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  • It is a legend of such monstrous extreme that it seems all the more plausible as fact; the imagination that could create it would still require a most perverse sense of tragedy to include such excess. It is true enough that in this place, Sabi, the last Buyeo Baekche King was cornered in his hilltop redoubt and made his stand against the alliance of his Silla imperial rulers and Han Chinese that besieged him. Tucked in a long, looping curve of the Baengma River scant kilometers upstream from its mouth on the West Sea, it is a placid and picturesque spot. Today, few spots are more peaceful, yet its legend, seared into the minds of most Koreans, is one of intolerable pain. It's all the more so because, like so many episodes from Korean history, the pain has been as often inflicted by other Koreans, acting in concert with the more robust neighbors just across the East and West Seas.

    The symbol and site of the legend is called Nakhwa-am. That is the name, in Chinese characters, that is seen gouged out and ochred into living rock near the base of the cliff that plunges several hundred feet to the riverbank. In romanized Korean, [nak da] is "to fall"; [hwa] is "flower", and [-am] is "rock", or "cliff". So, "Falling Flower Rock" or "Rock of Falling Flowers".

    The traditional formal Korean woman's costume, as one would have found at court during monarchial times, such as that of the Baekche rulers (regarded by most scholars to be the most refined of the so-called Three Kingdoms, with Koguryo and Silla) is the hanbok. The most striking feature of the hanbok, is the bright, often contrasting colors of the material, mainly silk, between the top and bottom halves.

    To view a panoply of hanbok-wearing maidens from afar as in, for example, one of the performances that are often presented to open major global public meetings and other events, is like unto seeing a field of dazzling blossoms. It resembles the masses of cosmos flowers that appear everywhere in the weeks before the harvest moon, and the season of thanksgiving and ancestor veneration arrives.

    The Buyeo legend populates the royal court with no fewer than 3,000 maidens thus attired, whose duties were to keep the palace environment pristine, and the royal personages in the pink. During the siege, when it became clear that the assault by an overwhelming force of attackers was to end in inevitable success, the peaceful redoubt would become the site of another of those unspeakable atrocities warfare traditionally directs against the women of the vanquished enemy at the sword points of the victors. To the royal retinue, being of a firm and unyielding character, as expected of the ladies at court, there appeared but a single way out, and they took it.

    Three thousand young women, one by one, stepped onto the edge of the cliff, picked up the front of her billowing, ankle-length chogori and threw it back to cover her face and , and thus shielding her head and eyes, stepped or leapt from the edge, plunging to her death at the waterside. Viewed from a Chinese warship from several hundred meters distance along a 120 degree arc of visibility on the river, it might indeed resemble the casual floating down of gaily-colored blooms from atop a hedgerow, or the dropping of cherry blossoms before the wind.
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