The Battle of the Baeckchon River, the First Fighting between China and Japan

When we talk about the ancient relations between the Tang Dynasty of China and Japan, we can remember how close and friendly the relationship of two nations was. However, maybe many people don’t know, in the early days of the Tang Dynasty there was a battle between the two nations, and Chinese army fought against Japanese army for the first time.

Since the fourth century AD, there had been three countries including Koguryo (高句丽), Silla (新罗) and Paekche (百济) in modern-day Korea Peninsula. Koguryo was a strong country, and often robbed Japanese envoys who were sent to China, and even captured a Japanese colony called “Imna” (任那). Japanese kings was very irritated against Koguryo, and wanted to get military aid from China for attacking Koguryo. Lelang Jun (乐浪郡), a region which was set up in modern-day North Korea by China since the Han Dynasty were gradually annexed by Koguryo, so China was also against this country. Since AD 611, the Sui Dynasty of China had attacked Koguryo three times, but failed. In 645, the Tang Dynasty of China started to attack Koguryo, but because of bad climate and spent supplies, Chinese army had to withdraw.

In 655, Koguryo and Paekche attacked Silla which was an ally of the Tang Empire, and Silla asked China for military aid. In 660, Tang Gao-Zong, the emperor of China, sent an army to aid Silla. Chinese army defeated Paekche utterly and captured the king of Paekche. Then Chinese army attacked Koguryo. The ministers of Paekche had to ask Japan for military aid. Japan wanted to take this chance and intervene in the affairs of Korean, so it decided to send an army to aid Paekche. In 661, Saimei (斉明), the woman emperor of Japan, led an army and went to Kyushu (九州) and prepared for crossing the sea. Soon she died because of overwork, and his son Tenji (天智) ascended the throne. Tenji sent five thousand troops to escort the prince of Paeche to return to his country and become the king of Paeche. Japan gave many supplies and sent the reinforcements of twenty-seven thousand troops and more than one thousand warships to Paeche. Tang Gao-Zong knew the news that Japan supported Paeche, so he sent seven thousand troops and 170 warships to support Silla. The fighting was imminent.

In 663, there was a battle between Chinese navy and Japanese navy in the Baeckchon River (白村江, which is called the Keum River [錦江] in modern days). Liu Rengui (刘仁轨), the commander of Chinese navy, ordered his warships to keep firm formation and wait for fighting opportunity. The troops of Japan were very bellicose and attacked Chinese navy first. Because of the advantage of military equipments, Chinese army defeated Japanese army. The next day, Japanese commander decided to storm Chinese navy. Japanese warships rushed to Chinese warships and wanted to break the formation of Chinese warships. Liu Rengui ordered his warships to outflank Japanese warships. Japanese warships were jam-packed, and then Chinese navy gave fire attack to Japanese warships. More than four hundred warships of Japan were burnt, and large numbers of Japanese troops were drowned. Echi no Takutsu (朴市田來津), the commander of Japanese army, died in battle. The rest of Japanese warships broke the siege and ran away to Japan. The king of Paeche ran away to Koguryo. The ambition of Japan was shattered.

More than one thousand warships of Japan were defeated by 170 warships of China, what was the reason? At that time, the Tang Empire was an advanced country. She had advanced techniques for military equipments and warship manufacturing. The warships of Japan were small and simple, but the warships of China were large and had complex configuration. Moreover, at that time, the age-old warrior qualities of the Huaxia nation inspirited the troops of the Tang Empire. These troops had been trained strictly and they had team spirit.

The battle of the Baeckchon River didn’t worsen the relationship of China and Japan. Japanese were aware that they weren’t able to compete against the Tang Empire for equal diplomatic status, so it was more eager for learning from China. In AD 668, Koguryo was conquered by Chinese army, and Japanese emperor sent envoys to China and congratulated the victory. More and more young Japanese men were sent to China and studied the advanced culture and techniques of China. Nowadays, in Japan we still can see the influence from the Tang Dynasty.

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