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2. Development within the Koryo Culture


(1) Expanding the Cultural Sphere


In the Koryo dynasty, local chieftains came up to Kaegyong to become a part of the aristocracy as government officials, the aristocracy being the leaders of culture. Therefore, in comparison with the Kolp'um system of Shilla, the cultural leaders in Koryo expanded with increased diversity. The cultural sphere during the Koryo dynasty was wider than during the Shilla period. While the system of civil service examinations was enforced and Confucian political ideology was formally recognized, Confucian culture was developed together with Buddhist culture in mutual harmony. Islamic science and technology were introduced via Yuan to further widen the scope of culture.


(2) Development in Confucianism and History


Through the civil service exam system, which was enforced from the time of King Kwangjong, officials were appointed based on their competence in their scholarly knowledge of Confucianism and Chinese literature. Thus, they contributed to the development of these fields. In addition, the encouragement of studies in Confucianism and the establishment of learning institutions of the central "Kukchagam" and local "Hyanghaks" by King Songjong laid the foundation for further development of Confucianism. The "Kukchagam" was the national university for the education of Confucianism.

Representative of Confucian scholars during the early years of Koryo was Ch'oe Ch'ung, who was referred to as the "Confucius of the East". Ch'oe Ch'ung established nine private Confucian schools and trained many students. When the government institute of Kukchagam deteriorated, 12 private institutions including the above nine schools boomed. In order to promote government education, King Yejong set up a foundation called the "Yanghyon'go" (Foundation for Training of Talents) and stationed seven specialized lecturers in Kukchagam who faithfully carried out the education.


Samguk sagi. Treasure No. 722.

In the latter years of Koryo, the philosophy of "Songri" was introduced to influence society. Different from traditional Confucianism, Songri philosophy was a Neo-Confucianism which sought to answer the fundamental problems of the universe and the humanities. It was introduced to Koryo through Yuan. A Hyang first introduced this philosophy and Yi Che-hyon studied it while associating with Yuan scholars in Yenching, the capital of Yuan.

In the latter period of Koryo, Yi Saek, Chong Mong-chu, Kil Chae, Chong To-chon and other scholars made their appearances. During this time, the corruption within Buddhism became notorious and abuses were widely committed by powerful aristocrats.

The group of new scholars who made their advent into government studied metaphysics and were critical of the contradictions within Buddhism and confronted the powerful corrupt aristocrats.


The wooden blocks used to print the Tripitaka Koreana, carved between 1237 and 1252.

In the Koryo dynasty, many books were compiled. The most famous is the Samguk sagi (The Historical Records of the Three Kingdoms) written by Kim Pu-sik and the Samguk yusa (The History of the Three Kingdoms) by Iryon, a priest.

The Samguk sagi, which is the oldest existing book, recorded the history of the Three Kingdoms from a Confucian perspective.

Samguk yusa is a book of narrative literature relating important data regarding the ancient culture from a Buddhist perspective. These books are twin gems and have become the basic material in the study of ancient history. In addition, the Chewangun'gi (Histories of Korea and China) by Yi Sung-hyu, which was written in the form of Chinese poems, and a portion of Haedong kosung-jon (Biographies of High Monks) by Kakhun still exist.


(3) The Flourishing of Buddhism and Typesetting the Taejanggyong


Buddhism in Koryo developed greatly under the protection of the state and the support of the aristocracy. As a result, many temples were erected, the titles of Wangsa (Royal Priest) and Kuksa (National Priest) were conferred on famous monks, and an exam to enter monasteries was included in the civil service examinations.


Ten-story stone Pagoda Temple, 1348 A.D. located on the grounds of Kyongbok-kung Palace. Seoul.
9-story stone Pagoda at Wolchongsa Temple,
circa 10th~11th century.
at Pulguksa Temple.
The sitting image of Sojo Amitayorai of Pusoksa Temple. The oldest and largest image of Sojo Amitayorai. Designated National Treasure No. 45.


Among the priests of the early Koryo dynasty, Taegak kuksa Uich'on is the most famous. To end the confrontation between the Kyo sect and the Zen sect, he founded the Ch'ont'ae-jong sect.

