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

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(hyangyak) that if a person did not belong to the class of scholars (saryu), he
should not be ranked with them. This statement implied that since Chu Hsi meant
that saryu and "the families of scholars" (sajak) were synonymous, the sajak.
not just individual scholars who excelled, had to be distinguished from com-
moners (soin).62
Yu, however, denied that the two terms were synonymous and accused his
antagonist of misinterpreting Chu Hsi:

What [Chu Hsil was talking about when he spoke of "the class of scholars" did
not meant the same thing as what we today call "the families of scholars." The
so-called "class of scholars" means a class of scholars who are scholars because
they engage in scholarly pursuits. The "families of scholars" [sajok 1 are sons
of scholars and officials [sabuj, and they are members of that group because of
their surnames and lineages [songjokJ. If status were determined by the practice
of righteousness, then throughout the world people would compete by diligent
effort to achieve virtuous behavior. and this would be the means by which rites
and mores would be perfected. But if status is determined on the basis of pedi-
gree [munji], then throughout the world people would only make distinctions on
the basis of family background [munhall, and this would be the reason for dis-
putes to arise.^63

Undoubtedly, the two terms, saryu and sajak were used rather loosely and
interchangeably in Korean society at that time, but Yu insisted that Korean lin-
guistic usage (as represented by the argument of his antagonist) represented a
distortion of Chu Hsi's teachings. In no way could the superior status of schol-
ars be used to justify superior status for families maintained over generations.
"The class of scholars" was a term that denoted function (op), not blood, and
function was an attribute of an individual, not a family. The moral teachings of
Chu Hsi could never justify the hereditary principle, which as we can gather
from Yu's treatment of the Chinese literature, was one of the evils that plagued
Chinese society from the Northern and Southern dynasties period through the
Yu's antagonist then countered by claiming that Yu's position would have the
effect of eliminating the standards for distinguishing between "the noble and
base" (kwich on), without which inferiors would lord it over their superiors. Yu
himself did not question the validity of social status distinctions and agreed that
disrespectful behavior by inferiors was contrary to social harmony, but the prob-
lem for him was to establish the proper definition of nobility and baseness. Virtue
was the only true criterion of nobility; people should be "divided into classes"
(pullyu) after an investigation of their virtue, and within each class individuals
were to be ranked by age. "Then the custom of respecting virtue will be bright
and the principle of treating people as noble who really are noble will become
even more prominent as a matter of course."64
Within his newly structured schools Yu had specified that the main criterion

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