Taking advantage of a break in the cold weather, the other weekend I piled into the car with some friends and took off to explore the mountains south of Gyeongju (not to mention my wife was putting the finishing touches on her Master’s thesis and needed me out of the house). I’d managed to score an English tourist map of Ulsan, on which there’s marked the “Historical Remains of Park Je-sang” about 15 minutes south of Gyeongju just of off N.R. 35. Nothing else was said about who this Park Je-sang was or why he was worth remembering, so I figured he must’ve been a small-time Confucian scholar with a few stone tablets propped up in his honor. Still, I was itching to explore some new territory and decided to check it out.
After turning off 35 and cruising through a half dozen or so farm villages, to my surprise we found ourselves at a large complex of building with a parking lot big enough for a fleet of tour buses. Not only did this Park Jae-sang guy have an entire Confucian shrine built solely in his honor, but also modern museum , memorial complex and a few statues for good measure. As I started to poke around the museum, it dawned on me that I’d actually heard of this guy before. Park Jae-sang happened to be the star of a very famous (and grisly) legend dating back to the Shilla Dynasty, according to which he was Korea’s first patriotic martyr (killed by the Japanese no less). His story goes something like this:
Back in 417 C.E., when the Shilla Dynasty was still small, King Nulji took the throne as the 19th monarch. Alas, King Nulji was not a happy man. Years before, Nulji’s father, King Naemul, had sent Nulji’s younger brother Minhae as a special envoy to Japan, which was then known as the “Wa” Kingdom or literally “Kingdom of the Dwarves” (seems even them they were calling each other names). Unfortunatly, the treacherous King of Wa instead decided to hold Minhae as a political hostage and King Naemul died without ever seeing his son again. Not having learned from his father’s mistake, years later King Nulji sent his other brother Bohae as a special envoy to the Goguryeo King, only to suffer the same betrayal.
With both his brothers held prisoner in far off lands, King Nulji was an emotional wreck and his rule began to falter. Fortunately for him Park Jae-sang, then governor of Yangsan, was both a clever and loyal man. He realized that the King, and probably the country as well, would fall to pieces unless he got his brothers back. Jae-sang humbly volunteered his services to the king and began plotting how to bring the two princes home. Returning Bohae, proved simple enough. Jae-sang disguised himself and slipped into Goguryeo by sea. With his ship waiting, he found his way into the Goguryeo palace and snuck Bohae out under the cover of night.
King Nulji was overjoyed at Bohae’s return, yet it made his yearning for his other brother Minhae even more unbearable. He cried “I am a man with just one arm on my body and one eye on my face! How can I help but be miserable!” (Some people always see the glass half empty, I suppose.) At that, Park Jae-sang bowed twice and left court. He went straight to the port, got on a ship and set sail for Japan immediately without even stopping by his house to say goodbye to his wife and kids (but more on that in minute).
When Jae-sang’s boat landed in Japan, the Wa King was naturally a bit suspicious, so Jae-sang concocted a cover story about how the Shilla King had massacred his family and he had fled Korea as the sole survivor. The Wa King granted Jae-sang’s request for asylum and even built him a nice house near the palace. Naturally, over the months and years Jae-sang developed a friendship with the captive Prince Minhae, who was now in his 40’s. Every morning they’d go fishing at the coast (Oh the horrors of captivity!). Finally, long after any doubts as to his loyalty to the Wa had faded, Jae-sang found his opportunity. On a particularly foggy morning, when the two went fishing as usual, Jae-sang put prince Minhae on a boat and shipped him off to Korea. In spite of Minhae’s protests, Jae-sang stayed behind to cover his tracks.
For several days Jae-sang claimed Minhae was deathly sick (from eating bad sushi, no doubt) and couldn’t leave his house. However, this ruse could only last so long and the Japanese finally realized Minhae was nowhere to be found. The Wa King had Jae-sang seized and brought before him. The King was furious at Jae-sang’s betrayal and threatened Jae-sang with the five punishments (tattooing, chopping off the nose, then the feet, then castration and finally beheading) unless he swore a blood-oath of allegiance to the Wa Kingdom. Jae-sang replied with this classic line: “I would rather be a dog or a pig of the Shilla than a nobleman in your court!” (I see an action movie in this somewhere). Livid, the Wa King had Jae-sangs’s feet flayed and forced him to walk on thorns and hot metal. The King challenged Jae-sang again, and though barley able to speak, Jae-sang still refused to swear the oath. The king finally gave up and sentenced Jae-sang to be hung then burned at the stake.
King Nulji was overjoyed to finally be reunited with both his brothers and he was so moved by Jae-sang’s loyalty, courage and self-sacrifice that he gave Jae-sang’s daughter to Prince Minhae to be married. Even, so Jae-sang’s wife was a broken woman and never recovered from the loss of her husband. When she had heard that Jae-sang was setting sail for Japan without saying goodbye, she rushed to seaside to catch him, but it was too late. She then climbed to the top of nearby Chisul-nyeong (치술령), or “Kite Pass” where sat weeping and gazing east, watching for Jae-sang’s return. Neither eating nor sleeping, she withered away and died, and as the legend holds, her mournful her spirit became a bird.
The boulder where she held her vigil is now known as Mangbuseok (망부석) or “Wailing Widow Stone” and is popular with day hikers from Ulsan. Further south on the mountain, Euneuram (은을암) Hermitage was built to tend to the sorrowful spirit of Jae-sang’s wife. Park Jae-sangs memorial is the perfect trail head for a circuit hike up the mountain to Mangbuseok, Chilsulnyeong and Euneuram. For those interested it trying it out, I’m including this hiking map below (kindly borrowed from http://coreaguy.egloos.com/10471037):
Even if you’re not the hiking type, Park-Jae-sang’s Memorial Shrine makes for a pleasant afternoon in the country. Plus there are a few interesting sites nearby to round out your trip, like the Cheonjeon-ri (천전 리각석) and Bangudae Prehistoric Rock Carvings (반구대각석) and Museum to the west . Also, going south towards Ulsan is the striking stone monolith of Seonbawi (선바위) at a bend in the Taehwa River, which is a good spot for a picnic. If you head down that way though, keep an eye out for the curiously named “Jiji Village” (지지 마을) as you come down the pass. And if you aren’t quite sure what “jiji” means in Korean, I’m including a photo of the village and nearby mountains below:
Getting to Park Jae-sang’s Memorial is easy enough by car. Just follow N.R. 35 south from Gyeongju for about 20 minutes. A few minutes after N.R. 35 crosses over Highway 1, turn left at a 3-way junction marked by brown sighs pointing to Park Sae-jang’s Memorial Shrine (박제상 기념관). Follow this road over the reservoir and to the right at the village round about. A minute or two after the traffic circle, take another left following the brown historical markers and you’ll soon reach a large parking lot at the memorial. Continue further up this road for the trail for Chisul-nyeong (치술령).
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