Wang Kon (31 January 877 – 4 July 943), also known as Taejo of Goryeo, was the founder of the Goryeo dynasty of Korea.
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Also known as "King Taejo," Wang Kon was the founder of the Goryeo dynasty, which would rule Korea for over four centuries. In 877 AD Wang Kon was born into a powerful merchant family in the city of Songdo, and his father Wang Yung was the wealthy leader of his clan. At this time Korea was divided between several different states struggling for dominance, and it was generally a period of disruption and chaos, as armies marched and countermarched across the war-ravaged peninsula. In 895 Songdo was occupied by a faction in rebellion against the main Korean state of Silla. The occupation forces were commanded by a man named Gung Ye. Young Wang Kon followed his father into Gung Ye's service, where he quickly demonstrated great military ability.
Within a few years, Gung Ye had promoted Wang Kon to the rank of general. In 900, Wang Kon led a successful attack against the state of Hubaekje, and in 903 he launched a famous naval campaign against the southwestern coast of the same country. Wang Kon's mercy to the people he conquered won him a great deal of popularity and admiration even from his enemies. By 913, he was appointed the prime minister of the new state of Taebong, still under the service of (now king) Gung Ye.
Unfortunately, Gung Ye proved to be a horrible ruler. Once in power he quickly turned into a religious despot, naming himself Buddha and executing those who challenged his religious claims. In a fit of rage, he executed his wife and two sons. Believing that their new king was quite mad, four of Taebong's major generals plotted to overthrow Gung Ye. Seeking a charismatic leader who would rally the people to their cause, they asked Wang Kon to become the movement's leader; Wang Kon agreed, and after Gung Ye was overthrown and killed in 918, he became the ruler of the kingdom. Once in power Wang Kon renamed his state "Goryeo."
During his reign Wang Kon promoted Buddhism as the state religion, and oversaw the conquest of northern Korea and parts of Manchuria. When dealing with local clans, Wang Kon generally sought alliance and cooperation over conquest. When the rebel leader Gyeon Hwon attacked and captured the state of Silla, Wang Kon offered refuge to the deposed Sillan king. In return, the king surrendered his kingdom to Goryeo. In 936 Wang Kon's armies captured Silla and eliminated Gyeon Hwon's son and successor. Korea was united for the first time in recorded history. (It would remain united until at the end of World War II it was once again partitioned.)
Wang Kon finally died of disease in 943. History sees him as both an excellent military commander and a skillful statesman who created a nation through a series of clever alliances and decisive military campaigns. Wang Kon's descendants would rule Korea until 1392.