Choe Chung-heon (최충헌; 崔忠獻; 1149-1219) was a military ruler of Korea during the Goryeo period. Choe's father was a Grand General in the Goryeo military. Choe entered the military, but remained a captain until middle age. He witnessed the quick succession of military men who become all-powerful in the government and then deposed one another. Choe plotted against the long-standing War Council, feigning fealty to the newly promoted supreme general and council head Yi Ui-min, and with his brother Choe Chung-su (최충수), launched a coup d'etat while Yi was away. After eliminating the war council and killing Yi, he became a prominent leader.
Although the coup was a success, Choe did not take full power, acting instead as Prime Minister of the State and Royal Protector. He remained in power through the abdication of four kings (two of these at his request), three rebellions and numerous attempts on his life. Finally, during the early reign of King Gojong (고종 高宗 the twenty-third ruler; reigned 1213–1259), Choe retired, handing his position to his eldest son Choe U (?-1249) (최우 H : 崔瑀), after a challenge fro his younger son. Choi Chungheon died in 1219 at the age of 72. Through his son and grandsons, the Choe family dominated the political and military landscape of Goryeo for 60 years, until his great-grandson Choi-Ui was assassinated.
Choe Chung-heon was born in 1149, the son of Grand General Choe Won-ho (최원호). He is thought to have been born in Gaeseong (개성시 開城市) or Gyeongju (경주시 慶州市). He was descended from the famous Confucian scholar Choe Chi-won (최치원 崔致遠), who lived during the Unified Silla period and is also the ancestor of the Kyongju Choi clan, but because Choe Won-ho was given the subname, Ubong (우봉, "great warrior"), his family was made into the Ubong Choi clan. He married a Lady Yu (유씨) and had two sons by her, Choe U (최우 崔瑀)) and Choe Hyang (최향).
Rise to Power
Choe's father was a Grand General in the Goryeo military. Choe entered the military, but he remained a captain until middle age. Choe witnessed military men become all-powerful in the quick succession of military leaders who deposed one another.
Choe entered the military, like his father, and was a captain until he reached 35, when he became a general. He joined the War Council at 40. Choe served under the military dictators during the reign of King Myeongjong (명종 明宗), and watched each one become all-powerful in quick succession. Choe plotted against the long-standing War Council, feigning fealty to the newly promoted supreme general and council head Yi Ui-min. After many years of humiliation and hardship, Choe and his brother Choe Chung-su (최충수) launched a coup d'etat while Yi was away. After their private armies destroyed the War Council and killed Yi, Choe became a prominent leader.
Choe replaced the weak Myeongjong with King Sinjong (신종 神宗), Myeongjong's younger brother. The government started to rebuild itself after the rule of the previous military dictators, but Choe Chung-su unseated the Crown Princess and tried to marry his daughter to the Crown Prince. Choe Chung-heon immediately intervened and a bloody struggle between the Choe brothers ensued. In the end, Chung-su lost and was beheaded by Choe Chung-heon's troops. Choe Chung-Heon was said to have wept when he saw his brother's head, and gave him a proper burial.
Choe then appointed several of his relatives to high government positions, and slowly expanded his power. When King Sinjong fell ill in 1204, he secretly begged Choe to preserve the kingdom and not overthrow it. Choe respected this last request from the king and gave the throne to Sinjong's son, who became King [[Huijong of Goryeo|Huijong] (희종; 熙宗; the 21st king). Sinjong died of his illness immediately thereafter.
Huijong was determined to retrieve all the former powers that military dictators and usurpers had taken from the kings. To lull Choe into a false sense of security, he gave him the titles of Prime Minister of the State, and Royal Protector, with power equivalent to the king's. As Chungheon became secure in his new position, Huijong began making preparations to depose him. Claiming to be ill, he tricked Choe Chungheon into coming alone into the palace without his usual host of guards. Once he arrived, Huijong attempted a coup d'etat against him. The attack failed and Choe Chungheon barely escaped with his life. Enraged, he exiled Emperor Huijong. Emperor Gangjong was crowned in Huijong's place.
