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Confucianism: Its History and Social Impact in Pre-Modern Asia
Tracing its development and mutual interaction with society

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Han, Kyungjae
Term Paper, AP World History Class, June 2011

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
I.1. Definition
I.1.1 Confucian-Asia: China, Korea, and why not others ?
I.1.2 Pre-modern period
I.2 Focus of the Thesis : The idea called 'Confucianism'
I.2.1 Central Idea of Confucianism
I.2.2 What to write about
II. China
II.1 The Rise of Confucianism (until the fall of the Qin Dynasty)
II.1.1 Premises of Confucianism
II.1.2 Persecution
II.2 Han Dynasty (The Revival of Confucianism)
II.2.1 How it Survived ?
II.2.2 Confucianism under the Han Dynasty
II.2.3 Case Study : Debate of Gu Wen School and Jin Wen School
II.3. Confucianism in the Age of Division (A.D. 220 - A.D. 618)
II.3.1 Keyword : 'Impracticality' in the South
II.3.2 Keyword : 'Localization' in the North
II.4 Confucianism under the Tang Dynasty
II.4.1 Influence within the Political System
II.4.2 Confucianism and the Education System
II.5 Confucianism under the Song Dynasty
II.5.1 Age of Letters
II.5.2 More Competitive Confucian Education
II.5.3 The Movable Type Printing Press and Confucianism
II.5.4 Gentlemen Class in Local Society
II.5.5 Neo-Confucianism
II.6 Confucianism and the Ming Dynasty
II.6.1 Decline of Confucianism under Yuan
II.6.2 Decline of Confucianism in Ming Politics
II.6.3 Education
II.6.4 Scholastic History of Ming
II.7 Confucianism and the Qing Dynasty
II.7.1 Accepting Confucianism
II.7.2 Extension of Confucianism into Practicalities
III. Korea
III.1 Confucianism before the Joseon Dynasty
III.1.1 Introduction during Three Kingdoms' Period and Unified Silla Period (BC. 57 - AD. 936)
III.1.2 Systemization under the Goryeo dynasty (936 - 1392)
III.1.2.1 Overall Development of Confucianism
III.1.2.2 Neo-Confucianism and Young Scholars
III.2 Confucianiam under the Joseon Dynasty
III.2.1 Confucianism in Early Joseon (1392 - 1506)
III.2.2 Confucianism in Mid-Joseon (1506 - 1776)
III.2.3 Confucianism in Late-Joseon (1776 - 1876)
IV. Conclusion Debate: Overall development of China, Korea and Confucianism

I. Introduction

I.1 Definition

I.1.1 Confucian-Asia : China, Korea, and why not others ?
            Defining a cultural region is always a subtle task. The boundaries often, are not very clear. Generally, when we list the states whatsoever affected by Confucianism, China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia and Vietnam would be included.
            However, Mongolian history, for most of the time with clear written history basis, has been part of Chinese History. For the rest of time, Mongolian history is only left in spoken sagas and epic songs which greatly differ by the tradition of each tribe. Large amount of these recordings are awry from actual history due to generations of era or ultimately lost because bards found no one to pass stories on to. Thus, Mongolian history in this paper would be introduced as a part of Chinese History.
            The Vietnamese have developed close relationship with Chinese empires for a long time, and actively contained Confucian ideals. They also share some features with China, Korea and Japan, including consumption of rice as a major meal or usage of chopsticks. However, compared to bond of China, Korea and Japan, Vietnam seems to be distant entity. Geographical distinction also played a role in decision to exclude Vietnam as well, since it is defined in many places as Southeast Asia and Confucian region is often equated with East Asia.
            Japan will be excluded too. It is true that they were whatsoever affected by Confucianism, but as an island state, they were more affected by their own local religion and social systems such as Shinto. And when Confucianism just settled down and began to be systematically integrated with Japanese, it simultaneously began to face the challenge of western power, which made the prevalence of Confucianism in Japan to be extremely short. Undoubtedly, Confucianism in Japan prospered briskly and minimally and there is not much worth in historical analysis of that short period.
            And before reading the major part of paper, readers must be concerned about fact that Korea, though was significantly affected by Confucianism, in its early days, direct relevance of Confucianism and social history was minuscule. For the eras when Confucianism did not prevail as social theory in Korea, I would be brief as much as I can be. Spirit of this paper anyway is to study the relevance of History and Confucianism.

I.1.2 Pre-modern period
            Definition of Pre-modern era in China and Korea would be era before break-out of the First Opium war which forced China to open 5 ports, exposing China in wide scale to western people for the first time of history. As for Korea, its modern era began in 1876 when it opened ports enforcedly to Japanese navy. Thus, pre-modern period of Korea would be before 1876.

