Monday, April 9, 2012

Shin Don: Reformer of the Goryeo Dynasty

If you've seen the 2005-06 drama "Shin Don" from South Korean broadcaster MBC or if you're an avid fan of Korean history, chances are you are probably familiar with the story of Shin Don (신돈, also 'Sin Ton'). If not, now's the time to learn a little about this monk turned politician from the Goryeo (Koryo) Dynasty!

Shin Don (1322-1371) was a Buddhist monk whose Dharma name was Pyeonjo (편조). Pyeonjo was a fairly obscure monk, but he managed to catch the attention of the Goryeo King Gongmin at a time when Goryeo was in chaos following the disintegration of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. At that time, Mongol-favored officials, landlords, and wealthy aristocrats in Goryeo amassed the kingdom's wealth, land, and slaves. Following the disintegration of Yuan, King Gongmin wanted to dislodge the power from the kingdom's elite and set up a more centralized government where the powerful families had little influence..

King Gongmin appointed Pyeonjo as head of his reform program and gave him the name Shin Don. Shin Don would set up and head the Jeonmin Byeonjeong Dogam (전민변정도감), which was a government office responsible for reforming the kingdom's bureaucracy and dismissing those government officials who were corrupt. He also reformed the examinations system for government officials, returned land that was unlawfully seized by corrupt officials, returned slaves to their rightful owners, and in some cases, freed slaves altogether.

Naturally, the wealthy landowners, elite military officers, and aristocrats whose wealth and power were being threatened by Shin Don's reforms were not happy. Without their Mongol allies around to back them up, Shin Don became their number one enemy. In 1371, under pressure from this clique, King Gongmin dismissed Shin Don on falsified charges of wasting state funds on elaborate Buddhist ceremonies. Not long afterwards, the clique - with tacit approval from King Gongmin - had Shin Don murdered.

Shin Don's death spelled the end of King Gongmin's plans for creating a more equal society and centralized government in the Goryeo kingdom.

For more information about Shin Don, be sure to check out the websites below:


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