Figures4 main figures of Donghak
Suun Choi Je-woo(水雲 崔濟愚, 1824~1864)
As the first leader of Donghak, he was born on October 28, 1824 in Gyeongok-myeon(見谷面), Wolseong-gun(月城郡), Gyeongsang-bukdo. Choi Chi-won (崔致遠) was his ancestor and Choi Jin-rip (崔震立) was a general who became known for bravery during the Japanese Invasion of Korea in 1592 and the Manchu War of 1636. His father was Geunam Choi Ok (近庵 崔沃: 1762~1840) who had sufficient knowledge in Neo-Confucianism and good personality, but couldn't take an official career.
Meanwhile, the situation at home and abroad was in crisis. There was a disease throughout the country in the winter of 1841, a flood in September 1846 causing great damage in the country and a flood in July 1851. The people at that time suffered a lot. In addition, the Catholic Church expanded its religious influence after building a parish in Korea in 1831 and there was the Opium War between England and Qing Dynasty in 1840. At that time, the international situation was in the midst of a big change.
Choi Je-u married with Mrs. Park at the age of 13, but 4 years later, he began to have wandering life after his father died. At that time, the Eulmyo-cheonseo event occurred in which he determined to save the world. A strange monk approached Suun, who was reading at the temple, and said "I'm from Yujeomsa of Geumgangsan and I have come here to have 100-day prayer. On the last day, I fell asleep and woke up and found that there was a strange book on top of the pagoda. But I couldn't understand it at all. I thought it is not normal book, so I decided to find the owner. I was wandering around and I met you by accident. I feel something from you, so I want to give this book to you. Please have it."
Then, in 1860, 'Cheonsang-mundap (question and answer from heaven)' event occurred while focusing on ascetic life. When Suun prayed for the God, his body was suddenly shaken and had a confused mind, receiving Heaven's mandate. Suun was told to prepare a writing to express the Way (Dao) and how to cultivate it. Since then, he sought for ways to teach Dao for a year and started mission work from 1861. But it was a time of intense oppression against Catholics. When he called the God of the universe he believed as 'Cheonju', the rumor that Suun believed the Catholic spread. Because of this rumor, the government tried to arrest him.
Then, from March in 1862, he started mission work again. He installed a venue in every region in November and implemented the system that controls and edifies the Dongdoek. And he passed his knowledge to Haewol on August 13, 1863. The key of Donghak Suun had conveyed was Sicheonju (Enshrine the Heavenly Lord in mind) ideology and Gaebyeok (Great Opening) thought. It was a watershed development in the modernization of the nation and gave new hope to a disaffected public.
Haewol Choi Si-hyeong(海月 崔時亨, 1827~1898)
Choi Si-hyeong, the second leader of Donghak, did farming from the age of 28 after getting married with Mrs. Son at the age of 19. He was elected as the town leader (執綱) and sincerely performed his duty for 6 years. At the age of 33, he moved to Geomgok (劍谷) to have his own farmland.
He began to believe in Donghak in June 1861 when Choi Je-woo started to become popular. He visited Choi Je-woo 3 or 4 times a month to learn from him. He practiced what he learned at home and cultivated Tao through meditation and self-control. When Choi Je-woo fled to the Honam area in November 1861, he realized Choi Je-woo's teaching and made a lot of effort to learn Donghak.
In 1863, he was ordered to promote Donghak and toured many places in Gyeongsang-do including Yeongdeok and Yeonghye, gaining many followers. In July of this year, he was appointed as Bukdojungjuin (北道中主人) and took Tao on August 14. At this place, he prayed for 49 days four times annually and organized the meeting to have memorial services for the teachers. Through this, he gathered followers, transcribed scriptures again and let followers read it.
The first Sinwon movement gathered followers all over the country to Samrye Station in Jeonju in November 1892. They petitioned the governors in Chungcheong and Jeollado for the suspension of oppression against followers, but the oppression continued. Then, they made the second Sinwon movement which appealed to the King directly by about 40 representatives in Gwanghwamun, Seoul in February 1893. Since then, they dissolved by the conciliations of the government, but it changed their position. So, they planned the third Sinwon movement and gathered tens of thousands of followers in Jangnae-ri, Boeun on March 10, to have a mass protest. Surprised about this, the government dispatched Eo Yun-jung (魚允中) and expelled corrupt officials.
At that time, many followers urged the leaders to push for systemic reform of the society, but they just focused on expanding religious influence. When the Donghak Peasant Revolution was suppressed in late December 1894 with the intervention of Japanese forces, Haewol focused more on missionary work while fleeing everywhere. He passed Tao to Son Byeong-hee in 1897, was arrested in March 1898 in Wonju and was executed on June 02.
Euiam Son Byeong-hee(義菴 孫秉熙, 1861~1921)
The third leader of Cheondogyo.
He was an independence fighter and one of 33 national representatives. His family clan is Miryang. He came from Cheongju, Chungcheongbuk-do, became a Taoist in 1882 and became the best pupil of Choi Si-hyeong after 2 years.
At the time of the Donghak Peasant Revolution, he led peasants in North and joined with general Jeon Bong-jun of the South in Nonsan. They conquered Honam areas and headed toward the North. They defeated government troops, but failed with the intervention of Japanese forces.
Since 1897, he became a successor of Choi Si-hyeong and made every effort to expend religious influence. He organized Jinbohoi in 1904, dispatched Lee Yong-gu and started domestic organization, securing 160,000 members throughout the country. But Lee Yong-gu betrayed him the next year. He organized Iljinhoi and announced that he agreed with Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905. At this time, he came back and revealed that it was not related to Iljinhoi. Then, he excommunicated 62 members including Lee Yong-gu.
Haewol turned over his position to Park In-ho in 1908. He also participated in 3.1 movement as a representative of 33 people in 1919, but he was arrested by the police. He was sentenced to three years in Seodaemum Prison and released for health reasons in October of the following year. He died in Sangchunwon while getting treatment. He was conferred a presidential award in 1962.
Chunam Park In-ho(春菴 朴寅浩, 1855~1940)
He was from Deoksan, Chungcheongnam-do and was a leader of Hoseo area at the time of the Donghak Peasant Revolution. He was also the fourth leader of Cheondogyo. He joined Donghak in 1883 (Gojong 20) and had religious training from Choi Si-hyeong, the second leader of Donghak, after entering Gongju Gaseopsa with Son Byeong-hee in 1884. After that, he did missionary work in Yesan area and made a great performance with Park Hee-in in Seosan area.
He was active in Gyojo Sinwon Movement in Samrye, Jeollado in 1892 and appealed to Gwanghwamun in 1893. At the time of public protest in Jangnae-ri, Boeun, he mobilized many followers and received the name of Deokeuipo. At Jaegipo in October 1894, he protested with Park Hee-in in the Hoseo area and occupied Sinriwon in Deoksan and Yesan and Hongjuseong.
He became Gyeongdoju of Donghak in 1900 and made effort to reconstruct Donghak with Son Byeong-hee and took a lead in Gapjin Enlightenment Movement through Jinbohoi which was organized by Donghak followers in 1904. He also became the associate leader of Cheondogyo in 1907. On January 1908, the following year, he became the fourth Daedoju and increased the religious influence of Cheondogyo under the instruction of Son Byeong-hee, the third leader of Cheondogyo. He served in prison due to the 3.1 Movement in 1919 and was released in October the following year. In 1938. he was interrogated at his sickbed since his instruction for Christians of Cheondogyo to pray for the fall of Japan was found by the Japanese police.