The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 8)

In Munjong’s reign (1046-1083), for example, the great Confucian scholar, Choe Chung (984-1068), who held a top government position as chancellor, established a specialised Confucian academy, called the Nine-Course Academy, where lectures were given in nine specialised areas of study. This academy offered aristocratic sons who planned to take state examinations the following three basic programs: the Five Classics and Four Books; the Three Histories; and the study of literature. Also known as Master Choe’s Assembly, it, in fact, marked the beginning of private Confucian academies in Korea. For this reason, Choe’s followers called their master the Confucius of Korea. His academy nd eleven other private academies were known as the twelve Assemblies (sibi to). In fact, most instructors in these Confucian schools were eminent scholar-officials of the day, and many of them supervised the state examinations. This circumstance and the emphasis placed on aristocratic lineage background led many aristocratic sons to considerate a great honour to attend on of these private academies. However, on serious problem was called an examination master, and his student who passed the examination was called his disciple; that is, the master-disciple relationship formed a very close personal relationship. This tradition later become a major factor for causing and maintaining academic and political factionalism. In addition to the financial burden, this is why the freeborn present youth found it virtually impossible to attend these these academes and take part in the civil service examinations.

As the state academies declined in popularity, the private schools flourished. This led Kong Yejong (r. 1103-1122) in 1107 to establish seven programs in the specialised fields of Confucian classics at the National Confucian Academy. He appointed distinguished instructors in each area. After establishing a scholarship foundation called yanghuongo (Fund for Nurturing Worthies), he built more Confucian institutes in the palace and recruited young scholars for promoting the study of Chinese Confucian classics and histories. During the early twelfth century, then, this brought about a number of famous Confucian scholars. Among them was Kim Pu-sik who is well-know for his Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdom), an important book on the early history of Korea in the annalistic form. Another eminent Confucian scholar was Yun On-i, who studied Confucianism in Sung China for seven years and who wrote two important works, Yokkhak (Philosophy of Changes) and Yokhae (Book of Changes Explained), which had been lost. While continuing to support state institutes on the basis of Confucian learning, King Injong (r. 1122-1146), Yejong’s successor, completed Koryo’s education system bu establishing the so-called Six Colleges of the Capital at the National Confucian Academy, as well as by building more local academies in the countryside. the first three colleges were designed especially for the study of the following Confucian texts: Five Classics, Four Books, Hsiao-ching (Classic of Filial Piety), Tso churn (Tso’s Commentary on the Spring and Autums Annals), Chou li (Rites of Chou), and I li (Rules of Rites).

During the most of the Koryo period, However, Korea was isolated from sung China because of the Liao and China states that occupied northern China. However, following Koryo’s surrender to the Mongols after thirty years of struggle, the Korea-China relationship began to improve. This historical event reopened channels of intellectual contact between Sung China and Koryo Korea. Thus many of the Koryo scholars traveled to Sung China and studied the new form of Confucianism, known as the Cheng Chu school. This then introduced Sung Neo-Confucianism to Korea in the late thirteenth, or early fourteenth, century.

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