Jeong Do-jeon

Jeong Dojeon (Korean: 정도전, Hanja: 鄭道傳, 1342[1] – October 6, 1398[2]), also known by his pen name Sambong (Korean: 삼봉), was a prominent Korean scholar-official during the late Goryeo to the early Joseon periods. He served as the first Chief State Councillor of Joseon, from 1392 until 1398 when he was killed by Yi Bang-won, the fifth son of Yi Seong-gye, the founder of the Joseon dynasty. Jeong Dojeon was an adviser to Yi Seong-gye and also the principal architect of the Joseon dynasty's policies, laying down the kingdom's ideological, institutional, and legal frameworks which would govern it for five centuries.[3]

Jeong Dojeon
Korea-Danyang-Dodamsambong Sam Bong statue 3076-07.JPG
Chief State Councillor
In office
26 August 1398 – 26 September 1382
Preceded byBae Geuk-ryeom 
Succeeded byYi Seo
Personal details
Danyang County, North Chungcheong Province, Kingdom of Goryeo
DiedOctober 6, 1398(1398-10-06) (aged 56)
Hanseungbu, Kingdom of Joseon
SpousePrincess Gyeongsuk
ChildrenJeong Jin
Jeong Yeong
Jeong Yu
Parent(s)Jeong Woon-gyeong (Father)
Lady Woo of Yeongju Woo clan (Mother)
Korean name
Revised RomanizationJeong Dojeon
McCune–ReischauerChŏng Tojŏn
Pen name
Revised RomanizationSambong
Courtesy name
Revised RomanizationChongji
Posthumous name
Revised RomanizationMunheon


  • Great-Grandfather
    • Jeong Yeong-chan (정영찬, 鄭英粲)
  • Grandfather
    • Jeong Gyun (정균, 鄭均)
  • Father
    • Jeong Woon-gyeong (정운경, 鄭云敬) (1305 - 1366)
  • Mother
    • Lady Woo of Yeongju Woo clan (증 정경부인 영주 우씨, 贈 貞敬夫人 榮州 禹氏)
      • Grandfather - Woo Yeon (우연, 禹淵)
  • Siblings
    • Younger sister - Lady Jeong of the Bonghwa Jeong clan (봉화 정씨)
      • Brother-in-law - Hwang Yu-jeong (황유정, 黃有定) of the Pyeonghae Hwang clan (평해 황씨, 平海 黃氏) (1343 - 1421)
    • Younger brother - Jeong Do-joon (정도존, 鄭道存) (? - 1398)
    • Younger brother - Jeong Do-bok (정도복, 鄭道復) (1351 - 1435)
      • Nephew - Jeong Dam (정담, 鄭澹)
      • Nephew - Jeong Gi (정기, 鄭淇)
  • Wife
    • Princess Gyeongsuk, Lady Choi of the Gyeongju Choi clan (경숙택주 경주 최씨, 慶淑宅主 慶州 崔氏)
      • Son - Jeong Jin (정진, 鄭津) (1361 - 1427)
        • Daughter-in-law - Lady Seong of the Yeonil Seong clan (정부인 연일 성씨, 正夫人 延日 成氏)
          • Grandson - Jeong Rae (정래, 鄭來)
          • Grandson - Jeong Suk (정속, 鄭束)
            • Great-Grandson - Jeong Mun-hyeong (정문형, 鄭文炯) (1427 - 1501)
      • Son - Jeong Yeong (정영, 鄭泳) (? - 1398)
      • Son - Jeong Yu (정유, 鄭遊) (? - 1398)


Background and early careerEdit

Jeong Dojeon was born from a noble family, the Bonghwa Jeong clan (봉화 정씨, 奉化 鄭氏), in Yeongju in what is now South Korea. His family had emerged from commoner status some four generations before, and slowly climbed up the ladder of government service. His father was the first in the family to obtain a high post. Despite all his difficulties, he became a student of Yi Je-hyeon and along with other leading thinkers of the time, such as Jeong Mong-ju, his penetrating intelligence started to affect the Korean politics.

