kingdoms including Gojoseon, Buyeo, Goguryeo, and tribes including Okjeo, Dongye(Ye), Yangmaek and Sosumaek.

Wan Gyeop was one of the four members who operated the government of Wiman Joseon. His position was a general. Since Wang Gyeop had a family name, it is believed that he was an exile from China or person related to China. Just like his master Ugeo who was the last king of Wiman Joseon. He was in charge of military affairs.

Taewon Seonu clan Korean clan

The Taewon Seonu clan is one of the Korean clans. Their Bon-gwan is in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China. Taiyuan, Shanxi was Gija’s hometown. According to the census held in 2000, the number of the Taewon Seonu clan was 3560. Gija appointed Song, his oldest son, Song of Gojoseon, and Jung, his second son, Usan after he founded Gija Joseon. Then, Jung’s descendant changed their surname to Seonu. He named “Seonu clan” (鮮于) using one of the words of Joseon (朝) and Usan (山国). Gi Yang was Gija’s 48 th descendant. The history of Seonu clan began after Gi Yang entered South Pyongan Province, and his son named Seonu Jeong was the founder of Seonu clan of Taewon.


  1. Joseon Sangosa. Sin Chaeho. (1931) ISBN   8947210331
  2. 김정배, 고조선 연구의 사적 고찰 (Historical Survey on Research of Kochosun), 단군학연구, 7, 185–206 (2002)
  3. 이정복, 논점 한국사 사료집성 (The Collection of Korean History Controversy), 국학자료원, ISBN   8982064729
  4. 신채호, 조선민족의 전성시대 (The Prosperity Age of Joseon People), 삼천리, 7(1), 59–67 (1935)
  5. 강경구, 고대의 삼조선과 낙랑 (Three Gojoseon and Nangnang Nation), 기린원 (1991)
  6. The theory is mentioned in non-canonical history texts, including Lee Ki-baek's A New History of Korea and the Korean National Commission's Korean History: Discovery of its characteristics and developments (Seoul:Hollym, 2004).
  7. Shihchi jijie(史記集解), Chapter 115 Records of Joseon