Yejong of Goryeo

Yejong of Goryeo (11 February 1079 – 15 May 1122) (r. 1105–1122) was the 16th monarch of the Korean Goryeo dynasty. He was the eldest son of King Sukjong and Queen Myeongui, and succeeded to the throne upon his father's death. Yejong's reign was a period of strengthening of the central administration, a strong army, the development of education and arts, and a high point of Buddhist and Daoist spirituality.

Yejong of Goryeo
Revised RomanizationYejong
Birth name
Revised RomanizationWang U
McCune–ReischauerWang U
Courtesy name
Revised RomanizationSemin

Central and local administrationEdit

Since the reign of Munjong the dominant position among governing aristocracy was held by the Kyeongweon (or Inju (Inchon)) clan of Yi.[1] Led by king's father-in-law Yi Cha-gyeom they produced the largest number of high officials.[2] Local administration was in hands of local aristocratic families.

Goryeo rulers made several attempts to increase the central control by adapting Tang-style system of local administration. The decree of 1106 created a division of the country into eight circuits, each headed by an anchalsa (appointed governor), forming the basis of the modern provincial divisions of Korea.[3]

Yejong acted to strengthen the royal authority. King's brothers, Prince Po (Taebang-kong) and Prince Hyo (Taeweon-hu) were his consistent supporters and opponents of Yi.[4] Yejong advanced men unrelated to Yi Cha-Gyeom, both from the established aristocratic families and representatives of the local elites. Kim Bu-sik and his brothers (of the Kyeongju Kim clan) were among the former; Han Anin and his brothers, and their allies of the Cheongan Im (including Im Weonae, a future father in law of King Injong) clan were among the latter. They were to play an increasingly prominent role during the latter part of the Yejong's reign.

The civil examination (kwangeo) system as a pathway to high office was significantly expanded to this end. Introduced in 958 by Gwangjong it was fashioned after the Tang dynasty civil examinations, but differed from it in a number of important aspects. It was closed to commoners, and instead of undermining the old landowning aristocracy it helped to transform it into a service nobility. The exam-based promotion also had the effect of establishing the loyalty of officials to the ruler.[5] During Yejong's reign a yearly average 22.5 candidates passed the examinations, double the number during the reign of King Munjong.[4] (the total number of successful candidates in all 252 exams given until 1894 was about 6,500)

A key development Yejong's reign was the enhanced role of the censorial system. The censorial agencies, both the Censorate and the Remonstrators of the Royal Secretariat, were fully developed during the reign of King Munjong. During Yejong's reign there was a dramatic increase in their activities, with 45 major cases handled. Initially these organs were controlled by Yi Cha-Gyeom's loyalists, but by 1117-1118 he lost control over the Censorate, with a significant fraction of its officials affiliated with the Han Anin faction.[4]

Yejong used the Song gifts of ritual music in 1114 and 1116 as a means to strengthen the royal authority, particularly referring to the Khitan LiaoJurchen Jin conflict. His edict declared that it "should not do away with or incline too much to either one side of diplomacy or warfare... I deem it to be [an] urgent [task] for our civil and military officials to mend their suits of armour and drill their troops. I remember... how emperor Shun used to propagate civilized virtue and have both the dances of the military and of the civilians. Now that the Song emperor has especially bestowed the gift of taeseongak upon us, the dances of the civilian and military branches should first be performed at our ancestral shrines and then also at banquets and during memorial services."[6]

Finances and economyEdit

Yejong continued the financial reforms of Sukjong that introduced metallic coins to Korea. In this he had to confront the opposing bureaucracy, that adhered to a barter economy and taxation in kind established by Taejo, the dynasty's founder,[7] popular sentiments and underdevelopment of markets. Grain and cloth remained the medium of exchange among the general population, while hwalgu (silver jar money, weighing about 600 grams) were used among the aristocracy.[8]

Ceramics industry was highly developed during Goryeo times. Production of a porcelaneous stoneware with a fine bluish-green glaze (known as celadon) was centered in Jolla and reached its highest development in the twelfth century. The technology was originally imported from the Song China, but Korean potters developed a distinctive style that today is regarded as one of the greatest artistic achievements in the field.[9] Ceramics were one of the major industrial exports during the eleventh and early twelfth centuries.[10]


