The foundations of the state, The root for Confucian culture, Fighting against foreign invasions
Jeong Do-jeon 鄭道傳 1342~1398
A renowned political figure and Confucian thinker most active between late Goryeo and early Joseon. His life and achievements are honored at the Munheonsa shrine and a memorial hall where his memorial tablet is housed in perpetuity (Bulcheonwi), in Pyeongtaek. One of the key figures in the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392, Jeong Do-jeon (pan-name: Sambong) played a crucial role in solving the problems that were destroying Goryeo society and, after the launch of the Joseon Dynasty, in laying firm foundations for the new dynasty by implementing political and social reforms.
“People may be miserably weak, but no force can threaten them; they may be extremely ignorant, but no wisdom can deceive them. They obey the king who has won their hearts, but desert him if he fails them.” (Joseon Gyeonggukjeon "Administrative Code of Joseon," a code of laws containing definitions of the basic policies implemented by the Joseon Dynasty, compiled by Jeong Do-jeon)
“In times gone by, the Sons of Heaven established government positions and paid stipends, as they ruled the world in order to benefit not their officials but their people. … The king places grave responsibilities upon his officials, and they provide him with their best services, all because people are the foundation of their country.”(Joseon Gyeonggukjeon "Administrative Code of Joseon")
Hwang Hui 黃喜 1363~1452
Hwang Hui (pen-name: Bangchon), who served as a civil official between the late Goryeo and early Joseon periods, is widely regarded as one of the greatest premiers in Korean history. His tomb is in Paju, while his memorial stone and official portrait are enshrined in Bangujeong Pavilion, also in Paju. He served the Joseon Dynasty for twenty-four years in diverse positions, including Chief State Councilor (Yeonguijeong, eighteen years), State Councilor on the Right (Uuijeong, one year), and State Councilor on the Left (Jwauijeong, five years). He lived until the ripe old age of 90, after a government career of seventy years throughout which he had been widely admired not only for his integrity and great sincerity but for his humor and generosity as well.
“Lord Hwang was extremely generous, paid close attention to even the smallest of issues, and led a more modest lifestyle as he grew older and was promoted to higher positions. Aged ninety, he spent most of his day in his study reading books in silence.
One day, a group of children of his neighbors flocked outside his study and began to pick his peaches, well ripened by the night frost, without his permission. He said gently to them, “Don’t pick them all, because I want to taste them, too.” He came out of his study a moment later only to find that all his peaches were gone with the boys.
When the children gathered around at mealtime, he happily shared his food with them, watching them contend over the food with a merciful smile on his face. The sight of his generosity touched the hearts of all his neighbors.
During the twenty years he served the dynasty as its chief minister, the government relied on him and admired him greatly. Whenever people talked of the great chief ministers of the Joseon Dynasty in the years after its foundation, the great majority regarded him as the greatest of all.
(Yongjae chonghwa, a book written by Seong Hyeon [pen-name: Yongjae] during the early Joseon Period.)
Yi Won-ik 李元翼 1547~1634
Yi Won-ik (pen-name: Ori), a civil official during the mid-Joseon Period, was widely admired for his capability and devotion to the details of administrative procedure and as a man of probity. His tomb and stone memorial monument are in Gwangmyeong, and his official portrait is kept at Chunghyeon Museum, also in Gwangmyeong, Gyeonggi-do.
Yi led a life of moral soundness and earned a place in the history books when King Injo (r. 1623-1649) dispatched a messenger named Gang Hong-jung to him to find out how he was doing after his retirement from public service. The king was greatly moved upon hearing that Yi was living in a tiny thatched hut, playing a six-stringed zither, and bestowed a five-kan (a unit of measurement referring to the distance between two columns) house named Gwangamdang upon him. The Confucian scholar-statesman was touched by the king’s consideration, but admonished his descendants and urged them to devote themselves to farming rather than the pursuit of money.
