Jeong Do-jeon

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This is a Korean name; the family name is Jeong.
First Prime Minister of Joseon Dynasty
Korea-Danyang-Dodamsambong Sam Bong statue 3076-07.JPG
Korean name
Hangul 정도전
Hanja 鄭道傳
Revised Romanization Jeong Dojeon
McCune–Reischauer Chŏng Tojŏn
Pen name
Hangul 삼봉
Hanja 三峰
Revised Romanization Sambong
McCune–Reischauer Sambong
Courtesy name
Hangul 종지
Hanja 宗之
Revised Romanization Jongji
McCune–Reischauer Chongji
Posthumous name
Hangul 문헌
Hanja 文憲
Revised Romanization Moonheon
McCune–Reischauer Munheon

Jeong Do-jeon (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 Prime Minister (or 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 Do-jeon 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.[1]


Background and early career[edit]

Jeong Do-jeon 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.

Relationship with Yi Seong-gye[edit]

Jeong Do-jeon'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 Do-jeon's political ideas had a lasting impact on Joseon Dynasty politics and laws. The two first became acquainted in 1383, when Jeong Do-jeon 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 Do-jeon 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.

Conflict with Yi Bang-won[edit]

After Joseon was established in July 1392, Jeong Do-jeon 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 Do-jeon 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 Do-jeon 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 Do-jeon 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.[citation needed]

For much of Joseon history, Jeong Do-jeon 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 Do-jeon's writings in 1791. Jeong Do-jeon'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.

Intellectual activity[edit]

Jeong Do-jeon 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 Do-jeon 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.

Political thought[edit]

Jeong Do-jeon 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 Do-jeon 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.


  • Sambong Jip (삼봉집, 三峯集)
  • Joseon Gyeong Gukjeon (조선경국전, 朝鮮經國典)
  • Daemyeongryul Joseoneohae (대명률조선어해, 大明律朝鮮語解)
  • Gyeongje Mungam (경제문감, 經濟文鑑)
  • Bulssi Japbyeon (불씨잡변, 佛氏雜辨)
  • Simmun Cheondap (심문천답, 心問天答)
  • Simgiri (심기리, 心氣理)
  • Hakja Jinamdo (학자지남도, 學者指南圖)
  • Jinmaek Dogyeol (진맥도결, 診脈圖結)
  • Goryeo Guksa (고려국사, 高麗國史)
  • Jin Beop (진법, 陣法)

In popular culture[edit]

  • Portrayed by Lee Ho-jae in 1983 South Korean television series 500 Years of Joseon: The King of Chudong Palace.
  • Portrayed by Kim Heung-ki in 1996-1998 South Korean television series Tears of the Dragon.
  • Portrayed by Cho Jae-hyun in 2014 South Korean television series Jeong Do-jeon.[2][3]
  • Portrayed by Kim Myung-min in 2015 South Korean television series Six Flying Dragons.

See also[edit]


  • Jeong Do-jeon, Jeong Byeong-cheol. Sam Bong jeep vol. 1-4. Hangookhansooljeongbo co.(2009) ISBN 8926805891.
  • Jeong Byeong-cheol, Jeong Do-jeon's was born true and fabrication. kyobomungo pupol (2013).
  • Han Yeong-u (1974). Jeong Do-jeon's philosophy of political reform. Korea Journal 14 (7-8). Reprinted in Lee et al. (2004), Korean philosophy: Its tradition and modern transformation, pp.  55–74. Seoul: Hollym. ISBN 1-56591-178-4.
  • Korean Institute of Philosophical Thought (1995). 강좌 한국철학 (Gangjwa Hanguk Cheolhak, Guide to Korean philosophy), pp.  333–345. Seoul: Yemoon Seowon. ISBN 89-7646-032-4.
  1. ^ Lee, Yeong-hee (4 February 2014). "Why people are so fascinated by Jeong Do-jeon". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 2014-02-12. 
  2. ^ Do, Je-hae (3 January 2014). "Joseon founding seen in unique angle". The Korea Times. Retrieved 2014-01-24. 
  3. ^ Yang, Sung-hee; Kim, Hyung-eun (4 February 2014). "Unique historical drama tries putting history first". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 2014-02-12. 

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