A Model of Loyalty
In the olden days, educated people sought to cultivate a fair society by educating their minds and governing commoners properly. Their lifelong goal was to distinguish themselves in society in a righteous manner.
It wasn’t difficult to become a public servant but it was far from easy to walk the path of a loyal subject. One should never hesitate to be forthright to his king and sometimes had to give up his own life in order to assist the king rightfully and build a better society. During the Silla era, there was a faithful retainer who sacrificed his life to fulfill his duties.
Heading off to Enemy State to Allay King’s Anxiety
According to the ‘Park Je-sang Biography’ in 『Samguk Sagi』 or 『The History of the Three Kingdoms』, Park Je-sang is a descendant of Park Hyeok Geo Se(박혁거세), the progenitor of the Silla Kingdom, and five-generation descendant of King Pasa(파사), the fifth ruler of Silla. Park was born in 363.
While in government service in Sab-ryang(삽량), which is present-day Yangsan, Park was ordered to enter the court by King Nulji(눌지), the 19th monarch of Silla. Facing Park, the king expressed deep concern over his two younger brothers who were taken as hostages to enemy states.
King Nulji’s father was King Naemul(내물), Silla’s 17th ruler, who sent his cousin Silseong(실성) to the Goguryeo kingdom as a hostage in 392. At the time, Goguryeo was enjoying a golden age under the rule of King Gwanggaeto the Great. Silla had to use careful diplomatic tactics to prevent the northern power from expanding its territory into the south. As a means of implementing treaties with enemy states, Silla chose the “hostage policy,” in which members of the royal family were sent to those countries.
Silseong was disturbed with anxiety and fear in Goguryeo for ten years before returning home in 401 and ascending the throne the following year. At the time, crown prince Nulji was too young, and court officials selected Silseong as king. King Silseong had grudges against the preceding king for sending him to the enemy state as a hostage. As a means of retaliation, the king sent two sons of King Naemul—Misaheun(미사흔) and Bokho(복호)—to Japan and Goguryeo, respectively.
The king even attempted to kill Nulji in 417 but Nulji repelled Silseong and became king himself. When the new king was worried about his two brothers, Park Je-sang said, “If the king is in agony, his subjects should do everything, even offering their own lives.” Park left for Goguryeo even before the king ordered him to do so.
Saving Bokho, Misaheun
In 418, Park went to Goguryeo as an envoy and met King Jangsu. Park said to the king, “If Your Majesty is generous enough to send Bokho back home, it will be like a drop in the ocean so the king will not suffer any loss. But the Silla king will exalt the virtue of the Goguryeo king to the skies.” Thanks to his persuasive argument, Park was able to bring back Bokho, who was held hostage in Goguryeo for 20 years.
Park lost no time in leaving for Japan. But Japan wasn’t a country that would be persuaded easily. Before going to Japan, he asked King Nulji to spread a false rumor that Park betrayed Silla and fled to Japan. As he intended, Park won the Japanese king’s confidence.
At the time, Japan was busy preparing to attack Silla and let Park, who knew the Silla situation well, lead the attack. Taking advantage of the commotion, Park revealed his true identity to Misaheun, who had been held hostage for 30 years since he was ten years old, and helped him escape to Silla in the fog. Park stood in front of the infuriated Japanese king.
I’m Silla’s Servant
“I’m a Silla man and I came here to rescue the prince for my king. I’ve done what I had to do, so kill me now.”
Impressed by his dignified attitude in the face of death, the king persuaded Park to serve him. However, Park remained a loyal servant of Silla to the last moment, saying “I would rather live as a dog or pig in Silla than live as a Japanese subject.” After brutal torture, he was beheaded in Tsushima Island.
Upon hearing the tragic news, King Nulji granted a high government position to Park and had Misaheun marry Park’s second daughter.
But Park’s wife, overcome with grief, climbed to the Chisullyeong(치술령) hills with her three daughters and wailed, looking out toward Japan. Legend has it that the daughters became birds and flew away, while the poor wife turned to stone.
People later called the stone ‘Mangbuseok(망부석)’, meaning ‘a rock gazing out for her husband.’ Park’s heartfelt patriotism was as hard as stone, and his wife turned into a stone while missing her lost husband. Both represent a model of their unchanging faith and loyalty.