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Posted on Nov 4, 2007 in Front Page Features, War College

The Goguryeo-Sui Wars

By Joshua Gilbert

Even as his empire burned all around him Emperor Yang of Sui was still determined to bring Goguryeo to heel. On April 4th, 614, Emperor Yang declared a third expedition against Goguryeo. By now both the officials and the generals were amazed by the Emperor’s obsession with the distant Korean kingdom. Nevertheless they knew they had to obey. The years had increased Emperor Yang’s cruelty, and those forms of execution normally reserved for the most heinous of criminals was now used on a near daily basis for even the smallest infractions by a court official. Despite this most of the soldiers called up to come serve at Zhuo Commandery did not show up, either by deserting or by not being able to arrive due to natural disaster or rampant banditry. As a result the expedition did not leave Zhuo Commandery until August, too late in the year to wage a war in Manchuria. However Lai Hu’er had much more success. Using his naval forces and marines he was able to bypass the Manchurian fortresses and the defenses at the Yalu.


Before the walls of Pyongyang a Goguryeo army was defeated. King Yeongyang knew that Pyongyang would not be able to withstand a siege now. To bide for time the king decided to offer surrender, and to sweeten the deal he offered to give up Husi Zheng, who by now was revealed to be co-conspirator with Yang Xuangan. Lai Hu’er didn’t trust the offer, but Emperor Yang decided to take it to save face. After executing the defectors the Emperor called on King Yeongyang to appear at the Celestial Court and give account for his actions. But even as weak as Goguryeo had became it would not submit. Enraged, Emperor Yang planned for a fourth invasion in 615, but by now the situation had deteriorated to the extent that such a move was out of the question. The great wars between Goguryeo and Sui had ended.

In conclusion the wars between Goguryeo and Sui were among the greatest of the era. The Goguryeo-Sui Wars left behind a mixed legacy in China and Korea. In Korea the wars have become a memory of pride, and the great general Eulji Mundeok is enshrined in the Korean national memory as a hero even greater then Yi Sun-shin. In China the wars are remembered as the primary reason for the fall of the Sui Dynasty, though it did pave the way for the rise of the greatest dynasty of all: Tang, which ‘avenged’ Sui by conquering Goguryeo.

Visit Joshua Gilbert at his Website, J. Gilbert History Productions.

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  1. You guys are brilliant!!!! This is exactly the page that I have been looking for. Thank you so much for posting, now I can use this as part of my final presention project.

  2. Also it should be noted that while Chinese fortifications during this era were built from bricks baked out of mud, Goguryeo fortifications made from stones which were denser and harder material. Therefore Chinese siege equipments which were designed to besiege Chinese fortresses were ineffective in sieging Goguryeo.

  3. Also Goguryeo used scorched earth tactics extensively against Sui. During retreat Goguryeo army burned all grains, buried alive all livestocks, and even poisoned the water supplies in order to prevent them being captured by the opponent.

    This was particularly the reason why the 300,000 men Sui strike force was doomed, as they were unable to resupply themselves locally.

    Unlike modern era, ancient warfare consistently faced challenges in supplies in logistics, and often times the armies relied on the supplies captured locally. Even Sun Tzu in his art of war stated that supplies captured from the enemy was worth 20 times that of one’s own supplies. This was a sound assessment, due to the combined factors of gaining the supply + reducing the supply needs required in order to supply one’s army + reducing the supply of the enemy.

    Goguryeo’s scorched earth tactics were particularly effective against large armies such as Sui, as larger armies are often more vulnerable to supply shortages. This is the reason why later Tang Taizong opted to field smaller forces of elite units in frequent raids rather than fielding gigantic armies like Sui had. As effective a tactic scorched earth is, the toll is also significant to the defenders as well. Decades of war against Tang in this scenario eventually ended with succumbing of Goguryeo.


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