Jeong Dojeon 정도전 is a 2014 50 episode KBS Daeha Drama that tells the story of the events leading to the downfall of the nearly 475 year old Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392) up to the founding of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392. The title’s character, Jeong Dojeon, (1342-1398), is forever etched in Korean history as the chief architect and mastermind behind the creation of Joseon. Also known by his penname, Sambong, he was the chief strategists to Yi Seonggye, later known as King Taejo, the first king of Joseon.
Here’s a quick overview on what had been going on leading up this drama. From 1270 to 1356 the Yuan had controlled nearly every aspect of Goryeo, including forcing Goryeo prince’s to marry Yuan princesses. King Gongmin 공민왕 (r1351 – 1374) ended the 80 year domination the Yuan (Mongols) had over Goryeo (Korea). He drove out all pro-Yuan factions from court. In 1368, the Ming had driven out the Yuan out of the capital, which left the Yuan to rule only a small part of China. The Goryeo court became split between the pro-Yaun and the pro-Ming factions. The justification for the pro-Yuan faction can be summed up like this: “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” Meanwhile, the Southern parts of Goryeo was under attack from Japanese pirates while the Northern borderland was being attacked by bandits from the Manchurian areas. In other words…..the situation in Goryeo was a mess!
The drama starts at the tail end of the reign of King Gongmin 공민왕•恭愍王 of Goryeo in 1374. By this time, King Gongmin is suffering from severe depression, heartbreak and mental instability after the loss of his wife, Queen Noguk (노국대장공주), who had died in 1365. (side note: the story of King Gongmin and Queen Noguk is its own legendary love story within Korean history). He had lost his will and his focus on top of all the other problems going on in the kingdom.
The following are the notes I took while watching drama.
Other Historical Figures:
King Wu 우왕 (July 25, 1365 – December 31,1389; r. 1376 – 1388) was the 32nd king of Goryeo. As the son of one of King Gongmin’s concubines, King Wu’s lineage has always been in dispute. Even King Gongmin had doubts, but because Queen Noguk was unable to produce an heir, King Gongmin had no other choice but to name him as Crown Prince in order to provide stability for the kingdom.
Choe Yeong 최영 崔瑩(1316 ~ 1388): was a commander and loyal subject of Goryeo. General Choe Yeong was revered for military distinction including his defense of the kingdom against Japanese pirates in the south. He was a great hero of Goryeo who was well respected- however, he sided with the pro-Yuan faction and was defeated by Yi Seong-gye, who was pro-Ming. He was exiled and eventually beheaded. Because he met a tragic death while trying to defend Goryeo, Choe Yeong is still viewed as a hero and his legacy was allowed to live on. Click here to read more about his life
Jeong MongJu (Poeun) 정몽조 (포운) 鄭夢周: (1337 – 1392): He was a court official and
well respected scholar. He was highly respected for his intellect and wisdom. He was ultimately murdered by Yi Bangwon. He is still revered in Korean history for his unwavering loyalty even at the very end of Goryeo. Read more about him here.
Yi Inim 이인임 李仁任 (? ~ 1388): Gwangpyeonggun 광평군 Yi Inim was born of a noble family and entered politics without taking the civil service examination. He drove out the Red Turbans and conquered Dongningfu 동녕부(東寧府) of Yuan (Mongols). After King Gongmin was assassinated, he put King Wu on the throne and gained real power. Along with Choe Yong, he rule Goryeo for 14 years as a court minister. He was sociable and had a good sense for politics, but being pro-Yuan, he oppressed the Neo-Confucian elites and caused diplomatic conflicts with Ming. He trafficked in government positions. He ended up dying while being exiled. His death was the beginning of the end of the Goryeo ruled by influential families.
Yi Seonggye 이성계 李成桂 (1335 – 1408): was a general and hero of the North by pushing away the Yuan from creeping along the northernmost border of Goryeo. He also protected Goryeo against Japanese pirates. Although he and Choe Yeong had been very close, Yi Seonggye led the pro-Ming faction while Choe Yeong supported the pro-Yuan faction. With the help of Jeong Dojeon, he becomes King Taejo, the first king of Joseon.
Yi Bangwon 이방원 李芳遠 (1367 – 1492) was the 5th son of Yi Seonggye and was an official in the Goryeo court. He played a valuable role in supporting his father, Jeong Dojeon and the pro-Ming faction. He fell out of favor from both his father and Jeong Dojeon over the murder of Jeong MongJu (Poeun), which he was behind. Things got worse when he was passed over as Crown Prince in favor for a significantly younger brother, who was still a child. Although he played a huge role in the founding of Joseon, they didn’t feel he would be a wise king due to his greed and lust for power. While not in the drama, Yi Bangwon eventually goes on to become, King TaeJeong 태종왕, the third king of Joseon.