I.2 Focus of the Thesis : The idea called 'Confucianism'

I.2.1 The Central Idea of Confucianism
            Confucianism justifies hierarchy. However, it tries to separate righteous hierarchy from idea of nobility and violent, often tyrant-like supremacy, different from Legalism. It asserts that people of upper hierarchy should be responsible for inferiors and be both strict and embracing. People of lower hierarchy should be obeying, but they should sometimes know to be courageous so that when their superiors are about to fall into wrong decision, they should be able to criticize them. King should be dignified and powerful. On the other hand, he should be caring about his people and be open to criticisms or variety of opinions.
            This was the case for court. However, Confucianism did not stay in court. It expanded the central principle of righteous hierarchy to every relationship. Between elder and the younger, between a parent and a child, between a husband and a wife, former was asked for responsibility and generosity in return for respect and obedience, latter was asked for vice versa. Soon, whole social relationships, from Court relationship to domestic relationship of local peasants, were quite uniformly defined. Basically, this trend was same for both China and Korea, though each had local diversity.

I.2.2 What to Write about ?
            This paper will write about development of Confucianism chronologically, and then proceed to how Confucianism affected rest of society and how society accommodated Confucianism.

II. China

II.1 The Rise of Confucianism (until the Fall of the Qin Dynasty)

II.1.1. Premises of Confucianism
            Confucianism was never a totally new concept. It sprouted largely from remnant of Zhou Dynasty. Once, Confucius himself referred the most ideal method of learning as "To master the old ways and to recognize newness." [1] The system of society which Confucius thought to be ideal was the social system of the Zhou Dynasty, and the politician he revered the most was the Duke of Zhou who established the state administrative system and stabilized empire in early Zhou period. Main concern of Confucius was to bring back the virtue of righteousness and virtue and subsequent paradise of Zhou Dynasty into his chaotic contemporary of spring and autumn period. The way Duke Zhou administrated his people is well written in his self-written text, Rites of Zhou, which extensively deals with the virtues and etiquettes that a person, educated or not, should have and master. Stemming from this, Confucius began framing the principles of Confucianism.
            Another factor that helped the appearance of Confucianism was 'demand.' Spring and autumn period has brought many changes in administrative system of Chinese kingdoms, and one most important change was that the power became more centralized. During Zhou Dynasty, China was mainly ruled in form of feudalism in which the emperor only ruled state hub including Luoyang and rest of lands were allotted to nobles - usually king’s relative, in blood or in law. Spring and autumn period had totally different mood from peaceful era of Zhou. States rose and fall in few years term and only very few survived among them. War suddenly broke out one day and again in the other day, stimulating development of militarism powered by strong monarchic power. To justify the transition of feudalistic states to centralized states, theoretical basis were also required. Numerous schools claimed their own method will provide the most righteous and effective administration.
            Confucius too thought that a monarch should be an absolute authority; nevertheless, he also thought that the king should treat one’s people with love and mercy. This shows quite a contrast with other political theories in Spring and autumn period. Confucianism was indeed, in theory, extremely advanced one. Most political theories in Spring and autumn period asserted that monarch should be forceful, grim and uninterrupted. However, Confucianism asserted that the monarch should rule his people with love and form mutual relationship. This theoretical superiority however has never helped Confucius much.
            He firsthand tried to awaken the kingdom he belonged to - the Lu Kingdom. While he was working as low class administrator maintaining security of royal storage, he had few opportunities to discuss political concerns with King who timely visited there. Recognizing his brightness, King has named him for the position which teaches and guides formal ethics of Zhou for court members. Gradually, Confucius explicated his assertions and discussed future plans with his king. However, it failed when his idle master was weary of reforms which will only increase his tasks. Thus, Confucius began traveling around whole China to find the ruler who would understand his ideas and realize them into reformation.
            It took 14 years for him to walk around every place, and mostly, he received two reactions: first, utter ignorance or second, partial agreement to his ideas but objection on them that they are inappropriate for the age of total warfare. To note, the most successful political theory of this age was legalism which claimed that ruler should control people tightly under heavy laws of retaliation and punishment. Indeed, legalism has created effective and enforceable monarchy for while and had initial impact on countries which were attempting to be 'stronger.' Compared to legalism, Confucianism was total outsider and misfit of the age. Though Confucius himself had 3000 people as his students officially, none of them was ruler of any kingdom. Anyway, he failed to appeal himself to kings. Appealing was not about righteousness but about marketing. Idea of Confucius was thus unlikable. It however, would revive later.

