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Koryŏ Dynasty (ad 918-1392), also known as Goryeo, Korean dynasty founded by Wang Kŏn, who established a united Korean kingdom throughout the peninsula in 935. The capital was Songdo (modern Kaesǒng). Assimilating onetime opponents from the former tripod of Korean kingdoms, Koryŏ Korea expanded north to the Yalu River and fought with the Khitan (Liao) dynasty in Manchuria. Fighting with the Liao went on from 993 until 1018. After much sacrifice Koryŏ concluded a favorable peace treaty in 1022, confirming its territory in exchange for the relinquishment of nominal allegiance to China’s Song dynasty in favor of Liao suzerainty.
Koryŏ Korea was based on Buddhism for the religious purposes and Confucianism for administrative and moral principles. The two highest organs of government were the Samsong, the highest administrative body, and the Chungch’uwon, the king’s secretariat. Together they formed the Supreme Council of State. Under this stable government Korean art and architecture flourished in the 11th and 12th centuries with the perfection of the great native tradition of gray-green celadon stoneware. There were notable achievements in Buddhist sculpture and temple decoration in bronze, and in poetry and prose literature.
Although Koryŏ Korea had been united by military force and was periodically threatened by invasion from the North (the Liao and later the Jurchen [Jin] dynasty), for the first 200 years administration was dominated by civilian aristocratic families and Buddhist priests. This provoked the military to rebel in 1170, led by General Ch’oe Ch’ung-hon, who seized power, leaving the monarch as a figurehead. A large number of civilians were executed and a military government was established that lasted for 60 years. During that time, however, the government had to suppress a number of peasant uprisings protesting inequalities.
In 1231 the Mongol empire invaded Korea, but the Koryŏ state resisted for 30 years. It was only because of increasing financial pressure caused by the cost of war that the people then overthrew the regime and sued for peace. Koreans were able afterwards to preserve most of their political and cultural independence, although Koryŏ art never rose again to its former brilliance. Farming prospered again, especially for large landlords. Consequently, these landlords acquired such quantities of land that it was difficult for newcomers to obtain any. In 1392 a group of bureaucrats, frustrated with trying to obtain land commensurate with their status, joined General Yi Sŏng-gye and overthrew the Koryŏ dynasty, replacing it with the Chosŏn (Joseon) dynasty (1392-1910).
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