Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Hoanyeon (還淵) has a post about the above-pictured "Confucian scholar of the Shilhak (實學, 실학), 'pragmatic learning' movement, which tried to recapture earlier original form of Confucianism, having grown disillusioned with the strict and burdensome Neo-Confucianism" — Jeong Yakyong (丁若鏞), aka Dasan (茶山).

"Like many within this movement, he converted to Catholicism," notes Hoanyeon, "but because of the unfortunate condemnation of Chinese Rites by Rome he reverted." Hoanyeon continues, "Despite his reversion, Catholicism left a mark on him, and he had very liberal ideas -- compared to other Confucian literati at that time -- concerning God, or Sangje (上帝, 상제), and believed Him to be a benevolent and intervening." Included in the post is a translation from Classical Chinese of one of his poems, incidentally about one of the first places I fell in love with in Korea.

I first encountered the philosopher shortly after arriving in Korea, in the last chapter of Confucian philosophy in Korea, which made a deep impression on me. Author Kim Sunghae wrote this passage, which should resound with any Catholic, conservative, classical liberal, or particularist:
    Tasan valued human culture as the concrete road to follow the way of Heaven. Culture is not just an accumulation of artificial decorations, but the very expression of the endowment given by Heaven to a community. Just as there are varietied of endowment, there are bound to be various cultures, each of which has to be respected in its own right. Tasan carefully distinguished Confucian teaching from Chinese culture, for while the former is a norm for truth, the latter can be corrupted with secular customs. He appreciated Korean culture as something equal to Chinese culture. Each culture embodies its spirit into the rites which are typified in the ritual act of sacrifice.
Later, I would read Mark Setton's remarkable book Chong Yagyong: Korea's Challenge to Orthodox Neo-Confucianism. My reading of that book inspired a post on his religious beliefs — Confucian Monotheism — and a about his political philosophy — Tasan, Nineteenth Century Korea's Paleo-Confucian Classical Liberal.

The philosopher and his nephew Saint Paul Chong Hasang were the protagonists of Catholic authoress Hahn Moo-Sook's excellent novel Encounter, which mentions not only that his initial conversion was brought about by his reading of The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven by Servant of God Matteo Ricci, S.J., but also that an early French history of the Church in Korea reported that he returned to the Faith before his death.

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Blogger Hoanyeon said...

I just searched for "가흥." I believe the 가흥 that Tasan is referring to is the one in China, not in 경상북도. The one in China has the characters 嘉興 while the one in Korea has the characters 可興.

5:33 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Thanks. I stand corrected. I didn't remember him having visited this part of Korea, having been exiled on the other side.

6:38 AM  

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Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.