|Chief State Coucillor of Joseon|
|Revised Romanization||Jeong Dojeon|
Jeong Dojeon (Korean: 정도전, Hanja: 鄭道傳, 1342 – October 6, 1398), 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.
Jeong Dojeon was born from a noble family 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Goryeo dynasty and a greedy politician who attempted to take power over his king. For 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. 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 being assessed in a different angle. Jeongjo, 22nd King of Joseon, republished Sambong Jip, recognizing his work regarding building the political systems and intellectual foundations of the dynasty.
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.
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