Historical Notes By Episode
Episode 28: Choi Yeong’s plan to conquer Yodong (Liaodong) ended in tragedy of fratricidal war. Not long after, Choi Yeong was taken for an intense national interrogation. He was exiled to Gobonghyeon and then to Happo. Ming changed its attitude the following year. Cheollyeong Commandery was moved to Bongjiphyeon 봉집현. Goryeo politics fall into confusion because of the withdrawal that went against a royal order.
King Wu failed to kill Yi Seonggye, Jo Minsu and the other generals. He was disposed and taken to the detached palace in Ganghwado. Because of political burdens, he was treated as a former king, but in actuality, it was an abdication. There was another period of turmoil over who was to inherit the throne.
Episode 29: Jeong DoJeon begins to work on land reform. He introduces the idea of 계민수전 – Gyeminsujeon: Distribution of land according to the number of people.
Episode 33: The Supreme Council had been reorganized. Mokeun Lee Saek became the Chancellor, but Vice-Chancellor Yi Seonggye had the actual power since he had military power. Jeong Dojeon became the Miljikbusa (밀직부사?) and took a step closer to the heart of Goryeo. The radical gentry started taking action. The starting point was an appeal for land reform by Jo Jun.
Episode 40: After the death of Jeong Mongju the radical group of the gentry and military personnel gained power. Lee Saek was exiled to Hanju again. Wu Hyeonbo, Kee Sungin, Lee Cheom, Kim Hinhyeon and Lee Jonhak were purged. It was 475 years since Wang Geon established Goryeo. Goryeo was on the verge of falling.
In July 1392, King Gongyang abdicated. He was the 7th generation of descendent of King Sinjong – the 34th and last king of Goryeo. He tried to revived Goryeo with Jeong Mongju, but failed to do so. He was sent to Wonju. After Joseon was founded, he was demonted to Gongyanggun 공양군 which was the level of a prince. He was exiled again to Ganseong. 2 years later in 1394, he died in Samcheok.
안천비 Queen Dowager Ahn. She was in power only in form. She had to abdicate King Wu, King Chang and King Gongyang. After the founding of Joseon, her tittle was demoted to Uihwangungju (위와궁주), which was the level of a princess. She spent the rest of her life relying on alcohol. She died in 1428.
Queen Dowager (대비) appointed Yi Seongye as gamnokguksa 감록국사 (A position that oversees the work of the country, which was same poisition as a king) 나라의 일을 총괄하는 직채으로 and approved of him inheriting the throne.
Episode 41: July 17, 1392 Yi Seonggye became the king. The coronation took place at Suchanggung 수창군? He was approved by Dopyeonguisasa (도평외사사?), the Supreme Council and his rule was legitimized. After 475 year, Goryeo faded into history. There were political battles and deaths in prison during the process of establishing a new dynasty. But the fact that it wasn’t a new power by military force, the founding of Joseon was a revolution without blood which is unprecedented in global history. In the coronation order written by Jeong Dojeon, it was declared that Goyreo’s name and laws would be preserved. It is presumed an act to minimize resistance and evil effects of the revolution. Yi Seonggye change the country name to Joseon the following year and became the first king of Joseon. A country based on Neo-Confucianism and agriculture. That was how the 518 year history of Joseon began.
편민사목: 백성을 편안하게 하는 17개 조항의- The Seventeen Articles For The People
Episode 42: In August 1392, Uiangun Lee Bangseok was installed as the crown prince. In September, the people who achieved merit in founding the country were named. There were 52 including Bae Geukryeom, Jo Jun, Jeong Dojeon, Nam Eun and Lee Jiran, Yi Bangwon was decisive in founding the country, but him and the other princes were not included in the list as a means of keeping them in check. Jeong Dojeon’s work in the founding of the country began in full force. He began compiling the history of Goryeo with Yun Sojeong. He wrote “Ohaengjinchulgido” (오앵진철기도?) and ” Geunmudo” (긍무도?), books on strategy and offered them to Yi Seonggye.
In October, Ming emperor Zhu Yuanzhang sent a document recognizing Yi Seonggye’s accession to the throne. Yi Seonggye sent Jeong Dojeon as an envoy for friendly relations. Not long after that, Bee Geukryeom died.
Bae Geukryeom 배극렴 裵克廉 (1325 – December 10, 1392). He entered the government during King Gongmin’s reign. He drove out Japanese pirates from Jinju, Yokjido and Ulju. After the army withdrew from Wihwado, he contributed to putting Yi Seonggye on the throne with Jeong Dojeon and JoJun. As an official of top merit founding the country, he was chancellor of the left until he died at the age of sixty-eight. His permanent residence was Geongsan and his posthumous name is Jeongjeol.