Relationship with Yi Seong-gyeEdit

Jeong Dojeon's ties with Yi Seong-gye and the foundation of Joseon were extremely close. He is said to have compared his relationship to Yi Seong-gye, to that between Zhang Liang and Emperor Gaozu of Han. Jeong Dojeon's political ideas had a lasting impact on Joseon Dynasty politics and laws. The two first became acquainted in 1383, when Jeong Dojeon visited Yi Seong-gye at his quarters in Hamgyong province. After Yi Seong-gye (Taejo of Joseon) founded Joseon in July 1392, he appointed Jeong Dojeon to the highest civilian and military office simultaneously, entrusting him with all necessary power to establish the new dynasty. Deciding all policies from military affairs, diplomacy, and down to education, he laid down Joseon's political system and tax laws, replaced Buddhism with Confucianism as national religion, moved the capital from Gaeseong to Hanyang (present-day Seoul), changed the kingdom's political system from feudalism to highly centralized bureaucracy, and wrote a code of laws that eventually became Joseon's constitution. He even decided the names of each palace, eight provinces, and districts in the capital. He also worked to free many slaves and reformed land policy.

Conflict with Yi Bang-wonEdit

After Joseon was established in July 1392, Jeong Dojeon soon collided with Yi Bang-won over the question of choosing the crown prince, the future successor to Yi Seong-gye (Taejo of Joseon). Of all princes, Yi Bang-won contributed most to his father's rise to power and expected to be appointed as the crown prince even though he was Taejo's fifth son. However, Jeong Dojeon persuaded Taejo to appoint his young eighth son Yi Bang-seok (Yi Bang-won's half-brother) as the crown prince. Their conflict arose because Jeong Dojeon saw Joseon as a kingdom led by ministers while the king was to be largely symbolic figure, whereas Yi Bang-won wanted to establish the absolute monarchy ruled directly by the king. Both sides were well aware of each other's great animosity and were getting ready to strike first. After the sudden death of Queen Sindeok in 1398, while King Taejo was still in mourning for her (his second wife and mother of Yi Bang-seok), Yi Bang-won struck first by raiding the palace and killed Jeong Dojeon and his supporters as well as Queen Sindeok's two sons including the crown prince, in a coup that came to be known as the First Strife of Princes. Taejo, who helplessly watched his favorite sons and ministers being killed by Yi Bang-won's forces, abdicated in disgust and remained angry with Yi Bang-won well after Yi Bang-won became the third king of Joseon, Taejong of Joseon.

For much of Joseon history, Jeong Dojeon was vilified or ignored despite his contribution to its founding. He was finally rehabilitated in 1865 in recognition of his role in designing Gyeongbokgung (main palace). Earlier Jeongjo published a collection of Jeong Dojeon's writings in 1791. Jeong Dojeon's once-close friend and rival Jeong Mong-ju, who was assassinated by Yi Bang-won for remaining loyal to Goryeo Dynasty, was honored by Yi Bang-won posthumously and was remembered as symbol of loyalty throughout the Joseon Dynasty despite being its most determined foe.

Intellectual activityEdit

Jeong Dojeon was a major opponent of Buddhism at the end of the Goryeo period. He was a student of Zhu Xi's thought. Using Cheng-Zhu school's 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 Sungkyunkwan, the royal Confucian academy, and one of its early faculty members.

Jeong Dojeon 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.

Political thoughtEdit

Jeong Dojeon argued that the government, including the king himself, exists for the sake of the people. Its legitimacy could only come from benevolent public service. It was largely on this basis that he legitimized the overthrow of the Goryeo dynasty, arguing that the Goryeo rulers had given up their right to rule.

Jeong Dojeon divided society into three classes: (a) a large lower class of agricultural laborers and craftsmen, (b) a middle class of literati, and (c) a small upper class of bureaucrats. Anyone outside this system, including Buddhist monks, shamans, and entertainers, he considered a "vicious" threat to the social fabric.


Right after his death, he had been criticized as a betrayer of the Goryeo dynasty and a greedy politician who attempted to take power from his king. For the next 300 years, he had been regarded as a treacherous villain. For example, Song Siyeol, the most reputable philosopher of the 15th century Joseon dynasty, always included a word "insidious" when he mentioned about Jeong Dojeon.[4] Yi Ik, also a renowned Korean philosopher of the Middle Age of the dynasty, referred to him as "a figure who deserved to be killed" in his book, Seong Ho Sa Seol.

