During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Mongols incorporated Koryŏ through a myriad of interstate relations. Either approaching from the Tributary-Investiture practice or from the thesis of Koryŏ as a part of the Mongol empire, scholars have previously focused on only one of the many aspects of Koryŏ-Yuan relations to provide a clear picture. By examining the institution of the Branch Secretariat for the Eastern Campaign and Koryŏ graduates of the Yuan civil service examination and their concepts of sovereignty, this paper suggests a new direction to consider Koryŏ-Yuan relations, in which sovereignty and allegiance were not so clear-cut. The Mongols originally established the Branch Secretariat in Koryŏ to facilitate their invasions of Japan. But the Branch Secretariat continued to evolve and became a political institution that symbolized the Mongols’ sovereignty over Koryŏ and conferred on Koryŏ literati political and legal statuses to partake in the Yuan civil service examination and to attain offices in the empire after graduation. This, by no means, suggests that these Koryŏ literati shifted their allegiance. Rather, one example, Yi Kok (1298–1351), defended Koryŏ’s autonomy by appealing to the Mongols’ Confucian rhetoric and emphasizing the difference between Koryŏ and Yuan. The Mongols’ use of a Confucian legitimation strategy—the concept of All-under-Heaven—ironically became a means for Koryŏ literati to subvert certain elements of the Mongols’ sovereignty. At the same time, their appeals also acknowledged the Mongols’ right to rule All-under-Heaven. This paper thus reveals the ambiguity of Koryŏ-Yuan relations and concepts of sovereignty.


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