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King Gongmin of Goryeo
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King Gongmin of Goryeo

King Gongmin ruled Goryeo (Korea) from 1351 until 1374.

Following the repulsion of the Mongol forces that had occupied the whole of the Korean peninsula since 1238, King Gongmin began efforts to reform its government. His first act was to remove all pro-Mongol aristocrats and military officers from their positions. These deposed people formed a dissident faction which plotted an unsuccessful coup against the king.

A second internal problem was the question of land holdings. The land-grant system had broken down, and Mongol-favoured officials, along with a handful of landed gentry, owned the vast majority of agricultural land, which was worked by tenant farmers and bondsmen. King Gongmin's attempt at land reform was met with opposition and subterfuge from those officials who were supposed to implement his reforms, however, as they were landowners themselves.

Another problem was that the Japanese pirates who had been troubling the peninsula for some time were no longer hit-and-run bandits, but had become well-organised military marauders that raided deep into the country. Generals Choi Yong and Yi Seonggye were called upon by King Gongmin to combat them.

Goryeo's entrenched bureaucracy never forgave King Gongmin for his reform efforts. They interpreted his policy of cutting all ties with the Yuan and establishing relations with Ming China as a direct threat to their status and feared that further attempts at reform might yet be made. Kaesong's deposed pro-Mongol faction battled to protect its position and hoped to renew ties with the Mongols who had helped them gain and hold their wealth in the first place. The disgruntled influential landowners took on an ugly character in 1374, when a military hero and high official named Yi In-Im led a small yet powerful anti-Ming faction that assassinated King Gongmin, replacing him with the eleven-year-old King U.

It was during the reign of King Gongmin that a Goryeo diplomat stationed in China named Mun-Ik-Jom managed to smuggle cotton seeds back into Goryeo, introducing them to the Korean peninsula for the first time.