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

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sons, an increase in the number of virtuous and talented people, and a transfor-
mation of customs and mores.^161
There was a fundamental contradiction in Yu's attitude that explains his reluc-
tance to carry the implications of his admiration for the public good over pri-
vate interest to its logical conclusion and replace private control everywhere with
state authority. Logically, he should have done so because he deplored the pri-
vate academies for pursuing their private interests at the expense of the public
good, but he also felt that the private sector had been forced to fill a vacuum
created by the failure of the state to maintain the schools it had established at
the beginning of the dynasty. He therefore sought a compromise by insisting on
private initiative to establish new schools in the subdistricts while calling for
state fiscal support for the subdistrict schools, state initiative and support at the
district level and above, but autonomy for schools at all levels.
Why should he have thought that new, privately established schools could
escape the corrupting self-interest of private founders when the private acade-
mies had not? Only because the elimination of the examination system and adop-
tion of the recommendation system would remove private interest from education
as a whole and transform the mores of the whole country. Once mores had been
improved, then private acts would no longer be directed toward selfish ends and
would serve the public interest. There is no way of telling whether Yu's expec-
tations would have worked in practice since the recommendation system was
never adopted by the government, but a healthy skepticism might lead one to
conclude that as long as lineage solidarity remained a strong value in Korea, the
new system envisioned by Yu was just as likely to become the tool of local famil-
ial and aristocratic interests as the contemporary private academies.
Two factors may have been operating in his mind. The first was his fear of
the evils of bureaucratic routinization at best, corruption at worst to undermine
the moral code of Confucianism because it had happened throughout both Chi-
nese and Korean history. The second was an emotional attachment to his own
yangban class that made him hestitate, at times, from the ruthlessness of his own
logic - in this case, the logic of a thorough system of official education. He wanted
his new social elite to retain at least the right of initiative in the local districts,
and it appears that (as we will see in a number of instances) he did not expect
the yangban to disappear, but rather to renew themselves.


It was not surprising that a man born a scant quarter century after the disastrous
Imjin War and a year before the coup d'etat of 1623, who suffered the loss of
his father from factional politics and grew up through the Yi Kwal rebellion of
1624 and the two Manchu invasions of 1627 and 1637, should think that that
there was something radically wrong with the political leadership of his coun-
try. As angry as he might have been over the plight of his country, however, his
Confucian education prepared him to stand back from the particularities of indi-
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