CE 1260. Mongol Suzerainty and Last Vestiges of Resistance


CE 1260 – 70: Mongol Suzerainty and Rebellion of the Three Patrols

Highlights: Kublai Khan; Prince Sim is betrothed to a Mongol princess; The Sambyeolcho continue to lead a resistance; Explosives and gunpowder requested by local Mongol officers.

Welcome to The History of Korea. I’m your host, Allen Lee. In this episode, the exciting conclusion of…the Mongol Invasion of Korea.

In our last episode, it’s the second month of 1260 and King Gojong is dead, and his son the Prince Cheon, who is traveling through the territory north of the border with Kubilai Khan, is given permission by Kubilai to go home.

Remember, the prince’s absence was one excuse the Goryeo authorities gave for delaying fully leaving ganghwa island. With the prince’s return, the jig was up and so the Goryeo authorities opened the granary and distributed 6,420 bushels of rice, one each for every prince and official, “in order to aid in the expenses of constructing dwellings” in the old capital (or is it the new capital?). This passage implies that there were 6,420 officials of the capital at the time and that number is corroborated.

A couple of months later a Mongol envoy arrives with a letter that declares: “Of all beneath heaven who have not surrendered, there is only your nation and the Sung.” (the song would hold out another 19 years until 1279. China and Korea – old bedfellows, as we would say. )

On June 3, 1260, Prince Chon (or Wonjong, as he’s later canonize), ascends the throne in a ceremony in Gangan Palace on Kanghwa island, and a few days later, as if on cue, a Mongol envoy arrives with an Imperial Edict containing the new king’s first marching orders:

  • Transfer all people back to the mainland, get agriculture going again
  • In return, Kubilai promises to stop all pillaging, withdraw the army and release all Korean prisoners.

Kubilai was good on his word except for the pillaging part; it’s probably hard to control your foot soldiers on the ground, no matter how your disciplined your army is.

Kublai released 440 households (or 2,200 people), and in the autmn the withdrawal began.

SINUIGUN (https://ko.wikipedia.org/wiki/%EC%8B%A0%EC%9D%98%EA%B5%B0)

Henthorn notes that kublai was feeling generous, nay indulgent, towards the koreans because:

First he met and traveled with prince cheon in the field, but also because the koreans were prompt with the tribute, which they sent as soon as wonjong returned, and the rapid dispatch of Hui, the duke of yongan, to congratulate kublai’s ascension to the throne. In fact the koreans were the first nation to congratulate kublai —  funny how almost 1,000 years later it’s the same. Whenever there’s a new president the press reports which leaders are the first to call and congratulate him.

But also was the rapid resettlement of the northwest. After two mass evacuations, one in 1231 and another in 1248, there was a large scale return of citizens to the cities of unju, pakchu, kuju–all the ju cities.

Or maybe this is just the way kublai operated. Genghis built the empire, but it was kublai who developed the famed pax mongolica. Obviously a full blown discussion of kublai is out of the scope of this podcast, but the fact that kublai had first-hand experience with the peninsula would have very far ranging consequences in the next decade, especially with respect to japan.

Meanwhile, kim injun, who was the advisor of choe hang and one of the ringleaders behind the assassination of choe ui, climbs the ladder of power and is appointed the coadministrator of the bureau of military affairs.

So 1260 saw peace restored on the peninsula. I’m gonna skip ahead a bit; there was some back and forth with the mongol court, especially regarding the speed with which the capital was moving back to the mainland.

In 1266, something really significant happened that would eventually end the fragile peace of the peninsula. It was when a former korean buddhist monk, who was an interpreter at kublai’s court, told the emperor about japan.

So the emperor sent to envoys, one from the department of war, and the other from the department of rites, to goryeo, where they were to be guided to japan with an imperial edict.

The koreans resisted this. I’m sure they saw the writing on the wall: that the mongols wanted to attack japan, and that they would be enlisted to do the heavy lifting. That of course was the last thing the country needed. The country was decimated by the mongol invasions, and their tributes to the mongols were draining whatever was left in their coffers.

But this wouldn’t happen for another few years.


Now going back to kim injun: he continued to consolidate his power. It seemed suspiciously similar to the military dictatorship that the country had just supposedly left behind. The king himself was not worried; he remarked, “kim injun serves me. The previous king has slain the tyrants and restored the government to the royal family.” it’s telling that a king would even have to state those words, but such was the state of affairs in goryeo at the time.

But by 1268, his actions seemed to become arbitrary. Maybe he was drunk on power and began acting recklessly. In the winter of 1268, kim injun sent the night patrol to seize two ships carrying regional tributary goods. He had the goods brought to his house where he then divided them with the night patrol.

King wonjong confronted him about it, then supported Im Yeon, who was in charge of the three patrols. Im Yeon then carried out a rapid purge in which Kim injun and all his family and supporters were eliminated.

