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Generals and Scholars

Generals and Scholars: Military Rule in Medieval Korea

Edward J. Shultz
Copyright Date: 2000
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  • Book Info
    Generals and Scholars
    Book Description:

    Generals and Scholars is the first work in English to examine fully military rule during the Koryo. Although it lasted for only a century, the period was one of dynamic change--a time of institutional development, social transformation, and the reassertion of the civil service examination and Confucian ideology coupled with the flowering of Son (Zen) Buddhism. (When confronted with fundamental matters of rule, however, Ch'oe leaders frequently opted for the status quo and in the end aligned with many traditional civil elites to preserve their power.) The traditional tension between civilians and the military was eased as both came to accept the primacy and necessity of civilian values. Koryo generals, unlike those in Japan, learned they could govern more readily by relying on civil leaders administering a strong central government than on a call to arms. Institutional innovations from this period survived well into the next and Son Buddhism continued to flourish throughout the country.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6263-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The military era was a transitional period in Koryŏ: civil rule gave way to military domination and then Mongol control starting in 1270. Rebellion and invasion tested Koryŏ’s traditions under mounting social, institutional, and intellectual pressures. Yet the importance of civil norms and civil officials, the primacy of the monarchic ideal, the prominence of social elites and kinship ties, and the centrality of Buddhist expression—all standards of Koryŏ—remained fundamental in the military era as well. These traditions, coupled with new developments during military rule, influenced events and institutions in the following Mongol era and then the kingdom of...

  5. 1 The Military Coup
    (pp. 9-27)

    In the eighth lunar month of 1170, as Koryŏ’s monarch Ŭijong was visiting several Buddhist temples, General Chŏng Chungbu, head of the palace guards, together with his aides, Executive Captains Yi Ŭibang and Yi Ko, launched a coup that toppled Ŭijong from power and left a number of powerful officials dead. This revolt was not a random act but the result of many forces that exploded in the calm of an autumn excursion.

    To understand this coup in all its complexity, a search into its origins is imperative. The coup was much more complicated than a simple armed revolt caused...

  6. 2 Myŏngjong’s Reign
    (pp. 28-53)

    When the military leaders enthroned Myŏngjong in 1170, they relegated this new king to a subservient position where he became a pawn in the ensuing power struggles. Myŏngjong’s reign, one of the most troubled periods in Koryŏ history, witnessed the near collapse of the Koryŏ state. Generals rose in rapid succession through coups and countercoups, and this plunge into anarchy was not arrested until General Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn launched his own coup in 1196 and forced Myŏngjong to abdicate in 1197. This chapter explores the social and political turmoil that besieged Myŏngjong’s period of rule. Although the new military leaders sought...

  7. 3 The Ch’oe House: Military Institutions
    (pp. 54-69)

    With the purge of his major opponents completed and a new monarch, Sinjong, on the throne, Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn set out to build a structure that would assure his family control over the dynasty for the next sixty years. The result was a dual administration that permitted the traditional dynastic organs to function while building an auxiliary series of private agencies that were directly answerable to his commands. These mechanisms of government served him and his immediate successors: his son U (also known as I), his grandson Hang, and finally his great grandson Ŭi. In this manner he initially depended on...

  8. 4 Civil Structure and Personnel: Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn and Ch’oe U
    (pp. 70-93)

    In the early Koryŏ period, prestige and authority rested with men who held civil positions in the dynastic structure. Even though Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn placed considerable emphasis on constructing a solid military base, he also nurtured and won the support of the civilian elite. In effect, the Ch’oe House ruled the kingdom by drawing upon civilian administrative talent as well as military force. Parallel to its use of existing military institutions, the Ch’oe leadership at first depended on the dynastic bureaucracy but gradually constructed its own private agencies. In the end, the Ch’oe House superimposed its own units, both military and...

  9. 5 Civil Structure and Personnel: Ch’oe Hang and Ch’oe Ŭi
    (pp. 94-109)

    There is a clear division, both in the operation and the tenor of the Ch’oe House, that is marked by the rise to power of Ch’oe Hang. Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn and Ch’oe U had been institutional architects. They freely improvised and adjusted Koryŏ conventions to enhance their command over the kingdom. They were effective administrators and at the same time decisive leaders. They left a definitive stamp on Koryŏ institutions and dominated Koryŏ’s cultural life. Moreover, under their leadership Koryŏ doggedly endured the Mongol invasions. The decline of the Ch’oe House began with Ch’oe Hang’s rise to power. Its final collapse...

  10. 6 Peasants and Lowborns
    (pp. 110-130)

    The century following the 1170 coup witnessed significant social change as the old aristocratic order began to give way to peasant unrest, slave rebellions, and a general erosion of social restrictions. The chaos that accompanied the rise of Yi Ŭimin and other men of humble origins during the last decade of Myŏngjong’s rule has already been discussed. When Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn seized control of the kingdom in 1196 and passed power to his son and grandson, the Ch’oe leaders pursued two distinct policies. On the one hand, they rigorously maintained traditional class divisions and sought to limit both peasant and slave...

  11. 7 Buddhism under the Military
    (pp. 131-147)

    Buddhism during the military period remained at the center of Koryŏ’s religious, intellectual, and cultural life, much as it did during the entire five centuries of Koryŏ. Not only were Buddhist monks tied to many of the leaders that dominated the dynasty during this age, but clerics assumed a new intellectual role and provided new directions to Buddhist speculative inquiry. This chapter assesses the relationship between Buddhism and the military rulers of Koryŏ.¹ Although we cannot avoid touching upon philosophical developments, our primary focus will be on the institutional and social changes that marked Buddhism’s dynamic growth.² Many scholars have...

  12. 8 Land and Other Economic Issues
    (pp. 148-164)

    When Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn came to power in 1196, he inherited an unstable economic structure. The court was almost without funds. Eleven years earlier, in 1185, theKoryŏsaindicated that the royal granary was nearly empty even though it was receiving all the tribute presented from foreign exchanges. In the next year, with the dynastic granary again drained, the kingdom borrowed gold and cloth to cover salaries. With the deterioration of state finances, people began expanding their private landholdings through a number of ploys, such as dispatching their slaves, acquiring dynastic patronage, or merely expropriating property.¹ As we have seen, Ch’oe...

  13. 9 The Ch’oe Dilemma
    (pp. 165-190)

    The Ch’oe House was founded on two inherently competing systems: dynastic and private institutions. Pressed with crises from the start of his rule in 1196, Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn had to react quickly and decisively to the challenges posed by domestic unrest, poverty, Buddhist opposition, and a powerful military class. The most expedient solution was to restore the dynastic structure, which already maintained offices and agencies to resolve the country’s problems and govern it effectively. Through the dynastic organization, individuals could be mobilized and decisions could be made to effect the changes and reforms Ch’oe Ch’unghŏn needed to secure his authority. Once...

    (pp. 191-208)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 209-240)
    (pp. 241-250)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 251-254)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-255)