II.1.2. Persecution
            Confucianism however had much more difficult years to face even after the turmoil of everyday warring age was over. Qin dynasty which succeeded in the most effective reformation by legalism and comparatively prosperous production of food through construction of canal conquered other 6 nations and united China for first time. Shi Huangdi, who united China, was a ruler with significant political keen. Construction of Wei River canal which supplied significant portion of military food expenditure or Qin reform all happened in his ruling period. Before his age, Qin, located in plateau of west was a kingdom of barbarism, and no more than that. Compared to kingdoms in East, especially Zhao, which absorbed the legacy of Zhou and had high development of culture, significantly affected Qin intellectually, even after being conquered.
            Numerous philosophies, political theories, literature and other cultural enrichments flowed into Qin, and Shi Huangdi was initially quite positive about them, though he felt a little need to arrange them into right orders and exclude absorption of thoughts which perhaps might arouse the idea about 'freedom.' This made him to be alert with Confucianism too.
            Mencius, successor of Confucius and also the well known scholar in Confucianism, once asserted in his book that people can replace the ruler if the ruler is not for people - mandate of heaven is nothing but ruling for people, and if ruler no longer rules for his people, it is that mandate of heaven has left him. [2] This quite advanced and rebellious political theory, in context of book, is something equivalent to idea which appears in West about 2000 years later in British Common Law. Such elements and thoughts in Confucianism would have seen unpleasant for the emperor who just completed conquering China and was desperately inclined for his empire's stabilization.
            At the same time, very good chance came for Shi Huangdi. This Emperor, who was so much submerged in his own great work, began to call himself the living god, no longer just a son of heaven. He had everything but one - eternal life. The Emperor began sending expeditions for several times eastward and westward but had no progress. Meanwhile, a rogue Confucian scholar named Lao Xing faked himself to be awakened guru and claimed that he knew the exact location of leaf that will make one never die and never get old. It is not known how they convinced that clever emperor, but in conclusion, Lao Xing and his accomplices succeeded in receiving funding to form an expedition to find this magical leaf.
            These crooks suddenly vanished with the money and no explanation. Shi Huang however, managed to find them somehow, and discovered during the inquiry that they were Confucians. Emperor ordered that as a punishment, not only Lao Xing, but other 460 named Confucians will be buried alive. Also the emperor ordered that all the books in civilian possessions relevant to Confucianism shall be burned, and one who secretly possesses such books shall be killed. He also ordered that those who appreciate past legacies - such as that of Zhou as Confucians often do - shall be heavily punished. In few months, thousands of precious books were gone and original copies were stored in the royal library for research use.
            However, Confucianism managed to survive through this persecution. How Confucianism survived will be covered in next chapter.

II.2 Han Dynasty (The Revival of Confucianism)

II.2.1 How it Survived
            Many people wonder how Confucianism survived even after such a vicious persecution by the Qin dynasty. First method was through memory. Qin dynasty existed only for 60 years due to the retarded son of Shi Huangdi. Many teachings of Confucianism were therefore passed on through memories of old Confucians. Old scholars have restored teachings based on their own memory and this became the basis of Confucianism for early period of Han Dynasty.
            But from the era of Emperor Wu, several texts written before Han dynasty began to be discovered. Most were buried in land and some were, ridiculously, buried in walls. New interpretations of these books were made, and from then two schools existed in Confucianism: one relying on the texts written after Han dynasty and the other one relying on texts discovered in the era of Emperor Wu. [3]

II.2.2 Confucianism under the Han Dynasty
            Confucianism in Han period was greeted and appreciated as a major method to rule already stabilized kingdom. In 400 years of Han Dynasty reign, except for a rebellion occurred in the middle of its duration, nothing significantly endangered state security. Han dynasty was first stable and consistent empire in Chinese story, and pretty much was first to create identity of current 'Han' Chinese people.
            One of the identities that were created in Han dynasty, as an integral part of Han Chinese people, was Confucianism. Emperors applied Confucianism ideals and ethics not only in royal court but also among common people. One of the methods they used to do so was using paintings. Several paintings containing central themes of Confucianism were drawn and distributed throughout the state. Picture in the left hand side addresses the theme of family ethics, hyo, or filial piety - translated English term, which in fact seems to be impaired - which I previously mentioned as "gratefulness toward parents and the origin of all Confucian virtues". In figure 1, a painting portrays the traditional story of a man who broke the ice to get fish for his old mother.

Figure 1 [4]

            The court system has accepted Confucianism too. From Han dynasty, Chinese court came to have prime minister Position. Readers should not take this as its literal meaning - it has significantly different meaning with prime minister these days, in parliamentary system. Apparently, China did not have parliament. I previously mentioned that in Confucianism philosophy, though the grace of emperor might be absolute, his people and vassals can criticize his decisions. This idea was reflected within court system by including prime minister, the head of bureaucracy who can consult with king at any time, with any concern, and advise his policy decisions with never equivalent, but also never ignorable authority. Sometimes, when emperor was unavailable of administrating politics due to disease or perhaps when one was too young to know about politics, prime ministers replaced emperor's role by cooperating with dowager empresses.
            Except these changes, proof that Han dynasty began to accommodate Confucianism fervently could be found in fact that emperors held annual ritual for the spirits of Confucius and his notable students, together with deceased emperors. Except for Confucius, Laozi was only one who emperors held ritual for.

II.2.3 Case Study : Debate of Gu Wen School and Jin Wen School
            Central debate of Confucianism philosophy in Han dynasty was, as I briefly mentioned above, debate on legitimacy of texts. Though Shi Huang has massacred numerous scholars, still many were surviving all around China. These people, after the fall of Qin, continued education, and began coordinate research to rewrite the ancient Confucian texts based on their memories. Their restored Confucian text became the basis of Confucianism until the middle age of Western Han - earlier Han which had capital in Xian - and was accepted as mainstream theory.
            However, buried or hidden texts which date to the time before establishment of Han dynasty began to be found throughout China from age of Emperor Wu. New scholars who interpreted these newfound texts and asserted their legitimacy are called Gu Wen scholars, or paleographic scholars. Gu means 'old' in Chinese, and in contrast, former mainstream scholars who relied upon their memory written texts were called Jin Wen scholars, Jin meaning 'present' in Chinese.
            As expected, texts of Jin Wen school and Gu Wen school did not differ in major issues. However, detailed descriptions had slight differences, and debate rose to find out which school is more legitimate. No one really knew and knows if books found by Gu Wen scholars were genuine writing of ancient Confucians. However, Eastern Han - the later Han dynasty - accepted the claim of Gu Wen scholars.
            Though gu wen texts were recognized as government approved Confucian texts, debate did not end. And nearly at the end of Western Han dynasty, both schools were integrated in to xun gu school which tried to lessen the contextual difference of Gu Wen and Jin Wen texts by concentrating on interpretation of each letters. Book named Bai Hu Tong Yi charted debates of scholars, theses, antitheses and compromised syntheses.[5]