Soon, two rebellions struck at once; one was led by Pak Jin-jae, Choe's nephew; and the other was a movement to resurrect Silla. Choe put down both rebellions. Next there was a Slave Rebellion, led by one of Choe's own slaves, Manjeok (만적). The slaves killed their masters and gathered on a mountain, around one hundred strong. This rebel army was easily crushed, and the bodies of the dead were thrown into a river, unburied. More rebellions occurred, including one by Buddhist priests. Choe was not able to completely silence the Buddhists, but he did capture the individual Buddhists that were behind a plot to assassinate him.
During this time, various northern tribes, including the Khitan, were being driven from their homelands by the Mongols. Many escaped to Goryeo, and violence flared along the northern border. Choe's sons, U and Hyang, led separate campaigns in response. Hyang defeated the minor tribal armies to the east, and U defeated those in the west with the help of General Kim Chwi-ryeo (김취려). These victories were aided by small contingents of the Mongols.
Choe had witnessed the downfall of Chong Chung-bu's regime, which was caused partially by the lack of a strong legitimate heir. Choe's first son, Choe U, was an effective strategist, soldier, and leader. The second son, Choe Hyang, was an exceptional soldier, but not a very good negotiator or statesman. Choe-U joined the the Imperial army at the age of 18 and served for about twenty years. When the time came for Choe Chung-Heon to select a successor, he selected U because he was the first son, and he was the more talented and capable of the two. Knowing that a fight would ensure over succession, Choe forbade U to enter the house. U's brother, Hyang, challenged U to a sword duel, which U won. U did not kill his younger brother, but put his fate in his father's hands. Choe Chung-heon was pleased by U's decision, and sent his younger son into exile. He then announced that he would retire and that U would be his successor, and U became the Royal Protector, Prime Minister, and leader of the Imperial Council.. He was around 65–years–old when he made this announcement.
Choe lived peacefully for the remaining seven years of his life, and even saw his grandson Hang, son of U. Late in his life, Choe regretted some of the decisions he made earlier, and also realized that he had succumbed to the same lust for power that he had despised in other military leaders. Choe survived several attempts on his life. He suffered a stroke, and lived for one more year before he died at the age of 72, in 1219. It is recorded that his funeral was like that of a king.
Choe Chung-heon was the first of the Choe dictators, and established the system of rule followed by the later Choe dictators. Choe Chung-Heon was succeeded by his first son Choe U, who personally led the armies of Goryeo to fight the Mongol armies. Choe U was followed by his first son Choe Hang (최항), who forced the king to reject all the Mongol offers of surrender. When Choe-Hang died, his only son Choe Ui (최의) came to power.
Choe Ui was described as cowardly and obese, and the Choe regime ended when Choe Ui was assassinated by one of his lieutenants. Other accounts claim that some troops were trying to push the heavy tyrant over the wall, but were killed before they could do so because he was so fat. Choe Chung-Heon, Choe-U, and Choe-Hang were all trained in martial arts, but Choe-Ui was not. By then, the Choe family had become very wealthy, and it was no longer necessary to train for fighting on the battlefields.
The Choe regime lasted 60 years, during which Goryeo was able to resist the Mongol invasions. After the fall of the Choe military regime, the Sambyeolcho, which was the private army of the Choe family, separated from the Goryeo government and attempted to establish a nation of its own, but this rebellion was defeated by a Mongol-Goryeo army.
Approximately 845 Koreans today are members of the Ubong Choi clan.
During the Three Kingdoms period, taekkyeon (taekwondo) became a required military art. During the Goryeo period, the value of taekkyeon as a martial art for the defense and prosperity of the nation was acknowledged, and as a consequence, its standards were raised, leading to further systemization and popularity. Among King Uijong's writings is a record stating that Yi Ui-min was promoted because of his outstanding taekkyeon techniques. The record also shows that Choe Chungheon threw banquets and let strong men from the Jungbang (Council of Generals) compete against each other in taekkyeon matches; winners were rewarded with government posts. There is also a record of Byeon Anyeol's winning matches against Im Gyeonmi and Yeom Heungbang and being promoted from assistant-head to head of the Royal Secretariat as a reward. Such evidence implies that the value of taekwondo as a martial art was acknowledged the government of the Goryeo Dynasty, and that clear criteria existed for judging competitions.
- History of Korea
- List of Korea-related topics
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|Military Leader of Goryeo
|Leader of Ubong Choe Military regime
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