The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok (Part 10)

From the late Koryo period, the Cheng-Chu school in Korea began to receive strong support from the new class of Confucian scholar-officials who did not find fulfilment either in Buddhism or in the old tradition of Philology-centered Confucianism. Its development can be divided into three stages: first, the early fourteenth century when it was first introduced to Korea; second, its increasing acceptance a half century later; and third, its expansion with a harsh criticism against Buddhism during that last years of the Koryo dynasty. During the first stage, a great number of Sung Neo-Confucian writings were imported from China. An Hyang, for instance, sent Kim Mun-jong to bring back portraits of Confucius and his seventy-two disciples, Neo-Confucian texts, and officials vessels for performing Confucian rituals. With an increasing recognition of Neo-Confucianism, the government renamed Kukhak (National College) as Songgyun gwan (Roya College) in the early fourteenth century. It sent two instructors of the Songgyungwan to China, and they brought home more Confucian class ins and Neo-Confucian writings, numbering over 10,000 volumes. The Songgyunwan instructed these texts to its students, a few of whom became famous Neo-Confucian scholars, such as Kwon Po (1262-1346), Yi Chin (1244-1321), U Tak (1263-1342), and Yi Che-hyon (1287-1367) in the late Koryo period. In the Choson dynasty, this Confucian academy produced many more eminent Neo-Confucians, especially Toegye and Yulgok, and continued to serves the most important centre for education, scholarship, and political influence in Korea up to 1910.

Kwon Po was a student of An Hyang, who published Chu Hsi’s Ssu shu chi-chu (Collected Commentaries on the Four Books) with his own comments. According to his biography, “Korean commentaries on Neo-Confucianism began with Kwon Po.” U Tak was well-known for mastering Chu Hsi’s commentary on the Book of Changes. It is said that after teaching it to his students, the Cheng-Chu school began to prosper in the late Koryo period. Yi Che-hyon was Kwon Po’s friend and a student of Paek I-jong. He went to the Yuan capital with King Chungson. At the Hall of Ten Thousand Volumes, a library built by the Korean king, he met several leading Chinese Neo-Confucian scholars, including Yao Sui (1238-1313), a disciple of the eminent Yuan Neo-Ci=onfucian Hsu Heng (1209-1281). There, Yi Che-hyon developed friendly relationships with them and was fully exposed to current Neo-Confucian thought. These circumstances then led to the development of Neo-Confucianism in fourteenth century Korea.

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