With Buddhism flourishing, typesetting the Taejanggyong created a comprehensive compilation of Buddhist thought. The first prints of the Taejanggyong, begun from the time of King Hyonjong and completed under the reign of King Munjong, were burnt during the Mongol invasion and its woodblocks were lost. Furthermore, Uichon's Sok-changgyong does not exist today, but the Koryo Taejanggyong which was produced in Kanghwa Island during the time of the Mongol invasion is famous worldwide for its accuracy, the beauty of its type styles, and its exquisite woodblocks. These print blocks of Koryo's Taejanggyong consisted of over 80,000 plates, and are often referred to as "P'alman taejanggyong" (Tripitaka Koreana).









Muryangsu hall at Pusoksa Temple.
National Treasure No. 18.


Maitreya image og Koryo origin.
circa 13th~14th century.
Bronze inlaid with silver. 11th~12th century.

During the period of military reign, the monk, Chinul, played an important role. The Buddhist sect he established, Chogye-jong, combined many sects of Zen Buddhism. Chinul's Chogye-jong is an attempt to fuse the Zen sect and the Kyo sect from the perspective of Zen Buddhism and has been handed down as the major current within Korean Buddhism.

Koryo's Buddhism made great contributions to the development of society and culture, but with its growth, temples began to own large tracts of farmland as well as large numbers of slaves. Monks also engaged in decadent lifestyles or participated in secular activities. For these reasons, during the days of Koryo many people were critical of Buddhism.


(4) Development of Buddhist Art


In the Koryo dynasty, Buddhist art continued to make great strides as it did under Shilla. Stone pagodas, Buddhist images, bells, pictures of Buddha and other Buddhist craftworks were brilliantly created.

Among stone pagodas, the 7-story pagoda in the Hyonhwasa Temple, the octagonal nine-story pagoda of the Wolchongsa Temple and the 10-story pagoda in the Kyongch'onsa Temple are the most famous. There are also many beautiful and exquisite works among the tomb pagodas of monks. The Silsang Tower of Hong-pop kuksa in the Chongt'osa Temple and the Hyonmyo Tower of Chigwang kuksa in the Popchonsa Temple well represent the pagodas of Koryo. At present, they are on the grounds of Kyongbokkung Palace in Seoul. The 10-story stone pagoda of the Kyongch'onsa Temple which is representative of the latter period of Koryo has also been moved to Kyongbokkung Palace.

As Buddhist images, the sitting image of Sojo Amit'ayorae of the Pusoksa Temple is considered the first masterpiece of Koryo. But on the whole the Koryo Buddhist images are less refined in their artistic workmanship as compared to those of the Unified Shilla. The bells of the Yongju, Ch'onhungsa and T'apsansa Temples are noted as the most beautiful Buddhist bells of Koryo.

In the Koryo dynasty, the technologies of inlaying mother of pearl and leaves of silver and bronze into various wares were developed. Among the Buddhist craftworks, there are some brilliant works made by utilizing such skills.

Mother of pearl inlaid on lacquered chests which contain figures of Buddhist sutras and gold crested and willow-designed bottles inlaid with pieces of silver are among such works.


Glazed celadon with inlaid patterns of cranes and clouds.
12th century.
Maebyong with cover celadon with inlaid decoration.
12th century.

The wooden architecture of Korea which is still standing began with edifices constructed during the latter years of Koryo. Kungnak Hall within the Pongchongsa Temple in Andong, Muryangsu Hall within the Pusoksa Temple in Yongp'ung and Taeung Hall of the Sudoksa Temple in Yesan are renowned pieces of architecture from the latter period of Koryo. Among them, Muryangsu Hall in the Pusoksa Temple shows beautiful harmony.

Buddhist pictures form the majority of paintings from this period. The frescos of Sudoksa and Pusoksa Temples remain and the paintings of Hyeho such as the "Willow Canon" and hundreds of other paintings of Buddhas have been exhibited in Japan.

The "Great Hunting in the Heavenly Mountain," said to have been painted by King Kongmin, also remains today. Yi Kwang-p'il and Ko Yu-bang are also known to have been great painters of this age.


