Jeong Mong-ju (정몽주; 鄭夢周1337 – 1392), often known by his pen name Po Eun (포은; 圃隱), was a Korean scholar born under the Goryeo dynasty. He studied under the Neo-Confucianist scholar Yi saek. In 1367, at the age of 23, after taking three different Civil Service literary examinations and receiving the highest marks possible on all three, he became an instructor in Neo-Confucianism at the Gukjagam (국자감; 國子監), then called "Seonggyungwan." He was a faithful public servant to King U of Goryeo, serving as headmaster of Seonggyungwan, minister of rites, minister of law, and minister of finance. He visited China and Japan as a diplomat for the king, securing promises of Japanese aid in defeating pirates and managing to secure peace with Ming dynasty China in 1385. He also founded an institute devoted to the theories of Confucianism, and was known as a master of calligraphy and painting.
In 1388, General Yi Seonggye (later King Taejo) revolted and dethroned King U of Goryeo, establishing a puppet on the throne. Jeong Mongju remained loyal to Goryeo and opposed Yi’s attempt to found the Yi (Joseon) dynasty. Yi Bangwon (later King Taejong), the son of Yi Seonggye, arranged to have him murdered in 1392 by five men on the Sonjukkyo Bridge in Gaeseong (개성시; 開城市), removing the last obstacle to Joseon. Jeong Mong-ju became a national symbol of loyalty to the sovereign, even among his political enemies. King Taejong made him Prime Minister posthumously in 1401, and in 1517, he was canonized into the National Academy alongside other Korean sages such as Yi I (Yulgok) and Yi Hwang (Toegye). The Sonjukkyo Bridge is now a national monument of North Korea.
Sungkyunkwan (성균관; 成均館)
The Gukjagam(국자감; 國子監), known at times as Gukhak or Seonggyungwan, was the highest educational institution of the Korean Goryeo dynasty. It was located at the capital, Gaegyeong (modern-day Kaesong), and provided advanced training in the Chinese classics. It was established in 992 during the reign of Seongjong. A similar institution, known as the Gukhak, had been established under Unified Silla, but it was not successful. The Gukjagam was part of Seongjong's general program of Confucian reform, together with the gwageo(과거 科擧)civil service examinations and the hyanggyo provincial schools, and formed the cornerstone of his Confucian educational system.
In the waning days of Goryeo, the Gukjagam again became a centerpiece of reform through the policies of the early Neo-Confucian scholar An Hyang, (1243 – 1306), born in Yeongju in present-day South Korea. He is considered the founder of Neo-Confucianism in Korea, and introduced Sung Confucianism to the Goryeo kingdom. An Hyang visited China, where he transcribed the Chu Tzu Shu and brought it back with portraits of Confucius and Chu Hsi to Korea, to use in his revitalization of Confucianism. He strove to replace Buddhism with Confucianism and in 1304, founded the Confucian shrine Munmyo. In 1308 the Gukjagam(국자감 國子監) was renamed Sungkyunkwan (성균관 成均館) and the curriculum was changed to Confucianism.
The current Sungkyunkwan was established in 1398 to offer prayers and memorials to Confucius and his disciples, and to promote the study of the Confucian canon. Under the Joseon dynasty, it became Korea's foremost institution of higher learning. It was located in the capital Hanseong, modern-day Seoul, and followed the example of the Goryeo-period Gukjagam, which in its later years was also known by the name "Sungkyunkwan." The Sungkyunkwan attracted many of the leading intellectuals of Joseon as students or instructors. Individuals associated with it include the philosophers Jeong Dojeon, Yi I, and Yi Hwang. Under the instruction of King Sejong, the scholars at this institution developed Hunmin Jeongeum.
Jeong Mong-ju and Chung Dojeon
Chung Dojeon’s family had emerged from commoner status some four generations before his birth, and had slowly climbed up the ladder of government service. His father was the first in the family to obtain a high post. However, Chung's mother was a slave, which made it very difficult for him to rise politically in the beginning. Despite his difficulties, he became a student of Yi saek, and with other leading thinkers of the time such as Jeong Mong-ju, began to have an effect on Korean politics.