Episode 45: At that time, the historic events of moving the capital to Hanyang began (present day Seoul). On September 1 1394 Sindogunggwoljoseongdogam신도궁궐조성도감(新都宮闕造成都監) was established. Jeong Dojeon took Nam Eun 남은 and other officials to Hanyang to look around the palace, royal shrine and government building sites and roads and started planning the capital.
Jeong Dojeon completed the new blueprint for Hanyang. The palace, today’s Gyeongbokgung 경복궁, had Baegaksan 배각산 behind and face south. After deciding on the location of the palace, be based the locations of the main buildings according to the codes system of the Zhou Dynasty. To the left of the palace, today’s Jungno-4-ga, was the royal shrine 종모. To the west of the palace, the state alter 시직단 was placed at the foot of Inwangsan. To the road extending south of the palace, State Council 의겅부 and the six ministries 육조거리 were established. Below that, today’s Jongno 종로거리 시진 was the market and a residential area 거죽지 was formed around Cheonngyechon 천계천. On October 25th, even before the construction began, Lee Seonggye left Gaegyeong and arrived in Hanyang 3 days later. He used an inn as a temporary palace and encouraged the construction. Jeong Dojeon held a rite in place of the king at the groundbreaking ceremony and supervised the construction.
It is said that he wrote “Sindoga” a labor song, to relieve the fatigue of the workers. Jeon Dojeon also focused on establishing the political ideologies of Joseon. He wrote “Simgiri” and criticized Buddhism and Taoism from a Neo-Confucian view point. The finished compilation of Goryeo history in 3 years. He also wrote Gyeongjemungam”경제문감 which organized the prime minister-oriented power structure in a structured manner. He fulfilled his role as the founder and designer of Joseon.
In 1395, the year after the capital was moved, the palace was completed. 법궁: Palace where the king carries out state affairs and daily life.
Episode 50: This incident on August 26th and 27th of 1398 is called the First Strife of Princes. Yi Bangwon gained control of the court and eliminated Yi Bangseok (7th son – 1382-1398 – 16yrs old) and Yi Bangbeon (6th Son 1392-1398 17 yrs old). 2 years later, in January, 1400 he suppressed the Second Strife of Princes by Yi Banggan and became crown prince. In November of that year, Jeongjong succeeded the throne to him. He became the third king of Joseon, King Taejong.
Sambong Jeong Dojeon Final Notes….
He was born as the oldest son of Yeomui Joeong Ungyeong, Bonghwa’s local functionary who was well known for being a clean government official. Jeong Ungyeon named him “Dojeon” so he would become a great man who teaches virtues. Jeong Dojeon learned from Mokeun Lee Saek with Jeong Mungju, Park Sangchun, Lee Sungin and others. He passed the state examination during King Gongmin’s reign and after King Wu took the throne, he was exiled for opposing Yi Inim’s pro-Yuan policies. He spent close to 10 years in exile. After experiencing the suffering of the people, he decided to pursue dynastic revolution. He joined forces with Yi Seonggye, warlord of DongBukMyeon.
With Yi Seonggye’s recommendation, he returned to government duties. After the army withdrew from Wihwado in 1388, he led in land reform while attempting to install a a “true king” with radicals like Jo Jun and Nam Eun. In the process, he had conflicts with his teacher, Lee Saek and his friend Jeong Mongju. He was impeached by Jeong Mongju and faced death. He was saved by Yi Bangwon who had Jeong Mongju killed. In July 1392, with Jo Jun, Name Eun and Bae Geukryeom 배극렴, he installed Lee Seonggye as king and founded Joseon.
Being main contributor in the founding the country, Jeong Dojeon focused on establishing a foundation for the country. He wrote many books included Joseon’s first code of laws “Joseon Gyeong-guk-jeon” 조선경국전. He constructed Hanyang and abolished private armies. He focused on making Joseon a powerful country with central power. He considered people-oriented theories and the livelihood of the people to be the most important and was aggressive about land reform and tax exemption. But conflicts with Ming tied him down. While planning an attack on Yodong, he was killed by Yi Bangwon and died at the age of 57.
Yi Bangwon turned him into a traitor and denigrated all of his work, although he accepted many of Jeong Dojeon’s policies such as the abolition of private armies. Jeong Dojeon founded Joseon and established its foundation, but was called a traitor. His reputation was finally restored 500 years later during the reign of King Gojong.
Sambong Jeong Dojeon didn’t fall into despair in troubled times. He planned a dynastic revolution based on people-oriented theories and founded a new country. He is a great revolutionist and politician in Korean history.
For additional reading on Jeong Dojeon, the person, please visit another article on this site by clicking here.