Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hwarangs: Boy Band of Silla Kingdom



Boy bands had become a part of the well-known and popular Korean Wave or Hallyu. Groups, such as TVXQ, Super Junior, Exo, Infinite, and many others had captured the minds and ears of many fans.  Most the members undergone rigorous training and developed their artistic talents. But back in the time of Korea’s Three Kingdoms Period, one boy band only dominated Korea. But instead of dancing, singing, and other artistic talents, this boy group gave also importance to military prowess. This group of young and brave boys were known as the Hwarangs.

The hwarangs were a military corp of the Silla Kingdom of Korea. They were formed during the sixth century and comprised of teenage adolescent males from the aristocracy. They devote themselves to Buddhism, but later, turned to Confucianism. They protected their country bravely and loyally. They became a driving force for the creation of a united Korean peninsula. Ironically, after the unification, the hwarangs started declined.

The hwarangs or the Circle of Knights of the Flower Boys began during the reign of King Chinhung of Silla Kingdom (r. 540 – 576). In a very volatile region, where war was allways a threat, the King wanted to create a new elite fighting unit. The unit would be the driving force for the interest of the Silla Kingdom against its other two power ful kingdoms of Koguryo to the north and Baekje to the west. In order to have recruits for his new elite unit, the king used two very beautiful girls to entice men to join. Nammo and Chungjung were the two poster girls for men to join the unit. 

Competition, however, became the next subject of the two girls. Chungjung, became jealous of the other. She thought perhaps that Nammo was gaining more attention and brought more recruits than her. To gain absolute attention and her beauty to be more well-known, she decided to kill Nammo. No bad deeds, however, came unpunished. She was caught by the authorities and then later executed. 

With the failure of poster girl tactics to entice men to join the new unit, the King did another way to attract men to join. He ordered good looking and charming boys, mostly from the noble family, to join. He then ordered the boys to be groomed to make them look more feminine, so as to make more men to join. The young beautiful boys were called flower boys, thus the name of the Hwarangs or Circle of the Knights of the Flower Boys was made. The strategy of using good looking boys proved to be effective. It indeed attract others to join until the numbers became enough to be used in war. 

The hwarangs were trained as soldiers as well as thaught to be cultured men. The training groomed them to become a devout Buddhist and followers of Confucianism later when it arrived in Korea. Before entering the corp, one must have a beautiful face, in order to give justice to the name of the unit. He must then take an oath of loyalty to the state and proceed with a ceremonial initiation. The hwarangs were then trained to be specialized in all types of fighting skills. They were taught to be a good swordsmen, archers, as well as, horseback riding. They were also made to specialize in hand to hand combat, for example the martial art of taekyeon, which later evolved into taekwondo. As culture men, they played music. They dance. They wrote poetry. But most of all they are expected to follow and honor the 5 Rules of Wongwang, a Buddhist monk. According to the five rules, a person must embody the following: 1) loyalty to the king; 2) Must practice filial piety or respect to the parents and elders; 3) Loyalty to one’s friend; 4) Must not retreat in battle; 5) must not kill without a good reason. This way of life of the hwarang was later to become known as hwarangdo. 

For the next hundred years, the Hwarangs continued to gained popularity and significance. They defended Silla with their live. They played a key role in unifying the Korean Peninsula by fighting the other two rival kingdoms, Baekche and Koguryo. They finally succeeded when in 668, the last of the two kingdoms, Koguryo, fell to the hands of Silla. Because of the end of war, some hwarangs returned to normal life and left military service. The numbers dwindle till there were only few and decided to disband. 

But the legacy of the Hwarang remains visible. This artistically and militarily talented group of soldiers helped to forge the Korea we see today. If our favorite K-pop groups from SM, YG, JYP and other entertainment agencies spread Korea to the world, don't forget that the Korea they represent was made by this young boys turned men by war.   
Hulbert, H. The History of Korea. Seoul: The Methodist Publishing House, 1905. 

Seth, M. A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011. 

Shaw, Scott. Advanced Taekwondo. Vermont: Turtle Publishing, 2006. 

Yi. K. A New History of Korea. Massachusetts: Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by    Harvard University Press, 1984.

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