III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > E. East Asia, to 1527 > 4. Korea, 918–1392 > b. Political, Social, and Cultural Patterns
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
b. Political, Social, and Cultural Patterns
In military matters, Kory achieved power through military conquest of the other Later Three Kingdoms and was confronted with problems from the Khitans soon after taking power. However, the rise of aristocratic rule was premised on the superiority of civil to military affairs, and thus military men were given lower social and economic status in Kory. Denigration of the military grew severe under King ijong. Military officers rebelled (1170), deposed ijong, placed a puppet king on the throne, and wiped out numerous civil officials. Bloody infighting ensued.  1
Land was granted by quality and allocated (998) in accordance with an official's bureaucratic rank, thus providing said official's salary. When the official died, his land reverted to the state, following the theory that all land belonged to the king. The state managed the land and collected rents. Higher officials earned special stipends of land in addition. In fact, there was private land as well. During the 13th century, large portions of land were given to the Mongols. With the reforms at the end of Kory, and the reversion of all private and public lands to state control, the powerful families found their economic underpinnings demolished.  2
The Kory taxation system was tripartite in structure, again much like Tang China. The peasants who worked the land paid a rent based on a percentage of crop yield, they paid a tribute tax in cloth, and all able-bodied men were obliged to serve in corvée labor annually. Below the peasantry was a slave class, some state-owned and some in private hands. To relieve the harsh lives of the farming population and prevent large-scale vacating of lands and roving bands of landless peasants, the state instituted a number of measures, such as “ever-normal granaries” (as in China).  3
The Kory civil service examinations were theoretically open to all men, with several exceptions, but in fact only the elite sat for them. There were two types of examinations, one on composition and one on the Chinese classics; the latter tended to be more important. Since, unlike earlier, access to government office was opened to a wide number of elite families, the civil service examinations became the means of controlling entrance into the bureaucracy.  4
Confucianism, in the political mold it had taken in China as working together with the Legalist state, proved desirable to Kory aristocrats and thus developed rapidly in the Kory era. Private academies, the primary avenue for the education of aristocrats, flourished. Ch'oe Ch'ung (984–1068), known as the Confucius of Korea, ran one such academy. At the same time, state schools went into decline. Under Yejong (r. 1103–22) and Injong (r. 1122–46), efforts were made to stem this tide. Confucianism stressed moral cultivation and social order. The rise of the scholar-official class in late Kory went hand in glove with the rising popularity of Neo-Confucianism, especially with its stress on moral character as the foundation of the state.  5
Buddhism was not repudiated but was supplemented by Confucianism's worldly rationalism. The Ch'nt'ae (Tiantai in Chinese) sect became very popular. Tax-exempt Buddhist monasteries became exceedingly wealthy, and monks armed themselves to defend their wealth. The Chogye sect of Sn Buddhism, a tradition native to Korea, developed following the Ch'oe coup; it taught that sudden enlightenment must be followed by gradual cultivation of the mind.  6
In painting, little remains from the Kory period, though here Chinese models seem not to have been dominant. In the late Kory, a trend similar to one in Song China emerged: that of the literati (nonprofessional) painter. Calligraphy also flourished. Kory celadon ware showed Song influence, but it is considered even better than its Chinese models.  7
Several major works of historical scholarship date from this era, including Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms) by Kim Pu-sik (1075–1151), a thoroughly Confucian work written in the Chinese annalistic style; and Samguk yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms) by the Buddhist monk Iryn (1206–89), which traced Korean history back to the legendary Tan'gun. (See Korea, 1392–1800)  8
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.