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Friday, 21 March 2014

Bold and Beautiful Baekje, Part VIII: General Gyebaek, Fallen Hero during the Fall of Baekje

Gyebaek (Hanja: 階伯; died: 9 July 660) was a general in the ancient Korean kingdom of Baekje during the early to mid 7th century. Little else is known of his personal life—including the year and location of his birth. The Taekwondo pattern Gyebaek is named after him.

In 660, Baekje was invaded by a force of 50,000 from Silla, supported by 144,000 Tang soldiers. Gyebaek, with only 5,000 troops under his command, met them in the battlefield of Hwangsanbeol. Before entering departing to the battlefield, Gyebaek reportedly killed his wife and children to boost the fallen morale and patriotism of his army, and to prevent the thought of them to influence his actions or to cause him to falter in battle.

By the time King Taejong-Muyeol the Great of Silla was able to gain the support of Emperor Gaozong of Tang China, King Uija had led Baekje into demise as his parties and dissipation caused neglect for state affairs. In 660, Kim Yushin of Silla set out with fifty-thousand strong to rendezvous with the Tang army (size about: 122,711 to 130,000 men) which was being shipped over the sea. When King Uija heard of this crisis, he had already lost support from his ministers and only managed to rally up five thousand men. He quickly appointed General Gyebaek as the commander of the armed forces, and sent him out to face Kim Yu-shin in battle.

The Baekje army arrived at Hwangsanbeol first. Gyebaek set up camp and rallied his troops to make a heroic speech. He reminded the soldiers of the armies of antiquity when Goujian defeated a seven hundred-thousand force with a mere five thousand. With this speech, the Baekje forces regained their strength, and prepared for a face off with the Silla forces.

Kim Yu-Shin soon arrived, and the Silla forces attempted a full attack on the Baekje forces. However, fighting to the death, the Baekje forces soon repelled the enemy, and victored over all five skirmishes. The Silla forces gradually lost morale, and the General Kim Pumil sent his young son and Hwarang, Gwanchang, to single-handedly go out and fight the enemy. Gwanchang was captured by the Baekje forces at first and was released by Gyebaek. The young hwarang then returned to the Silla base only to once again charge out at the enemy. Gyebaek captured him once more, and because he respected his young enemy, he executed Gwanchang and sent his body to the Silla base.

Through Gwanchang's martyrdom, the Silla forces renewed their morale and Kim Yu-shin released a full attack on the dwindling Baekje forces. In the end, Kim Yu-Shin's Silla forces victored and Gyebaek died in battle. Kim later stated that his enemy was a man of honor and bravery.

As this battle was the last Baekje resistance to Silla/Tang forces, Baekje soon fell when Kim Yu-Shin and the Chinese general So Jung-Bang surrounded Gongju and King Uija surrendered.

Baekje was destroyed after 678 years of rule, shortly after Gyebaek's defeat and death at Hwangsanbeol in the present-day Chunggok-ri, Bujeok-myeon, Nonsan City, Southern Chungcheong Province. As Neo-Confucian philosophy became more influential in the later Korean Dynasties, Gyebaek was recognized by historians and scholars are exemplifying the Confucian ideals of patriotism and devotion to his King and praised as such. Although not much else is known about Gyebaek's life, his actions leading up to his last battle are well known to many Koreans.