Samguk Sagi contains a full three volumes of biografical stories of the distuinguished Silla General, much more than anyone else during the period.
Kim Yusin was 15 when he became a Hwarang and 18 when he became Master of the sword and a Kuksón, a high ranking in the Hwarang Knight Order. By the time of his death he was one of the most powerful men in Unified Korea and was buried like a king.
He was born in 595, and became the leader of a Hwarang group called Yonghwa-Hyangdo “Band of the Dragon Flower Tree” (the Nagavrksa tree; the Bodhi tree under which Maitreya Buddha would rise and teach his learning).
In 611 AD under King Chinp’yóng, when Kim Yusin was seventeen, he saw Koguryó, Paekche and Magal troops closing in on Silla’s territory. He was enraged and deeply shaken. Wanting to free Silla from the enemy invaders, he entered a stone grotto on Chung’ak Mountain (Pu’ak – Middle Peak) alone. After many days of fasting and deep meditation he swore an oath to heaven, “The hostile countries are without moral. They are like wolves and tigers, disturbing our frontiers, plundering everything in sight and hardly a year is left in peace. I am but one insignificant subject devoid of special talents or strength, but I am determined to put an end to this disorder. If only heaven would look down and help me fulfill my goals."
He had stayed in the grotto for four days when suddenly an old man, dressed in coarse garments came to him and said, “This place is filled with poisonous snakes and wild beasts. It is a terrible place. Why have you come here and stay by yourself, my noble youth?”
Kim Yusin answered, “Where did you come from, wise old man? May I ask your venerable name?”
The old man spoke, “I have no residence, I come and go in harmony with my wishes. My name is Nansung."
Hearing this Kim Yusin knew that this was no ordinary man. He bowed twice and spoke to him with awe, “I am a subject of Silla. When I see the enemies of my country, my heart is pained and my heart is filled with aching, that is why I am here. My hope is to discover some solution. Humbly I beg you, wise old man, take pity on my earnest sincerity and teach me your knowledge.” The old man was silent and did not speak. Kim Yusin implored him again and again, shedding tears all the while.
After six or seven days the old man finally spoke, “Even though you are young, you are determined to unify the Three Kingdoms, this certainly indicates a strong character.” Then he taught him his secret methods and said, “Be careful not to pass on this method carelessly. If you use it for improper purposes you will suffer great misfortune." Once he finished speaking, he left. Kim Yusin followed him for about two miles but then lost sight of him, and could not find him anywhere. Over the mountains was only a light, radiating brilliantly in all five colors.
In 612 the neighbouring invaders advanced still further. Kim Yusin even more resolute grabbed his precious doubled-edged sword, and entered alone into a deep grotto on Mt. Inbak. Burning incense and calling out to heaven, he swore the oath he had sworn before at Chung’ak, praying further that “the Heavenly Gods, send down a light and let a spirit descend into my precious sword!” On the night of the third day, the two asterisms of “Barrens” (in Aquarius and Equuleus) and Horn (Spica) shown their light into the sword, till it started to quiver tremulously .
The Middle Peak Cave in which Kim Yusin prayed for Silla’s unification of the Three Kingdoms is presumed to be the Sinsón cave temple located on Tansók Mountain in Sómyón, Wólsóng Country. The Sinsón-sa cave temple is a natural grotto whose wooden upper structure with a tile roof has been lost. Shaped in a form, the grotto has 10 large and small statues carved in
relief on the eastern, southern, and northern walls. The standing Buddha and two standing Bodhisattvas, all carved on the innermost three walls, presumed to be a statue of Maitreya. On the northern wall, farther inside, is a half-seated Maitreya carved in relief.
In the Samguk Yusa: “Kim Yusin was making plans day and night to conquer Koguryó and Paekche. And one night, when Yusin was about the age of eighteen, a Koguryó spy who had mingled with the Hwarang for many years tried to lure Kim Yusin into a trap. The spy whispered secretly that they should spy on the enemy and they set out together. One day as they paused on a mountain top, two girls appeared from the forest and followed after Kim Yusin. When they arrived at a village to rest for the night, a third girl appeared, and all three, in the most engaging manner, presented delicious cakes for Kim Yusin to eat. He was transported with joy and immediately fell in love with the three of them.