II.3 Confucianism in the Age of Division (A.D. 220 - A.D. 618)

II.3.1 Keyword : 'Impracticality' in the South
            In the age of 4 centuries of Schism, Confucianism in South developed around one firm theme: Impracticality. In order to understand this, analysis of social condition during this era should come first. At about A.D. 220, with the fall of Eastern Han dynasty, Wei, Shu and Wu, three kingdoms arose and all three were united into Jin dynasty which succeeded Wei after struggle depicted in Romance of Three Kingdoms. However, extremely corrupted politicians and nobles of Jin - evaluated as politically the most corrupt period of China [6] - led the unified kingdom to perish in very short time like previous Qin dynasty. Soon, Northern tribesmen drove many Han Chinese people out of Northern half of China across the Yangtze River, and along that river line, conflict of South and North continued for 350 years. And through these years, numerous dynasties rose, fell and were succeeded by the next, each in the North and South.
            Definitely, theexperience of being expelled by barbarians they hitherto ignored and looked down upon, was not so likable experience for Han Chinese people who were already so famous for their self pride. The humiliation did not awake Han people. Rather, it made them more dreamy and unrealistic.
            After being stuck in Southern China, Han Chinese people developed exquisite, elegant but extravagant nobility culture. They did not worry about invasion since tribesmen were afraid of big river and were unlikely to come across Yangtze. Nobles of this age did not tend to engage in politics even with the membership as vassal. They treated worldly activity, such as politics and economics as vapidity and submerged deeper and deeper into realm of personal elegance and sophisticated arts. Finally, practicality in Confucianism which once used to be the political theory was gone. Knowledge and philosophy existed only to ornate the culture of nobles and to prove how knowledgeable they are. Ideal life style in thoughts of Chinese people this age can be found in episode of 7 philosophers in the bamboo woods, the story about 7 wise men who refused to compromise with corrupt and worldly society, isolating themselves by going into remote bamboo woods and spending whole life in it.
            Change in Confucianism did not end up just with losing practicality. Fame of Confucianism overall was diminishing due to the appearance of Buddhism and advancement of Taoism, both religions which aimed for eternal truth and idealness, which both of them had extremely unworldly aspect, and were so fit for the appetite of Southern China nobles in this era.

II.3.2 Keyword : 'Localization' in the North
            Though majority of Han Chinese people ran away to South, still considerate number remained in North. Local authorities - imagine, for instance, the village elder - were those who kept embracing the Confucian values in North. Northern tribesmen who entered in Northern China at this period were not capable of constructing administrative structure. This deprived stability from northern kingdoms, and for 3 centuries, not much Kingdom could survive longer than 50 years in north. Thus, adoption of Confucianism or its integration with tribal ideas could not happen easily. Militarism ruled Northern China, and Han Chinese people, who could avoid conscription thanks to already abundant army pool from tribes, guarded themselves against chaos, united by local units. In the middle of that unions, elders who imposed Confucian values and maintained leadership based on Confucian hierarchy existed.

II.4 Confucianism under the Tang Dynasty

II.4.1 Influence within the Political System
            Tang dynasty was an apex of Chinese history, existing at the highest point of it. This empire is also the model of current Democratic republic of China, its dream image, which all Chinese people want to get back. There were many reasons for Tang dynasty becoming so potent and prosperous state that it has fame as the golden age of Classical Chinese History. The most important factor would be political finesse. Tang dynasty completed all required aspects of political system for running of an empire under emperor and his government.
            One notable aspect of Tang dynasty political system is that it, for the first time in Chinese history, was the period ruled with fully developed royal statutes. Statutes of Tang dynasty were divided into four classes of different level, each being lu, ling, ge, shi, with later the lower level. These laws are thought to be 'legalized' version of Confucianism ethics, each code and term trying to impose the central themes of Confucianism to shape each citizen into righteousness and virtue.
            Tang dynasty also continued the tradition of nobility being able to check-on the excess or impaired decisions by king. One of the three major branches in Tang dynasty had special ability to discuss the mandate of empire among its members, revise, and return the completed mandate to emperor.

