Kim Yushin, or Kim Yusin (Childhood name: Sandara, 산다라 金庾信, 595 - 673), was a general in seventh century Silla (신라 新羅), considered to be one of the greatest generals and masters of the Korean sword in Korean history. Throughout his life, Kim Yusin believed that Baekje (Paekche), Goguryeo, and Silla should not be separate countries, but united. He is regarded as the driving force in the unification of the Korean Peninsula by Silla under the reigns of Muyeol of Silla (태종 무열왕 太宗 武烈王) and Munmu of Silla (문무왕 文武王), and is the most famous of all the generals in the unification wars of the Three Kingdoms.
In 660, Tang Chinese and Silla forces, under the leadership of Kim Yusin, Kim Inmun, and Yangdo, conquered Baekche. In 667, with the assistance of Tang China, Silla launched another offensive, which finally destroyed Goguryeo in 668. Kim Yusin then worked to drive the Tang Chinese out of the Korean peninsula. Korea finally became united and independent three years after his death. Kim Yusin is the subject of numerous stories and legends testifying to his wisdom and courage as a general, and is a familiar figure to most Koreans by a very early age.
Kim Yusin (김유신) was born in 595, in Gyeyang, Jincheon County, Korea, the son of General Kim Suhyun and Lady Manmyung, who was a daughter of King Jinheung of Silla Dynasty of Korea. At the age of fifteen, he became a Hwarang warrior, named Yonghwa-Hyangdo ("Band of the Dragon Flower Tree," the Nagavrksa tree, or Bodhi tree, under which Maitreya Buddha would stand and teach his disciples). He was an accomplished swordsman and became a Gukseon (국선, 國仙; Hwarang leader) by the time he was eighteen years old.
In 611 C.E., during the reign of King Chinp'yóng, when Kim Yusin was seventeen, Koguryó, Baekche, and Magal began to encroach on Silla's territory. Enraged, Kim Yusin entered a cave on Chung'ak Mountain (Pu'ak—Middle Peak), where he fasted and swore an oath to put an end to the disorder. (The Middle Peak Cave in which Kim Yusin prayed is presumed to be the Sinsón cave temple, located on Tansók Mountain in Sómyón, Wólsóng County, on the walls of which there are ten statues carved in relief, two of which are the Maitreya Buddha). After four days an old man came to him, dressed in rough clothing. Kim Yusin recognized that he was not an ordinary person, and for seven days, begged to learn the old man’s secret. Finally the old man spoke, "Even though you are young, you are of determined to unify the Three Kingdoms, this certainly indicates a strong character." Then the old man taught him his secret methods, and disappeared in a brilliant light of five colors.
In 612, the enemy forces further threatened Silla. Kim Yusin entered a cave on Mt. Inbak with his doubled-edged sword, and swore the oath he had sworn before at Chung'ak, praying further, "Heavenly Gods, send down a light and let a spirit descend into my precious sword!" On the night of the third day, the two asterisms of "Barrens" (in Aquarius and Equuleus) and Horn (Spica) shone their light into the sword, until it started to quiver.
Kim Yusin was making plans day and night to conquer Koguryó and Baekche. And one night, when Yusin was about the age of eighteen, a Koguryó spy who had mingled with the Hwarang for many years tried to lure Kim Yusin into a trap. The spy whispered secretly that they should spy on the enemy and they set out together. One day as they paused on a mountain top, two girls appeared from the forest and followed after Kim Yusin. When they arrived at a village to rest for the night, a third girl appeared, and all three, in the most engaging manner, presented delicious cakes for Kim Yusin to eat. He was transported with joy and immediately fell in love with the three of them.
"My beautiful ladies," he said, "You are three laughing flowers and I am a humming bee. Will you suffer me to suck honey from your golden hearts the whole night?"
"Yes," they replied coyly, "we understand. Come to the forest with us and there we shall have our pleasure in beds of fragrant flowers, unseen and unheard by the other boy."
So Kim Yusin went into the forest with the three girls, but as soon as they arrived the girls changed into noble goddesses. "We are no laughing flowers or nymphs," they told Kim Yusin, "but three goddesses who guard the three sacred mountains. We have come to warn you that you are being lured by an enemy spy. Be on your guard! Farewell!" And with these words the three goddesses rose into the sky and flew away. Kim Yusin prostrated himself before the departing goddesses and then returned to the sleeping spy. Early next morning Kim Yusin woke him and said, "Look. We started on our long journey to a foreign country in such a hurry that I forgot my purse and left it at home. Let's go back and get it before going any farther." The Koguryó spy suspected nothing, and they returned to Kyongju. Here Kim Yusin immediately had him arrested and bound on hand and foot. After confessing, Kim Yusin had the spy executed and thanked the three goddesses who had saved his life." Samguk Sagi.