Im Yeon himself then seizes power. He leads the three patrols and six units of the guard corp to the residence of Chang, the duke of angyeong, where he then deposes the king and places the king’s younger brother, Chang, on the throne. He then appointed himself director of the supreme directorate. It’s 1196 all over again.

Well, not so fast. Because unlike in 1196, the Koreans are recently vassals of the Mongol Empire. Back in 1196, they were paying tribute to the jin empire. But there’s a big difference between the two. Which is one of the biggest holes in any contemporary study of korea: you can’t really compare all the relationships korea had with its larger neighbors in equal terms. The relationship it had with the song, the jin, the liao and the mongols were all different. Some were glorified trade agreements; others were legitimately suzerainties.

Anyway, this time it’s different. When Wonjong is dethroned, he has someone in his corner that wasn’t there before: namely, the mongolian empire. So Prince Sim, the third son of Wonjong, who was in the mongol court at the time, notifies Kubilai.

Prince Sim agrees to marry a Mongol princess. That probably sealed the deal, and Kublai backs wonjong.

Long story short, the Mongols basically put the kabash on Im Yeon’s plans, and he re-thrones Wonjong on the throne.

Meanwhile, there’s a rebellion in the northwest region of Korea, and the entire territory secedes to the Mongols. I guess this means that, even though Goryeo is a tributary state of the Mongols, they are still a separate state. Well this part of the country joins the Mongols officially.

Im Yeon and his sons, although standing down from the issue of the throne, still planned on resisting the Mongols. After all, they had gone rogue from the king, and therefore the mongols, and they still had control of the night patrol (sounds like an 80s band). So Im Yeon orderes another mass evacuation from the southern regions of themainland to coastal islands and mountain citadels, once again preparing some sort of defense against the mongols.

But unlike the military dictators of the past, im yeon had much less to work with. He may have had the three patrols, but the rest of the capital had truly submitted to the mongols.

In fact, it was the civil officials in the capital who finally forced the three patrols to turn on Im and his sons. The entire Im clan are killed, exiled or sent to the Mongol court as prisoners.

On June 15, 1270, all officials are ordered back to the old capital by order of king wonjong. The very last demand of the Mongols, so long resisted by the Koreans, is finally satisfied.

But there is one lingering source of resistance. The three patrols, the fiercest of the defenders, the men who assaulted the mongol forces for the past 40 years, refused to leave kanghwa island.


The military was willing to accept rule by Wonjong, but apparently they weren’t aware that Wonjong had submitted to the MOngols. When the king found this out he a general to disband the three patrols on the island immediately. That general seized the registry of all the members of the three patrols and returned to the capital. But that same day, two officers took control of the three patrols and led them in an open rebellion.

One of the officers, one Bae Chungseon, had a biography in which we read:

“Men were sent to cry out in the streets saying ‘The Mongol soldiers are arriving in great numbers and are massacring the people. All those desiring to help the nation meet at the ball field, or gujeong.In a short while, the people gathered in great numbers. Some scattered in all the four directions, fighting for boats to cross the river and many drowned. The three patrols prohibited people from entering or leaving the island and patrolled the river, calling in loud voices, ‘All Civil and Military Officials, yangban, who do not leave the boats, know that you will be killed ‘ All hearing this were afraid and left the boats.”

“Others, desiring to go to Kaegyong, launched boats. The rebels boarded skiffs and pursued, shooting arrows at them. No one dared move. the people were terrified and scattered to hide in the forests and marshes. The wailing of women and children filled the streets.

So basically, at this point, the military is still very powerful and independent. They are coming off almost complete control of the country since 1196.

The three patrols figured out that they wouldn’t be able to defend themselves in the island. So they loaded up over 1,000 ships with supplies and public and private property and sailed south. By the way, also included in their cargo were all the wives and children of the civil aristocrats, who had gone out of town to visit the capital.

The histories note that: “At that time, all the officials had gone to welcome the King home from the MOngol court. When they learned that thier wives and children had been seized by the reels, the sound of their bitter weeping rent heaven and earth.”

So this rebellion came as a surprise. Why else would aristocrats, the most dialed in, powerful of the capital, have left their families behind in the island?

The flight south began on June 23, 1270; two days later, the Mongols would find out and send 2,000 men to ganghwa.

A contingent of this force sails south in pursuit of the rebels, and spots the ships at anchor at Yonghung Island.

The rebel forces continue to sail south, raiding various coastal islands along the way. They enter Chin Island, or Jindo, on September 6th, pillage the people there and essentially make it a major base. Jindo is the third largest island in Korea, and today is well known for Jindo dog which is native to that island, and is a cultural treasure. Jindos are known for their fierce loyalty and deadly serious demeanor. Btw I had a jindo mutt once, thankfully he inherited his golden retriever mother’s personality because he looked jindo but acted as happy, friendly and stupid as a golden.

