Lo-lang commandery was one of four commanderies established in Korea after the conquest of the northern and central part of the peninsula by China’s Han dynasty in 108 b.c.e. It was the most prosperous among the four commanderies and remained under Chinese control until 313 c.e.
Contacts between China and the Korean Peninsula intensified after the establishment of the Han dynasty in China (202 b.c.e.–220 c.e.). In 194 b.c.e. a Chinese named Wei Man (Wiman, in Korean) fled China after a failed revolt and established a state called Choson in northern Korea.
In 109 b.c.e., on pretext that Wei Man’s successors were harboring Chinese fugitives, Emperor Wu sent an expedition against Choson, defeating it and establishing four commanderies on the peninsula after 108 b.c.e.
They were Lo-lang (Korean: Nangnang) in the northwest, whose administrative capital was that of the Choson kingdom, near modern Pyongyang; Chen-fang (Korean: Chinbon) to its south; Lin-tun (Korean: Imdun) in the northeast; and Xuan-tou (Korean: Hyondo) in the north.
By 1–2 c.e. only Lo-lang and Xuan-tou remained, comprising 28 counties. The retreat was motivated by native unrest and the lack of strategic reasons to maintain control in remote regions on the peninsula.
But even as the Han dynasty was disintegrating in the early third century c.e., the Chinese were still powerful enough to found a new commandery called Tai-fang (Korean: Taebang) in the Han River valley in west-central Korea.
Lo-lang was a rich outpost of Chinese civilization for four centuries. It had 25 counties with 400,000 registered inhabitants. Many tombs excavated near Pyongyang contained some of the best products of Han artisans: many items, such as lacquerware, were made in other regions in China, but some must have been the products of local Chinese immigrants.
Because of its cultural dominance and the lure of trade, Korean tribal leaders in areas outside the commanderies offered tribute and received patents of office from the Han government.
With China divided and in a state of civil war at the end of the Han dynasty, Lo-lang commandery fell in 313 c.e. and Tai-fang soon followed. Lo-lang and other Chinese commanderies in Korea were comparable to Roman colonies in Britain.
They served to transmit advanced culture to the occupied countries, however, more effectively in the case between China and Korea than between Rome and Britain. As Chinese political influence ended in Korea in the fourth century c.e., naive Korean states would emerge.
Though these states were not the direct political heirs of Chinese rule, they nevertheless received much of their institutions and culture from contacts with China through its colonial outposts. Importantly Korea also served as the conduit between China and Japan.