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Sonjuk Bridge

The Life of Po-Eun

Chong, Mong-Chu was born in 1337, at the time when the Koryo dynasty ruled the Korean peninsula. At the age of 23 he took three different Civil Service literary examinations and received the highest marks possible on all three, and in 1367 he became an instructor in Neo-Confucianism at Songgyungwan University whilst simultanously holding a government position, and was a faithful public servant to King U. The king had great confidence in his wide knowledge and good judgement, and so he participated in various national projects and his scholarly works earned him great respect in the Koryo court. He was most knowledgeable about human behaviour, and visited China and Japan as a diplomat for the king, securing promises of Japanese aid in defeating pirates and managing to secure peace with Ming dynasty China in 1385. He also founded an institute devoted to the theories of Confucianism.

During the beginning of the eleventh century Mongol forces had advanced into China and the Korean peninsula, and by the year 1238 Koryo was fully under Mongol domination and would remain so for the next full century. The Ming Dynasty in China had grown extremely powerful during the 14th century, however, and began to beat back the Mongol armies, so that by the 1350s Koryo had regained its independence, although China garrisoned a large number of troops in the north-east of Koryo, effectively occupying part of the country.

General Yi, Sung-Gae had grown in power and respect during the late 1370s and early 1380s, and many of Chong's contemporaries plotted to dethrone then-King U and replace him with General Yi. In 1388, General Yi, Sung-Gae was ordered to use his armies to push the Ming armies out of the Korean peninsula. The general, however, was no fool. He realised the strength of the Ming forces when he came into contact with them at the Yalu River, and made a momentous decision that would alter the course of Korean history. Knowing of the support he enjoyed both from high-ranking government officials and the general populace, he decided to return to the capital, Kaesong, and secure control of the government instead of possibly destroying his army by attacking the Chinese.

Yi marched his army into the capital, defeated the forces loyal to the king (commanded by General Choi Yong) and removed the government, but did not ascend the throne right away. King Gongyang and his family were sent into exile in 1392 (where they would later be secretly murdered), but Chong, Mong-Chu faithfully supported the king, leading the opposition to Yi’s claim to the throne. Chong was revered throughout Koryo, even by Yi himself, but he was seen to be an obstacle and as such had to be removed. Yi threw a party for him and afterward, on his way home, Chong was murdered by five men on the Sonjukkyo Bridge in Kaesong. This bridge has now become a national monument, and a brown spot on one of the stones is said to be a bloodstain of his which turns red when it rains.

The 474-year-old Koryo Dynasty effectively ended with the death of Chong, Mong-Chu, and was followed by the Lee Dynasty. His noble death symbolises his faithful allegiance to the king. He was honored in 1517, 125 years after his death, when he was canonised into the national academy alongside other Korean sages such as Yul-Gok and Toi-Gye.

Even if I may die, die a hundred times
Even if my skeleton may become dust and dirt,
And whether my spirit may be there or not,
My single-hearted loyalty to the lord will not change.

Chong, Mong-Chu (Po-Eun)
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