Jung Mong Joo (Chong Mong-ju,P'oun) (Writer)

(1337-1392) scholar, poet, diplomat

Born in the final years of the Koryo dynasty, Jung Mong Joo is often referred to as the father of Neo-Confucianism in Korea. While in his 20s, he became a member of the faculty of Songgyungwan University. With other noted Korean scholars, he established the Chinese classics as the core curriculum with emphasis on the interpretations of Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi).

Jung Mong Joo distinguished himself as a capable diplomat. In 1377 he was sent to Japan to establish ties with the Ashikaga military regime and to negotiate the return of Koreans captured by Japanese pirates. In 1386 he was ambassador to China at the court of the newly founded Ming dynasty at Nanjing (Wanking).

During this period, the Koryo dynasty was under threat from within and without. In 1388 when the Ming dynasty tried to annex northern Koryo territories, the Koryo king dispatched an army under General Yi Song-gye to deal with the crisis. Yi instead turned against Koryo and attempted to seize the government, while his son tried to persuade Jung Mong Joo to change sides. Jung Mong Joo, however, remained staunchly loyal to Koryo and responded to the taunts of Yi’s son with the following poem, which he wrote in the traditional Korean form of sijo:

Though this frame should die and die though I die a hundred times My bleached bones all turn to dust my very soul exist or not What can change the undivided heart that glows with faith toward my lord?

The poem has become famous as a classic expression of Korean fidelity. Not long after he wrote the poem, Jung Mong Joo was murdered by members of the Yi faction on the Sojukkyo Bridge at Kaesong for his refusal to switch sides. Thus, in death, he became a symbol of Confucian loyalty. In 1517 during the Chosun dynasty, Jung Mong Joo was posthumously inducted into the national academy to take his place alongside the other great Korean philosophers.

An English Version of Works by Jung Mong Joo

“Spring Mood” and “Untitled Poem.” In Anthology of Korean Literature from Early Times to the Nineteenth Century. Compiled and edited by Peter H. Lee. Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1981.

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