The Choe Military Dynasty

The Choe Military Dynasty

Shortly after seizing power, General Choe Chunghon (1150–1219) killed his brother, Choe Chungsu (d. 1197), who had assisted in the assassination of Yi Uimin, and then the cycle of assassinations stopped. The Choe family held power for a total of four generations, establishing a military dynasty within the Koryo dynasty. This period is referred to as the time of the Choe military government.

Choe Chunghon was able to break the cycle of assassinations and hold on to power by implementing several changes. He diminished the power of the king even further by controlling the succession to the throne. He deposed Myongjong in 1197 and set his brother, Shinjong (r. 1197–1204), on the throne.

When Shinjong died, Choe placed Huijong (r. 1204–11) on the throne, then replaced him with Kangjong (1211–13). When Kangjong died, he was followed by Kojong (r. 1213–59). Thus, Choe Chunghon deposed two kings and buried two kings. Shinjong died at age 60 and Kangjong at age 61, both of natural causes (as far as we know).

Another reason for the success of the Choe military government was that it made peace with the civilian officials. Indeed, the Choe military government recruited many civilian officials to serve at levels high and low. While some members of the Koryo bureaucracy retired to the countryside, others accepted and served the military court.

One of those who served and eventually rose to the highest civilian position in the government was Yi Kyubo (1168–1241). A true example of the scholar-official, he was actually better known as an author and scholar than as the prime minister. He left a large collection of writings, as was typical of Confucian scholars of the Koryo period and characteristic of those of the subsequent Choson dynasty.

This is how the class of the Confucian scholar-official that was to play such an important role in the years ahead came to power and prestige during this period of military rule. The military that had taken power from the scholar-official class in retaliation for being degraded by them ended up relying on them and even providing the platform for launching the scholar-official into a position of dominance that would last for the next 600 years.