Primary Source: King T'aejo's Founding Edict



The Portrait of King Taejo, Courtesy of Kyounggijeon

The king announces:

It is heaven which created all the people of the earth, who ordained their rulers, heaven which nurtured them to share life with each other, and heaven which governed them so as to enjoy peace with one another. There have been both good and bad rulers, and there have been times when people followed their rulers willingly and other times when they turned against them. Some have been blessed with the Mandate of Heaven and others have lost it. This is the principle that has remained constant.

On the sixteenth of the seventh month of the twenty-fifth year in the reign of the Hung-wu Emperor [1392], the Privy Council (Top’yŏngŭisasa) and all ranks of officials together urged me to take the throne, saying: “After King Kongmin died leaving no legitimate heir... the doom of the Koryŏ dynasty was sealed… Although King Kongyang [1389 – 1392] was empowered temporarily to take charge of state affairs, he was confused and broke the law, causing many people to rebel and even his own relatives to turn against him, and he was incapable of preserving and protecting the ancestral shrines and institutions. How could anyone restore what heaven has abandoned? The ancestral shrines and institutions should only be entrusted to one who is worthy, and the throne must not be left vacant for long. People’s minds are all looking up to your meritorious achievements and virtue, and you should accept the throne to rectify the situation, thereby satisfying the people’s desire.

Fearful that I lack both virtue and capacity to assume the awesome responsibilities, I declined the offer of the throne repeatedly. But I am told that the people’s wishes are such that heaven’s will is clearly manifested in them and that no one should refuse the wishes of the people, for to do so is to act contrary to the will of heaven. Because the people insisted so steadfastly, I yielded finally to their will and ascended the throne… Now that we are at the threshold of a new beginning, I must show abundant grace,"

Critical Reading Questions

  • 1. After reading the text, how would you define the Mandate of Heaven?
  • 2. According to King T’aejo, how did Koryŏ rulers fail?
  • 3. According to the text, what qualified King T’aejo to rule?
  • 4. What will King T’aejo do to convince the people of his rule?
  • 5. Is there a similar concept to the Mandate of Heaven in the West? If so, compare and contrast the two.