Seongjong of Goryeo

From New World Encyclopedia
Seongjong of Goryeo
Hangul 성종
Hanja 成宗
Revised Romanization Seongjong
McCune-Reischauer Sŏngjong

Seongjong of Goryeo (960–997; reigned 981–997) was the sixth emperor of the medieval Korean empire of Goryeo. He was the second son of Daejong, and a grandson of Emperor Taejo (태조; 太祖), the founder of the Goryeo Dynasty. He ascended the throne in 981 after Gyeongjong (경종; 景宗), the fifth ruler of the Goryeo dynasty, stepped down. The Confucian scholar Choe Seung-ro (최승로, 崔承老) urged Seongjong to follow the injunctions of his grandfather, King Taejo, and establish a centralized Confucian-style government.

Seongjong extended the reforms begun by his predecessors, replacing a hereditary bureaucracy with one based on merit, and using the civil service examination system to draw the sons of provincial aristocrats into the central government. All privately-owned weapons were collected to be recast into agricultural tools. In 983, he established the system of twelve mok, the administrative divisions which prevailed for most of the rest of the Goryeo period. In October of 993, when waves of Khitan soldiers swept over Goryeo’s northern borders, Seongjong organized an immediate and stiff resistance. The Khitan ultimately ceded Goryeo the territory along the southern Yalu River.


Social Structure and Culture

The Goryeo (Koryo) dynasty was founded in 918 at Songak (modern Kaesong, North Korea) by Wang Geon (Wang Kon; 왕건 王建), who by 936 had unified the Korean peninsula. Wang Geon (Wang Kon) deliberately absorbed the peoples of the conquered states, including the survivors of Balhae (Parhae; Chinese Bohai; 698 - 926) , a multiethnic kingdom established after Goguryeo was destroyed by the Khitan (Liao). Goryeo (Koryo) proclaimed itself the successor of Goguryeo and began successive campaigns to reclaim Goguryeo territory, clashing frequently with the Khitan in the north and eventually expanding its territory until the Yalu (Amnok) River.

The Goryeo (Koryo) ruling class consisted mainly of regional lords and former Silla aristocrats. Marriage into a high-ranking family, especially a family of royal blood, was an important means of elevating and preserving social and political status. Officials who ranked in the top four of nine administrative ranks were given land as a source of income. Their sons were allowed to inherit their official posts without undergoing civil service examinations, and consequently inherited the land associated with those offices. Aristocrats expanded their land holdings by reclaiming uncultivated land for agriculture, and by purchasing or seizing the land belonging to others.

The nobility turned to Buddhism for spiritual fulfillment and to Confucianism for ethical and political principles. The government followed a similar pattern, building great Buddhist temples, such as Hungwang Temple, in which to observe rituals and pray for the prosperity of the nation; and setting up a national academy, Kukchagam, for the study of classic Confucian texts.

Centralization of the Monarchy

King Taejo, the founder king of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), wrote ten injunctions for his successors to observe. He predicted probable conflict between his state and the northern nomadic states over the former Goguryeo's northern territory, and advised that the state be made stronger; warned against interfering with the Buddhist temples; pointed out the dangers of usurpation and internal conflicts among the royal clans; and recommended that the power of the regional lords be lessened. The leniency of King Taejo's (Wang Geon's posthumous title) policies, together with his marriage alliances, kept the rebellious regional lords more or less compliant.

To lessen their power, King Gwangjong began the emancipation of slaves in 956, and restored those who had been unjustly bonded to commoner status. This also helped to increase tax revenues. Two years later, he established a merit-based civil service examination system to recruit government officials. His successor King Gyeongjong (r.975-981) began the practice of granting land and forest lots to officials as a source of income and to give them social and political status. These reforms enabled the Goryeo Dynasty to establish itself as a powerful influence in the provinces and to gain some control over provincial lords.

Seongjong’s Ascent of the Throne

Seongjong of Goryeo was born in 960, the second son of Daejong, and a grandson of Emperor Taejo ( 태조; 太祖; the founder of the Goryeo Dynasty). He ascended the throne after Gyeongjong (경종; 景宗; fifth ruler of the Goryeo dynasty ) stepped down in 981.

After he ascended the throne, Seongjong was at first content not to interfere with the provincial lords, and to appease the Silla aristocracy. The former King Gyeongsun was appointed to the highest post in his government. To legitimize his rule, Seongjong married a woman of the Silla royal clan.

In 982, King Seongjong adopted the suggestions in a memorial written by Confucian scholar Choe Seung-ro (최승로; 崔承老) and began to create a Confucian-style government. Choe Seung-ro suggested that Seongjong would be able to complete the reforms of Gwangjong, the fourth king of Goryeo, which he had inherited from Taejo of Goryeo. Taejo had emphasized the Confucian “Classic of History (書經),” which stated that the ideal King should understand the suffering of farmers and directly experience their toil. King Seongjong followed this principle and established a policy by which district officials were appointed by the central government, and all privately owned weapons were collected to be recast into agricultural tools[1]

Seongjong set out to establish the Goryeo state as a centralized Confucian monarchy. In 983, he established the system of twelve mok, the administrative divisions which prevailed for most of the rest of the Goryeo period, and sent learned men to each of the mok to oversee local education, as a means of integrating the country aristocracy into the new bureaucratic system. Talented sons of the country aristocrats were educated so that they could pass the civil service examinations and be appointed to official government posts in the capital.

