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122 Forging a Centralized Government King T’aejo and the Local Gentry After unifying the Later Three Kingdoms, King T’aejo (Wang Kŏn’s posthumous, official title, meaning “Great Progenitor”) sought to achieve national integration by forging alliances with members of the local gentry, who werescatteredthroughoutthecountry,andbyrecoveringtheformerterritories of Koguryŏ and Parhae. He regarded his state as the successor to Koguryŏ and pursued a policy of northern expansion. He extended Koryŏ’s borders to the Ch’ŏngch’ŏn River, some 45 miles north of Pyongyang.1 Meanwhile, in domestic affairs, T’aejo faced difficulties dealing with the recalcitrant local gentry. Despite unification, members of the local gentry, within their regional strongholds, still maintained quasi-independent status. As a result, the central government could not dispatch its officials to administer the local areas. Needing consent and cooperation from local gentry figures to rule effectively, T’aejo forged marriage ties with 29 local gentry families throughout the country , including the Chŏngju Yu clan, the Naju O clan, the Ch’ungju Yu clan, the Hwangju Hwangbo clan, and the Kyŏngju Kim clan. He fathered 25 sons and 9 daughters. In some cases he strengthened the alliance by bestowing the royal surname, Wang, or other family names on powerful local elites and creating 4 THE FIRST HALF OF THE KORYŎ PERIOD (918–1170) The First Half of the Koryŏ Period 123 fictive family ties with them. To curry favor with the local gentry, to whom he owed his throne, T’aejo adopted men of local gentry lineage as merit subjects, bestowing upon them land and high office ranks. Despite these policies, powerful political forces among the local gentry continued to pose a grave threat to royal power. Thus T’aejo made every effort to restrict the privileges of the local gentry to prevent them from dominating the populace. He wrote and promulgated Chŏnggye, or Political Precautions, and Kye paengnyo sŏ, or Book of Bureaucratic Precepts, setting forth norms to govern the conduct of the king’s subjects. Up to his death in 943, however, T’aejo was never able to establish stable royal power. For his heirs, he left behind the testament known as Hunyo sipcho, precepts to be observed and honored by his successors in the realm of government. In his Hunyo sipcho, T’aejo instructed later kings to protect Buddhism and monasteries, to rule their state based on Confucian virtues, to promote the peasants’ livelihood, to follow geomantic theories, to preserve Korea’s cultural traditions, to attach great importance to Sŏ-gyŏng (Pyongyang), and not to draft men into government service from the region south of the Ch’aryŏng mountain range and the Kŭm River, in other words, men from the former territory of Later Paekche. The Reforms of Kings Kwangjong and Sŏngjong In 943 T’aejo was succeeded by King Hyejong (943–945), the son of his second queen, but after only two years Hyejong died of illness and was succeeded by his half-brother, King Chŏngjong (945–949), the son of T’aejo’s third queen. Chŏngjongalsodiedof illnessin949andwassucceededbyhisyoungerbrother, King Kwangjong (949–975). In the course of these successions, in which the throne was passed between princes born of different queens, a serious power struggle ensued. This was the inevitable result of T’aejo having fathered a number of princes, all potential candidates for the kingship, from 6 queens and 23 royal concubines. Each prince’s bid for power was based on the power of his maternal in-laws or on his own connections with powerful forces in the local gentry. Thus the same policies that helped T’aejo win over men of local gentry in order to take the throne ultimately threatened his successors’ throne. In 945 Wang Kyu, a royal in-law, plotted to kill King Hyejong. He had given T’aejo two of his daughters as his 15th and 16th concubines—the latter of whom bore a son, the Prince of Kwangju—and sent another daughter into the palace as a secondary queen for Hyejong. He then resorted to every strategy to bring 124 A History of Korea the Prince of Kwangju to the throne, ultimately even attempting to assassinate King Hyejong. With his position in dire threat, Hyejong survived uneasily for a time, protected day and night by an armed bodyguard. Before long, under heavy stress, he died. Immediately before Hyejong’s death, Wang Sing-nyŏm, the commander of the Sŏ-gyŏng garrison, killed Wang Kyu...


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