Chikchi simgyong, noe preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris.

(5) Inlaid Celadons of Koryo


Representative of aristocratic art in Koryo is the celadon porcelain, the pride of Korean art.

The superiority of Koryo's celadon porcelain lies in its beautiful and clear nephrite color, its balnced form, and its beautiful patterns which are made by a secret inlaying technique.

The celadon porcelain of Koryo was developed first as a pure blue porcelain, then the patterns were put in and finally a technique was developed for inlaying celadon porcelain.

Inlaid celadon porcelain was peculiar to the Koryo dynasty. It represents the best in the creative abilities and artistic talents of the Koryo people.

Celadon porcelain was mostly developed in the 12th century. In the latter period of Koryo, no further progress was made in celadon porcelain techniques, and this art declined. Famous locations for celadon


(6) Woodblock Printing, Metal Type, and Science


In the Koryo dynasty, techniques in woodblock printing were further developed and the Taejanggyong was typeset three times.

Following that, in the early 13th century, metal type began to be used in printing. This Koryo type was the first metal type in the world, 200 years ahead of the West.

In 1234, metal type was used to print a book entitled Sangjong kogum yemun (Ceremonies and Etiquettes of Old and New), but this book does not exist today. Chikchi simgyong (Direct Point of Thinking) published in 1377 is recognized as the world's oldest edition in metal type.

In the final days of Koryo, the cultivation of cotton began to change the dress of the people. Mun Ik-chom, who went to Yuan on a diplomatic mission, first brought back some cotton seeds and with his father-in-law, Chong Ch'on-ik, succeeded in cultivating them. Ch'oe Mu-son studied the method of manufacturing gunpowder from Chinese merchants. He made gunpowder weapons and used them to wipe out Japanese pirates. During Koryo's last days, a Hwat'ong togam (smoke stacking plant) was established to make gunpowder weapons run by Ch'oe Mu-son and his technicians.

Theories in astronomy and mathematics were imported from Islam to Koryo by way of Yuan. Koryo made further technological developments by expanding cultural exchanges.


(7) Literature and Music


n the earlier periods of Koryo, due to developments in Confucianism and the enforcement of the civil service examination system, Chinese literature advanced. As writers of this period, Ch'oe Ch'ung, Pak Il-lyang and Kim Pu-sik are the most famous, and among poets, Chong Chi-sang was unsurpassed. "On the hill after the rain, the grass looks green," thus began his song of parting which was widely sung as a favorite Iyric.

The Hyangga of Shilla was popular into the early years of Koryo and the well-known song by Great Priest Kyunyo was handed down. However, in later years, "Sogyong pyolgok", "Ch'ongsan pyolgok" and "Kasiri" and other ballads were sung as popular favorites.

Chinese literature was refined further in the latter Koryo period. Yi Il-lo became famous for his refined poems. Yi Kyu-po composed "King Tongmyong" which sung of the traditions of Koguryo and awakened the historical consciousness of the people. Development of literature, narrating and legendary tales flourished. Yi Il-lo's P'ahan-jip, Ch'oe Cha's Pohan-jip and Yi Che-hyon's Yogong paesol were among such works. Yi Kyu-po's Tongguk isangguk-chip is famous as an anthology of poems and prose.

With developments in Confucianism and Chinese literature, famous calligraphers appeared. In the Koryo dynasty, among calligraphers, Yu Sin, T'an Yon and Ch'oe U were the most outstanding. Together with Kim Saeng of Shilla they became known as the four writing saints. In later Koryo, Songsolch'e of Chao Meng-pu style which was imported from Yuan was popularized in Koryo. Under the reign of King Ch'ungson, Yi Am became known as a master of writing in this style.

Among Koryo music, the traditional Hyang-ak continued and Taesongak, the classical music of China, was imported from Song and developed as the court music called A-ak. As musical notes of Hyang-ak, Tongdong, Taedong-gang, and Hallim pyolgok were used and as musical instruments, Komungo and Kayagum were used. In China, the traditional Taesong-ak has disappeared but in Korea, A-ak is still heard today. Also in Koryo, mask dances such as Ch'oyongmu were in vogue.


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