In September, 995 (the 14th year of King Seongjong‘s reign), the nation was divided into ten provinces for the first time. [2]

The First Goryeo-Khitan War

In late August 993, Goryeo intelligence sources along the frontier learned of an impending Khitan invasion. King Seongjong quickly mobilized the military and divided his forces into three army groups to take up defensive positions in the northwest. Advanced units of the Goryeo army marched northwestward from their headquarters near modern Anju on the south bank of the Ch'ongch'on River. The seriousness of the situation compelled King Seongjong to travel from the capital to Pyongyang to personally direct operations.

That October, a massive Khitan army said to number nearly 800,000 men under the command of General Xiao Sunning swarmed out of Liao from the Naewon-song Fortress and surged across the Yalu River into Goryeo. Waves of Khitan warriors swept across the river and fanned out over the countryside.

In bloody back-and-forth warfare, the fierce resistance of Goryeo soldiers at first slowed, then considerably hampered the Khitan advance at the city of Pongsan-gun. As they had done with the Chinese, Goryeo's army never surrendered. It stood firm against frontal attacks, broke to retreat and lay ambushes, and launched flanking attacks against the Khitan. Goryeo warriors finally halted Xiao Sunning's army at the Ch'ongch'on River. In the face of such quick and determined resistance, the Khitan decided that further attempts to conquer the entire peninsula would be far too costly, and sought instead to negotiate a settlement with Goryeo.

Negotiation of a Truce

Without a hint of contrition or humility, the Khitan General Xiao Sunning demanded the surrender of the former territory of Balhae to Emperor Shengzong. He asked that Goryeo sever its relations with Song China and, in the boldest demand of all, that King Songjong accept vassal status under the Liao emperor and pay a set annual tribute to the Liao state. Instead of and rejecting General Xiao's demands outright, the royal court at Kaesong began a heated debate about the Khitan ultimatum. Government officials believed that acceding to General Xiao would prevent further Khitan incursions and urged the court to appease the Liao emperor. Many of the senior military commanders who had recently faced the Khitan army on the battlefield opposed accepting General Xiao’s terms , including General Seo Hui, commander of an army group north of Anju. While the bureaucrats argued in Kaesong, General Xiao launched a sudden attack across the Ch'ongch'on River, directly on the Goryeo army headquarters in Anju. The Khitan assault was quickly repulsed, but it agitated the royal court to a state of near panic.

In an effort to calm the court nobility, minister Seo Hui volunteered to negotiate directly with General Xiao. Both parties knew that a key factor influencing the negotiations was the heavy pressure being exerted on the Liao state by Song China. In face-to-face talks with his Khitan counterpart, minister Seo bluntly told General Xiao that the Khitan had no basis for claims to former Balhae territory. Since the Goryeo dynasty was, without question, successor to the former Goguryeo kingdom, that land rightfully belonged under Goryeo's domain. In a cleverly veiled threat, Seo Hui reminded General Xiao that the Liaodong Peninsula had also once been under the dominion of Goguryeo and that the Manchurian territories, including the Khitan capital at Liaoyang, should properly belong to Goryeo. In a remarkable conclusion, minister Seo obtained Khitan consent to allow the region up to the Yalu River to be incorporated into Goryeo territory. General Xiao and the Khitan army not only returned to Liao without having achieved their goals, but the invasion ended with the Khitan giving up territory along the southern Yalu River to King Songjong. Seo Hui's brilliant diplomatic maneuver underscored his correct understanding of both the contemporary international situation and Goryeo's position in the region.

Following an exchange of prisoners, the Khitan army withdrew across the Yalu River. The following year, Goryeo and the state of Liao established formal diplomatic relations, and as a concession, Goryeo temporarily suspended its diplomatic relations with Song China.

The Goryeo-Khitan Wars continued with the second and third campaigns until 1018.

See also

  • List of Korea-related topics
  • Rulers of Korea
  • History of Korea
  • First Koryo-Khitan War


  1. Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties, Office of the Prime Minister. Retrieved September 24, 2007.
  2. Gyeongsangnam-do: History, Gyeongsangnam-do Official Site. Retrieved September 24, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

List of Goryeo Monarchs
Taejo | Hyejong | Jeongjong | Gwangjong | Gyeongjong | Seongjong | Mokjong | Hyeonjong | Deokjong | Jeongjong | Munjong
Sunjong | Seonjong | Heonjong] | Sukjong | Yejong | Injong | Uijong | Myeongjong | Sinjong | Huijong | Gangjong
Gojong | Wonjong | Chungnyeol Chungseon | Chungsuk | Chunghye | Chungmok | Chungjeong | Gongmin | U | Chang | Gongyang


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.