Jo Gwang-jo 趙光祖 1482~1519
Jo Gwang-jo (pen-name: Jeongam) was a renowned Confucian scholar-statesman of early Joseon who advocated ethical politics and the implementation of reformist policies, which triggered a backlash by privileged, powerful conservatives and eventually led to his death. He hoped for the materialization of an ideal political system that would usher in a peaceful and prosperous era for Joseon comparable to the heydays of the ancient Yao and Shun Eras. His ambition was thwarted by his formidable political enemies, but his philosophical legacy played an important part in the mainstream of Korean Confucianism, creating armies of ardent followers.
A great Neo-Confucian thinker, Yi Hwang (1501-1570) wrote a book titled Jeongam Jo seonsaeng haengjang (Biography of Master Jeongam Jo), in which he discussed Jo’s character, life and achievements as a scholar and statesman, and presented three reasons for the failure of Jo’s reform plan. First, Yi asserted that the reformer was found and employed before he was fully prepared; second, that Jo was unable to fulfill his intention to retire from his position in the government; and third, that Jo had to face his death during his exile.
It was at his place of exile in Neungju, present-day Hwasun of Jeollanam-do, that he was poisoned to death at the age of 38. He made three deep bows toward the royal palace in the dynastic capital and wrote a poem about death before drinking poison. His tomb and the Simgokseowon Confucian Academy enshrining his memorial tablet are located in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do.
“I loved the king like my father and worried about my country as if it were my home. The sun’s bright rays shall light up my truthful mind.” (Death poem by Jo Gwang-jo)
“Yulgok’s greatness lies in the fact in that he identified the problems of his period before his contemporaries, and tried his utmost to improve the situation. He never let himself be stained by vice and troubles of the world, although he neither led a life secluded from the hubbub of the political arena nor participated in any revolutionary movement against the existing order. Serving in the government of Joseon, he never hesitated to speak plain truths before the king, even when it posed a risk to his own life, in his attempts to instigate reforms from above. After his retirement, he focused all his attention on refining his philosophical ideas and on teaching, playing a crucial role in opening the golden age of Korean Neo-Confucianism.” (Yulgok Yi I Pyeongjeon [Critical Biography of Yi Yul-gok], written by Han Yeong-u, Minumsa, 2013)
Heo Mok 許穆 1595~1682
A Neo-Confucian scholar and statesman of mid Joseon period, Heo Mok is also known by his pen-name Misu. His tomb is in Yeoncheon.
Heo Mok is today widely regarded as one of the four most important thinkers of Joseon period, the other three being Song Si-yeol (1607-1689), Yun Seon-do (1587-1671) and Yun Hyu (1617-1680), who caused one of the most famous Neo-Confucian controversies ever to occur in Joseon. He devoted himself to studying and teaching Confucian philosophy until the age of fifty, while his reputation as a scholar and teacher led him to the position of Uuijeong, one of the three highest in the government of Joseon. As the head of the political faction called Namin (the "Southerners”), Heo Mok confronted the Seoin (the “Westerners”) led by Song Si-yeol in a series of debates held during the late 17th century on the Neo-Confucian ritual decorum whose observance would be required in an ideal Neo-Confucian state. He was also a distinguished calligrapher and painter who attracted many pupils.
Chae Je-gong 蔡濟恭 1720~1799
A Neo-Confucian scholar and statesman of late Joseon period, Chae Je-gong is also known by his pen-names of Beonam and Beonong. His tomb is in Yongin.
Chae Je-gong was the leader of the Southerners (Namin) during the reigns of King Yeongjo (r. 1724-1776) and King Jeongjo (r. 1776-1800), and served both as Crown Prince Sado’s tutor, and as one of King Jeongjo’s closest aides. He never compromised himself with any form of injustice or dishonesty, and took the initiative in retrieving the honors of those who had been punished as a result of trumped up charges fabricated by Hong Guk-yeong, the most influential power broker of his time. He used his extraordinary power of persuasion to guide the king to appoint men of capability and integrity to core positions in his government.