This is also the island where admiral Yi sun-shi would famously defeat the Japanese in the IMjin war.

Anyway, the rebels continued to be a nuisance, laying siege to Naju and Jeonju (which sound like they are in the northwest district but are actually very close to Jindo in Jeollanamdo, or the far southwest). They eventually control around 30 islands under their control.

General Kim Banggyeong, appointed by the Mongol-controlled government as Jeolla Province Rebel Suppression Commander, sets up camp right across from Jindo on the mainland, to protect the heartland of the peninsula.

The rebels continued to their fight, so much so that the Mongols offered them control of Jeolla Province in return for their subordination to the Emperor.

But the rebels responded by asking for demands including withdrawal of the Mongol-Goryeo forces from the south. The Mongols responded by ordering the attack of Jindo.

But the rebels continued to gain in strength and number as they looted the southern coast. On July 1, 1271, a mongol envoy came with an order to attack Jin island before the hot weather and rains set in. But this message came too late; the histories note that a mongol commander said: “the murerers are now running rampant and we do not yet have the strength to engage them. Moreover, the summer heat is now blazing and the steam rises from the sea. The power of the bows is retarded and the soliders find them difficult to use because of the season.”

So basically it was too hot and humid, which affected the Mongol’s use of the bow.

The Mongols also sent word to the emperor to “beg for flame throwers (huo-chiang) and fire bombs (huo-pao), as well as all implements of assault.”

So here is a decent record of the usage of gunpowder, first invented by the Song Dynasty, and by this time adopted by the Mongols.

Well the Mongols finally attacked Jin Island in July 11, headed by none other than Hong Dagu, the son of our old friend Hong Bogweon, the Korean traitor who first turned coat to the Mongol side in their first invasion.

It was a decisive victory by the Mongol-backed forces, with the rebels leaving all their loot and their hostages on the island and high tailing it to Jeju Island.

The rebels began fortifying the walls on Cheju, and then seized 800 bushels of tribute rice from Jeolla, which presumably was headed for the Mongols, to help them get through the winter.

They then turned to destroying all the ships which the Koreans were constructing for the MOngol’s future invasion of Jpaan. IN 5 months they destroyed 60 ships.

To tell you how bad it was in Goryeo, in order for the Mongols to launch an attack on Jeju, they had to ship in 20,000 bushels of rice from Tung-ching to relieve a famine that had gripped the country. So in the spring of 1273, 9-12,000 men, Mongols, NOrth Chinese and Goryeo troops were raised and put on 160 ships for the attack of Jeju.

In a kind of foreshadowing, the army would run into a storm of the Chuja islands (of course i’m alluding to the failed invasion of japan). General Kim appeals to the heavens, and the wind stopped.

The army of the center landed at Hamdokpo.

The army of the left, with 30 warships, landed west of Cheju City at Biyang Island, and the two armies attacked the walls. The rebels abandoned the outer wall and escaped to the inner wall. The Mongol Koryeo army scaled the outer wall. Four volleys of fire arrows are fired, and then the rebels surrender. Most of the rebel leaders are executed and or sent to the Mongol court as prisoners. The residents of Jeju are returned to their homes.

On July 19, 1273, a report is sent to the Mongol Court that the Three patrols had been suppressed. Thus, truly, did Goryeo submit to the Mongols.

The rebellion of the three patrols had some important consequences:

  1. They were former supporters of Im Yeon, who was the usurper of King Wonjong. Therefore they played a hand in driving Wonjong further into the fold of the Mongols.
  2. Their rebellion was so strong that it motivated the Mongols to create stronger local offices on the peninsula
  3. Their destruction of ships definitely delayed the attack of Japan.

In 1274, Crown Prince Sim finally marries a Mongol princess. For the next 100 years, seven Mongol Princesses would marry into the Goryeo royal family, forever making their imprint into the nation. (btw my 23andme report shows 1.5% Mongol blood).

Also in 1274, King Wonjong would die, serving as a bookend to the Koreans’ resistance against the mongols.

So let’s take a step back here to admire the incredible story that we’ve witnessed. In 1216, the Mongols chase a nation of Khitan across the Yalu river but stop short of crossing it. In 1218, they cross the border with the excuse of chasing Khitan.

For the next 60-odd years, they would wreak havoc on Goryeo. Goryeo, at that point, was already in a weakened state; it had succombed to a series of strong-arm military dictators. The Mongols would attack this divided country mercilessly.

The Koreans would concede, then passively resist, then actively fight the Mongols, losing every time. By the end of the period, the koreans would be destitute and facing famine.

But this kind of fight is not new; for millenia prior to the Mongols, the Koreans would play this same kind of scenario against larger foes from the north. Namely, China, Jin, Liao. It is the fate of a smaller country. Only by fighting to the brink of death can a nation secure its independence.


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