Sunday, March 18, 2012

Military revolt in Goryeo

   The revolt resulted in shift in power from royal family tied closely to aristocratic families. Military officials (namely Choe) lasted for about a century and crumbled under Mongol invasion.
This is thought as the background for Mushin series, because the history layout in the first episodes may seem a little bit complicated. 

The trend in shifting powers and sorting out the rules wasn’t new in Goryeo period (935-1392). In Unified Silla, king’s position became a pawn for exercising aristocracy’s power and dominance over royal line. King, after royal family lost its seonggol rank (with the death of Queen Jindeok), was no longer seen as a sacred, shamanistic-inspired powerful man. This gave assumption to see the throne as the source of power, but not necessary the royal power. Korea in its long history has never treated its rulers as demi-gods that can’t even be touched, kings were slain, exiled, poisoned etc. Coup d’états that frequently took place in every kingdom, placed the real power into the hands of those who could control the king or the army.

At first, military men weren’t treated as equal to noble men. They were considered to be crude, uneducated and basically serving dogs to aristocratic families. But in 12th century, military men started to amass power in their own hands, and execute this power. The reason was simple – they were indispensable in constant danger that was creeping from the North. Jurchens (Kin Dynasty), Khitans (Liao Dynasty) and other Manchurian tribes were starting to unify and form dynasties. Military force was necessary to defend the country, hence the soaring position of army men.
            First sign of army officials taking stronger stance was King Injong’s case. He was the son of King Yejong (1105-1122) and daughter of Yi Ja-gyeom. Proud grandfather was granted many appanages and titles, but that just triggered his hunger for power. He thought of dethroning Injong and taking the throne for himself. His first hand was General Cheok Jun-gyeong. Injong, seeing what’s going around him, gathered his supported and wanted to be the first to strike a blow, but Yi sent General Cheok and situation went out of hand, he imprisoned the King and massacred all Yi’s political opponents. After some time Injong managed to get General on his side and table has turned. Yi desperately tried to fight back, but was defeated.

The conflict broke out again in 1170 obliterating King Uijong. The reason was also simple – suppressed anger of army men. During one king-organized party Kim Busik’s son, Kim Donjung, after few drinks, set General Jeong Jungbu’s beard on fire. General tied the funnyman which was released after his father’s appellation (Kim Busik was the one that compiled Samguk Sagi), and Jeong was warned of the penalty for his behavior, so he fled the capital. After some time he was pardoned and came back just to be the witness of another insult of army official. Han Noe, civil official of 5th rank, pushed General Yi Seoung (3rd rank) down the stairs. Only King calmed down both enemies, but… coming back, few officers, angered and bittered by the insults, killed few civil officials. Main creator of this mess run and hid in King’s bedroom. That didn’t stop officers who killed him on sight, just before King’s eyes. This meant coup d’état, because killers could not be pardoned for such act. Unrest spilled all over the capital, suddenly everyone started to set their debts with another with the mighty help of a sword. King and his heir were exiled to Geoje and Jin islands, and army men enthroned former king’s younger brother as the King Myeongjong (1170-1197). No need to add that the King was just their puppet. Since from time to time a small protest broke out, the order was issued to get rid of former King Uijong.
The next rebellion started in 1174 and the one who suppressed it was General Yi Uibang, which unfortunately marked him as Jeong’s rival. Rebellious General of Pyeongyang, Jo Wichong was defeated also by General Yi. In 1176 popular insurrections started along military ones. Insurgents came from the lowest class burdened by law and oppression of ruling class, and they wanted to free themselves from it. This year, a rebellion led by peasants Mang-i and Mangso spread all over southern provinces and stopped after killing two leaders. Six years later laborers building ships rebelled again in Chongju and were joined by government slaves, they managed to hold the town for forty days. Such rebellions started to erupt one after another in various parts of Goryeo kingdom, motivated by the wish to free slave laborers and break from the oppression of government officials. In 1194 peasant rebellions were suppressed, but that didn’t calm down the situation.
General Yi was overthrown by General Yi Uimin (earlier on the side of Jeong Jungbu) who ruled only until 1196 and is described in history as tyrant. His fall is in the same time the appearance of a new power – Choe clan, brothers Chungheon and Chungsu. At first they didn’t want to take over the country, they even had the ’10 requests list’ to the government like: removing incompetent officials, giving back unlawfully taken land, throwing Buddhist monks out of royal palace etc.
Unfortunately, when Chungheon became the most powerful man, he forgot about this, he dethroned the king and named a new one, King Sinjong, his puppet (1179-1204). During small fights, Chungsu was killed on streets. But Chungheon’s rule was marked by rebellions that appeared ceaselessly led by slaves and laborers. The leader of 1198 insurrection was Manjeok and this particular uprising was the first when people demanded abolition of slavery and equality to all. Leaders were caught and after execution – their bodies thrown in the river (this was against Buddhist cremation, and signified the punishment also in the Otherworld – inability to get reborn). All those rebellions pointed out one painful element in society – hierarchy that had its roots in Silla period and was unable to fit modern society.

"Since the events of 1170 and 1173, many high officials have arisen from among the slave class. Are generals and ministers born to these glories?  No!  For when the time is right anyone at all can hold these offices. Why then should we only work ourselves to the bone and suffer under the whip? ... If each one kills his master and burns the record of his slave status, thus bringing slavery to an end our country, then each of us will be able to become a minister or general."

In 1219 Choe Chungheon died and was replaced by his son, Choe U (died in 1249) and during his time, the Mongol danger became more and more evident. Choe U firmly opposed any treaty with Mongol storm that was approaching. In 1232 almost all of the capital moved to the Ganghwa Island as the temporary royal seat. This way, the common society was left completely alone and without any help, and the only advice official gave to them was: to hide in mountains and islands. Well, not exactly a great solution when hundreds of thousands of Mongol soldiers were just waiting to plunder the country.
In 1249 Choe Hang replaced his father as the ruling man. Goryeo was then in the middle of open conflict with Mongol dynasty. In 1258 the next one from Choe family, Choe Ui,  was about to take the power but was killed by Kim Jun.

About the Mongol-Goryeo conflict that destroyed the kingdom – later. 

K.B.Lee, Korea Old and New. A History
P.H. Lee, Sources of Korean Tradition (I volume)
M.J. Seth, History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present (chapter 5: Military Rulers and Mongol Invader, 1170 to 1392)