Family ties, lost and found

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Family ties, lost and found

In 1995, representatives of the Hwasan Lee family visited Vietnam. It was a historic event, because it was the first visit by the Korean branch of Vietnam’s Ly Dynasty (1009-1225). Prior to that, the Vietnamese had long spoken of the descendents of the Ly Dynasty, who they thought had been exterminated by the Chinese, but they had not known they were alive and well and 3,600 kilometers away in Korea.

At the time of the visit, the headlines in the local press announced the return of the “disconnected royal blood” of the Ly Dynasty.

Three important figures, including the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist party, came out to greet the representatives, who were given Vietnamese citizenship and treated better than national guests.

Since that first meeting, the Hwasan Lee family has been invited to Vietnam every year in celebration of their foundation. In 2002, an opera about the life of Prince Ly Long Tuong was presented in Hanoi.

The history of the Hwasan Lees began in the Goryeo Dynasty (1192-1259) during the rule of King Gojong (1213-1259), after Prince Ly Long Tuong was exiled here from Vietnam.

The Ly Dynasty, which ruled for around 200 years, was the first dynasty in Vietnam to keep its rule for an extended time. It was also the first dynasty to gain independence from China.

When the Ly Dynasty was destroyed, Prince Ly escaped by boat and arrived at Hwasan, Hwanghae Island. He saved the people of Ongjin County from pirates. Later, when Mongolian soldiers attacked the area, he built a mud castle, where he stayed for five months. When the Mongolian commander used a “Trojan horse” strategy against him, sending a gold box with a hidden assassin to the prince as a “gift of peace,” he detected the trick, poured boiling water into the box to kill the assassin, and sent the box back. The Mongolian soldiers called him a “divine general” and retreated. This led to the Vietnamese prince’s appointment as the Korean general Hwasan, as detailed in Park Gi-hyun’s book “The Naturalized Family Name that Changed Our History.”

The reason why the existence of the Hwasan Lee family was unknown to the Vietnamese for such a long time was because there was a break in diplomatic relations between the two countries caused by the shadow of the Vietnam War and communism. However, since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and Vietnam at the end of 1992, the relationship between the two countries has advanced quickly. Vietnam was one of the first countries to be swept up by hallyu, the Korean wave. Today, with over 40,000 Vietnamese women married to Korean men, many Korean people have in-laws in Vietnam and vice versa.

The relationship between Korea and Vietnam is still evolving. On Wednesday, President Lee Myung-bak had a summit with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, and the two agreed to upgrade their “comprehensive partnership” to a “strategic cooperative” relationship. Nguyen said that “Korea is not a friend but family” and that the “two countries are moving beyond a relationship of understanding and trust, and entering a stage of love.”

Could it be that after 800 years we are seeing a reinstatement of the relations between the Hwasan general and his adopted country?

The writer is a political news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Ku Hee-ryoung
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