Korean Confucianism - Neo-Confucianism in The Joseon Dynasty

Neo-Confucianism in The Joseon Dynasty

Under Joseon Neo-Confucianism, or seongnihak, there was even greater encouragement of Confucian ideas and ideals such as chung or loyalty; hyo or filial piety; in or benevolence; and sin or trust.

During the Joseon Dynasty, from 1392 on, Confucianism was the primary system of belief amongst the scholarly yangban classes and generals. Koreans historically have found religions natural and easy, and have maintained an overlap between all religions – the Yi family generals, thus restrained Buddhism, maintained shamanism in rural areas, but encouraged Confucianism for its use in administration and social regulation; as well as integrating a civilised society very quickly on Chinese bureaucratic models to increase cultural transference from China.

Korean Confucian schools were built, all of which had foreign educated scholars, large libraries, patronage of artisans and artists, and a curriculum based on Confucian ideals. Thus by the time of King Sejong (ruled 1418–1450), all branches of learning were rooted in this way of thinking although branches of Buddhism in Korea were still let to grow outside of the major political centres in a tolerance of other kinds of worship. The Korean Confucian curriculum of 13 to 15 major works, and exegetical commentary was extensive.

Confucianism in Joseon Korea flourished most notably in the 16th century. Jo Gwang-jo's efforts to promulgate neo-Confucianism among the populace were followed by appearance of Korea's two most prominent Confucian scholars. Yi Hwang (1501–1570) and Yi I (1536–1584), who are often referred to by their pen names Toe gye and Yul gok, are commemorated today on South Korea's 1,000- and 5,000-Won notes respectively, and in the names of major thoroughfares in central Seoul.

As the Joseon dynasty lasted more than five centuries, a rough division of the progression of Korean confucianism is this:

  • First century: Governmental administration confucianised
  • Second century: Golden age of Confucian philosophers
  • Third century: Development of patrilineal lineage system based on power wielded by the eldest son
  • Fourth century: Confucian mysticism and seeking of sage-like qualities in ruling classes
  • Fifth century: Confucian system breaks down when faced with western encounters, collapse of Qing Dynasty, and Japanese invasions; Confucianism goes underground, to await a revival in the sixth century republican period.

Beginning in the late 17th century, some Confucians began to react to the metaphysical nature of Neo-Confucianism. These scholars advocated more practical social reforms, in a movement known as Silhak.

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