II.4.2 Confucianism and the Education System
            Though merit-based examinations for selecting vassals were, though rarely, being practiced even before Tang dynasty, still the examinations were not neatly shaped and also were considerably corrupted in scoring process. Beside, merit-based portion of government positions in kingdoms before Tang was extremely small. However, from Tang dynasty, state examination was systemized, refined and completed in its form and its procedures. Also, subject one could apply was varied too. Mathematics and Science, Law, Politics, and still many other wide ranges of specialties came to exist and successful applicants were placed into government jobs which they fitted. Applicants had to take two examinations. First, Ministry of Righteousness gave a written examination on one subject of choice - specialty - and on common basic knowledge on Confucian bible. Second, Ministry of Human resources did an interview of those who had good scores in written examination.
            Not to mention that all the applicants were tested for knowledge of basic Confucianism theory regardless of professions in written examinations, interview saw how much one was actually 'living with' the values and ethics of Confucianism.[7] Government was whatsoever, one kind of office, and required a person who would be polite and humane. Moreover, since it was not a normal office but the royal court, interviewers were extremely concerned about candidates' knowledge and familiarity with formal rites accented by Confucian texts. Apparently, with both levels of tests extensively examining one's knowledge and actual practice of Confucian ethics, candidates without qualified refinement in Confucianism would not have been admitted.
            Following this trend, local Confucianism day schools began to prosper, under the aid of old masters who were inclined to teach students. Generally, those masters also performed as village elders since they knew the rites and formalities. In large cities, schools with hired masters who taught students not only the basic Confucian etiquettes but also about expertise knowledge for government admission test were raised. Some were public and some were private. Tuition could only be funded by nobles, but it seems that these schools actively accommodated students of various social backgrounds by giving financial aid. [8] State education center of university concept existed too. It was empowered with the greatest doctors of its age and educated applicants for government, government members themselves, royal males and prospective emperor - crowned prince - too.

II.5 Confucianism under the Song Dynasty

II.5.1 Age of Letters
            Traditional analysis of why Tang dynasty fell picks weak control of military power as one reason. [9] Tang dynasty was indeed massive, and as government lost its power more and more, administrating border region far from Xian became extremely daunting task. After its two unsuccessful and one successful but painful expedition against Goguryeo and the northern tribes, Tang emperors began to realize that their military power can never be repaired fully and they will need special treatment to guard the borders. Method they devised was ruling borders by hiring local military power and giving them a partial right to rule the regions politically.
            One of these mercenary leaders, An Lushan (703 - 757), a Sogdian and Turk general who acquired strong influence over Hebei region after his expeditions against Khitans, rebelled against government and established his own kingdom. Though imperial force managed to finish rebellion, this was not only the final but indeed the fatal blow to Tang dynasty.
            Emperor Tai Zu (960 - 976), the first emperor of Song, was well aware of history and was determined to create the emperor ruled by men of letters. The execution of renowned and successful general Yue Fei - during Southern Song, he was the only military commander to beat Jurchens in land battle - has proven the fact that Song emperors would choose to give up the military effectiveness than letting military to grow up to a degree that would endanger the government. Coming of this ‘Age of Letters’ was important social background for extensive development of Confucianism in this period.

II.5.2 More Competitive Confucian Education
            Figure 2 seems to be too small. To tell the truth, this is, so called cheating underwear which was state trend during Song dynasty. Examinees would write analysis of classics on their underwear, wear it in test center and cheat. It well explains how desperate and important event the state examination was. Pressure of such an important event was reflected in this ridiculous underwear, which is creative cheating method even in perspective of cunning contemporary students. Exam pressure was valid, now or then. Education of Song grew up to be even more competitive and systemized than that of Tang.

Figure 2 [10]

            With the fall of nobility class which existed until Tang era, no longer 'nepotism' existed in hiring government personnel. One was strictly evaluated by test only, the test which turned into triannual regular state ceremony. One large change of test format was that applicants were forced to take final examination in front of emperor himself, who would evaluate the writings of applicants by himself. This was extremely symbolical - it meant that the successful applicants were chosen by emperor, the students of emperor himself and would prevent partisanship in future career of an individual by establishing traditional master-apprentice relationship of Confucianism which demands obedience to teaching for the latter of relationship.
            Also to ensure the objectivity of test, proctors sealed the name part of answer sheet. One could recognize handwriting and score unfairly. So the new examination policy made scorers to view the copied writings made by proctors. Rate of successful applicants which was as high 50% in 1023, decreased into astonishing 0.5% in 1275. [11] This exam fever is deeply relevant with development of Confucianism. As time went by, more and more privilege was given for successful applicants and the fact that any person, regardless of class, could be employed into government job by exam made parents in Song period to fervently invest in education of their children.

II.5.3 The Movable Type Printing Press and Confucianism
            Song dynasty was an era of amazing inventions. Two among the four major inventions of history - which apparently all four were invented by Chinese people, adding some ground for their endless state pride - were first made in Song dynasty, and one of them was a movable type. Wooden movable type was coined in Song in early period. Though coarse form of it existed as early as 8th century Silla, artisans of Song dynasty greatly refined wooden type in style and technology. [12] In case of metal movable type, though Goryeo invented one earlier than Song, major use and improvement were made in mainland China. [13]
            This brought lasting change in intellectual history of Chinese empires. Price of books became cheaper and the more people were accessible to classics of Confucianism. Certainly, the reason why competitiveness of government admission test was because government had less spot left, but that was not the only reason. Increase in number of people who knew the letters and classics has affected this much too.

