By Robert Neff
Prophecies and portents of the end of the world are found throughout history and Korea was no exception. One such example was the Kingdom of Baekje (18 B.C.-A.D. 660).
King Uija was the final monarch of that kingdom and ruled from 641 until 660. As a crown prince, he was known for his courage and fidelity to his parents.
But following his accession to the throne he became “addicted to sensual pleasures” and neglected the rule of his kingdom. The government became decadent and plagued with internal power struggles and it was only a matter of time before the kingdom fell.
If we are to believe the “Samguk Yusa,” there were a number of strange events that plagued Baekje just prior to its fall. In February 659, several foxes boldly entered the royal palace frightening the imperial staff. A couple of months later, a sparrow mated with a chicken in the palace of the crown prince. A month later a large fish — nearly a meter long — jumped out of the river that ran through the capital and beached itself. Those who carved up and ate the fish soon perished.
As the year progressed, the portents grew even more foreboding. In September, ghosts haunted the road leading to the palace at night while during the day a large locust tree in the palace grounds was said to emit human-like cries.
The new year brought even more dire omens. In the capital, the river and wells in the capital city turned blood red and the West Sea was filled with small dead fish. This led to general unrest and led to the death of more than a hundred people, crushed when a spooked crowd suddenly fled the capital. In June, a huge dog appeared on the banks of the river and bayed at the palace before disappearing. Soon, several dogs from the nearby fortress also gathered on the road where they stayed for several days — their howls adding to the uneasiness that plagued the capital. A ghost haunted the palace and shrieked that the kingdom would perish.
A month later — July 9, 660, — the small 5,000-man Baekje Army was destroyed by the combined 50,000-man Silla (57 B.C.-A.D. 935) and Tang army commanded by Gen. Kim Yushin at the Battle of Hwangsanbeol. The Silla/Tang army then advanced towards Kongju and the final battle but, before it could engage the beleaguered Baekje army, it was suddenly frightened by the appearance of a large bird circling the Silla camp.
A fortune teller was consulted who promptly declared that the Chinese general would be harmed in the upcoming battle. The general, alarmed at this prophecy, was determined to remove his men from the battle. But Gen. Kim would not accept this. Declaring that the Tang/Silla armies were acting “in response to the voices of heaven and the people” in removing the malevolent Baekje monarch, he threw his sword at the bird and slew it while it was in flight.
Baekje soon fell and King Uija, two of his sons, and thousands of Baekje citizens were taken to China. Uija is said to have died of an unidentified disease while in China and was buried there with honor. His body remained there until 2000 when it was brought back to Korea and reburied in Buyeo, South Chungcheong Province.
Robert Neff is a contributing writer for The Korea Times.