Dominance of the civilian munban over the military muban officials continued during Yejong's rule. Nevertheless, Yejong followed his father's policy of maintaining border defenses and developing military capabilities. The army received the first delivery of gunpowder weapons in 1104.[11] He introduced military studies to the curriculum of the National Academy Gukjagam.[12] The edict of 1116, while ostensibly dealing with rituals, argues for a balance between the civilian and military branches of the government.[13]


The reins of Sukjong, Yejong and Injong are usually seen both as the high point of both Korean Daoism and Buddhism. Buddhism evolved from a religion of the elites to a popular religion. Confucianism remained the state ideology, but native rituals were integral part of the official ceremonies. Geomancy continued to be extremely influential and guided the royal building policy.[14] Local spirits were worshiped both by common people and aristocracy (that might have looked critically at some of the rituals [15]), and were enfeoffed to become part of the officially recognized pantheon.[16]

Boundaries between different traditions were often blurred. For example, Kwak Yeo (1058–1130) was a Confucian scholar with Buddhist leanings. In retirement he went around as a Daoist hermit. Yejong often invited Kwak Yeo to the palace, exchanged poems with him and asked for advice.[17] As another example, when in 1106 Yejong officiated at a Daoist ritual in honor of the Supreme Being, he also offered sacrifices to Taejo asking for rain.[18]


Yejong was also interested in botany, gathering rare plants from all over Korea and sending them to China in exchange for many Chinese plants.[19] Yejong set up in the Gukjagam programs in seven specialized fields. To the six traditional Confucian subjects: the Five Classics and the Rites of Zhou, he added military studies. He also established a scholarship foundation Yanghyeongo (Foundation for the Training of Talents), as well as other academic institutions and libraries.[12]

Foreign relationsEdit


The relationships with China, Khitan and Jurchen dominated the foreign relations of Goryeo. At the beginning of the twelfth century Khitan Liao state was a dominant power in the region. Economically and culturally advanced Song China, semi-nomadic Jurchen tribes, and Goryeo were the tributaries of Emperor Tianzuo of Liao. Goryeo recognized the ruler of Khitan as a Son of Heaven and a suzerain from 994. Since then the calendar and the official era names followed the Liao usage, and all Goryeo rulers were invested as kings by the Liao emperors. However, the tribute was not collected since 1054.[20]

Cultural and economic relationship with Song resumed from the mid-eleventh century. As not to antagonize Liao the Song and Goryeo delegations were initially classified as trade missions and not embassies. When the power of Liao began to decline towards the end of eleventh century, frequency and profile of the contacts increased.

Before coming under Khitan domination the Jurchen people were part of the state Balhae in Manchuria and northern Korea. The Wanyan tribe that were to lead the resurgence of the Jurchen traced their descent from Goguryeo and referred to Goreyo as `father and mother country'. They had particularly close contacts with the Goryeo court [21] As Liao dominance weakened, Jurchen became more restless and launched raids across the Yalu (Amnok) River .

Ideological considerations, that will play a part in the subsequent developments, can be summarized as follows. On the one hand, the basic tenets of Goryeo political theory codified in the Ten Injunctions of Taejo recommended a cautious following of the Chinese, particularly Tang practices, and expressed abhorrence of Khitan, and by extension, other nomadic `barbarians'.[22] On the other hand, the role of a Goryeo ruler can be roughly summarized as naeje oewang (emperor at home and king abroad). They were titled kings, were practically (or, at least, nominally) vassals of either Song or Liao, and were careful to keep these convention in the correspondence with the suzerains. On the other hand, their styling, aspects of protocol, many naming conventions and civil and military organization schemes were following the imperial conventions. A majority view of the scholars-officials was that Goryeo was a realm in itself and thus "a possible center of the world". Moreover, the Goryeo monarchs "mediated between heaven and earth in person", thus assuming the role of Son of Heaven and hence being equal to other, possibly competing, Sons of Heaven.[23]