“My beautiful ladies,” he said, “You are three laughing flowers and I am a humming bee. Will you suffer me to suck honey from your golden hearts the whole night?”
“Yes,” they replied coyly, “we understand. Come to the forest with us and there we shall have our pleasure in beds of fragrant flowers, unseen and unheard by the other boy.” So Kim Yusin went into the forest with the three girls, but as soon as they arrived the girls changed into noble goddesses. “We are no laughing flowers or nymphs,” they told Kim Yusin, ”but three goddesses who guard the three sacred mountains. We have come to warn you that you are being lured by an enemy spy. Be on your guard! Farewell!” And with these words the three goddesses rose into the sky and flew away.
Kim Yusin prostrated himself before the departing goddesses and then returned to the sleeping spy. Early next morning Kim Yusin woke him and said, “Look, we started on our long journey to a foreign country in such a hurry that I forgot my purse and left it at home. Let’s go back and get it before going any farther.” The Koguryó spy suspected nothing, and they returned to Kyongju. Here Kim Yusin immediately had him arrested and bound on hand and foot. After confessing, Kim Yusin had the spy executed and thanked the three goddesses who had saved his life”.
In an early battle against Koguryó (629AD), Kim Yusin was fighting under his father, Sóhyún, who was the leader of the army. Silla was fighting to conquer Nangbi Castle but at the battle the troops suffered one defeat after another. The numerous deaths caused a breakdown in the spirit to the point that none would fight on. Kim Yusin, who at this time was a commander for a medium sized garrison, went before his father and as he took off his helmet he said, “They’ve defeated us. But throughout my life I was guided by loyalty and filial piety. In the face of battle one must be courageous. Now, I have heard that if you shake a coat by its collar, the fur will hang straight. And that, if you lift up the headrope, the whole fishing net will open and it can be thrown far and wide. Let me become the collar and the border rope.” Then he jumped onto his horse, drew his sword and leapt over a trench and fought his way into the enemy’s ranks where he beheaded the general. He came back holding the head up high and as the Silla troops saw this, they regained their moral and inspired by Kim Yushin's bravery, they charged into the enemy lines slaughtering all who opposed them. The number of cut-off heads were more than five thousand and more than a thousand men were taken alive. Everybody in the besieged city, too frightened to resist, came out to surrender.
In 645 Kim Yusin became leader of the Silla army and won a big victory over Paekche. On his way back to Silla he received information that another large Paekche army was ready to attack. Without even visiting his wife and children he mounted his horse, marched against the enemy army and sent them off running.
He went to the palace and made his report but before he had time to go home, he again received an urgent message that Paekche troops were closing in. Again Kim Yusin did not go home. He trained his troops, improved their weapons and went out to meet the enemy. On their way they passed Kim Yusin’s house and his family and servants were waiting for him outside the gate. Yusin passed the gate without looking back. After about fifty steps he stopped his horse and ordered a soldier to get water from the well in his house. He drank it and said, “The water in my house still has its old taste.” Then the soldiers said, “When our leader is like this how then can we be sad to be parted from our meat and our bread?” When they reached the boarder and the people from Paekche saw the Silla army, they dared not go on and withdrew. The Queen heard this and rejoiced, Kim Yusin received a title and a large reward
Kim Yusin had very strong ties to the royal family. For example, his sister became married to the future king, Kim Yusin’s close friend and blood brother, Kim Ch’un Ch’u, because of him. He accomplished this, by one day as they were playing ball, stepping on a ribbon that were trailing from Ch’un Ch’u’s jacket. Kim Yusin took him home with him and called his sister to sew on the ribbon again. She blushed deeply all the while and Ch’un Ch’u fell in love with her right away. From then on he visited her “day and night”.
