Choe Chung-heon (1149 – 29 October 1219) was a military ruler of
Korea during the
Choe's father was a Grand General in the
Goryeo military, hence
precipitating his own entry into the military. Choe witnessed military
men become all-powerful in the quick succession of military leaders
who deposed one another.
Choe plotted against the long-standing war council, feigning fealty to
the newly promoted supreme general and council head, a slave's son, Yi
Ui-min. After many years of humiliation and hardship,
Choe and his subordinates launched a coup d'état while Yi was away.
After destroying the war council and killing Yi, he became a prominent
Although the coup was a success, Choe did not take full power. Choe
became Prime Minister of the State and Royal Protector, seeing the
abdication of 4 kings (asked for 2 of the 4), 3 rebellions and
numerous attempts on his life. Finally during the early reign of King
Gojong, Choe retired, handing his position to his eldest son Choe U
(though not without bloodshed as his youngest attempted to take it for
himself). Choe Chungheon died of age at 71 in 1219.
Until the death of Choe's grandsons, the Choe family reigned supreme
over the political and military landscape of Goryeo. Choe U, Choe
Choe Ui passed the legacy of
Choe Chung-heon for sixty years
until the assassination of Choe Ui.
2 Rise to power
9 Popular culture
10 See also
Choe Chung-heon was born in 1149, the son of Grand General Choe Won-ho
(최원호). He is thought to have been born in
Gaeseong or Gyeongju.
He was descended from the famous
Confucian scholar Choe Chi-won, who
lived in the
North South States Period
North South States Period and was the ancestor of the
Kyongju Choe clan, but because Choe Won-ho was given the subname,
Ubong (우봉, "great warrior"), his family split from the Kyongju
Choe clan and became the Choe clan of Ubong. He married a Lady Yu
(유씨) and had two sons by her,
Choe U (최우) and Choe Hyang
Rise to power
Choe entered the military, like his father, and was a colonel until he
reached age 35, when he became a general. He joined the War Council at
age 40. Choe served under the military dictators during the reign of
King Myeongjong. When the last of these dictators, Yi Ui-min, was
ruling, Choe and his brother Choe Chung-su (최충수) led their
private armies and defeated Yi and the War Council.
Choe replaced the weak Myeongjong with King Sinjong, Myeongjong's
younger brother. The government started to rebuild from the previous
military dictators, but Chung-su unseated the Crown Princess and tried
to marry his daughter to the Crown Prince.
Choe Chung-heon immediately
intervened and a bloody struggle between the Choe brothers ensued. In
the end, Chung-su lost and was beheaded by Choe Chung-heon's troops.
Choe Chung-Heon was said to have wept when he saw his brother's head,
and gave a proper burial.
Choe then appointed several of his relatives to high government
positions, and slowly expanded his power. King Sinjong fell ill in
1204, and secretly begged Choe to preserve the kingdom and not
overthrow it. Choe respected this last request from the king and gave
the throne to Sinjong's son who became King Huijong. Sinjong died of
disease immediately thereafter.
Huijong was determined to retrieve all the former powers that military
dictators and usurpers had taken from the kings, including by removing
Choe. Choe had been given the ranks of Prime Minister of the State,
and Royal Protector, with power equivalent to the king's.
Soon, two rebellions struck at once. One was led by Pak Jin-jae,
Choe's nephew, and the other was a movement to resurrect Silla. Both
rebellions were destroyed by Choe. This was followed by the Slave
rebellion, led by one of Choe's own slaves,
Manjeok (만적). The
slaves killed their masters and gathered on a mountain, around 100
strong. This rebel army was easily terminated, and the bodies of the
dead were thrown into a river, unburied. More rebellions occurred,
including by Buddhist priests. Choe was not able to completely silence
the Buddhists, but he did capture the individual Buddhists that were
behind a plot to assassinate him.
During this time, various northern tribes, including the Khitan, were
being driven from their homelands by the Mongols. Many escaped to
Goryeo, and violence flared along the northern border. Choe's sons, U
and Hyang, led separate campaigns in response. Hyang defeated the
minor tribal armies to the east, and U defeated those in the west with
the help of General Kim Chwi-ryeo (김취려). These victories were
aided by small contingents of the Mongols.