Following Sukjong's aim of pacification of the North-Eastern frontier, the special Byeolmuban army under the command of Yun Gwan (1040–1111) and O Yeonchong (1055–1116) was dispatched against the Jurchen. The expedition successfully occupied Hamhung plains and advanced into the Tumen River basin. The so-called Nine Forts were built to control the area.[24]

In 1108 Yejong was invested as a king of Goryeo by Tianzuo of Liao.[23] In 1109 Wanyan Helibo and his son Aguda, the future Emperor Taizu of Jin begin the unification of the Jurchen tribes under the leadership of the Wanyan clan. In 1109 the Nine Forts were returned to the Jurchen and the two victorious generals were recalled and impeached.[24] While the court infighting is usually taken as an explanation of this policy reversal, several other factors should be considered. They include the fact that large part of the Goryeo border with Liao were guarded by Jurchens, mounting campaign costs, and a prolonged calm that followed the transfer of the fortresses to the Jurchen. Adding to it a flurry of contacts culminating in the meeting of Yejong with thirty Jurchen leaders in 1111 makes a tacit understand between the two sides plausible.[25]

The decline of Liao led to increase of Song diplomatic involvement in Goryeo. In 1110 Emperor Huizong bestowing upon Yejong the title of a ‘true king' (zhen wang) and absolved him from vassal obligations. In 1114 Yejong sent a request to Huizong asking for Chinese musical instruments to be sent to his palace in Gaeseong, so that he could conduct Confucian rituals. Huizong, apparently misunderstanding the request, sent a set of musical instruments to be used for royal banquet music.[26] The gift included 167 instruments and 20 volumes of music and performance instructions performance instructions.[27]

Successes of the Jurchen against the Khitan prompted the official request by Liao for help 1114. In the existing diplomatic correspondence Kim Bu-sik, who was steadily raising in the ranks during Yejong's reign, assured the Liao court of the lasting loyalty of Goryeo.[25] The help was denied.


In 1115 Wanyan Aguda proclaimed the establishment of the Jin dynasty with himself as its first emperor. The view of the majority of the Yenjong's officials was that the Jurchen are going to emerge victorious and the Liao will fail soon. Another Liao request for help was refused. The use of Liao period names was discontinued.[25]

In 1116 a large embassy was dispatched to the Song court, while the second gift of musical instruments, consisting of 428 pieces had arrived, as well as ritual dance accessories and manuals. It started Korea's tradition of aak,[28] and was used as a tool of internal policy. Together with the gifts came a request to bring the Jurchen representatives to the Song court. It was declined,[27] and Yejong warned Huizong not to deal with the Jurchen, because they "were like tigers and wolves".[29] Trade and official contacts continued: in 1117 Song established a special office to deal with Goryeo merchants and envoys. A large Chinese mission arrived in 1122. It included a Confucian scholar Xu Jing (1091-1153), whose notes are an important source of information about the period.

In 1117 Goryeo army advanced to Uiju (Poju) area at the Yalu River and established new military headquarters there.[30] Return of this Liao stronghold (and the establishment of the Yalu river as an actual, and not only theoretical frontier, became possible after Liao forces in the area were defeated by Jin dynasty; the last request for help from Liao came for the defense of this region).

A crisis in the relationship with the Jurchen was precipitated by the request of Taizu to be recognized as the ‘elder brother' of the Goryeo king in 1117.[25] Majority of the officials opposed this request and even considered beheading the envoy. The factions of Yi Cha-gyeom and Kim Bu-sik jointly supported the recognition of Jin. They were able to block any rush moves, but the formal submission of Goryeo to Jin was made only during the reign of Injong.

