Confucian Statecraft and Korean Institutions. Yu Hyongwon and the Late Choson Dynasty - James B. Palais

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Had Yu also had access to Edward Wagner's study of the recommendation
examination by some type of time-warp commmunication, his skepticism might
have been rewarded, but on a completely different basis, for Wagner asserted
that "even if such was not its purpose, this examination was used to bulwark the
political position of those who brought it into being."'}J Yu, however, was dis-
turbed more by the logical contradiction involved in joining a flawed system to
a perfect one than by the actual corruption of the 1518 recommendation exam-
ination by political motives.
Yu also cited a plan proposed by Yulgok to recommend scholars for enroll-
ment in the National Academy and other schools and for recruitment as educa-
tional officials. Yulgok proposed that the recommendees come from the existing
classics and literary degree-holders (chinsa and saengwon) and also from the
yuhak, that amorphous group of unregistered students (and military service tax
evaders?) so often discussed and condemned in the debates over the household
cloth tax. Even though he did not criticize Yulgok's proposal directly, possibly
because he held him in such high esteem, he could not have been enamored of
the idea because it did not call for abolition of the examination system itself. 134
Yu acknowledged that some of his contemporaries had argued that the exam-
inations were needed to train men in the use of classical Chinese for diplomatic
correspondence with Chinese officials, but he rejected this argument on the
grounds that the main concern of the government should be with the facts of a
situation and action to be taken rather than with words or the style of commu-
nication. Furthermore, the problem in recent times was not that Korean use of
classical Chinese was insufficient to communicate ideas properly, but that lit-
erary style had become excessively ornate. On the other hand, examination can-
didates had butchered classical Chinese in their writing because of pressure to
memorize canonical passages for the examinations. They made up colloquial
expressions or lewd and humorous phrases as mnemonic devices, or cut up clas-
sical texts to form matching or parallel phrases, stripping the original text of all
meaning. What was needed was a return to a straightforward style of expres-
sion in which meaning and substance took precedence over form and style. Abo-
lition of the examination system, far from creating abysmal ignorance, would
on the contrary resurrect a style of writing that would serve as the proper medium
for the expression of moral ideas as well as diplomatic correspondence.^135
In fine, Yu insisted that he could not countenance anything less than the total
abolition of the examination system and its replacement with the ancient rec-
ommendation model, but, as we will see, in drawing up regulations for his plan
for a new official school system he did include the use of written tests in provin-
cial schools.'3^6 The superiority of the recommendation system hardly needed
justification; the main problem was convincing the ruler of the state to adopt it.
Nevertheless. Yu felt that kings in his own time were desultory in recruiting
men for office partially because of the routinized and perfunctory way that the
rationalized. bureaucratic state was conducted. His orientation toward reform
in this instance should be regarded as antirational and antibureaucratic because

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