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An Interpretation of the King Kwanggaet'o Inscription By Takashi Hatada Senshu University Translated by V. Dixon Morris University of Hawaii 1. Background of the Inscription The King Kwanggaet'o inscription is a memorial on a stele erected at the tomb of King Kwanggaet'o, whose full, proper name was Kukkangsang Kwanggaet'ogyöng p'yöngan hot'ae-wang. Kwanggaet'o is an abbreviation . The same man was also referred to as King Hot'ae and sometimes as Great King Yöngnak, after the era name Yöngnak, which he selected. He was the nineteenth monarch of the kingdom of Koguryö and reigned during the twenty-two years from a.d. 391 to 412. Though he was only thirty-nine years old at the time of his death, he nonetheless extended his boundaries in all directions and left behind a greater Koguryö kingdom. The memorial stele was erected in 414, two years after his death. Its location is in the present People's Republic of China, outside the capital of Chian District, T'unghua Special Area, Chilin Province. It is not far from the banks of the YaIu River along its middle reaches. The Chian District was the site of the Koguryö capital. ' The stele is an irregular rectangular column made of natural stone. It is 6.2 meters high, and at the base its width on side one is 1 .55 meters; on side two, 1.44 meters; side three, 1.97 meters; and side four, 1.39 meters. Characters have been carved on the four sides. There are fortyfour lines of writing with eleven lines on side one, ten lines on side two, fourteen on side three, and nine on side four. Each line of writing contains forty-one characters, except the sixth line on side one, which has 1 . Koguryö moved the seat of the capital in the year 427 a.d. 2 hatada two blanks at the end of the line. This makes a total of 1,802 characters in the inscription.2 Of these, 260 characters are completely illegible owing to damage to the surface of the stele, and there are many other characters that cannot be read precisely.3 In terms of content, one can divide the inscription into three major sections. The first section begins with the foundation myth of the ancestral King Ch'umo, extols the great deeds of King Kwanggaet'o, and records the reasons for erecting the stele to commemorate the king. Section two records in chronological order Kwanggaet'o's military exploits, that is, his victories in wars of conquest. These include seven wars: (1) the subjugation of the Pi-Ii in 395 (the Pi-Ii seem to have been a Khitan people from the upper reaches of the Liao River); (2) the subjugation of Paekche in 396; (3) the defeat in 398 of the Po-shen (who were apparently a Su-shen people from the Mutan River); (4) the dispatch in 400 of troops to the southern end of the Korean peninsula to subjugate the Wa, who had invaded Silla; (5) the defeat in 404 of Wa armies that had invaded Taebang (near Hwanghae Province); (6) the dispatch of troops in 407 to a place that is unclear since the characters spelling out the area are missing (there are various theories: Paekche or perhaps the Hou-yen from the Liaotung area); (7) the subjugation in 410 of the Tung-fu-yü (who are variously said to have been in North Hamgyöng Province or in the Nungan-Ch'angch'un area of Manchuria). Section three records in detail the number of households of the gravekeepers, grouped by place of origin. As stated earlier, the stele was erected in the second year following the king's death, but in the years that followed, its existence was completely forgotten. There was absolutely no document from either Korea or China that recorded the content of the inscription.4 Moreover, following the destruction of Koguryö, the area reverted to wilderness so that visitors there were few, and for centuries the stele was lost.5 Then in the latter half of the nineteenth century, reclamation of the area commenced, and the Ch...


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