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Taejo of Joseon
King Taejo of Joseon (original name Yi Seong-gye, 이성계(李成桂) was the founder and the first king of Korea's Joseon Dynasty. His father Yi Ja-chun was a former Mongol official, but his ethnicity was Korean. Yi joined the Goryeo army and rose through the ranks, seizing the throne of Korea in 1392.
During the beginning of the eleventh century Mongol forces had advanced into China and the Korean peninsula, and by the year 1238 Goryeo was fully under Mongol's control and would remain so for the next full century. The Ming Dynasty in China had grown powerful during the 14th century, however, and began to beat back the Mongol armies, so that by the 1350s Goryeo had regained its independence, although Mongol remnants garrisoned a large number of troops in the north-east of Goryeo, effectively occupying part of the country.
General Yi Seonggye had gained power and respect during the late 1370s and early 1380s by pushing Mongol remnants outside of the peninsula and also by repelling well-organized Japanese pirates in a series of successful engagements. Many at the court plotted to dethrone King U and replace him with General Yi. In 1388, General Yi was ordered to use his armies to invade Liaodong. But he made a momentous decision that would alter the course of Korean history. Knowing of the support he enjoyed both from high-ranking government officials and the general populace, he decided to return to the capital, Kaesong, and secure control of the government.
General Yi marched his army into the capital, defeated the forces loyal to the king (led by General Choi Yong) and removed the government, but did not ascend the throne right away. King Gongyang (공양왕; 恭讓王) and his family were sent into exile in 1392 (where they would later be secretly murdered), but the renowned scholar, poet and statesman Jeong Mong-ju (정몽주; 鄭夢周) faithfully supported the king, leading the opposition to Yi’s claim to the throne. Jeong was revered throughout Goryeo, even by Yi himself, but he was seen to be an obstacle and as such had to be removed. Yi's son, Yi Bang-won (later King Taejong), threw a party for him and afterward, on his way home, Jeong was murdered by five men on the Seonjukgyo Bridge (선죽교; 善竹橋) in Kaesong. This bridge has now become a national monument of North Korea, and a brown spot on one of the stones is said to be a bloodstain of his which turns red when it rains.
The 474-year-old Goryeo Dynasty ended with the exile of King Gongyang and the death of Jeong Mong-ju, and was followed by the Joseon Dynasty.
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