II.5.4 Gentlemen Class in Local Society
            I previously mentioned the chart about successful application rate for government employment examination. Admission rate in 1275 is less than 10% of current Harvard university admission rate. [14] Truth was that, annually, 99% of intellectuals found themselves being unlucky. Among those people, those who had estate in their local home went back to hometown and became revered leaders of local agricultural and commercial community called gentlemen.
            These gentlemen were generally the descendants of local aristocrats who were largely revered and respected upon. Estates in homeland were significant, in land or in number of servants. Thus, they generally didn’t have to be worried about sustaining their own lives and naturally, after failing state examination, did not try again in general cases. Considering the privileges they had in rural community - for instance, authority over deciding town affairs relevant to tradition, such as marriage - it is not so wrong to regard them as revival of former nobles, with less autocratic power.
            The unofficial law called 'Local Code' began to be enacted town by town with slight differences, based on the Confucian ideal under the guide of gentlemen class. Main ideas of Contents were same : that the younger, the wife, the son, the student shall be obedient and the elder, the husband, the parents, the teacher shall be generous. Admission of local code concept, unlike thoughts of many people, did not stratify the relationship in local community. Rather, it increased community spirit and unity. This was essential for Southern Song dynasty standing up against the Mongols for such a long time.

II.5.5 Neo-Confucianism
            In Song dynasty, quite new interpretation of old Confucianism began its influence over people. The new school of Confucianism called 'Neo-Confucianism', first claimed by renowned scholar Zhu Xi (1130 - 1200), was slightly more fundamentalist version of old Confucianism with elaborate system of metaphysic philosophy applied to explain main concepts of Confucianism as constituent of universe. The latter part apparently implies that Neo-Confucianism brought numerous concepts of Taoism or Buddhism to complete its predecessor. Confucianism became more philosophical and theoretical through apparition of Neo-Confucianism.
            Basically, philosophy of Neo-Confucianism asserts that true teachings of heaven or 'way' of heaven - Tien Tao - was embedded in principle, the essence, called li and appeared through materialistic ornaments called qi, latter which uses same Chinese character as used in oriental medicine as the concept of unseen but existing power. Neo-Confucianism was devoted to concerns about analysis of li, what it is, and how it could be found. And scholars of this school particularly accentuated upon moral strictness ? the clear division and commitment to courtesies in hierarchical relationships. [15]
            Some people compare Neo-Confucianism to Plato's idea about universals and ideas as both they all study about essence and principle, but after closer look, one would find that as for theory itself, Neo-Confucianism is way more practical in the idea about essence. Zhu Xi's idea on li was that it existed among material beings but hidden in their heart, and that 'investigation of things' [16] or ge wu should be exercised to dig out the underlying truth. Thus, he accentuated the importance of observational science. Likewise, the beginning of Neo-Confucianism was, despite the criticism it receives today as a factor which hindered practicality in Far East, very practical.

II.6 Confucianism under the Ming Dynasty

II.6.1 Decline of Confucianism under Yuan
            Passing through the age of Yuan, Confucianism did indeed shrink in its influence. Though Mongolians integrated in part with mainland Chinese, they were nevertheless the members of Conquest Dynasty [17] - this term was first used by Wittfogel, the German scholar who lived in the U.S. - apparently any ethnicity other than the Han Chinese. Conquest dynasty differs itself from Infiltration Dynasty which slowly, chronically permeates into China and fused with its culture, in that the rulers of it consciously try to separate themselves from Chinese and foster the preservation of tribal identity. Yuan dynasty was pretty much committed to that aspect.
            In Yuan dynasty, people were divided into four classes: highest were Mongolians, second tier were western visitors who were called as Men of Colored Eyes, third tier were Chinese who lived in Northern Half who were already being ruled by United Mongolian Empire under Genghis Khan and the lowest tier was composed of those whom Chinese called as Southern Men, the descendants of Southern Song which resisted against Mongolian invasion to the last minute. Original Han Chinese people were already discriminated by this class division. Also, Chinese people were not allowed in administrative or political jobs and traditional merit exam as well, perished therefore.
            In this atmosphere, it is not so strange that Yuan court was quite unfavorable about Confucianism. Official religion of court was Tibetan Buddhism or Lama and several Lama Temples were built on the traditional Confucianism School site. Not only Tibetan Buddhism but numerous religions and philosophies entered to China without filtration, and numerous mosques or Nestorian chapels widened the number of believer in China. Also, in reintroduced merit based examination, questions no longer required knowledge of Confucian classics.

