The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 7)

Meanwhile, Buddhism and confucianism maintained an mutually supportive relationship. However, Confucian scholars, who had more interest in promoting their own scholarship as well as in capturing the political power of the central government, urged that Cnfucianism be fully be fully established as the state ethic-political ideology. For example, in his Simu sip pal cho (Twenty-Eight Proposals for Government Administration) submitted to the king, Choe Sung-no (927-989) describes Buddhism as the religious foundation for personal salvation and Confucianism as the moral and socio-political basis of ordering the state and governing the people. Following Choe’s and others’ recommendations, King Songjong, built the first national Confucian shrine, called Sajik tang, in 1991 and then another one, Taemyo (Great Shrine), for venerating the Confucian sages of China. More important, he organised a national Confucian academy (Kukchagam) in the following year, which quickly led to establishing Koryo’s educational system on the basis of Confucian learning.

In a state committed to the principle of rule by civil official in accordance with Confucian political ideals, Confucianism began to prosper from the early eleventh century. According to Confucianism, a centralised state should be governed by a benevolent ruler and his loyal ministers, whose political legitimacy is sanctioned by a morally rational view of the harmony of human beings, society, government, and the universe. As such an ethic-political thinking gradually received more nationwide support among the leading elite classes of the Koryo dynasty, Confucianism, which previously had little political power in comparison with Buddhism, began to develop into an institutionalised state ideology from the middle of the eleventh century. Local Confucian academies centres were not yet fully organised during Songjong’s reign. To spread Confucian education in local areas, King Songjong first brought young students from the countryside to the capital. When this program failed, however, he sent Confucian scholars to the countryside to establish regional schools known as Hyanggyo and to teach students in local areas. such an educational system, despite its high cost, expanded to produce a new elite class of scholar-officials. But as the state gained social mobility and political stability, it relied more on its examination system, which cost much less to recruit new qualified officials, thereby no longer being able to adequately support its educational institutions in local areas. Consequently, private Confucian schools began to appear and quickly became popular among most aristocratic sons, who depended on the quality of these private academies founded by some of the famous former scholar-officials.

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