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King Mu of Baekje, the Hero of Seodongyo (The Song of Seodong)Spirit


<strong>King Mu of Baekje</strong>, the Hero of Seodongyo (The Song of Seodong)Spirit
Seodongyo, Korea’s First Hyangga (Verse Form in Silla)

‘Princess Seonhwa(선화) is secretly in love with young master Seodong and is having a love affair with him at night.’

These are the lyrics of a song sung by children for fun. Due to this short song, Princess Seonhwa of the Silla Dynasty was thrown out of the palace and Seodong, the writer of the song, was eventually able to make her his wife.

The song titled , meaning the song of Seodong, is known as Korea’s first hyangga(향가), which is a unique form of verse. The hero of the song, Seodong, is King Mu, the 30th monarch of the Baekje kingdom. Who is King Mu?

Seodong, a Boy who Sells Hemp

Seodong is King Mu’s childhood name. It means ‘a boy who sells hemp.’ Although Seodong was the son of King Beop(법) of the Baekje Dynasty, the prince was ousted from power and lived by selling hemp outside the palace.

One day, while on a secret mission to spy on the court of the neighboring kingdom of Silla, Seodong happened to hear a rumor that Princess Seonhwa, the third daughter of King Jinpyeong(진평) of Silla, was beautiful. In the hopes of marrying her, Seodong wrote a song and let children in Silla sing the song. The song spread throughout the Silla capital of Gyeongju. Embroiled in a scandal over a love affair with a man named Seodong, who the princess had never seen before, she was sent into exile. Her mother was concerned about the future of her ill-fated daughter, and she gave her fine gold.

When the princess arrived at the place of exile, a man blocked her way. The princess trusted the man and went to live with him. She later discovered that he was none other than Seodong, the man described in the awkward song.

The two went to Baekje together. While talking about how to make a living, the princess took out fine gold and showed it to her husband. Seodong, who had frequently picked hemp in the mountains, laughed out loud and said that there was a stack of things like that in the mountains. In fact, Seodong did not know the value of gold until that moment. Princess Seonhwa let him know what gold was and effectively helped him rise to the throne later. This is how King Mu is described in the story of the Song of Seodong.

Reviving Baekje Again

King Mu is considered the ruler who rebuilt the waning Baekje kingdom, following King Seong, the country’s 26th monarch.

Based on his exceptional diplomacy, King Mu maintained friendly relations with the Sui Dynasty of China in order to check the southward expansion of the northern kingdom of Goguryeo. After the Sui Dynasty fell, the king continued to maintain good relations with the new Chinese dynasty of Tang.

Baekje was also on good terms with Japan. It sent Japan books about astronomy, geography, and the calendar, and transmitted Buddhism to the island country as well.

However, Baekje had a troubled relationship with Silla. Although his wife was a Silla princess, King Mu constantly engaged in battles with Silla throughout his reign, including two attacks on Silla’s northwestern regions.

Excessive Indulgence in Pleasure, Lonely Exit

King Mu had great political capabilities and displayed solid diplomacy. He also built up military strength and enhanced national prestige. The king was a man of taste and sought fun and pleasure. He was also interested in splendid works of architecture, so he often carried out civil engineering projects. Wangheungsa(왕흥사) Temple and Mireuksa(미륵사) Temple are famous Buddhist temples that were constructed under his rule. Korea’s first man-made pond ‘Gungnamji’(궁남지) was also built during King Mu’s reign.

While the king built cultural relics that would remain forever in history, he indulged himself in pleasure and entertainment. The extravagant king often threw banquets. When he drank alcohol, he would play the six-stringed zither of geomungo(거문고) while singing, and enjoyed dancing with his retainers.

Unfortunately, the diplomatic situation surrounding the country was far from peaceful. National resources were being exhausted due to frequent battles with Silla. Some say Baekje collapsed because King Mu’s son King Euija(의자) saw his father’s extravagance while growing up. In the end, the king’s excessive indulgence in pleasure led to his lonely exit.

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