Somewhat later Kim Yusin discovered that his sister was pregnant, he was furious and began preparations to have her burned to death as a “an example to all immoral women.” Ch’un Ch’u leaped on his horse and galloped quickly to Yusin’s house and a few days later he and Yusin’s sister were formally married. After Yusin’s wife died he married Ch’un Ch’u’s sister, tying them even closer. (In 654 Kim Ch’un Ch’u were elevated to the throne and were known as King Muryol. It was during his reign that he and Kim Yusin united the peninsula as one country for the first time ever.)
In 642 Paekche concurred parts of Silla, Ch’un Ch’u was furious and wanted to go to Koguryó to ask for troops, to get revenge. When Ch’un Ch’u was ready to leave, he said to Kim Yusin, “I form together with you a body, we are the arms and legs of our fatherland. If I now go there, and thereby receive hardship, would you not care for this?”
Kim Yusin answered, “If you go, but do not return, then the hoofs of my horse will surely trot on the courts of Koguryó and Paekche. If not so, I would be ashamed to face my people”. Ch’un Ch’u rejoiced. He and Kim Yusin, both bit into their fingers and smeared each other's mouths with their own blood, swearing to be blood-brothers for life.
Ch’un Ch’u said, “After sixty days I will be back. If it takes longer before I am here, then we will not meet again”. After this they parted. When Ch’un Ch’u came to Koguryó, the King saw that he was no ordinary man and put him in jail for a letter execution.
But, when he had not returned after sixty days, Kim Yusin chose and trained 3000 brave young men in Silla. He said to them, “I have heard, that it is the disposition of a hero to put his life in danger and forget his body in difficulties. If a man is ready to give himself up to death, then he is worth one hundred men; if one hundred men are ready to give themselves up to death, then they are worth one thousand men; if one thousand men are ready to give themselves up to death, then they are worth ten thousand men. In this case, it is possible, through faith, to march straight through the world. Now, an able statesman from our country has been made prisoner by another country”. The troops answered, “Even if you send us on an expedition in which we only would have a very small chance of surviving, how would we dare not to follow your commands?” But before the Queen had time to decide on a date for Kim Yusin to leave, the King of Koguryó found out (through a spy) what Silla was planning and released Ch’un Ch’u.
In the Japanese book “Nihongi” (one of the oldest Japanese books, A.D. 697) there is a paragraph for the year 647 which says: “Silla sent Kim Chhyun-chhyu, a Superior Minister, of the rank of Greater Ason, and others to accompany the Hakase, Takamuko no Kuromaro, of Shótoko rank, and Oshikuma, Nakatomi no Muraji, of middle Shósen rank (All are Japanese ranks), and bring a present to the Emperor of a peacock and a parrot. Chhyun-cchyu was made a hostage. He was a handsome man, who talked and smiled agreeably”. There is no mention as to when and how Kim Ch’un Chu was released but he became King Muryól in 654.
Kim Yusin was a very wise and courageous general. At one time he was leading his troops through the mountains. It was freezing cold, men and horses were exhausted and they were collapsing repeatedly. Kim Yusin uncovered his shoulders, seized his whip and spurred his horse on. As the troops saw this they hurried on so much that the sweat started to pour. They dared not speak of the cold again.
For the last battle against Paekche, T’ang China sent 122,711 crack troops under the command of “Left Tiger Guard General Su Ting-fang”. They were going to fight together with 50,000 hand picked warriors under the command of General Kim Yusin. The two commanders was planning a coordinated attack when a fierce bird started to circle around the head of General Su. A fortune teller said it was a sure omen of his certain death in the coming battle. The T’ang General trembled from head to toe and was about to order his men to turn back. But Kim Yusin unsheathed his long sword, struck the swooping bird dead, and laid it at the General’s feet, saying, “A small grotesque bird cannot interfere with our great expedition against a bad king.”