However, with the surge of revisionism in the 18th century, his work started to be assessed with a different angle. Jeongjo, 22nd King of Joseon, republished Sambong Jip, recognizing his work building the political systems and intellectual foundations of the dynasty.[5]


  • Sambong Jip (삼봉집, 三峯集), a three-chapter collection of poetry[6]
  • Joseon Gyeong Gukjeon (조선경국전, 朝鮮經國典)
  • Daemyeongryul Joseoneohae (대명률조선어해, 大明律朝鮮語解)
  • Gyeongje Mungam (경제문감, 經濟文鑑)
  • Bulssi Japbyeon (불씨잡변, 佛氏雜辨)
  • Simmun Cheondap (심문천답, 心問天答)
  • Simgiri (심기리, 心氣理)
  • Hakja Jinamdo (학자지남도, 學者指南圖)
  • Jinmaek Dogyeol (진맥도결, 診脈圖結)
  • Goryeo Guksa (고려국사, 高麗國史)
  • Jin Beop (진법, 陣法)
  • goryeosa (고려사, 高麗史)

English translationsEdit

  • Korea's Great Buddhist-Confucian Debate: The Treatises of Chŏng Tojŏn (Sambong) and Hamhŏ Tŭkt'ong (Kihwa). Translated by Muller, Charles. University of Hawai'i Press. 2015. ISBN 978-0-8248-5380-8.[7]
  • Seeking Order in a Tumultuous Age: The Writings of Chŏng Tojŏn, a Korean Neo-Confucian. Translated by Robinson, David M. University of Hawai'i Press. 2016. ISBN 9780824859442.

In addition, the translation of his Chinese poem "Plum" is included in Lee, Peter H (1981). Anthology of Korean Literature : From Early Times to The Nineteenth Century. University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 9780824807399.

In popular cultureEdit

See alsoEdit


  • Jeong Dojeon, Jeong Byeong-cheol. Sam Bong jeep vol. 1-4. Hangookhansooljeongbo co.(2009) ISBN 8926805891.
  • Jeong Byeong-cheol, Jeong Dojeon's was born true and fabrication. kyobomungo pupol (2013).
  • Han Yeong-u (1974). Jeong Dojeon's philosophy of political reform. Korea Journal 14 (7-8). Reprinted in Lee et al. (2004), Korean philosophy: Its tradition and modern transformation, pp.  55–74. Seoul: Hollym. ISBN 1-56591-178-4.
  • Korean Institute of Philosophical Thought (1995). 강좌 한국철학 (Gangjwa Hanguk Cheolhak, Guide to Korean philosophy), pp.  333–345. Seoul: Yemoon Seowon. ISBN 89-7646-032-4.
  1. ^ There is a theory that Jeong Do-jeon was born in 1337 or 1342, but according to the records in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, the orthodox view is 1342, or 1337
  2. ^ In lunar calendar, Jeong died on 26 August 1398
  3. ^ Lee, Yeong-hee (4 February 2014). "Why people are so fascinated by Jeong Dojeon". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  4. ^ Byungdon Chun (August 2009). "恒齋 이광신을 위한 변명". Journal of Eastern Philosophy (59): 275–302. doi:10.17299/tsep..59.200908.275. ISSN 1229-5965.
  5. ^ 박, 기현 (2015). "Characteristics and Perception of Suicide-related Tales". Dongyang Studies in Korean Classics. 40 (40): 52. doi:10.35374/dyha.40.40.201502.002. ISSN 2005-7520.
  6. ^ Robinson, David M. (2016). "Translator's Introduction". Seeking Order in a Tumultuous Age: The Writings of Chŏng Tojŏn, a Korean Neo-Confucian. University of Hawai'i Press. p. 31. ISBN 9780824859442.
  7. ^ Robinson, David M. (2016). "Translator's Introduction". Seeking Order in a Tumultuous Age: The Writings of Chŏng Tojŏn, a Korean Neo-Confucian. University of Hawai'i Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780824859442.
  8. ^ Do, Je-hae (3 January 2014). "Joseon founding seen in unique angle". The Korea Times. Retrieved 2014-01-24.
  9. ^ Yang, Sung-hee; Kim, Hyung-eun (4 February 2014). "Unique historical drama tries putting history first". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 2014-02-12.

External linksEdit