Jeong Jung-bu (1106–1179), a medieval Korean soldier cum dictator during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), won notoriety for leading, together with Yi Ui-bang (이의방, 李義方), a coup d'état in 1170 C.E., the Musin Jeongbyeon (revolt of military officers). King Uijong had been exiled and the military officers installed King Myeongjong (명종, 明宗) as a puppet king on the throne. Those events initiated a hundred-year military regime in which a succession of five generals, Jeong Jung-bu the first of them, ruled Goryeo from behind the throne.
Jeong Jung-bu's military coup set the tone for the remainder of the Goryeo dynasty. Founded by defeating Unified Silla during the tenth century C.E., at a time that the Khitan people defeated the northern Korean kingdom of Ballhae, thus ending the Period of North-South states and inaugurating the first unified Korean kingdom, Goryeo stood as the flag bearer for all of Korea. From 2333 B.C.E., with the founding of Dangun Joseon, until the fall of Ballhae in the tenth century, the northern tribes had been restrained from attacking the Korean Peninsula south of Pyongyang. After the recasting of Goryeo's government into a military dictatorship, Goryeo had to repel the Mongol invasions at the end of the thirteenth century, as well as deal with the Khitan people's attacks on their northern borders. Although the people of Goryeo grew to hate their military dictatorship, the military cast of Goryeo may have saved Korea during those trying times of war. Jeong Jung-bu played a key role in bringing that change.
From the time of its founding, the Goryeo Dynasty was primarily a Buddhist nation. Buddhist morality is underpinned by the principles of harmlessness and moderation, and Goryeo was governed in its early period under a policy that put civilian authority over military. This policy benefited the dynasty well during its early days, and many civilian officials were also able military commanders, such as Gang Gam-chan and Yun Gwan. As time passed, however, army officers came to be seen and treated as servants or even slaves of the civilian officials and royal advisers. In 998, not long after Goryeo was invaded by nearly a million Khitan forces in Manchuria, King Mokjong, had placed the military under civilian control. In such tense times this caused a coup d'état by General Gang Jo and triggered another massive invasion from the north. In 1014, military officers were angered at being unpaid that year because the government ran out of funds after having to pay civilian officials first; Generals Choi Jil and Kim Hoon attempted a military rebellion, but failed. Later the government went so far as to close the military academy. Army officers suffered more and more as the their treatment harshened and their position in society and in public affairs eroded over the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
It is worth noting that unlike other military personnel, the horseback warrior class among the northern Khitan, Jurchen and Mongol peoples who invaded Goryeo many times were by no means treated with contempt. This may have had to do with the degree to which Buddhist values were imbued in their leaderships and populations in those Manchurian regions; comparatively, rooted as it was in the glory of Silla, Buddhism flowered to a very high crest on the Korean Peninsula.
Jeong Jung-bu was born in 1106; he learned martial arts and military tactics early on. He was reported to have been a seven-foot giant with great confidence and, more than his fellow soldiers, intelligence. He qualified in the military section of the civil service examination and made the army his career. He was a diligent soldier and his loyalty earned him the trust of the king. He was promoted through the ranks to general, and later to Chief of General Staff.
In 1167, during a royal banquet of King Uijong, Kim Don-jung, son of powerful aristocrat Kim Bu-sik (author of the Samguk Sagi), singed Jeong's long beard with a candle, and mocked him and the whole military. The incident incensed him and other officers against the arrogant aristocrats and civilian officials.
In 1170, King Uijong went to his villa to rest and to hold another feast. He conducted a martial arts competition; a young soldier won and Uijong praised him. Some of the court advisors and eunuchs challenged General Yi So-eung, in his late 50s, to face the champion, around 20. The old general fell to the ground, and a young civilian official Han Roe insulted the general, even slapping him in the face in front of the king and fellow officers. General Jeong could not tolerate Han's attitude and knocked him out. The incident triggered a littany of grievances harbored by the military to explode; younger officers, of note Colonels Yi Ui-bang, Yi Go and Chae Won, urged Jeong to launch a coup against the entire government and the king. Jeong first refused but later agreed to rebel. Under his order in the name of commander-in-chief, the entire army rose against the government. Most of King Uijong's advisers including Kim Don-jung and Han Roe were killed and the king himself was sent into exile. Jeong set a puppet on the throne, King Myeongjong.
After the coup the leaders of the revolution began to feud. Generals Yi Go and Chae Won were purged, killed by Yi Ui-bang. Then Yi made a visit to Jeong Jung-bu, and Jeong adopted him—temporarily as it turned out—as a son. Together, Jeong and Yi increased the size and power of the military, appointing administrators from the warrior class to national offices that had been reserved for scholar-class ministers.
In 1173, when one of the remaining scholar-class ministers Kim Bo-Dang attempted to restore Uijong to the throne, Yi decisively slew the former king. Jeong promoted him to commander of the ground forces.
Jeong and Yi also faced a series of uprisings by Buddhist Monks from temples around the nation. As Goryeo was officially a Buddhist nation, the Buddhists had significant influence upon the government and most Goryeo kings had been appointing senior monks as close advisors. Yi put down these rebellions and raided, even pillaged many temples across the peninsula. He also killed Confucian scholars, raped women in the royal family, and forced the crown prince to marry his daughter. General Cho Wi Chong in Pyong-an Province in the northeast rebelled in 1174, Yi killed some of Cho's supporters including Yun In-mi, but that cost him popular support. He sent a massive force to Pyongyang to put down the uprising, but failed.
General Jeong decided to stop Yi's reign of terror. He promoted himself to prime minister, and directed his son Jeong Gyun and his son-in-law General Song Yu-in to kill Yi Ui-bang and his henchmen. Yi's daughter was expelled from the royal family.
Jeong continued to fight the rebels in Pyongyang and peasants around Gongju who had joined the revolt. He managed to crush the Cho's uprising by 1177, but uprisings continued in various places for several decades. Jeong's son Jeong Gyun and his servants took bribes for influence, and the regime became more and more corrupt. By then a young general Gyeong Dae-seung had risen to power.
With plenty of support from various corners General Gyung Dae-seung, the youngest general of Goryeo army, rose against Jeong in 1179, killing Jeong Gyun and Song Yu-in. Jeong Jung-bu was arrested for corruption and treason and executed in public few days later. Gyeong Dae-seung assumed power, declaring an intention to restore the monarchy and clean up the government.
A balance in Goryeo between civilian and military influence that had been lost was restored through the purging of corrupt aristocrats and scholars during the early stages of the military governance led by Jeong Jung-bu with Yi Ui-bang. The balance, however, tipped tragically the other way during Jeong's rule.
A sixth-generation descendent of Yi Ui-bang's younger brother Yi In was Yi Song-gye, who founded the Joseon Dynasty.
|Military Leader of Goryeo
Gyung Dae Seung
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