Korea’s geographical location accounts for much of its early history. Because it lay between China and Japan, it served as a connection between the two; many aspects of Chinese culture, such as Confucianism and Buddhism, first reached Japan through its trade and communications with Korea and with Korean traders and scholars. Because Korea bordered on China, but was only a fraction of China’s size, it was politically subordinate to China for much of its history. Korea also absorbed Chinese culture and customs; Confucianism pervaded Korean traditions as it did Chinese.
By 57 BC, Korea was organized into three kingdoms: Silla in the southeast, Paekche in the southwest, and Koguryo in the north. In AD 660, Silla crushed Paekche, then went on to defeat Koguryo in 668. The Koguryo general Tae Cho-yong established the new state of Bohai in the northwest, and the Koreans built a wall that constituted a border between the two.
In 735, China conceded Korean independence; until that time, Korea had been a tributary state, making regular payments to China and promising political loyalty. The separation between the two was peaceable, characterized by frequent travel and trade. Silla had organized its government along Chinese lines, with an absolute monarch ruling over provincial officials and a central bureaucracy. In the ninth century, the Korean parliament became stronger as the king became weaker, leading to the fragmentation of the kingdom into several principalities. The northern principality of Koryo, established in 918, united all the principalities under one rule in 936, thus restoring a unified Korean state. Korea takes its name from the kingdom of Koryo. The Koryo dynasty would remain in power until 1392.
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