Later years. Succession. Official historyEdit

Necessity to adjudicate factional struggles and the strain of managing complicated diplomatic and military efforts, caused Yejong during the later years of his reign to retreat further and further into his books and Daoist rituals.[31] Yejong was succeeded upon his death by his 13-year-old son Injong, who was a grandson Yi Cha-gyeom.[10][32]

Yejong's Veritable Records (sillok) were compiled by three historians (including Kim Bu-sik, who had been appointed as Royal Diarist, or ji, in 1121) beginning in 1123.[33]


  • Father: King Sukjong of Goryeo (2 September 1054 – 10 November 1105) (고려 숙종)
    • Grandfather: King Munjong of Goryeo (29 December 1019 – 2 September 1083) (고려 문종)
    • Grandmother: Queen Inye of the Incheon Lee clan (1031 – 1092) (인예왕후 이씨)
  • Mother: Queen Myeongui of the Jeongju Yu clan (? – 14 July 1112) (명의왕후 유씨)
    • Grandfather: Yu Hong (? – 1091) (유홍)


  1. Queen Gyeonghwa of the Incheon Lee clan (1079 – 29 July 1109) (경화왕후 이씨)
  2. Queen Sundeok of the Incheon Lee clan (? – 5 September 1118) (순덕왕후 이씨)
    1. King Injong of Goryeo (29 October 1109 – 10 April 1146) (고려 인종)
    2. Princess Seungdeok (승덕공주)
    3. Princess Heunggyeong (? – 1176) (흥경공주)
  3. Queen Munjeong of the Kaesong Wang clan (? – 15 June 1138 (문정왕후 왕씨)
  4. Royal Consort Suk-Bi of the Haeju Choi clan (? – 1184) (숙비 최씨)
  5. Lady Eun (은씨)
    1. Gwangjidaeseonsa (26 June 1102 – 12 August 1158) (광지대선사)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ J. Kim, A history of Korea: from "Land of the Morning Calm" to states in conflict, (Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 2012), p. 139. ISBN 978-0-253-00024-8
  2. ^ M. J. Seth, A history of Korea: from antiquity to the present, (Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham MA, 2011), p. 89. ISBN 978-0-7425-6715-3
  3. ^ Seth, p. 84
  4. ^ a b c E. J. Shultz, Twelfth-Century Koryŏ Politics: The Rise of Han Anin and His Partisans, The Journal of Korean Studies 6, 3 (1988-89)
  5. ^ Seth, pp 81-83
  6. ^ Breuker, p. 252
  7. ^ R. E. Breuker, Establishing a Pluralist Society in Medieval Korea, 918–1170: History, Ideology and Identity in the Koryŏ Dynasty, (Brill, Leiden, 2010), p. 174. ISBN 978-90-04-18325-4
  8. ^ Kim, p. 138
  9. ^ Seth, p. 93
  10. ^ a b Seth, p. 88
  11. ^ K. Pratt, Everlasting flower: a history of Korea, (Reaktion Books, London, 2006), p. 95. ISBN 978-1-86189-273-7
  12. ^ a b Kim, p. 147
  13. ^ Breuker, p. 158
  14. ^ Breuker, p. 397
  15. ^ Seth, p. 92
  16. ^ Breuker, p. 257
  17. ^ Breuker, p. 262
  18. ^ Breuker, p. 174
  19. ^ "South Korea Trave Tips". Retrieved 2010-01-07.
  20. ^ Seth, p. 86-87
  21. ^ Breuker, p. 225
  22. ^ Breuker, Ch. 8
  23. ^ a b R. E. Breuker, Koryo as an Independent Realm: The Emperor's Clothes? Korean Studies 27, 48 (2003) DOI: 10.1353/ks.2005.0001
  24. ^ a b Kim, p. 146
  25. ^ a b c d Breuker, pp. 224-228
  26. ^ "by Cho Woo-suk, JoongAng Daily, November 22, 2004". Buddhapia. 2004-11-22. Retrieved 2010-01-07.
  27. ^ a b Pratt, p. 98
  28. ^
  29. ^ Breuker, p. 248
  30. ^ Breuker, p. 207
  31. ^ Ham, Sok Hon (1985). "Queen of suffering: a spiritual history of Korea". Chapter IV The North: Prize and Peril. Friends World Committee for Consultation. Retrieved 2010-01-07.
  32. ^ Kim, p. 156
  33. ^ "An Introduction to the Samguk sagi". University of Hawaii. Retrieved 2010-01-07.

External linksEdit

Yejong of Goryeo
Born: 11 February 1079 Died: 15 May 1122
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Goryeo
Succeeded by