Neo-Confucianism in Korea

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In 14th century C.E a new brand of Confucianism, which is Neo-Confucianism, has gained wide acceptance to the detriment of other faiths, especially Buddhism. The Neo-Confucians of early Choson clearly recognized the significance of rites as devices for ordering society and for formulating their social policies, they heavily relied on the ritual literature of ancient China transmitted by the Sung Neo-Confucians.

Models for perfect ritual behaviour and a sound socio-political order are contained in ancient China canonical works that constituted the inexhaustible source of inspiration for generations of Confucians. In Korea, these works had been known for centuries and had served as the educational basis for examination candidates and instructional materials for kings. They gained critical relevance, however, as handbooks of change and reform through the commentaries of the Sung Neo-Confucians, especially Chu Hsi.

In Korea, the nature of the yu as a professional group in the Koryo-Choson transition was bound to considerations of social status. Neo-Confucian learning provided an important new method for asserting elite status. To be sure, the aforementioned men of head-rank six (yuktup’um) at the end of Silla and perhaps even the civil administrators (nungmun nungni) during the military period formed professional groups with distinct social overtones. But, in the end of Koryo and the beginning of Choson, Neo-Confucian training became the professional ethos of a body of men who from within the established aristocratic order sought to increase their power by exploiting their special knowledge. This notion of superiority based on Neo-Confucian education thus did not transcend traditional considerations of heredity and upper-class privileges. The Neo-confucians of early Choson, in contrast to the shih of early Ming China, claimed social as well as professional eminence in their quest for power.

With the advent of Neo-Confucianism in Korea, an ideology emerged that was addressing itself in a comprehensive and compeling way to social problems. It stimulated an unprecedented political discourse on man and society. Neo-Confucianism contain clear precepts of socio-political renovation and anchored the guarantee of their workability in the exemplary world of the sage-kings of Chinese antiquity. The Neo-Confucians of early Choson became infected with this call to action and strove to determine and implement a reform program that would Confucinize Korean Society.


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Neo-Confucianism in Korea. (2021, Jan 15). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/neo-confucianism-in-korea/

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