The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 16)

Kwon Kun and Neo-Confucian Scholarship

In addition to Sambong, Kwon Kun (Yangchon, 1352-1409) was an important Neo-Confucian, a former dean of the Songgyungwan who helped the new government in establishing Neo-Confucianism as the basis of its state religion and ideology. He did so by preparing a number of influential scholarly word. Most of his writings are collected in Yangchon munjip (Collected Literary Works of Yangchon), which contains a good deal of historical information as well. Among them are Yegi chongyok non (Commentary on the Book of Rites) and Sangjol karye (Annotated Edition of Family Rites); these are, in fact, the first Korean Neo-Confucian commentaries on Confucian rituals and ceremonies. These texts facilitated the promotion of the state rituals of the Choson dynasty during it first century. Yangchon wrote another important text, Ogyong xchongyong non (commentary on the Five Classics), which is now lost. Finally, his name was also known for his annotation of Sambong’s anti-Buddhit literatures.

Yangchon was a close friend of Sambong. Like Sambong, he used Cheng-Chu Neo-Confucian doctrines to criticise Buddhism. He argued that Buddhism is “partial,” whereas Neo-Confucianism is “correct” and that the Confucian virtue of filial piety is the greatest virtue to be cultivated and put into practice. In his view, Neo-Confucianism is superior tp Buddhism because it “perfect both substance and function”; that is to say, its way of self-cultivation integrates both inner life and outer life. Thus, he emphasised the unity of knowledge and action in learning and self-cultivation.

Yangchon’s most famous work is the iphak tool (Diagrammatic Treatise for the Commencement of Learning), the first systematic formulation of Neo-Confucian metaphysics and ethics in Korea. He completed it in 1397, an then it was published fifty-five times in both Korea and Japan, due to the Five Classics, four Books, and Sung Neo-Confucian writings. The first diagram is the Chonin simsong habil to (Diagram of the Unity and Oneness of Heaven, Human Beings, Mind, and Nature); it is especially significant because it summarises the basic teachings of Neo-Confucian metaphysics, ethics, and psychological theory. Yangchon based it partly on the Tai-chi tu (Diagram of the Great Ultimate) by the Sung Neo-Confucian Chou Tun-i (1017-1073), as well as on Chu Hsi’s commentaries on the Great Learning and Doctrine of the Mean. Presenting Cheng-Chu teachings, it mentions, for the first time in Korea, the ideas of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom that pertain to “Four Beginnings”; more to the point, it lists the emotions of pleasure, anger, sorrow, fear, love, hart red, and desire and briefly describes them in terms of principle (i/li) and material force (ki/chi). In Korea. Yangchon was, then, the first Neo-Confucian who spoke of the Four-Seven topic. Although he did not directly spoke of the terms “Four Beginnings” and “Seven Emotions” in his Chonin simsong hail chi to, he assigned benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom to human nature (song/hsing), and he list of Seven Emotions to the mind-and-heart (sim/hsin). As we will see later this aspect of his diagram had some influence on the initial stage of the Four-Seven debate.

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