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Updated January 15, 2021

Confucianism in Korea

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Confucianism in Korea essay
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Confucianism was a religion without a god, like early Buddhism. But as ages passed, the sage and his principle disciples were canonized by later followers as a means of inculcating their doctrines among simple and uneducated people. Most young Koreans do not wholly like Confucianism because of its strong patriarchal aspects which suggest gender discrimination.Confucian literature entered the peninsula along with the earliest specimens of written Chinese material around the beginning of the Christian era. The three kingdoms of Koguryo, Paekche and Silla all left records that indicate the early existence of Confucian influence. In Koguryo, there was a central Confucian University functioning by the fourth century A.D and in the provinces there were private Confucian academies. Paekche established similar institution at about the same time. Silla was the last to embrace foreign influence.

With the rise of Paekche and Silla, Confucianism began to penetrate the southern half of the peninsula. In 682, a Confucian academy was built in Kyongju which is Silla capital. Because the spiritual milieu in both kingdoms was dominated by Buddhism, the role of Confucianism was limited to some state functions, most notably the education of officials. During united Silla when in 788, in imitation of the T’ang, a kind of examination system was instituted, and the Confucian classics became the basic study materials of examination aspirants. As example is Ch’oe Ch’i-won, who sojourned seventeen years in T’ang China, passed the civil service examination in 874. At that time, Confucian studies were principally persued by men who belonged to the middle echelon, head-rank six know as yuktup’ um, of the general Silla aristocracy men who on the basis of their birth, were denied acces to the top decision making position in government.

Confucianism also have principles and these principles were called the five relationships by Mencius, are affection between father and son righteousness between king and minister, distinction between husband and wife, seniority between the junior and the senior, and trustworthiness between friends. All these principles were deeply influential in making Joseon into a strongly patriarchal nation. Among the many religions worldwide, Confucianism is the religion that most strongly emphasizes the patriarchal family. The patriarchal can be said to be filial piety and brotherly respect. Because of the ideologically prejudiced aspects of Confucianism, Joseon women underwent serious gender discrimination, and there is still a tendency toward discrimination that exist even today.

For example, until the end of the 14th century, before Joseon was established, Korean women could inherit property from their parents and maintain personal ownership of such property after marriage. They were also not restricted in going outside. But, by the 17th century, the middle point of Joseon, women were not able to inherit anything and were seriously restricted in going outside their homes, especially women of the nobility. In modern Korean society, the law states that property, must be inherited equally without discrimination between son daughter. However, its stil the trend for sons to inherit more than daugthers, and most Korean people do not buck this trend. Also, althought women are no longer restricted to the inside of their homes, they are more or less restricted in advancing professionally in society.

Jongmyo, which is a national shrine for the deceased kings. This shrine was designated as a world cultural heritage by UNESCO because of its monumental buildings. There are also hundreds of Seowon which is private Confucian schools that also serve as shrines and Hyanggyo which is a national school around the country, as well as the Sunggyungwan was a place where official or scholars regularly performed services, and also a kind of local private school to learn confucianist principles under the tutelage of a master. Only those successful in these exams could go to Sunggyungwan to take the exam necessary for becoming a government official.

Confucianism in Korea was manisfested in the system of education, ceremony and civil administration. Even today, Koreans can hardly be said to have discarded the customs, habits and thought patterns derived from Confucian teachings.

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