Let’s face one of the uncomfortable truths of the world: sometimes kids can be insufferable little turdblossoms. If you’ve got such a tot, what are you to do? Say your kid starts crying, and just won’t stop. Hugs, pacifiers, toys, sweets: nothing has any effect. You haven’t slept in a week. You’ve got a migraine. You’re at wits end.
You probably end up threatening them. Which is what King Pyeongwon of Goguryeo (modern day North Korea) did. And as Pyeongwon found out, while such threats can work in the short term, they have a way of backfiring in the long run.
The child in question was Pyeongwon’s daughter, Princess Pyeonggang. In her youth, she was a nonstop tear factory, a fact which grated on her dad’s last nerve. In order to get her to be quiet, he warned her that if she didn’t shape up, he’d marry her off to Ondal the Fool. Now, no tellings of the story mention what deeds actually earned Ondal this moniker, but the poor man was apparently so legendarily stupid that even the king had heard of him — despite Ondal, as an underage commoner in another city, being entirely outside the king’s social sphere. The mind reels to think what moronic feats Ondal had accomplished to reach the king’s ear.
When she turned 16, Pyeonggang got into an argument with her father. The king wanted to marry her to the son of a nobleman named Go in Sang province, but she refused — she said that since the king had always said she was going marry Ondal, she would do so. When Pyeongwon said that those had just been empty threats, she replied that the king should never break his word. From this we can deduce that she was the sort of kid who’d a) always remind the teacher to give homework at the end of class; b) not have a lot of friends; c) send lots of corrections to the editors of various newspapers.
This infuriated her impatient father. “If you’re going to be so impossible, then go ahead and do it! Leave!” So she did.
When Pyeonggang showed up at Ondal’s door and informed him of her matrimonial intentions, her would-be husband was understandably wary. Ondal’s mother didn’t think the princess should marry below her station, and Ondal didn’t believe that Pyeonggang was being serious. After some time, Pyeonggang eventually convinced the two, and, to the shock of everyone in town, she and Ondal married.
Their marriage did not go smoothly at first, but Pyeonggang held it together. Before leaving the palace, she’d been smart enough to gather up her jewelry and take it with her. Selling those to get a solid foundation for her new household, she worked tirelessly to grow the family fortunes. Her efforts paid off: not only did they become more financially stable, but Ondal, due to his wife’s training in archery and horsemanship, worked his way up to become a brilliant general.
Ondal cemented his new reputation when the Han Chinese invaded. Grabbing the armor and sword that his thoughtful wife had given him as a present, Ondal rallied the townsfolk to confront the invaders. However, upon meeting the Chinese on the field of battle, the villagers were so intimidated that nobody dared make the first move. Nobody, that is, save Ondal: leaping forward to fight the Chinese, he caught them by surprise and killed their general with one blow. After that, the remaining Chinese soldiers decided that they were not getting paid enough for this, and fled. Ondal was the victor.
Upon hearing of this unexpected Chinese defeat, King Pyeongwon summoned this unknown provincial hero to thank him personally. When Ondal arrived, the king asked his name.
“My name is Ondal.”
“…what? Are you serious?”
“…yeah. That’s me.”
The king, both dumbfounded and impressed, showered his newly-introduced son-in-law with gifts, and sent him on his way. Ondal continued defending the country for some time, against both China and the neighboring Korean kingdom of Silla. Eventually, Ondal was killed on Mt. Acha. According to legend, when it came time to move his coffin for burial, no one could budge it.
Pyeonggang knelt beside the coffin, putting her arms around it, and gently whispered to her late husband, “the question of life and death has already been decided. So why don’t we go back, my dear?”
The coffin became unstuck and General Ondal was buried soon thereafter.
- The image is a bit of a mishmash of visual reference — all around the same time, but maybe not from the exact same place and time.
- As helpers, Pyeonggang has three sacred animals of Korean mythology on screen left: a blue dragon, a three-legged crow, and a bonghwang (roughly equivalent to a phoenix). The bonghwang is designed like a turkey, because it is nigh-impossible for turkeys to look majestic.
- The building they’re standing in front of is Bulguksa Temple, which was built a century earlier (and was not in Goguryeo), but its architecture should be fairly similar to what was around at the time.
- This story is widely regarded as a folk tale rather than straight history, although Ondal and Pyeongwon are both verifiable historical figures. Heck, Wikipedia even lists Pyeongwon as one of the worst kings in Goguryeo’s history.
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Next Time on Rejected Princesses
This Kenyan heroine rallied support against the British the best way she knew how: dancing everywhere she went.