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

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tions against traditional objects of discrimination, it meant that he had no idea
of opening the path of opportunity for the highest levels of education and gov-
ernment office to all members of society: "Sons of aI1isans, merchants, people
of the markets and wells, sons of shamans and other miscellaneous types, and
official or private slaves will not be permitted to enter school."6~ These restric-
tions would pose no problem for understanding Yu's thought if it were not for
the powerful arguments he launched elsewhere in his book against inherited slav-
ery and for the extension of the commercial sector of the economy. But in the
chapters dealing with those issues, too, he tempered radical logic with a con-
servative adaptation to social and traditional counterarguments.
How then did he define the class of people eligible for admittance to his pro-
posed official schools? To what extent would it represent the creation of new
and broader standards of eligibility than the existing system of private educa-
tion that served to perpetuate the transmission of 0ppoI1unity for education and
office to a narrow (and what Wagner argued was an ever-narrowing) group of
He defined the eligible group in rather specific terms as "the sons and younger
brothers of officials [taehusal who have the will to learn, and [the sons and
younger brothers of] outstanding commoners ... :'(,9 Obviously m1isans, mer-
chants, and slaves were conspicuous by their absence, obviating any possible
claim that Yu intended to enlighten the whole population. In addition, the very
phraseology separating commoners from "officials and scholars" even though
both were eligible for admission, indicates Yu's perception that he was viI1ually
joining two separate classes in his schools rather than uniting both in a broader,
undifferentiated class.
In any case. once the youths of the correct status reached the age of fifteen
se, they would be allowed to apply for admission to school. Local teachers, vil-
lage elders, and even heads of families would be allowed to recommend wor-
thy young students. and even if some aspiring young students lacked suppOI1ing
recommendations. they would still be permitted to apply.70
This definition cel1ainly did not represent any alteration of the existing legal
situation since commoners were entitled to stand for the civil service examina-
tions under the dynastic code. Nonetheless, Yu obviously was hoping to break
the de facto stranglehold of the yangban on oppOI1unities for education, the civil-
service examinations, and officeholding, but not by extending opportunity to
perhaps 30 or 40 percent of the population, the base people (ch onmin), most of
whom were slaves, or commoners engaged in low-status occupations like com-
merce and industryJ'
Yulgok had otlered a similar plan except that he did not insist explicitly on
the elimination of examinations or annulment of status conferred by possession
of an examination degree. He had advocated recommendation and selection of
outstanding classics and literary licentiates (saengw(il!. chinsa degree holders)
and Yllhak to be selected scholars (S6nsa) to form a pool of talent in the schools
from which official appointments would be made. The existing degree-holders

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