II.6.2 Decline of Confucianism in Ming Politics
            Keyword of Early Ming's political change is centralization. Powers gathered to emperors and direct decisions of emperor came to have more impact in politics. Also, cooperative system with vassals turned into stratified hierarchy with the aid of little Reign of Terror.
            I have previously mentioned that traditionally in China, there has always been exotic type of Prime Minister as one who consults with Emperor in politics and can advise him in closest position. In Tang Dynasty, use of this prime minister was magnified that there existed 6 separate prime ministers who formed the board of ministers and even revise the mandate of King. This system no longer existed in Ming, and every political bureau was directly connected to the king. By this change which went through the ruling period of First Emperor Hongwu (1368 - 1398), Emperor of Ming Dynasty became a true absolute monarch who has unparalleled and unfettered power managing all political proceedings.
            Emperor Hongwu did not cease with a mere political reform. He tried to terrorize gentlemen class which had significant control over local affairs in order to stabilize his reign. One of his schemes was making up a rebellion of chancellor Hu Weiyong (? - 1380). Hu Weiyong was a man of significant power thanks to his connection with gentries, who were often aristocrats of Southern China. Emperor who felt weary about his Hu’s growing power executed him upon the guilt of treason that Hu has sent secret messengers to contact Japan and remnants of previous Yuan and get military aid for coup against Ming. About 20 thousands of relevant people were executed. [18] Most of them being typical gentlemen class local leaders or regional aristocrats, altogether the major force of Confucianism, its power significantly declined in politics. Still dissatisfied, Emperor devised the secret police bureau to monitor his vassals.
            In such an atmosphere of centralization and terrorization, Confucian virtue of monarch-vassal cooperation in politics deteriorated.

II.6.3 Education
            Public School system reached in its height in Ming dynasty. Though emperors did not want interruption in their politics, it was their general thought that state education of Confucian ethics was still extremely essential. Thus, Ming Dynasty came to have one of the biggest universities ever in History until then with annual 5000 students for 6 year curriculum of teaching in Confucianism. [19] Public university did not exist only in Beijing but in four major cities of Ming, and still many regional institutes provided tertiary, secondary and primary education.
            Also, private education to pass merit based examination began to prosper. Before Ming, realm of private education only accounted from primary level. However, in Ming Dynasty, several private colleges were built and provided high level of education for enrolled students. Private education was not a positive change in all however since, partisanship in court arose based on which college one was from. Colleges significantly differed in teaching style and that acted as the cause of discontent. Partisanship was one of the major causes that led Ming to fall.
            This trend in policy was in extension of erasing Mongolian trace ? such as customs or hierarchy system ? that permeated through Han Chinese society during Mongolian role. There were many traditions that Chinese adopted from Mongolians including Mongolian hair, Mongolian hats, Mongolian wear, marriage of stepmother and son after the death of father and marriage of one and brother’s wife after the death of brother. Policies of Early emperors tended to heavily punish such traditions. Emperors, in order to recover the Han Chinese tradition, proclaimed the 6 teachings based on Confucianism and made it a mandatory knowledge for all citizens. [20]

II.6.4 Scholastic History of Ming
            New interpretation of Neo-Confucianism and li, the cosmic substance, appeared in the middle of Ming Dynasty. Interpretation, devised by Wang Yangming (1472 - 1528), analyzed the nature of li as equivalent to human mind. Wang's thought expanded to the degree that there is no need of academic observation for the understanding of li, but it is important to disciple one’s mind, since mind was li. He also claimed that for discipline of mind, it is important to commit - do - what one thinks about, not just stopping as mere idea. Consequently, he conclude that all human are ethically equal and there is no point of classifying people by traditional Chinese method, which classifies people, from more noble to the less in four classes of profession: scholar, farmer, artisan and merchant.
            In the transition era from Ming to Qing, practical arts including botany, agricultural science, industrial and material science, war studies, geography and metallurgy were developed by Confucian scholars who were shaken and worried by limited confrontation with western people and threat of the northern tribe. Several political scientists who were active through early age of Qing analyzed the reason of Ming’s fall and pursued futuristic political reform. They also developed historiography and bibliographical studies of previous Confucian classics and critically examined the contents based on reality. Considering that the authority of classics were never challenged in Chinese history until then, this new trend of critical classical studies was groundbreaking.

II.7 Confucianism under the Qing Dynasty

II.7.1 Accepting Confucianism
            Qing dynasty at first did not start with the name it had when it united China. When Nurhaci, the tribal leader of Jurchens first proclaimed his kingdom, its name was Later Jin or Post Jin, as a spirit of following the Jin dynasty which prospered 500 years ago as the first empire of Jurchens. Previous Jin dynasty too was conquest dynasty like Yuan, but only different aspect was that it never could unify whole China until its end. Before it could, it fell under the attack of Mongols. Nurhaci was, as his words spoke, in a quest to accomplish the final wish of his ancestors, who wanted to conquer China fully. [21] He also had personal grief against Chinese people who murdered both his father and grandfather. Therefore, his policies and treatments of conquered area were merciless and oppressive. When he took full control of Manchuria, he committed series of messy mass murders in large Chinese cities like Shenyang [22] and survivors were put into contempt and coercive treatments. Thus, state of Manchu was extremely unstable.
            The Second emperor, Hong Taiji (1592 - 1643), was a way more composed person. He brought a significant change in treatment of Han Chinese people in conquered area. For those who autonomously surrendered, he awarded government jobs - as Chinese people were at least better administrators than yak herders from the north - and provided basic life supplement for civilians. Such policies caused numerous generals and scholars to give up resistance and surrender. With the better treatments of Han Chinese people and use of them in government, Hung Taiji brought reforms in government structure of his kingdom too. As typical tribal kingdom, Later Jin of Nurhaci did not have separation between military and civilian affairs. Hung Taiji divided both and copied the administrative system of China with 6 departments, and most importantly, dumped the name of Later Jin and adopted new name Qing. At the end of his age, executive branch that had almost equivalent largeness and complexity as in Ming existed in Qing.
            After several emperors who fought for the conquest of Ming and stabilization, from era of Emperor Kangxi (1661 - 1722), Qing dynasty resumed the merit exam which was ceased for while. He in fact, had quite ambivalent attitude against gentries whom he recruited through merit exam. In one way, he oppressed them violently, being afraid of their influence in local community that might cause rebellions in alliance with their idea of Chinese racial supremacy. However, the emperor definitely made the best and moreover, practical use of Confucian knowledge in gentries. This will be dealt with in the next chapter.