Choe had witnessed the downfall of Chong Chung-bu's regime, which was
caused partially by the lack of a strong legitimate heir. Choe's first
son, Choe U, was an effective strategist, soldier, and leader. The
second son, Choe Hyang, was an exceptional soldier, but not a very
good negotiator or statesman.
Knowing a succession fight would ensue, Choe he forbade U to enter the
house. Hyang attempted to kill his brother to cement his position as
successor. U and Hyang fought a sword battle, which U won. U did not
kill his brother as his father had done to Chung-Su. Instead, he left
the fate of his younger brother in the hands of his father.
Choe Chung-heon was pleased by U's decision, and sent his younger son
into exile. Choe announced that he would be succeeded by his son U,
and that he would retire. He was around 65 years old when he made this
announcement, and U was probably in his mid-thirties.
Choe lived peacefully for the remaining seven years of his life, and
even got to see his grandson Hang, son of U. Choe did regret some of
the decisions he made earlier in life, and also realized that he had
fallen into the power-craze that he had sworn not to fall
into. Choe survived several attempts on his life. He
suffered a stroke, and lived for one more year before he died at the
age of 71, on 29 October 1219. It is recorded that his funeral was
like that of a king's.
Choe Chung-heon was the first of the Choe dictators, and he set up the
system of rule that the later Choe dictators would use. After Choe
Chung-Heon was his first son Choe U, who directly led the armies of
Goryeo to fight the
Mongol armies. After
Choe U came his first son
Choe Hang (최항), who forced the king to reject all offers of
surrender that the Mongols offered. When Choe-Hang died, his only son
Choe Ui (최의) came to power.
Choe Ui was described as cowardly and obese. The Choe regime ended
Choe Ui was assassinated by one of his lieutenants. Other
accounts claim that some troops were trying to push the heavy tyrant
over the wall, but were killed before they could do so because he was
so fat. Choe Chung-Heon, Choe-U, and Choe-Hang were all trained in the
arts, but Choe-Ui did not. This is probably because by then, the Choe
family was very wealthy, and no fighting on the battlefields was
The Choe regime lasted 60 years, during which
Goryeo was able to
Mongol invasions. After the fall of the Choe military
regime, the Sambyeolcho, which was the private army of the Choe
family, separated from the
Goryeo government and attempted to start
its own nation, but this rebellion was defeated by a Mongol-Goryeo
Approximately 845 Koreans today are members of the Choe clan of Ubong.
Father: Choe Won-ho (? - ?) (최원호)
Mother: Lady Yu (유씨부인)
Brother: Choe Chung-su (1152 - 1197) (최충수)
Sister: Lady Choe of the Choe clan of Ubong (우봉 최씨)
Nephew: Park Jin-jae (1170 - 1207) (박진재)
Wife: Lady Song (송씨)
Choe U (1166 - 10 December 1249) (최우)
Son: Choe Hyang (1169 - 1230) (최향)
Wife: Princess Jeonghwa (정화택주)
Son: Choe Gu (최구)
Wife: Princess Suseong of the Jangheung Im clan (수성택주
Son: Choe Seong (최성)
Concubine: Ja Un-seon (자운선)
Early title: 別抄都令 -> 攝將軍
1196: The title of 左承宣 御史臺知事 was added.
1197: The title of 靖國功臣 三韓大匡大中大夫
上將軍柱國 was added.
1204: The title of 壁上三韓三重大匡
上將軍上柱國 兵部御史臺判事 太子太師 was added. Just
few days later 晋康郡候 門下侍中 was additionally added.
1212: The title of 晋康府候 文經武緯嚮理措安功臣 was
Kim Kap-soo in the 2003-2004
KBS1 TV series Age of
Joo Hyun in the 2012 MBC TV series God of War.
History of Korea
List of Korea-related topics
Military Leader of Goryeo
1197 – 1219
Marquis of Jingang
1204 – 1219
Shultz, Edward J. (2000). Generals and Scholars: Military Rule in
Medieval Korea. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
^ Daughter of Song Cheong.
^ Daughter of king Gangjong of Goryeo.
^ Daughter of Im Bu.
^ Initially, concubine of Yi Ji-sun,