The Korean War of the Han Empire

It was the war that the Han army captured Joseon (朝鲜). This Joseon was a country which was built by Wei Man (卫满) in modern-day Northern Korea. In the later days of the Warring-State Period, the former Joseon submitted itself to the Yan (燕) State. When the Qin (秦) State annexed the Yan State, the army of Qin entered Joseon and captured it. In the early days of the Western Han Dynasty, the imperial government abandoned Joseon because the government thought Joseon was very remote and this land couldn’t be guarded easily. Lu Wan (卢绾), the king of Yan State, rebelled against the imperial government and ran away to Hun. His general Wei Man had to lead his trusted followers to capture Joseon, and called himself “King”. Many outlaws of Han Empire went to this new country for shelter. The local tribes obeyed the new king, too.

Originally, this country was friendly to Han Empire, and Han Empire winked at the actions that Joseon annexed many countries and tribes around in the Korea Peninsula.

When Youqu (右渠) who was the grandson of Wei Man ascended the throne, Joseon became a strong country, and started to be arrogant toward Han Empire. Joseon became the happy land of outlaws who were against the government of Han Empire. Youqu never had an audience with the emperor of Han, and he blocked the way that the monarchs of other countries visited the Central Nation. In 109 BC, Han Wu-Emperor (汉武帝) sent She He (涉何) to censure Youqu, and Youqu refused to apologize. She He was very angry, and decided to make retaliate. On the way to return, in the border, She He ordered his guards to kill the officers who saw them off. Then he told the imperial government that he killed the generals of Joseon. The emperor didn’t blame him, and let him be a Duwei (都尉, the title of a military officer after a general) in a city near the east border.

Youqu hated She He, and commanded his army to make a surprise assault on the city of She He, and killed She He. Han Wu-Emperor heard this news and became wrathful. He decided to punish Joseon. At that time, the main regular troops were in the battlefront against Hun. Han Wu-Emperor had to conscribe criminals to attack Joseon. In the autumn of 109 BC, Yang Pu (杨仆) led five ten thousand troops of the Qi (齐) Area to ferry across the Bo Sea (渤海) and landed at Joseon, Xun Zhi (荀彘) led army to pass through Liaodong (辽东) and entered Joseon overland. A fanatical officer of Xun Zhi led a part of troops attacked the army of Joseon rashly, but they were defeated.

Yang Pu led seven thousand foremost troops to arrive at the capital of Joseon. Youqu found the troops of Yang Pu were not many, so he commanded his army to attack the army of Yang Pu suddenly. The army of Yang Pu was routed, and Yang Pu ran away into a mountain for more than ten days. Later, he tried to assemble the rest of his army. The army of Xun Zhi had no military success, too.

Han Wu-Emperor thought his two armies had frightened Joseon, so he sent an envoy Wei Shan (卫山) to visit Youqu. Youqu knelt down and said, “I want to surrender, but I am worried that the two generals will kill me. Now the envoy of the imperial government comes, so please accept my surrender.” Youqu let his Taizi (太子, the title of the heir of a monarch) go to apologize to the emperor. The Taizi of Joseon led more than one ten thousand armed attendants to enter the frontier of Han. Wei Shan and Xun Zhi were worried that the Taizi plotted rebellion. So they told the Taizi, “Now that you have surrendered, please order your attendants to unarm.” The Taizi was worried that Wei Shan and Xun Zhi wanted to kill him, so he led his attendants to return to Joseon. Han Wu-Emperor was very angry, and killed Wei Shan.

The army of Xun Zhi defeated the foremost army of Joseon and arrived at the capital of Joseon. Yang Pu and his army arrived, too. The two armies of Han besieged the city for several months, but they couldn’t capture it.

The army of Xun Zhi had defeated the army of Joseon several times, so his troops were very self-conceited. However, the army of Yang Pu had been defeated several times, so Yang Pu wanted to become reconciled with Joseon. Xun Zhi commanded his army to attack the city fiercely. The ministers of Joseon were very frightened and they wanted to surrender themselves to Yang Pu. Yang Pu sent messengers to negotiate with the ministers of Joseon, but no result. Xun Zhi demanded Yang Pu to cooperate with him to attack the city, but Yang Pu ignored his demand. Xun Zhi sent messengers to demand Joseon to surrender, but Joseon refused. Xun Zhi was worried that Yang Pu wanted to rebel, so he had to stop attacking and watch the actions of Yang Pu.

Han Wu-Emperor felt surprised that his two armies actually couldn’t capture Joseon. So he sent Gongsun Sui (公孙遂) who was the prefect of the Jinan Jun (济南郡) to visit the battlefront. Xun Zhi told Gongsun Sui that Yang Pu refused to send army to support him several times. He said, “If we don’t have any action to stop the plan of Yang Pu, I am worried that he will associate with Joseon and annihilate our army.” Gongsun Sui thought so, so he called Yang Pu to come to consult, and then arrested Yang Pu. The army of Yang Pu merged into the army of Xun Zhi. When Gongsun Sui reported to the emperor, Han Wu-Emperor thought he arrogated power to himself, and killed him.

Xun Zhi commanded the two armies to attack the city very fiercely. The ministers of Joseon were extremely panicky. In the summer of 108 BC, the ministers of Joseon killed Youqu and surrendered themselves to the army of Han.

Joseon was completely captured by Han Empire, and this country was divided into four Jun (郡, the name of a secondary region). The four Jun included Zhenfan (真番), Lintun (临屯), Lelang (乐浪) and Xuantu (玄菟). Modern-day Japan Sea was called the Lelang Sea (乐浪海) at that time.

Han Wu-Emperor conferred honorary titles to the ministers of Joseon and one of Youqu’s sons. But the two generals Xun Zhi and Yang Pu were tragic. The emperor thought Xun Zhi contended with Yang Pu for battle achievements and he was suspicious and jealous of Yang Pu, and then he arrested Yang Pu without authorization. So Han Wu-Emperor thought Xun Zhi was flagitious, and then killed him. However, the emperor didn’t forgive Yang Pu. He thought Yang Pu led his army to advance rashly and his army was defeated several times and the army was disastrous. The emperor wanted to kill Yang Pu, but Yang Pu atoned for his crime by a great deal of gold, and then his life was kept but he became a common person.

Joseon was captured, but the troops of Han were humiliated. A general was killed, and the other general was dismissed. No one military officer got an honorary title. A large number of people died in the war, and the rest endured the suffering of the war. Though the Han Empire captured Joseon, yet the cause of the war and the results of the commanders and the soldiers can’t be mentioned proudly.

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