Kim Yushin and the royal family
Kim Yusin was closely tied to the royal family through the marriage of his sister to the future king, Kim Yusin's close friend and blood brother, Kim Ch'un Ch'u (김춘추, 金春秋. After Yusin's wife died, he married Ch'un Ch'u's sister, bringing them even closer together. In 642, Baekche conquered parts of Silla, and a furious Ch'un Ch'u decided to go to Koguryó to ask for troops, to get revenge. When Ch'un Ch'u was ready to leave, he promised to return within sixty days, and the two of tehm swore to be blood brothers. When Ch'un Ch'u arrived at the Koguryó court, the King recognized that he was not an ordinary man and had him imprisoned for later execution. After sixty days, when Ch'un Ch'u had not returned, Kim Yusin trained 3,000 brave Silla warriors to fight to the death. Before the Queen could decided on Kim Yusin’s departure date, however, the King of Koguryó heard of Silla’s plans through his spies and released Ch'un Ch'u. In a section for the year 647, one of the oldest Japanese histories, the "Nihongi" (697 C.E.), says:
Silla sent Kim Chhyun-chhyu, a Superior Minister, of the rank of Greater Ason, and others to accompany the Hakase, Takamuko no Kuromaro, of Shótoko rank, and Oshikuma, Nakatomi no Muraji, of middle Shósen rank (All are Japanese ranks), and bring a present to the Emperor of a peacock and a parrot. Chhyun-cchyu was made a hostage. He was a handsome man, who talked and smiled agreeably.
In 654, Kim Ch'un Ch'u ascended the throne as King Taejong Muyeol (太宗 武烈王, 602–661), the 29th monarch of Silla. During his reign, he and Kim Yusin united the peninsula to one country for the first time in history.
Silla was in a constant struggle with its neighbor to the west, Baekje (Paekche), over territory. There had been gains and losses on both sides, and the struggle lasted for many years. During this period that Kim rose through the ranks of the military, rising to the position of general and becoming a skilled field commander.
In 629 C.E., Kim Yusin was fighting in the Silla army under his father, Sóhyún. The troops had lost the will to fight, after repeated attempts to conquer Nangbi Castle had resulted in failure and the deaths of many of their comrades. Kim Yusin, who at this time was commander of a medium-sized garrison, went to his father and promised to inspire the troops. He mounted his horse, fought his way into the enemy camp and beheaded the general. When the Silla troops saw him returning, holding the general’s head high, they rushed into battle and beheaded more than five thousand of the enemy. More than a thousand prisoners were taken, and the besieged city surrendered.
There are many stories testifying to Kim Yusin’s wisdom and courage as a general. On one occasion, he was leading his troops through the mountains. It was freezing cold, and the exhausted men and horses fell again and again. Kim Yusin bared his shoulders, seized his whip and spurred his horse on. As the troops saw this, they picked p their pace so that sweat started to pour. They dared not speak of the cold again.
Just before the last battle with Baekche, 50,000 hand picked warriors under the command of General Kim Yusin were preparing to fight together with 122,711 crack troops from T’ang China under the command of "Left Tiger Guard General Su Ting-fang." As the two commanders were planning, a fierce bird started to circle around the head of General Su, and a fortune teller declared that it was an omen of his sure death in the coming battle. The T'ang General trembled from head to foot, and was about to order his men to turn back. Kim Yusin unsheathed his long sword, struck the swooping bird dead, and laid it at the General's feet, saying "A small grotesque bird cannot interfere with our great expedition against a bad king."
Silla and Baekche
Baekje (Paekche) and Silla had formed an alliance to counter Goguryeo's power and its intentions to push southwards, and together they launched a successful attack on it, Silla taking the northern territory and Baekje (Paekche) the one south of the Han river. But Silla broke the alliance and attacked Baekje in order to claim both territories for itself. After this betrayal, Baekje allied with Goguryeo. When Goguryeo and Baekje attacked Silla in 655, Silla joined forces with Tang Dynasty China to battle the invaders. Although it is not clear when Kim first became a general, he was certainly commanding the Silla forces at this time. Eventually, with the help of the Silla navy and some 13,000 Tang forces, Kim attacked the Baekje capital, Sabi, in 660, in one of the most famous battles of the century, the Battle of Hwangsanbeol (Korean: 황산벌 전투). In the summer of 660 C.E., Great King (T'aejong) and the Crown Prince Pómmin set up camp at Namch'ón with a huge army, intending attack Baekche. Kim Inmun, had gone to T'ang to request troop support, and returned with the T'ang Great Generals Su Ting-fang and Liu Po-ying, at the head of thirteen thousand troops, crossing the sea and landing at Tóngmul Island. The king ordered the Crown Prince, Generals Yusin, Chinju, Ch'ónjon, and others to take a hundred large vessels laden with troops to meet them. T'ang and Silla joined in attack on Baekche. The Baekje force, commanded by General Gyebaek, consisted of about 5,000 men and were no match for Kim's warriors, which numbered about ten times as many. Baekje, which had been experiencing internal political problems, repelled the attackers in the first five skirmishes, but was finally destroyed. General Gyebaek was killed in battle. General Su Ting-fang offered to give all of Baekje to Yusin, Inmun, and Yangdo, but they did not accept. King T'aejong Taewang (Muryól) gave Kim Yusin the highest office in Silla, Ibulch'ihan (Minister President).
