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

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vidual actions and events to take a longer and more fundamental view of the
institutions needed to provide better leadership.
In his search for a fundamental approach to recruiting better men for govern-
ment Yu was led by his Confucian education back to the classics for fundamen-
tal principles. in particular the description of the official school system and the
use of recommendation based on face-to-face evaluation of the moral behavior
of individuals in ancient China. It is doubtful that he derived thesc models by a
return to the classics alone, because he also gained knowledge from the long his-
tory of denunciation of the examination system and bureaucratic routinization
in recruitment from the Northern and Southern dynasties through the Ming. He
was particularly influenced by the Sung thinkers, who not only stressed the supe-
riority of classical institutions, but reminded the Chinese cultural world of the
greater interest in subjects of practical utility, including military knowledge and
skills, that had prevailed in the classical age but had been degraded in Sung times
in particular. On this score Yu was intrigued by the utilitarian views of Wang An-
shih, but not as much as by the stress on moral education by Ch'eng Hao. Despite
the breadth of his learning. in his blend of morality and utility he was obviously
a child of the Sung, an heir in particular to the statecraft thought of some of its
reformers, both moral and utilitarian. But he was not thorough enough in his
research of Sung institutions to find that in the period after Wang An-shih left
office, the commitment to government schools as the sole solution to the defi-
ciencies of the examination system waned, and Ts 'ai Ching had to abandon his
plan to carry out the idea in practice in I 107 because of the enormity of the oppo-
sition to it. 162 Even ifYu had been aware of these facts, I doubt that it would have
deterred him in his conviction to support such a plan despite its failure in the
Sung dynasty.
Did this mean that Yu was basically a fundamentalist who aimed at the literal
restoration of classical institutions? No, because he insisted that it was impos-
sible to return to the feudal setting of the classical Chou period. The conversion
to centralized bureaucratic government organization had created a completely
different situation, and that system was there to stay in Korea as well as in China.
On the other hand, he never entertained the notion that history represented a
record of unending progress and development, or that one could look forward
to unlimited opportunities in the future. Rather his concept of reform was one
of returning to ancient perfection, but since it was impossible ever to achieve
that goal, the best graphical representation of his future aspirations would prob-
ably have been an asymptote, a curve that might approach but never attain the
limit of perfection, the outline of which was already defined in ancient texts.
Yet even that degree of perfection was doubtful because his own society was so
greatly flawed that he could not have believed much progress had heen made
since the founding of his own dynasty. On the contrary, things seemed to be
worse in his own time than in the fifteenth century.
Was he a slavish admirer of China with no respect for his own country? No,
because what he admired was the Confucian ideal of statccraft, particularly Sung

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