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250 The Revival of the Dynasty Factional Struggles In the later Chosŏn period fiercefactionalstrugglesdeveloped,inwhich scholar-officials quarreled even over minor points of Confucian ritual and etiquette , especially the proper mourning period following the death of a royal personage. Neo-Confucian doctrine rewarded tedious scholasticism and inflexibleorthodoxy ,andencouragedtheNeo-Confucianliteratitoavoid“forged factions” and join “authentic factions.” The Neo-Confucian literati also argued that their own faction was orthodox and denounced their rivals as heterodox. This bitter strife deteriorated further as the number of aspiring officials grew while the number of available positions became scarce. After the two wars with the Japanese and the Manchus, the power struggle among the yangban scholar-officials intensified. Bloody purges took many talented lives every time power changed hands. The winners threatened the losers ’ persons, property, and families, even their graves. Each faction sought to desecrate the power and influence of its rivals, always in the name of a higher morality, but every time a faction took power, the group splintered into smaller units. Meanwhile, with officials engaged in a life-and-death struggle, they had no time to attend either to national matters or the needs of the populace. 7 THE SECOND HALF    OF    THE CHOSŎN PERIOD (1650–1910) The Second Half of the Chosŏn Period 251 After Kwanghaegun was charged with misrule and deposed in 1623, eventually the Westerners dominated the political scene. For example, King Hyojong (1649–1659) brought members of the sallim, or rustic literati, from the Westerners into government service, such as Song Si-yŏl, the king’s former mentor, Song Chun-gil, Kim Chip, Kwŏn Si, and Yi Yu-t’ae. Of course, the Westerners frequently faced challenges to their power. In 1674, following a dispute concerning how King Hyojong’s stepmother, the Queen Dowager Cho, was to mourn the death of one of Hyojong’s consorts, the Southerners drove the Westerners from power and took their place. Later, in 1680, the Westerners struck back, accusing the Southerners of plotting high treason against King Sukchong (1674–1720) and succeeded in purging them from the court. The Southerners’ two top leaders, Hŏ Chŏk and Yun Hyu, were executed. Then, in 1683, the Westerners themselves split into two factions: the Noron, or Old Doctrine, faction, led by Song Si-yŏl, and the Soron, or Young Doctrine, faction that coalesced around Yun Chŭng. The Old Doctrine faction wanted the Southerners to be purged and harshly punished, whereas the Young Doctrine faction remained relatively moderate on the issue of retribution against its political rivals. After the division, it was principally the Noron faction that seized power. The downfall of the Westerners, however, came after the group discordantly opposed the king’s intention to make a child of Southerner lineage the crown prince. When Sukchong, long without an heir, proposed this investment of the newborn son of his favorite concubine, the Lady Chang of Southerner lineage, in 1689, the Westerners’ opposition enraged the king, who was driven to kill Song Si-yŏl by poisoning him. Then, in 1694, only a few years after the Southerners assumed the reins of government, Sukchong lethally poisoned the Lady Chang and ousted the Southerners from power. For quite a long period following these bloody political intrigues, the Westerners, particularly the Old Doctrine faction, enjoyed political supremacy, and there was no chance of the Southerners ever returning to power again. After the Old Doctrine faction won a lasting victory over its chief rival, the Southerners, and Kings Yŏngjo and Chŏngjo made strong efforts toward reconciliation, factionalism subsided considerably. Kings Yŏngjo and Chŏngjo After the short reign of the sickly Kyŏngjong (1720–1724), the son of the Lady Chang, King Yŏngjo (1724–1776) ascended the throne in 1724. He was on the throne for 52 years and was succeeded by his grandson, King Chŏngjo (1776– 252 A History of Korea 1800), in 1776. During the reign of the two kings, the Chosŏn dynasty enjoyed a period of revival. They tried their best to remedy the adverse situation caused by factional fights, without much success, but the two kings were able, like the Roman emperors Diocletian and Constantine, to slow the dynasty’s rapid decline. Yŏngjo and Chŏngjo weakened factional struggles by advancing a policy of impartiality, called t’angp’yŏngch’aek, in which no faction was favored over another for official appointments among men of the so-called sasaek, or four...


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