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Focusing on the deployment of Goryeo troops to China in 1354, this chapter begins by tracing contemporary developments within the Yuan, which shaped the broader geopolitical environment in which the Goryeo regime operated. It then examines the choices Wang Gi and his court made when confronted with the largest military mobilization in East Asia in decades. The chapter concludes with a discussion of what the Yuan dynasty’s southern campaign likely revealed to Wang Gi and his advisers about military and political dynamics within the Great Khan’s realm and what they meant for the Goryeo court. This chapter’s narrative details convey a sense of dynamics within the Great Khan’s regime, which in turn sheds light on the Goryeo–Yuan alliance and Wang Gi’s place in the world.
As a boy, what was Wang Gi's experience of the Mongol empire? How did he and the people around him understand the ties between his family and the Chinggisids, between the Goryeo and Yuan polities? Wang Gi left no memoir of his childhood, and detailed – in fact any – accounts of his first years are vanishingly rare. What follows is a reconstruction of some key structural elements that would shape Wang Gi’s life – his family’s relationship with the Chinggisid ruling house, the broad network of personal relationships between the Goryeo and Mongol courts, and the place of the Goryeo dynasty in the wider Mongol empire.
This chapter is organized into four sections. The first traces Zhu Yuanzhang’s rise, including his consolidation of power over regional polities and his military campaigns against the Yuan court. The second section examines Wang Gi’s relationship with the new master of China, and the third section explores Wang Gi’s ties to the Yuan court after its relocation to the steppe. The final section considers Wang Gi’s 1370 military strikes into Liaodong, a region strategically vital to the Yuan, Ming, and Goryeo courts, in a time of rapidly shifting alliances.
This chapter looks at the Yuan dynasty in a time of growing chaos. It undertook distant military campaigns, major relief efforts, ambitious river projects, a new legal code, and massive dynastic historical compilations. Envoys like Marignolli came to the Yuan court from the other side of world, a clear reminder of the Great Yuan’s international standing and ties to other lands. If all this evidenced formidable state capacity, Korean observers also saw acute problems: widespread drought and flooding that led to famine and occasionally even cannibalism, virulent banditry that blurred readily into revolt, and court intrigue that shook vast political patronage networks and threw dynastic policy into tumult.
In times of crisis and change, what becomes of the vast and complex network of alliances that undergird all empires? Rather than focus on the major powers or “Great States,” the most common way to think about the rise and fall of empires, here is the story of “the little guy” or the lesser power, the experiences of the Wang Gi and his court as ally first to the Mongols and later to the Ming dynasty of China. The unsettled times threw up both danger and opportunity, and far from passively reacting to the actions of the Great Khan and the Ming emperor, Wang Gi and his advisers actively pursued their interests through diplomacy, military action, and domestic reform. Their efforts failed as often as they succeeded, and if their story reveals the underappreciated initiative and influence of alliances’ junior partners, it also makes clear that stark imbalances of power cannot be waved away by invoking the agency of lesser states.
This chapter analyzes political developments at the Goryeo court during the 1340s, the decade before Wang Gi took the throne. It pays particular attention to how connections to the Yuan dynasty figured in Goryeo politial dynamics and how the young Wang Gi may have understood contemporary events.
In the decade from 1357 to 1367, the Goryeo–Yuan alliance reached an inflection point, as mounting instability in the Yuan dynasty meant both steepening costs and broadening opportunities for the Goryeo dynasty. This chapter traces three developments: (a) the Red Turban invasions of Goryeo from 1359 to 1362, (b) the Yuan court’s abortive effort in 1362–1363 to depose Wang Gi, and (c) the rapid expansion of relations between Wang Gi’s court and regional powerholders emerging out of the tottering Yuan realm.
This chapter looks at the earliest years of Wang Gi’s rule, circa 1351–1353, and pursues two interrelated questions. First, what was Wang Gi’s experience as a Yuan ally in a time of increasing chaos? Second, how did Wang Gi’s place in the empire influence his rule at home? These two questions in fact run through the next several chapters. Rather than attempt an exhaustive account of the 1351–1353 period, this chapter focuses on two moments. The first is Wang Gi’s first year on the throne, when the fledgling king strove to eliminate potential rivals and secure legitimacy within Goryeo. The second is a puzzling, abortive coup in 1352 by one of Wang Gi’s close advisers who had attended him in Daidu.
Korea and the Fall of the Mongol Empire explores the experiences of the enigmatic and controversial King Gongmin of Goryeo, Wang Gi, as he navigated the upheavals of the mid-fourteenth century, including the collapse of the Mongol Empire and the rise of its successors in West, Central, and East Asia. Drawing on a wealth of Korean and Chinese sources and integrating East Asian and Western scholarship on the topic, David Robinson considers the single greatest geopolitical transformation of the fourteenth century through the experiences of this one East Asian ruler. He focuses on the motives of Wang Gi, rather than the major contemporary powers, to understand the rise and fall of empire, offering a fresh perspective on this period of history. The result is a more nuanced and accessible appreciation of Korean, Mongolian, and Chinese history, which sharpens our understanding of alliances across Eurasia.
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