In summer, the sixth month of 660AD the Great King (T’aejong) and the Crown Prince Pómmin moved out with a huge army to attack Paekche, setting camp at Namch’ón. At the same time, Kim Inmun, who had gone to T’ang requesting troop support, came along with the T’ang Great Generals Su Ting-fang and Liu Po-ying at the head of one hundred thirty thousand troops, crossing the sea and landing at Tóngmul Island. They had first sent an attendant Munch’ón on ahead to announce their arrival, and with receipt of this news, the king ordered the Crown Prince, Generals Yushin, Chinju, Ch’ónjon, and others to take a hundred large vessels laden with troops to meet them. The Crown Prince met General Su Ting-fang, and Su Ting-fang said to him, “I’ll go by the sea route and you, prince, go by land. We will meet at the walls of Sabi, Paekche’s capital, on the tenth of the seventh month.” When the Crown Prince reported this the Great King led his generals and warriors to an encampment at Sara. General Su Ting-fang and Kim Inmun came into Ibólp’o by sea but ran aground and were unable to proceed because of thick costal mud. Willow rush mats were spread permitting the armies to land, and T’ang and Silla joined in attack on Paekche. They destroyed her. Throughout that campaign, it was Yusin’s merit that was greatest, and when the emperor of T’ang heard of it, he sent an emissary to praise and compliment him. General Su Ting-fang said to Yusin, Inmun, and Yangdo, “My command allows me to exercise authority as conditions dictate, so I will now present to you as maintenance lands all of Paekche’s territory that have been acquired, this as reward for your merit. How would that be?”
Yusin answered, “You came with Heavenly Troops, Great General, to help realie our unworthy prince’s wish to avenge our small nation, and from our unworthy prince on down to all officials and people throughout the nation there is endless rejoicing. How could it be just for the three of us alone to enrich ourselves by accepting such a gift?” With that they did not accept it.
Once they had defeated Paekche, the men of T’ang camped on the Sabi hills and secretly planned to invade Silla. When the Silla king learned of it, he summoned all officials together to discuss a strategy. Lord Tami put forward his opinion, saying, “Have our people disguise themselves as Paekche men, wear Paekche clothes and act as if they are going to rebel. The men of T’ang will surely strike at them, then we can use this as an excuse to fight and achieve our goal.” Yusin replied, “That idea is worth using. Let us follow that plan.” But the king said, “The T’ang army has destroyed our enemy for us. If we turn about and fight them, would we have heaven’s protection?” Yusin answered, “A dog fears his master, but if the master steps on its paw, the dog bites him. Why shouldn’t one save himself when endangered? I beg that the Great King grant permission.” But the men of T’ang, learning of Silla’s preparedness through spies, took Paekche king, ninety-three officials, and twenty thousand soldiers as prisoners, and on the third day of the ninth month set sail from Sabi to return to T’ang. A group including General Liu Jen-yüan was left behind to occupy the territory.
After Su Ting-fang had presented the prisoners, the Son of Heaven expressed words of commendation and indebtedness and he said, “Why didn’t you follow through with an attack on Silla?” Su Ting-fang said, “The Silla sovereign is humane and loves his people, his officers serve their nation with loyalty, and those below serve those above as if they were their fathers or elder brothers. Even though it is a small country, one can’t plot against them.”
In 668 the T’ang emperor appointed State Duke of Ying, Li Chi, to marshal a force to attack Koguryó. King Munmu was thus requested also to send troops to support the Chinese soldiers. He appointed Húmsun and Inmun to serve as generals. Húmsun said to the King, “If we do not march out together with Yushin I fear we might regret it.” The King responded, “You three are the treasures of our country. If all three goes into enemy territory and something happens that prevents your return, what would then happen to the country? So, for now I want to keep Kim Yusin here to protect our kingdom, it will be as if there is a great hidden wall and we need not fear.”
Húmsun was Kim Yushin’s younger brother and Inmun was his sisters son (The sister who was married to Kim Ch’un Ch’u, (King Muryól)) therefore they served him with awe and dared not go against his
wishes. So they said to him, “We, who are incapable, are about to go with the Great King to an unknown country. What should we do?”