Yi saek was appointed as the president of Sungkyunkwan (성균관; 成均館) by King Gongmin (공민왕; 恭愍王). He is regarded as a “foster parent” of Neo-Confucianism in Korea, but was criticized by later Neo-Confucian scholars of the Yi (Joseon) Dynasty, because he did not separate Neo-Confucianism from Buddhism. Jeong Mong-ju and Chung Dojeon were both students of Yi saek, and both became representative Neo-Confucian scholars from the late Goryeo-period and new Yi (Joseon) Dynasty.
Although both were assassinated, each held a different political outlook. Jeong Mong-ju was loyal to the Goryeo Dynasty and against building the Yi (Joseon) Dynasty, believing that “we cannot serve the two masters.” Chung Dojeon supported the founder of Yi (Joseon) Dynasty, and his ties with Yi Seonggye and the foundation of Joseon, were extremely close. He is said to have compared his relationship with Yi to that between Zhang Liang and Gaozu of Han. Chung's political ideas had a lasting impact on Joseon Dynasty politics and law. The two first became acquainted in 1383, when Chung visited Yi at his quarters in Hamgyong province.
Chung Dojeon was a major opponent of Buddhism at the end of the Goryeo period. He was a student of Zhuxi's thought. Using Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucian philosophy as the basis of his anti-Buddhist polemic, he criticized Buddhism in a number of treatises as being corrupt in its practices, and nihilistic and antinomian in its doctrines. The most famous of these treatises was the Bulssi japbyeon ("Array of Critiques Against Buddhism"). He was a founding member of the Seonggyungwan, the royal Confucian academy, and one of its early faculty members.
Chung was among the first Korean scholars to refer to his thought as silhak, or "practical learning." However, he is not usually numbered among the members of the Silhak tradition, which arose much later in the Joseon period.
Life of Jeong Mong-ju
Jeong Mong-ju was born in Yeongcheon ( 영천시; 永川市), to a family of the Yeongil Jeong clan. In 1367, at the age of 23, after taking three different Civil Service literary examinations and receiving the highest marks possible on all three, he became an instructor in Neo-Confucianism at the Gukjagam (국자감; 國子監), then called "Seonggyungwan," while simultaneously holding a government position, and was a faithful public servant to King U of Goryeo (often written Woo; 우왕; 禑王). The king had great confidence in Jeong’s broad knowledge and good judgment, and he participated in various national projects. He served as headmaster of Seonggyungwan, minister of rites, minister of law, and minister of finance. His scholarly works earned him great respect in the Goryeo court. He was knowledgeable about human behavior, and visited China and Japan as a diplomat for the king, securing promises of Japanese aid in defeating pirates and managing to secure peace with Ming dynasty China in 1385. He also founded an institute devoted to the theories of Confucianism, and was known as a master of calligraphy and painting.
Yi (Joseon) Dynasty
Near the end of the Goryeo dynasty, the court was split between those who were Korean nationalists and those who wished to maintain a relationship with the Chinese Ming dynasty. In 1388, the Ming dynasty set a messenger to Goryeo to demand the return of a significant portion of Goryeo’s northern territory. General Choe seized the chance to argue for the invasion of the Liaodong Peninsula. General Yi Seonggye, who was opposed to this plan, was sent to lead the invasion. At the Yalu River, he revolted and swept with his army straight into the capital, defeated forces loyal to the king (led by General Choe, whom he eliminated) and forcibly dethroned King U in a de facto coup d'état, but did not ascend to the throne right away. Instead, he placed King U's son, King Chang ( 창왕; 昌王), who was not yet ten–years–old, on the throne, and then, following a failed attempt to restore the former monarch, had both Kings put to death.
