Choe Mu-Seon (1325–1395) was a medieval Korean scientist, inventor,
and military commander during the late
Goryeo Dynasty and early Joseon
Dynasty. He is best known for enabling
Korea to domestically produce
gunpowder by obtaining a recipe for the Chinese commodity from a
Chinese merchant, as well as inventing various gunpowder-based weapons
in an attempt to repel the wokou pirates that plundered coastal
regions of the Korean Peninsula.
2 Work book
5 See also
Choe was born into a wealthy family in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsang
province; his father was an official in the administration. He
qualified to be a military officer through civil service examination.
The government's control of
Goryeo was crumbling, and at the same time
the pirates crossing the
Korean Strait plundered much of the coastal
regions. In the southern part of the nation, pirates even marched deep
inland, causing havoc. The
Goryeo government was not able to ensure
security, despite the efforts of generals Yi Song Gye and Choi Yong.
In his childhood, while he was at the royal palace with his father,
who was working for the king, Choe saw fireworks made by
Chinese, who at the time had indirect control of
influence was repealed by King Gongmin). Later in life, Choe embarked
on a quest to bring the recipe of gunpowder to Korea. He visited
China, which was then ruled by the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty. In general,
technology of that region, such as cotton growing and gunpowder
manufacture, was kept secret. Choe sought to smuggle some examples of
secret items, and eventually was able to obtain knowledge of the three
key ingredients of gunpowder: sulfur, slack or fine coal, and
potassium nitrate. However, the process to obtain niter, the mineral
form of potassium nitrate, was difficult, and he did not know how to
prepare gunpowder from the raw materials.
After a chain of experimental failures, Choe considered abandoning the
project, but heard about a wealthy Chinese merchant named Lee Yuan who
had great knowledge of gunpowder. Choe visited Lee while he was
Goryeo on business, and bribed Lee for the gunpowder
recipe, in violation of Mongol and Chinese law.
Korea began its first
domestic production of gunpowder between the years of 1374 and
Choe demonstrated the power of the new weapon in front of
King U and
many other court advisers; and almost every one of them were impressed
by its devastating power compared to other arms which were already in
existence in Korea. The government gave him great support,
establishing the official laboratory and factory for gunpowder in
1377; here Choe invented various kinds of cannon and other firearms.
Among his inventions were the singijeon and the hwacha, a launching
device somewhat resembling the first modern multiple rocket launcher.
Then he put his inventions into real battle against the Japanese at
the Battle of Jinpo, in which he participated as one of the Korean
commanders; the battle was easily won by Korean forces, thanks to the
gunpowder. He also began to build warships to chase off the pirates.
Since his inventions greatly contributed to his country, he was able
to be promoted and participate in politics. However he was already old
when he obtained the gunpowder recipe from the merchant, and his later
days saw the change of Dynasty from
Goryeo to Joseon. Soon after the
foundation of the new Joseon Dynasty, Choe retired from both military
and political affairs, and died in 1395. After his death, King Taejo
gave him the honorary title of vice-premier. He is still remembered in
Korea as the perfect role model for many scientists and as a patriot.
Hwayaksuryunbeop (화약수련법 火藥修鍊法)
Hwapobeop (화포법 火砲法)
Some of his inventions were: daejanggunpo (Hangul: 대장군포),
ijanggunpo (Hangul: 이장군포), samjanggunpo (Hangul:
삼장군포), yukhwa (Hangul: 육화; Hanja: 六花), seokpo (석포;
石砲), sinpo (신포; 信砲), hwajeon (화전; 火箭;
“Fire-arrow”), hwapo (화포; 火砲), hwatong (화통; 火㷁;
“Fire-tube”), a possible forerunner of the hwacha, juhwa (주화;
走火; "Running fire"), which was the forerunner of the singijeon,
and cheollyeongjeon (철령전; 鐵翎箭; literally “Iron-finned
^ "과학문화탐방". seer.snu.ac.kr.