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Military Revolt in Koryö: The 1170 Coup d'État Edward J. Shultz WEST OAHU COLLEGE THE importance of the military has too often been ignored in Chinese and Korean history.1 Chinese and Korean societies have emphasized the scholar, and they have prided themselves on seeking peaceful solutions to their problems. By nature traditional China and Korea were pacific, and only when their systems could not operate effectively from such a posture did they turn to military means for help. Yet rarely were military personnel allowed freedom from civilian restraints. Even in crises, the military remained subordinate to civilian rule. Often civilian leaders took charge of military preparations and assumed command on the battlefield . In Korea, civilian rule was the norm between the tenth and twentieth centuries. The only major exception occurred during one century, from 1170 to 1270, when military officers seized power and ruled the country. Traditionally there has been a bias against this period of military rule in Korea. The Chinese Confucian classics were the ideological mainstay of the Korean political system, and they emphasized a philosoAuthor 's Note: I would like to acknowledge Hugh Kang, my former advisor at the University of Hawaii—Manoa, and Dan Boylan, my colleague at West Oahu College, for their many helpful suggestions. 1 . Two exceptions are Frank A. Kierman, Jr., and John K. Fairbank, ed., Chinese Ways in Warfare (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974) and Yi Kibaek, Koryöpyöngjesa¦yön'gu (Seoul, 1968). 20SHULTZ phy of civilian rule.2 The Confucian scholars who compiled the dynastic records of the Koryö dynasty in the fifteenth century adhered to this view.3 To them military rule, which commenced with a coup d'état in 1170, was unnatural, a sign that Koryö society was politically bankrupt, and the task was to discover how this had happened. The question was simple: What went wrong? They looked to King Üijong (1146-1170), whom the military deposed, and found him lacking moral character and misled by followers and eunuchs. The answer to their question, what went wrong, was also simple: Üijong, the king, was at fault. One historian commented: The essence of ruling the country lies in economizing and loving the people. Üijong built many ponds and pavilions through excessive expenditures and overworking the people. With his favorites he did nothing but sink into pleasure. Among his councilors of state and remonstrating officials, none could caution him. In the end, it brought his banishment to Koje island; this was fitting.4 But Üijong alone was not to be held totally responsible. The men Üijong chose to attend him were also responsible for the coup d'état of 1170. Again a historian commented: If Üijong had sincerely sought loyal and honest people, then definitely his government would have been good and praised by later generations. Unfortunately the people he listened to were flatterers and manipulators. In appointing officials they stressed drinking and poetry and neglected political discussion .5 The king not only neglected his duties, but placed too much emphasis on such non-Confucian activities as Buddhist practices and various superstitions . This attitude, according to traditional interpretations, was equally corrupting and certainly contributed to his demise. 2.John K. Fairbank, "Introduction: Varieties of the Chinese Military Experience" in Chinese Ways in Warfare, p. 7, states: This disesteem of physical coercion was deeply imbedded in the Confucian teaching. The superior man (chün-tzu), extolled in the classics as the highest product of self-cultivation, should be able to attain his ends without violence. This was because of the optimistic belief that virtuous and proper conduct exerted such an edifying attraction upon the beholder that he accorded moral prestige to the actor. Right conduct thus gave one moral authority, a kind of power. To do the right thing in the right way and at the proper time not only maintained the web of civilized relationships; it also confirmed one's position within it. 3.The two dynastic histories of the Koryö dynasty are the Koryösa (Yönse edition; Seoul, 1972), hereafter cited as ATS; and the Koryösa chöryo (Hösa Bunko edition; Tokyo, 1960), hereafter cited as KSC. 4.KSC, 11:42a. 5...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 19-48
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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