“He may have a stern, fearsome look on his face, but he is in fact a gentle and considerate man. He is like a pile of jades or a pearl under water when silent, but he makes mountains and waters rumble when he moves. Neither violent waves nor piles of stones can break him. No spear blade in the world, long or short, large or small, could keep him from the premiership. His solemn and prominent character retains the spirit of cliffs soaring high, but there is nothing in his mind that can harm or damage other things, not man nor matter. How noble and how mature he is! He is truly a man of integrity worthy of the name.” (Beonong hwasangchan “Eulogy upon Viewing the Portrait of Beonong” by Jeong Yak-yong)
Gwon Yul 權慄 1537~1599
Gwon Yul was a great military leader of mid Joseon period, also known by pen-names Manchwidang and Moak, and the posthumous honorary title of Chungjang. His tomb and memorial stone are in Yangju, while a monument commemorating his victory at the Haengju Battle can be seen in Goyang
“A man needs to focus on his manly spirit, but not on wealth or honor.”
The inscription at the entrance to Haengjusanseong Fortress is a passage from the speech General Gwon Yul made to encourage his men who were preparing to do battle with the Japanese troops laying siege to Haengjusanseong Fortress in February 1593.
Several episodes remain on record to attest to his outstanding bravery and generosity as a military commander. In one, the general lost his baton during a battle and, realizing that he must have dropped it in the enemy’s camp, turned back and retrieved it in a cool, composed manner. In another, he used his helmet to carry water to quench the thirst of injured soldiers on the battlefield.
Jeong Mun-bu 鄭文孚 1565~1624
Jeong Mun-bu (pen-name: Nongpo) was a civil official of mid Joseon Dynasty and righteous army commander. His tomb is located in Uijeongbu along with a memorial monument.
In 1592, a band of local functionaries led by Guk Gyeong-in from the northern part of Hamgyeong-do rebelled against the Joseon Dynasty during the Japanese Invasions, the seven-year war between Korea (Joseon) and Japan that started with the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592. The rebellion, in which the rebels kidnapped two Joseon princes seeking refuge and delivered them into enemy hands, was effectively suppressed by a righteous army led by Jeong Mun-bu. His army grew to be five thousand strong by the end of the year and played a crucial role in expelling Kato Kiyomasa’s troops from Hamgyeong-do the following year. When Yi Gwal started a revolt against the king in 1624, Jeong was accused of expressing anti-royal sentiments in one of his poems, arrested and died in prison. As the accusation was later found to be false, his honor was restored and he was awarded the posthumous honorary title of Jwachanseong (State Councilor).
Kim Sang-heon 金尙憲 1570~1652
Kim Sang-heon (pen-name: Cheongeum) was a civil official of the mid-Joseon period. His tomb is located in Namyangju together with a memorial monument.
When the Manchu forces invaded Joseon in 1636, Kim Sang-heon was one of the key figures who fiercely opposed an amicable settlement. He refused to follow the king when the latter left his shelter to announce his surrender to the Qing emperor and returned home instead. When his opponents criticized his decision, he countered, “The duty of a subject is to remain loyal to his king and not to obey him blindly. Blind obedience is an act of loyalty for women and eunuchs, but not for noble Confucian scholar gentry.”
After the Manchu Invasion in 1636, Kim Sang-heon was arrested for his opposition to the idea of supporting the Manchus in the Ming-Qing conflict and sent to the Qing Dynasty as hostage. He wrote the following poem when he was taken from home to a hostile foreign land.
Yi Hang-ro 李恒老 1792~1868
Also known by his pen-name Hwaseo, Yi Hang-ro was a renowned Neo-Confucian scholar of the late Joseon period. His tomb and memorial hall are located in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi-do along with the house where he was born.
A devoted Neo-Confucian thinker, Yi dedicated himself to the principle for “the defense of orthodoxy and repulsion of heterodoxy”; thus laying the foundation for the “righteous army” movement of the late 19th century, aiming to fight against foreign invasions. He believed that “there are three categories in this world where the difference is clear between right and wrong: first is between the civilized and the barbaric; second is between the benevolent and the despotic, and finally, between orthodox and heterodox.” He regarded his country as civilized and Western countries as barbaric and considered Neo-Confucianism to be orthodox and Catholicism to be heterodox. Such division reflects the traditional view of the Joseon Confucian followers who believed that China was the center of the civilized world; thus, they should serve and learn from the great source of civilization. The archaic view of the “orthodox-heterodox” principle, however, played an important role in promoting patriotic, pro-independence movements among Korean people in the late 19th century when their country was facing aggression from powerful foreign forces.
