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King Onjo

2015-08-19

King Onjo
Baekje was one of the ancient kingdoms that prospered on the Korean Peninsula during the so-called Three Kingdoms period. It existed on the southwestern part of the Korean Peninsula for nearly 700 years from 18 B.C. to 660 A.D. Although it is often the most overlooked of the three kingdoms, Baekje was famous for ceramics even at that time, and it engaged in brisk trade with both China and Japan. The most distinctive feature of Baekje is its links and exchanges with nations outside of the Korean Peninsula, despite constant conflicts with its direct two neighbors. It is also worth mentioning that Baekje exported important cultural traditions to Japan, including writing and Buddhism.

The founder of Baekje was King Onjo. Unlike its two neighboring states, Goguryeo and Silla, this kingdom had no dramatic birth myth about the founding father. Onjo was initially the second son of King Dongmyeong of the Goguryeo kingdom in the northern part of the peninsula. Being the second son, Onjo had a slim chance of inheriting the throne. The chances dwindled even further when the king’s other son from a previous marriage came onto the scene. Onjo now became the third son due to the sudden appearance of his half-brother, Yuri, who eventually became the heir. Onjo decided to leave his homeland with his older brother, Biryu, and moved southward to establish his own kingdom.

Onjo thought that the Hang River in present-day Seoul would be an ideal site for a new kingdom, while his brother Biryu turned his eyes to the lower reaches of the river near the seas. So, Onjo built a fortress in Hanam, east of Seoul, and founded a new kingdom in 18 B.C. He called the fortress Wiryeseong and named his kingdom Sipje. The word “sip” means ten, and the king chose this word because ten loyal subjects helped him establish the kingdom. It turned out that Onjo made the right choice, as farming and ironware culture had remarkably developed in the Han River area, which was also ideally located to accept advanced culture from China through the seas. On the other hand, Biryu selected Michuhol, which is now the Incheon area, west of Seoul. But he soon realized that the salty land near the seas were not appropriate for farming. He regretted his choice and came to the Wiryeseong Fortress where his younger brother settled. After he died, Biryu’s people joined Sipje. Onjo then renamed it to Baekje as “baek” means “many.” The name contains the king’s hope that all the people would follow him.

During 46 years of his reign, Onjo laid the groundwork for his new kingdom, which would play a very significant role in forming not only Korea but Japan as well. The Baekje kingdom lasted for 678 years, producing a total of 31 kings. The Kingdom was eventually conquered by allied forces of the neighboring state of Silla and the Tang Dynasty of China in the year 660.

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