The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 184)

Yulgok’s political career reveals his vigorous commitment to addressing urgent national needs. As his official positions in various areas demonstrate, the scope of his sirhak is remarkable, covering many areas from ethics to historical research, law, popular education, social structures, military strategies, and politics. In 1569 Yulgok, an influential junior statement man, submitted to the king the Tongho mundap, a political treatise, which consists of eleven articles on political reform, including the policy for “securing people’s welfare” and the popular “education of people.” In 1574 he submitted to the king the Manon pongsa in which he presents the ethic-political essence of his sirhak that for self-cultivation one must have “practical achievement” (silting) and “to comfort the people” one must have a “practical mind-and-heart” (silsim). In addition, he points out seven national problems that are caused by lack of “practical achievement” in maintaining an effective system of government administration. As minister of defines, he also wrote in 1583 the Simu yukcho kye, a critical political treatise, proposing six urgent programmes for government reform, including the education of people. He advocated other reform measures as well, such as “government for people” and government by “public opinion,” which tend to correspond to the spirit of modern democracy. All of these reformist tendencies reveal his serious dedication to practical learning and its concrete implications for government administration and socio-political reform. Although never accepted by the conservative Choson bureaucracy, they did address economic progress and socio-political reform with a practical and functional way of establishing and enlarging an egalitarian and prosperous society in the Neo-Confucian context.

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