Choe Ik-hyeon 崔益鉉 1833~1906
Also known by his pen-name Myeonam, Choe Ik-hyeon was a civil official and a righteous army commander. He was born in Pocheon, Gyeonggi-do where his memorial tablet is stored in Chaesansa Shrine.
One of the leading figures of the Hwaseo School in the Old Doctrine (Noron) and the faction supporting the “defense of orthodox and repulsion of heterodox” principle, Choe sent a memorial to the throne just after the coerced Eulsa Treaty was signed in 1905, entreating Emperor Sunjong to declare the treaty null and void immediately and execute the Five Traitors who signed it, including Bak Je-sun. His appeal is known to have provided the momentum for the spread of the righteous army movement and anti-Japanese sentiment.
“Alas! The disaster on the twentieth day of the last tenth month is something that could have never happened anywhere in the world, past and present. That we cannot, from now, end relations with our neighbors without others’ mediation means that we no longer have control over our own country. Likewise, the fact that we people cannot till our own field but need to ask others to look after it means there is no king for us. We people on this land are now all slaves and failed subjects. If you are a slave or a failed subject, your life is not worth living. (Pogopaldosamin “An Address to the Aristocrats and Commoners in Eight Provinces”)
Heo Wi 許蔿 1854~1908
Also known by his pen-name Wangsan, Heo Wi was a righteous army commander who had been active in the area around Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi-do during the late Joseon period.
Heo Wi is one of the key figures who planned in 1908 the Seoul Advance Operation, which aimed at uniting all the righteous armies across Korea and executing an all-out attack on the Japanese troops stationed in Seoul. The operation ended in failure since their enemy was better prepared and far better equipped. The area of Seoul targeted by his unit, present-day Dongdaemun and Cheongnyangni, was given the name Wangsan-ro in 1966 after his pen- name. The nationwide righteous army movement became more active after the dissolution of the Korean Army in 1907 as the voluntary army groups were joined by disbanded soldiers. It was during this period that Heo Wi organized his own unit in Yeoncheon. In 1908, Yi In-yeong, commander of the Gwandong Righteous Army, sent a written appeal to righteous army leaders across the country, urging them to unite; this eventually resulted in the creation of a united army led by Yi In-yeong (Chongdaejang, or Commander-in-chief) and Heo Wi (Gunsajang, Director of the Army). After the failure of the Seoul Advance Operation, Heo Wi, the Commander-in-chief of the Righteous Army of the Thirteen Provinces (Sipsamdo changuigun), planned another operation to recover the capital from the enemy’s hands. The plan never materialized since he was arrested by the Japanese military police on June 11, 1908, jailed in Seodaemun Prison, and executed on October 21 of the same year.
600 Years of Gyeonggi-do
Planning | Gyeonggi-do, Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation
Organization | The Center for Gyeonggi Studies, Gyeonggi-do Institute of Cultural Properties
Co-authors | Jingap Gang(professor at Gyeonggi University
Jonghyuk Kim(professor at Research Institute of Korean Studies, Korea University)
Sangdae Lee(head of Future Vision Department at Gyeonggi Research Institute)
Jihoon Lee(senior researcher at Gyeonggi-do Institute of Cultural Properties)
Hyungho Jung(cultural properties specialist at Cultural Heritage Administration)
Project support | Taeyong Kim, Seoyeon Choi, Youngdae Kim, Hakseong Lee, Sohyun Park, Hyungmo Seong, Hogyun Kim, Kyeongmin Kim, Sujin Jo(PR & Marketing Team, Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation)
For the celebration of Gyeonggi's 600 years(1414-2014), this exhibition is organized based on 『Gyeonggi-do 600 years』 which was published to remind us of the valuable history of Gyeonggi-do and encourage us to work further towards Korean reunification.
ⒸGyeonggi Cultural Foundation