[FOUNTAIN]A rocky past

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[FOUNTAIN]A rocky past

Isabu, a general during the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-A.D. 935), was a clever man. According to "Samguk Sagi, the History of the Three Kingdoms," Isabu conquered Usanguk, which was then a primitive island inhabited by rebels, now Ulleungdo island, with a simple plan. In A.D. 512, Isabu sailed to the island carrying a wooden sculpture of a lion. As he approached the island, he placed the sculpture on the deck of his ship and set fire to it to make it look as though the lion was shooting flames from its mouth. Isabu also produced scary noises with drums and horns.

"If you do not surrender, I will release lions on this island and kill you all," Isabu threatened, and caused his enemies to surrender. A rock in the shape of a lion in Namyang port, Ulleungdo island, is said to be the remains of the legend.

Although Ulleungdo was transferred to the Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1910) dynasties as a part of their territory, repeatedly there were fights between Koreans and Japanese pirates. In the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty, the Japanese on Tsushima island pleaded to be allowed to live on Ulleungdo, but King Taejong, the third king of the Joseon Dynasty, refused. History indicates that Ulleungdo belonged to the Joseon Dynasty. After a series of plunderings by Japanese pirates on the island, King Taejong evacuated all Joseon civilians from Ulleungdo. Even then, Ulleungdo remained a much disputed land.

In 1882, nearly at the end of the Joseon Dynasty, Joseon leaders officially confirmed their claim over the island. After a fire broke out and burned villages on Ulleungdo, King Gojong dispatched Lee Gyu-weon, a prosecutor. The prosecutor held a discussion with the Japanese living on Ulleungdo and found that the Japanese believed the island belonged to them. The Japanese argument was based on a wooden pole. The pole was set up in 1869, the second year of the Meiji period, and Ulleungdo had become a Japanese territory for 13 years. The prosecutor burned the 2-meter-long, 30-centimeter-wide pole, put the ashes into a basket and threw it into the sea with rocks tied to the basket. All Japanese left the island the following year.

Formed by volcanic eruptions and sitting in the East Sea, Ulleungdo is a rooted part of Korea after long years of turns and twists. Soaring cliffs, beautiful rocks and rare animals and plants mark the island. The Ministry of Environment will designate Ulleungdo and nearby Tokto island as a maritime national park in 2004. The Japanese Foreign Ministry protested when Korea claimed territorial rights to Tokto. Isabu surely is laughing in his grave.

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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