Tour Through Time: Stop 21: Nonsan Si

11 short miles later and we arrive at the battle site of Hwangsanbeol where Ge Baek fought Kim Yoo Sin.

We discussed at our last stop how horrendously outnumbered the Baekje army were, and how Ge Baek knew it was a suicide battle. It is said that as their 5,000 troops assembled before the 50,000 strong Silla army and 130,000 Tang troops, that he made the most heroic speech to his people, reminding them of an old tale of Chinese King Goujian of Yue who defeated an army of 700,000 with just 5,000 men. Ge Baek announced that he would rather die than be a slave to the enemy, encouraging his men to fight to the bitter end.

Despite the overwhelming odds, the Baekje army won the first four clashes, causing many casualties and demoralising the Silla troops. General Kim Pum Il then sent his 16-year-old son, and Hwa Rang warrior, Kwan Chan, alone into the Baekje camp to kill Ge Baek. The boy failed and was captured, but Ge Baek was so impressed by his fearlessness that he released him back unharmed. The next day Kwan Chan tried again, and after being captured a second time managed to kill the guards and even Ge Baek’s 2nd in command, reportedly with a flying kick to the head, knocking him off his horse and breaking his neck. This time when he was recaptured Ge Baek executed Kwan Chan, sending his body back to his father as a sign of respect for the boy’s bravery.

Spurred on by Kwan Chan’s death, the Silla soldiers surrounded the thinning Baekje army. Ge Baek gave his final command to “Hold or Die” and the entire Baekje army were killed.

Ge Baek and Yoo Sin were both famous Generals of their time, albeit on opposing sides. Kim Yoo Sin himself was an accomplished swordsman and Hwa Rang warrior, who rose quickly through the ranks because of his royal bloodlines. He became unit commander of the Yonghwa-Hyangdo (Band of the Dragon Flower Tree) in just 3 years, rising to Commander in Chief of Silla’s entire army by the age of 34. Legends of Yoo Sin’s victories are plentiful, in 645 AD it is said that he led his armies into battle with Baekje 3x without even visiting his family, to which his tired and hungry soldiers had said “When our leader is like this, how can we be sad to be parted from our meat and bread”.

Yoo Sin was a courageous man, and even promised his childhood friend and high minister Kim Chun-Chu that if anything were to happen to him on his journey to Goguryo that he was personally mount his horse and come rescue him. As it happened, Chun-Chu did need his assistance; upon his arrival the Goguryo King had him imprisoned and sentenced him to death. But Yoo Sin chose 3,000 of his bravest Hwa Rang soldiers and said “If a man is ready to give himself up to death, then he is worth one hundred men; if one hundred men are ready to give themselves up to death, then they are worth one thousand men; if one thousand men are ready to give themselves up to death, then they are worth ten thousand men. In this case, it is possible, through faith, to march straight through the world”. A spy informed the Goguryo King of Yoo Sin’s mission and before the troops had even left, Kim Chun-Chu had been released!

Chun-Chu later became the King, King Muyeol, in 654 AD. He was now also Yoo Sin’s blood brother as he had married Yoo Sin’s sister. It was King Muyeol’s longstanding friendship with the Tang Emperor that brought the Chinese to their aid in the Battle of Hwangsanbul. Here it is said that the Tang General saw a buzzard circling above their camp and saw it has an omen that he would die in battle, but seeing the General trembling in fear Kim Yoo Sin struck the bird down and led it at his feet saying “A small grotesque bird cannot interfere with our great expedition against a bad king”.

After the Battle of Hwangsanbul, in 661 AD, King Muyeol sadly passed away and his son, Yoo Sin’s nephew, Moon Moo, ascended the throne. After the annexation of Baekje, and many years of battles, the combined Silla and Tang forces finally defeated Goguryo in 668 AD, and a unified Silla was formed. King Moon Moo bestowed upon Yoo Sin the title of Taedaegakgan (similar to Grand Sub-Chief) and gifted him a village of 500 households and later 142 horse farms spread throughout the kingdom.

In 673 AD it is said that people saw visions of warriors with shields and weapons walking out of Yoo Sin’s house crying, then disappearing into the air. 10 days later Yoo Sin was struck down with sickness. King Moon Moo is said to have wept at his bedside at the thought of losing him. On 1st July 673 AD he passed away, aged 79. He is remembered to this day as being the driving force for the unification of Korea and was posthumously awarded the honorary title of King Heung-Mu (Great King of War) by King Heung-Deok.

We will be marking our arrival here with 11 Skater Lunges before continuing a lengthy 94 miles east to a Confucian Academy.

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