He answered, “The generals serve as shields and walls of the nation, they are the claws and the fangs of his prince. It is in the middle, arrows and stones (on the battlefield) that he determines victory or defeat. Only when he arrange himself upwards to the Way of Heaven, downwards to the geography, and of the minds of men before him can he command success. Our nation survives today because of its loyalty and trust, while Paekche at this time by simply striking with our uprightness at their deviousness, but how infinitely more secure we are with the support of the august power of the Great State’s brilliant Son of Heaven! Go now and strive your utmost. Don’t fail your charge.” The two men bowed and Said, “Your instructions have been respectfully received and will be carried into practice. We dare not slip or weaken.”
Silla finally conquered Koguryó in 668 with the assistance of T’ang China, but T’ang again revealed her ambition to put the Korean peninsula under her control and again stationed troops in the former territory of Paekche. Silla had no choice but to engage the Chinese in battle and “The brave Silla soldiers, inspired by the Hwarang spirit, hurled back the invaders (Translation: Samguk Yusa by Ha and Mintz) and finally, in the sixteenth year of King Munmu’s reign (676) Silla succeeded in driving the Chinese out, unifying the peninsula.
In Korea the great King Munmu spoke to his officials, “Kim Yusin’s grandfather was the minister-president Muruók, he was a general and led a counter attack on Paekche. Being victorious he captured the King as well as four ministers and many soldiers. In this way stopping their campaign. His father, Sóhyón, when he was chief commander, fought Paekche many times and fought against their storm attacks so they would not violate our territory. Yushin has now carried on the work of his grandfather and his father. He is a servant of the state - a general on the outside, a statesman on the inside. His merits are enormous. If we did not ourselves support his family, then the rise or fall of our country would be uncertain. What should his position and reward be like?” The officials said, “It is true as Your Majesty says.”
Then the King gave him the title of Great Minister-President and gave him a fief of five hundred families. Furthermore Kim Yusin received the right to enter the palace at any time, and his subordinates each received a title.
Note:Sink’ú-ibulch’ihan. The highest office in Silla was Ibulch’ihan or Minister president. Kim Yusin had received this title from King T’aejong Taewang (Muryól) already in 660 because of his service in the destruction of Paekche.
In 673, the 13th year of King Munmu, in the Summer in the 6th month “everybody” saw dozens of men in armor and with weapons in their hands crying and walking out of Kim Yusin’s House, suddenly they were nowhere to be seen. When Kim Yusin heard this he said, “That was surely my secret guardian soldiers who, feeling that my luck has run out has left; I will die!” Ten days later he lay sick in bed. The great King visited him personally. Kim Yusin spoke, “I would like to strain the power of my arms and legs to the limit, to serve my master, but the illness of your insignificant subject means that I from now on can no longer see your face.”
The great King replied crying, “We need ministers as the fish needs the water. If your death is unavoidable, how then shall it be with our Kingdom?” In spring, on the first day of the seventh month Kim Yusin died in the main room in his house, seventy nine years old! An incredible age for anyone at this time in history, but also how amazing his life span was having spent more than three-quarters of his life on the battlefield.
The King payed for his funeral one thousand rolls of colored silk and two thousand sacks of rice. Further, he ordered people to guard the tomb on Kúmsanwon.
From King Húngdók (826-836) Kim Yusin was later awarded the posthumous title of “Great King Húngmu” (Húngmu Taewang – great king promoting the warlike).
See Vos, Frits: Kim Yusin, Persönlichkeit und Mythos: Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der Altkoreanischen Geschichte, Oriens Extremus 1 (1954) p.29-70 and 2 (1955) p.210-236 for a full translation of all material of Kim Yushin from both the Sagi and Yusa (in German).
Aston, W.G.: Nihongi, Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697, Charles E. Tuttle company, Tokyo, 1972.