Choe Yeong, the Victorious General of Goryeo Dynasty
On January 21, 2011, the Korean navy successfully rescued the crew of the cargo ship Samho Jewelry, which had been hijacked by Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea. The rescue mission termed Operation Dawn of Gulf of Aden has been hailed a perfect military operation, and the Korean navy destroyer Choi Young has become a symbol of national protection. This 4500-ton destroyer is named after General Choe Yeong, the great commander of the late Goryeo Dynasty.
Guardian of the Goryeo Dynasty and the Royal Family
Choe Yeong was born in 1316 in Cheorwon, Gangwon province as the son of a civil official. From his childhood, Choe Yeong had a strong build and extraordinary strength. Even though he was born into a family of civil servants, Choe Yeong read books on military strategies and mastered his martial arts skills. He began his career as a military officer by suppressing Japanese pirates in today’s Chungcheong province. Japanese pirates had raided the coast of Korea for nearly 40 years during the 14th century. By defeating these pirates who had frequently pillaged villages on the shore, Choe Yeong was able to make his name as a general. He came to prominence in 1352 when he suppressed a rebellion by Jo Il-shin, a high ranking official who attempted to overthrow King Gongmin and proclaim himself king.
Choe Yeong was committed to fulfilling King Gongmin’s wish of restoring Goryeo’s sovereignty. He reclaimed the land in Hamgyeong province that had been lost to the Yuan Dynasty for more than 100 years. Along with Yi Seong-gye, the future founder of the Joseon Dynasty, Choe Yeong continued to fend off Japanese pirates in the South. In 1361, he saved the country from crisis by defeating the Red Turban Army that had crossed the border and even captured the capital city Gaegyeong. Choe Yeong protected the royal family again in 1364, when the Yuan Dynasty, threatened by King Gongmin’s resistance, sent 10,000 troops to Goryeo in an attempt to overthrow the government. He wiped out the Yuan force, thereby emerging as the guardian of the Goryeo Dynasty. The following year, Choe Yeong was sent into exile for 6 years because of a plot devised by Shin Don, a monk who wielded great power in court at the time. Yet, Choe Yeong returned to serve the King once Shin Don was overthrown, and continued to fight off Japanese pirates and suppress rebellions in a total of more than 80 battles.
Attempt to Conquest Liaodong
In 1388, the Ming Dynasty proclaimed that all territory previously owned by the Yuan Dynasty belonged to Ming, and thus northern parts of Goryeo must belong under the jurisdiction of Liaodong. General Choe Yeong ordered the army to advance to the Amnok River in an attempt to defeat Liaodong. However, Yi Seong-gye, who had disagreed with the course of action, turned his troops around at Whihwado, an island in the lower reaches of the Amnok River. Yi Seong-gye returned to the capital Gaeseong and led a coup d’etat. Choe Yeong fought against Yi’s army but was defeated and sentenced to death. 4 years later in 1392, Yi Seong-gye founded the Joseon Dynasty, and the Goryeo Dynasty disappeared into history.
Legacy as the Savior of the Country
Choe Yeong’s life and the history of Goryeo both came to an end, but the general continued to live on in the memory of the people. Choe Yeong was a man of integrity who followed his father’s will, to “look at gold as if it were stone.” The people admired him for his honesty and gallantry, and considered him the savior of the country. Choe Yeong’s legacy continues to this day, living on as the driving force of Korea’s military strength.