Once Baekche had been defeated, the Tang forces camped on the Sabi hills and secretly plotted to invade Silla. The Silla king learned of this and called his officials together to plan a strategy. When the Tang armies realized that the Silla knew their plans, they took the Baekche king, along with ninety-three officials, and twenty thousand soldiers prisoner, and on the third day of the ninth month, set sail from Sabi to return to T'ang, leaving a force with General Liu Jen-yüan behind to occupy the territory. When General Su Ting-fang had presented the prisoners to the Tang Emperor, the Emperor asked why he had not attacked Silla. Su Ting-fang replied, "The Silla sovereign is humane and loves his people, his officers serve their nation with loyalty, and those below serve those above as if they were their fathers or elder brothers. Even though it is a small country, one can't plot against them." Kim Yusin's Silla forces and their Tang allies now moved on Goguryeo from two directions, and in 661 they attacked the seemingly impregnable Goguryeo kingdom, but were repelled. The attack had weakened Goguryeo. In 667, with the assistance of Tang China, another offensive was launched which, in 668, finally destroyed Goguryeo. Tang China again stationed troops in the former Baekche, plotting to attack Silla and bring the entire Korean peninsula under Chinese control. In 676, the sixteenth year of King Munmu’s reign, the Silla drove the Chinese out and finally unified the Korean peninsula, three years after Kim Yusin’s death.
King Munmu rewarded Kim Yusin for his efforts in the campaigns with the title of Great Minister-President (Sink'ú-ibulch'ihan) and gave him a fief of five hundred households. Kim Yusin received the right to enter the palace at any time, and his subordinates each received a title. In 669, he was given some 142 separate horse farms, spread throughout the kingdom. He died four years later, leaving behind ten children.
One day in the six month of 673, the people saw hundreds of men in armor, holding their weapons, walk out of Kim Yusin’s house and suddenly disappear. When Kim Yusin heard this he said: "That was surely my secret guardian soldiers who, feeling that my luck has run out, have left—I will die!" Ten days later, he lay sick in bed, and on the first day of the seventh month, he died in the main room of his house. King Munmu paid one thousand rolls of colored silk and two thousand sacks of rice for his funeral, and ordered guards to protect his tomb at the foot of Songhwa Mountain, near Gyeongju in southeastern Korea, a tomb as splendid as that of a king. King Húngdók (826-836) later awarded Kim Yusin the posthumous title of "Great King Húngmu" (Húngmu Taewang, “Great King Promoting the Warlike).
Many stories exist about Kim Yusin. It is told that he once was ordered to subdue a rebel army, but his troops refused to fight because they had seen a large star fall from the sky and took this to be a bad omen. To regain the confidence of his troops, the General used a large kite to carry a fire ball into the sky. The soldiers, seeing the star return to heaven, rallied and defeated the rebels. It is also related that General Kim ingeniously used kites as a means of communication between his troops when they had become divided between islands and the mainland. Another story tells of an argument that broke out between Kim's commander and a Chinese general, while Silla was allied with China against Baekje (Paekche). As the argument escalated into a potentially bloody confrontation, Kim's sword was said to have leaped from its scabbard into his hand. Because the sword of a warrior was believed to be his soul, this occurrence so frightened the Chinese general that he immediately apologized to the Silla officers.
Throughout his life, Kim Yusin believed that Baekje (Paekche), Goguryeo, and Silla should not be separate countries, but united. He is regarded as the driving force in the unification of the Korean Peninsula, and is the most famous of all the generals in the unification wars of the Three Kingdoms. He is considered to be one of the most famous generals and masters of the Korean sword in Korean history. He is the focus of numerous stories and legends, and is familiar to most Koreans from a very early age.
One of his ten children, Won-Sul, became a general during the time of King Munmu of Silla, and he was essential to the complete independence of Silla from Tang China. If not for Kim Yusin, the nation of Korea would not have been unified, and the Korean people would not be a distinct nation with a unique culture. That is the ultimate legacy of General Kim Yusin.
- World Hwa Rang Do Association, The Hwarng Warriors. Retrieved August 31, 2007.
- Frits Vos, Kim Yusin, Persönlichkeit und Mythos: Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der Altkoreanischen Geschichte, Oriens Extremus 1 (1954) p.29-70 and 2 (1955).
- Chu, Yo-sŏp. 1947. Kim Yusin; the Romances of a Korean Warrior of 7th Century. Seoul: the Mutual Publishers.
- McBride, Richard D. “Hidden Agendas in the Life Writing of Kim Yusin.” Acta Koreana, vol. 1 (August 1998): 101–142.
- Nahm, Andrew C. 1983. A Panorama of 5000 Years: Korean History. Elizabeth, N.J.: Hollym International Corp. ISBN 093087823X
- Yunesŭkuo Hanguk Wiwŏnhoe. 2004. Korean History: Discovery of its Characteristics and Developments. Anthology of Korean Studies, v. 5. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym. ISBN 1565911776
All links retrieved April 17, 2018.
- Kim Yusin, World Hwa Rang Do Association.
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