King Yeongyang is known for driving off a series of attacks by the Sui Dynasty of China between the late 6th century and the early 7th century. Historical records say the king was tall and handsome, and he always cherished an ideal dream of saving the world and giving peace to his people.
When he became king in year 590, the biggest threat to his kingdom was the Sui Dynasty, which defeated the Chen Dynasty on the Yangtze River and unified the central part of China. King Yeongyang was at a crossroads where he had to choose between confronting Sui and surrendering. He chose confrontation. Thinking that it would be inevitable to wage war with Sui, the king launched a preemptive strike in a strategic move to destroy the enemy’s supply bases. Sui, with a population of 46 million, was a powerful enemy for Goguryeo, whose population fell short of 10 million. But the Goguryeo king didn’t care. The surprise attack from Goguryeo dealt a serious blow to Sui’s supply bases, and this hurt Sui’s pride. In retaliation, Emperor Wen Di of Sui invaded Goguryeo in 598 with 300-thousand troops. But the military campaign ended in failure due to an epidemic and pouring rain. Moreover, Sui soldiers suffered from hunger as their support bases had already been destroyed by Goguryeo. After the defeat, Emperor Wen Di completely gave up his plan to bring Goguryeo to its knees.
While confronting Sui, King Yeongyang was also greatly interested in reclaiming the Hangang River area, in present-day’s Seoul. Goguryeo lost this important region to the southeastern kingdom of Silla in the mid-6th century. In efforts to restore the lost territory, King Yeongyang significantly improved his kingdom’s relations with Japan. In 595, he sent to Japan a Buddhist monk named Hyeja, who stayed there for 20 years and even taught the crown prince of Japan. The king dispatched other Buddhist priests and artists to Japan, including famous painter and Buddhist monk Damjing. He also gave a large amount of gold to a Japanese temple to help build a statue of the Buddha. The king gave his full support to Japan with the sole purpose of inducing Japan to keep Silla in check so Goguryeo would be able to recover the Seoul area and to focus on war with Sui as well. In this sense, it was very important for Goguryeo to maintain friendly relations with Japan.
The Goguryeo king’s desire for the Seoul area was a grave threat to Silla. Therefore, Silla reached out to the Sui Dynasty and asked it to attack Goguryeo. King Yeongyang was angry with Silla, which was seeking to block Goguryeo with help from China. Silla later allied with Sui’s successor, the Tang Dynasty, to eventually unify an extensive part of the Korean Peninsula in the 7th century.