General Yi, now the undisputed power behind the throne, soon forcibly had a Goryeo royal named Yo crowned as King Gongyang (공양왕; 恭讓王). After indirectly enforcing his grasp on the royal court through the puppet king, Yi then allied himself with Sinjin aristocrats such as Jeong Do-jeon and Jo Jun. In 1392 (the fourth year of King Gongyang), Yi dethroned King Gongyang, exiled him to Weonju (where he and his family was secretly murdered), and ascended the throne. The Goryeo Dynasty had come to an end after 475 years of rule.
King Taejong and Jeong Mong-ju
Taejong (1367 – 1422, r. 1400-1418) was the third king of the Joseon Dynasty in Korea and the father of King Sejong the Great( Yi Seonggye). He was born Yi Bangwon in 1367, the fifth son of Yi Seonggye (later King Taejo), and qualified as an official of Goryeo Dynasty in 1382. During his early days, he helped his father to gain the support of the citizenry and many influential figures of the government. He was sent to the Ming Dynasty of China in 1388. In 1392, he helped his father to overthrow Goryeo and establish the new Joseon dynasty.
Taejong helped his father dispose of powerful Confucian officials such as Jeong Mong-ju, who remained loyal to the Goryeo kings. After he failed to win the allegiance of Jeong Mong-ju to the new dynasty, he arranged to have him murdered in 1392 by five men on the Sonjukkyo Bridge in Gaeseong ( 개성시; 開城市), following a party held for him by Yi Seonggye ( King Taejo of Joseon). This bridge, now in North Korea, has now become a national monument of that country. A brown spot on one of the stones is said to be Jeong's bloodstain, and to become red when it rains. The murder of Jeong Mong-ju removed the last political obstacle to the Yi dynasty.
Yi Bangwon thought he would be appointed as the successor to the throne, but his young half-brother, Yi Bangsuk, was favored more by King Taejo and Prime Minister Chung Dojeon, who were afraid of Taejong's strong leadership and hard-line policy against noble families. In 1398, he led a coup against Jeong Dojeon and Bangsuk, exterminating Jeong's faction and murdering Bangsuk, his siblings and the queen. He then supported his older brother, Jeongjong of Joseon, as Crown Prince. Disheartened, Taejo abdicated in 1399, and Jeongjong succeeded to the throne.
The 474-year-old Goryeo Dynasty effectively ended with Jeong's death. In Korean history, Jeong's noble death symbolized faithful allegiance to the king, and he was later venerated even by Joseon monarchs. In 1401, King Taejong (Yi Bangwon) posthumously appointed him a Prime Minister and gave him the title “Igyanbuwongun.” In 1517, 125 years after his death, he was canonized into the National Academy alongside other Korean sages such as Yi I (Yulgok) and Yi Hwang (Toegye).
Sijo poem by Jeong Mong-ju
- Though I Die and Die Again
- 이몸이 죽어죽어 일백 번 고쳐 죽어
- 백골이 진토되어 넋이라도 있고 없고
- 임 향한 일편단심이야 가실 줄이 이시랴. 정몽주
- Although my body perishes, and yet one thousand times dies,
- My bones becoming ashes,
- Even my soul vanishes.
- Still all my heart and all my love, unchanged remains with you
- My undivided loyalty, unchanged remains with you.
- Kang, Jae-eun, and Suzanne Lee. 2006. The land of scholars: two thousand years of Korean Confucianism. Paramus, NJ: Homa & Sekey Books. ISBN 1931907307 ISBN 9781931907309 ISBN 1931907374 ISBN 9781931907378
- Lee, Gil-sang. 2006. Exploring Korean history through world heritage. Seongnam-si: Academy of Korean Studies. ISBN 8971055510 ISBN 9788971055519
- Lee, K.-b. 1984. A new history of Korea. translated by E.W. Wagner & E.J. Schulz, based on the Korean rev. ed. of 1979. Seoul: Ilchogak. ISBN 8933702040
- Pratt, Keith L. 2006. Everlasting flower: a history of Korea. London: Reaktion. ISBN 186189273X ISBN 9781861892737
- Yi, Ki-baek. 1984. A new history of Korea. Cambridge, Mass: Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674615751 ISBN 9780674615755 ISBN 067461576X ISBN 9780674615762
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