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Exploring the ruins of China's Korean kingdom

By Rainer Feldbacher | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-01-14 08:37
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Jilin province's Ji'an city hosts a Korean legacy in China.

The settlement on the border with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was the capital of the ancient Gaogouli kingdom-known as Koguryo to Westerners-and the mausoleum relics showcase the unique culture and civilization of the northern ethnic tribe from roughly 2,000 years ago.

After 425 years of dominance, the ancient kingdom was relocated to what is today Pyongyang. However, its culture and traditions have persevered and a number of relics from its heyday remain. The kingdom's ruins were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004.

Visitors to the small city can enjoy boat trips on the Yalu River that denotes the border, and enjoy local liquor and cuisine, in addition to exploring the ruins.

The Koguryo kingdom is recognized as beginning in 37 BC, although a tribal state may have been in place a couple of centuries before. It was the largest of ancient Korea's three kingdoms-the others were the Paekche and the Silla-during the period. It's said to have been overcome by an alliance of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the Silla in 668.

The area still hosts pyramidal tombs in which kings, generals and nobles were buried.

These provide rich accounts of history literally written in stone. The tablet in the tomb of king Gwanggaeto (AD 414), aka Tande, erected by his son, Jangsu, details his exploits. A total of 1,590 out of 1,775 ancient Chinese characters are still legible.

The tombstone is behind glass today but survived with little more than a pagoda to protect it until recently. The structure once even had a second story so visitors could read the upper part.

Nearby, Tande's pyramid stands in good condition.

It's arranged as a dwelling for the afterlife. The discovery of ceramic roof tiles shows that buildings were erected atop the pyramids.

The nearby Yushan Noble Cemetery reveals the lives, customs and beliefs of its inhabitants, especially through the murals that adorn the tombs' walls.

A few kilometers away stands the Wandu mountain town. It was originally a fortress built to defend the nearby capital of Guonei before it itself became the capital.

The valley hosts a plethora of stone and earth pyramids, while the mountains were home to the city of the living. The peaks contain the remains of the palace, watchtowers and fountains.

A 6-kilometer-long wall envelops the city, which has largely been reclaimed by nature.

Travelers can follow the wall by hiking up the eastern slope. But it takes five or six hours to circumnavigate the entire barricade. However, they're rewarded with incredible views of hundreds of pyramids on the plains below.

Indeed, visitors to Ji'an can discover how the Koguryo kingdom shaped Northeast Asian civilization and explore a chapter of Korean heritage on Chinese soil. Even today, a large proportion of the local population hails from the Korean ethnic group.

And the peaceful coexistence of these peoples with different yet shared histories can be seen and help to make the trip to Ji'an all the more worthwhile.



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