Generals and Scholars
Military Rule in Medieval Korea
Publication Year: 2000
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press
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In the autumn of 1170 a small group of military officers rose in revolt, detained King Ŭijong (r. 1146–1170), and murdered a number of civilian officials. Over the next two decades the kingdom imploded as military officers conspired against each other at the top and unrest among peasants, slaves, and monks rocked the people below. A degree of stability returned with the rise...
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The military era was a transitional period in Koryŏ: civil rule gave way to military domination and then Mongol control starting in 1270. Rebellion and invasion tested Koryŏ’s traditions under mounting social, institutional, and intellectual pressures. Yet the importance of civil norms and civil officials, the primacy of the monarchic ideal, the prominence of social elites and kinship ties...
1 The Military Coup
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In the eighth lunar month of 1170, as Koryŏ’s monarch U˘ ijong was visiting several Buddhist temples, General Chŏng Chungbu, head of the palace guards, together with his aides, Executive Captains Yi Ŭ ibang and Yi Ko, launched a coup that toppled Ŭijong from power and left a number of powerful officials dead. This revolt was not a random act but the result of many forces that exploded in the calm of an autumn excursion...
2 Myŏngjong’s Reign
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When the military leaders enthroned Myŏngjong in 1170, they relegated this new king to a subservient position where he became a pawn in the ensuing power struggles. Myŏngjong’s reign, one of the most troubled periods in Koryŏ history, witnessed the near collapse of the Koryŏ state. Generals rose in rapid succession through coups and countercoups...
3 The Ch’oe House: Military Institutions
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With the purge of his major opponents completed and a new monarch, Sinjong, on the throne, Ch’oe Ch’ungh˘on set out to build a structure that would assure his family control over the dynasty for the next sixty years. The result was a dual administration that permitted the traditional dynastic organs to function while building an auxiliary series of private agencies that were directly answerable to his commands...
4 Civil Structure and Personnel: Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn and Ch’oe U
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In the early Koryŏ period, prestige and authority rested with men who held civil positions in the dynastic structure. Even though Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn placed considerable emphasis on constructing a solid military base, he also nurtured and won the support of the civilian elite. In effect, the Ch’oe House ruled the kingdom by drawing upon civilian administrative talent as well as military force...
5 Civil Structure and Personnel: Ch’oe Hang and Ch’oe Ŭi
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There is a clear division, both in the operation and the tenor of the Ch’oe House, that is marked by the rise to power of Ch’oe Hang. Ch’oe Ch’ungh˘on and Ch’oe U had been institutional architects. They freely improvised and adjusted Koryŏ conventions to enhance their command over the kingdom. They were effective administrators and at the same time decisive leaders. They left a definitive stamp on Koryŏinstitutions and dominated Kory˘o’s cultural life...
6 Peasants and Lowborns
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The century following the 1170 coup witnessed significant social change as the old aristocratic order began to give way to peasant unrest, slave rebellions, and a general erosion of social restrictions. The chaos that accompanied the rise of Y i Ŭ imin and other men of humble origins during the last decade of Myŏngjong’s rule has already been discussed. When Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn seized control...
7 Buddhism under the Military
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Buddhism during the military period remained at the center of Koryŏs religious, intellectual, and cultural life, much as it did during the entire five centuries of Koryŏ. Not only were Buddhist monks tied to many of the leaders that dominated the dynasty during this age, but clerics assumed a new intellectual role and provided new directions to Buddhist speculative inquiry...
8 Land and Other Economic Issues
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When Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn came to power in 1196, he inherited an unstable economic structure. The court was almost without funds. Eleven years earlier, in 1185, the Koryŏsa indicated that the royal granary was nearly empty even though it was receiving all the tribute presented from foreign exchanges...
9 The Ch’oe Dilemma
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The Ch’oe House was founded on two inherently competing systems: dynastic and private institutions. Pressed with crises from the start of his rule in 1196, Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn had to react quickly and decisively to the challenges posed by domestic unrest, poverty, Buddhist opposition, and a powerful military class. The most expedient solution was to restore the dynastic structure, which already ...
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Publication Year: 2000