Historic site of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom which has been included in the UNESCO's World Heritage Site List, is located in and around Ji'an. The site contains the archaeological remains of three cities (Wunu Mountain City, Guonei City, and Wandu Mountain City), and forty identified tombs of Koguryo imperial and noble families. Until recently, little has been known about the origin of Korea in the northern regions of China and in North Korea.
At the end of the Joseon Dynasty in the late nineteenth century, China had become protective of the northern regions historically claimed by Korea. China and Joseon signed an agreement that the movement of Koreans into Manchuria would be a crime punishable by death. Still, Koreans migrated secretly into the historic region of Korea's origin, the area of Tangun Joseon, Kija Joseon, and Koguryo.
The more than 2,000-year royal cities and royal tombs of Koguryo Kingdom, including Wunvshan City, Guonei City, Wandoushan City, 12 Royal Tombs, 26 noble tombs, and the stele of Great King Haotaiwang, are mainly located in Ji'an County, Jilin Province and Huanren City Liaoning Province.
Huanren and Ji'an were the political, cultural and economic center of Koguryo regime, which lasted 465 years. Nowadays the two cities have treasured the largest number of Koguryeo historical relics.
Guonei City and Wandoushan City, both located inside Ji'an, are two dependent capitals for Koguryeo, a typical "complementary-style capital". Normally the king would live in Guonei City in the plains, while retreating into Wandoushan City in the mountains.
Guonei City was located on the Tongguo Plain, the right bank of Yalu River, and now the city walls preserved are still solid, firm and solemn. Guonei City was the political, economic and cultural center then, 2.5 km (1.6 miles) from Wandoushan City.
Wandoushan City was the typical mountainous town of Koguryo Kingdom. Constructed among the hills, the city follows the natural trend of the mountain ridge, on which solid city walls were built. It became the temporary capital of Koguryo Kingdom twice during the long history and was broken and destroyed twice. Nowadays we only see some wall ruins, a horse pond, 37 tombs and some remains of palaces, towers and military camps.
Among the famous sites, Donggou Tombs are the concentrative reflection of Koguryo civilization. Located on the Donggou Plain of Ji'an County, it covers a huge land with over 10,000 tombs, which can be divided into stone tombs and earth tombs.
The superiority of Koguryo's architectural techniques was widely known to neighboring countries and influenced their culture as well. Among the magnificent architectures, the Taiwang Tomb, the general's tomb and Qianqiu Tomb are of extreme popularity. The Taiwang Tomb with a shape of square cone (every side 66 meters long and 14.8 meters high) was constructed for the nineteenth king of Koguryo, Tai De (太王谈德). It is the largest tomb in and around the ancient capital.
The royal mausoleum of King Jangsu, as another example, stands like a pyramid that measures 31 meters each side and stands 13 meters high, a reason that it is dubbed the "Pyramid of the East". Tomb guards used to take care of the mausoleums of kings and aristocrats and ceremonial services have taken place on a regular basis.
Besides, there is King Gwanggaeto's Monument standing in front of the king's mausoleum. Built by his son, King Jangsu, in A.D. 414, this rectangular monolith stands 6.39 meters high and weighs 37 metric tons. A total of 1,775 Chinese characters were engraved on all four sides of the monument, which is widely recognized for its historographical value today.
The Chinese inscriptions describe the "rules of care" for tomb guardians, a brief history of the kingdom, and the genealogy of royal families, as well as the great achievements of King Gwanggaeto. Another Koguryo-era monument, called "Jungwon-Koguryo-bi (the central region monument)", was excavated in 1979 in Chungju, South Korea. About 2,000 words were engraved on it. Although scholars were so far able to read only one-tenth of the inscriptions, about 200 words, it nevertheless provided invaluable information about how the kingdom governed its southern territories.
The representative works that epitomize Koguryeo art and civilization are those tomb murals inside more than 7000 tumuli. Their purpose was to wish the dead a peaceful rest and they were portrayed in various images and contents.
Popular images were decorative patterns, mostly to decorate the tomb's interior (or sometimes to convey particular meanings), the portraits of lifetime events of the deceased, deities of protection to chase off evil spirits and to lead the soul of the dead to the afterworld, paintings of brave gate guards, goblins, some of heavenly features, and various constellations. These murals vividly portray the lifestyle of the time as well as its complex spiritual worlds, not to mention the outstanding artistic painting skills.
For these reasons, they have won recognition as a "world cultural heritage". Of these tomb paintings, those found inside Anak No. 3 Tumulus (featuring a long procession of 250 participants), the Tomb of the Dancers (hunting scenes), the Large Gangseo Tumulus (a tortoise), and the Middle Gangseo Tumulus (a phoenix) well deserve to be honored as excellent examples of the world's best artworks among their contemporaries, given the exceptional techniques deployed in the handling of colors and brush strokes. Also, the paintings in the Fourth of the Five Tombs (portraying deities and hermitic figures) still retain much of their magnificent colors, and continue to mesmerize viewers.
In all, UNESCO experts believe that the Koguryo cultural heritage inside China has been providing real evidences for an evanescent civilization. It is the genuine creation of the ancestor of the Chinese nation, as well as the non-renewable cultural resources.
Koguryo is the largest of the three kingdoms into which ancient Korea was divided until 668. Koguryo is traditionally said to have been founded in 37 BC in the Tongge River basin of northern Korea by Chu-mong, leader of one of the Puyo tribes, natives to the area. By the reign of King T'aejo (53–146 A.D), Koguryo emerged as a full-fledged aristocratic state. Its territory was extended greatly during the reign of King Kwanggaet'o (391–412 A.D) and further by Changsu (413–491 A.D). The entire northern half of the Korean peninsula and the Liaodong Peninsula and a considerable portion of Manchuria (Northeast China) were under Koguryo rule during the kingdom's peak period.
The kingdom was defeated in 668 by the forces of the southern Korean kingdom of Silla and the Tang dynasty, and the entire peninsula came under the Unified Silla dynasty (668–935 A.D). Several locations in far southern Jilin province, China, containing early Koguryo ruins and tombs were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004.
Located in the northeast region of the ancient China, Koguryo was an influential and highly characteristic nation as well as local government. It once created glorious culture and history. Its main historical sites of a large number have been preserved in Jilin and Liaoning provinces in China, and have become irreplaceable evidences with important historical and cultural value for a meteoric civilization.
Among the historical remains, Koguryeo's Walls, Monuments and Tomb Murals have been recognized as world-class cultural heritage. Examples of these assets include tomb murals that are widely known for their sense of using bright colors and a variety of painted images, the 1,500-year-old fortresses and walls that still stand high in grandeur, as well as oversized, monolithic monuments. They are mainly distributed in Ji'an County and Hengren County of Liaoning Province. Ji'an Donggou ancient tombs, in particular, have been inscribed on the World Heritage.