II.7.2 Extension of Confucianism into practicalities
            The fusion of Manchu rulers and Han Chinese people rather caused positive influence in scholastic realm. I previously mentioned in section about Ming that scholars who lived the days of transition from Ming to Qing developed the practical studies by expanding knowledge based upon Confucian principal. Emperor Kangxi and consequent emperors Yongzheng (1722 - 1735) and Xianlong (1735 - 1796) were all committed in stimulating this new intellectual curiosity.
            Intellectual trend in Golden Age of Qing - From Kangxi to Xianlong - had three firm themes: objectivity, originality, and professionalism based on development in methodology of historical research. Most studies made through Qing Dynasty have their motive in reinterpretation of classical Chinese texts, the bibles of Confucianism.
            This trend which started off in Ming-Qing transition period confined in critical studies of books extended its area upon examination of classical knowledge in natural sciences, literary theories, arts, philosophies and social sciences. Knowledge that was subjective or unreasonable had to face fierce attacks and criticisms regardless of who proclaimed it - even the Confucius himself could not avoid criticism for what he once said that there are 10 suns in the heavenly realm we can't see. [23] Primary Sources became more varied too. For example, by scientific development of character restoration, epigraphy enabled scholars to analyze the old tarnished writings carved in stones. [24]

III Korea

III.1 Confucianism before the Joseon Dynasty

III.1.1 Introduction during Three Kingdom's Period and Unified Silla period (BC. 57 - AD. 936)
            Koreans began using Chinese character from as early as B.C. 1500 - as the artifact says - for recording use. [25] In Three Kingdoms' Period of Korea, with the wider propagation of Chinese character, educational institutes were built. In Goguryeo, one of the oldest University in History called Taehak - this is different from Taehak of Goryeo and Joseon - was established in capital to teach Confucian classics and classical history for nobles. It had several regional branches too. Baekje had scholars called Doctors of Five Classics and educated similar things as Goguryeo did for royals and high society youths. They also went across the sea to educate Japanese monarchs. [26] Epigraphic research on stone carving of Silla figured out that pre-unification Silla also systematically taught classical studies for Hwarangs, the nobility class of Silla equivalent to Chivalry class of medieval Europe or Samurais of medieval Japan. Unified Silla established state university for education of Confucianism and accentuated teachings on filial piety and loyalty. These universities were mainly run by doctors who studied abroad in Tang. Also, little portion of government position was awarded for people who passed merit exam on Confucianism. [27] However, people were not that much committed to Confucianism as their contemporaries extremely were in China during this period.

III.1.2 Systemization through Goryeo dynasty (936 - 1392)

III.1.2.1 Overall development of Confucianism
            In Goryeo period, both Confucianism and Buddhism developed at the same time, former as a method of politics and latter as a method of self-discipline and religious life, being complement to each other. In the era of fourth king, Gwangzhong (949 - 975), merit examination of China was introduced to Goryeo (958). Under Seongzhong (981 - 997), the sixth king's period, Goryeo style of Confucian political theory was finalized and state institute for Confucian education was established. The most remarkable Confucian scholar of these days was Choi Seungro who suggested 28 points reform plan. His Confucianism was liberal and independent. However, as time went by and nobility class based on clans came to rule Goryeo, Confucianism too turned into more conservative. Private education of Confucianism for government exam started around this period - Mid-Goryeo - with commitment of scholar Choi Chung. In later Goryeo period, military coup and age of military government caused Confucianism to shrink, and then revive in Goryeo-Joseon transitional period with new scholars who tried to reform corrupt and defamed Goryeo.

III.1.2.2 Neo-Confucianism and Young Scholars
            In thwlater period of Goryeo - about the century prior its fall in 1392 - Neo-Confucianism was introduced to Goryeo and gave a large impact on politics, economics, society and culture. First scholar to introduce Neo-Confucianism to Goryeo was Anhyang who could share knowledge with Chinese scholars of Yuan during his study abroad. [28] He also taught Jeong Mongju, Jeong Dojeon and many more eager young minds who later tried the last attempt to reform Goryeo under Confucian principle. These young scholars were more interested in practical part of Neo-Confucianism than its metaphysics and therefore put an effort on state distribution of Confucian ethics too. Based on Confucian principle of Mencius that the ruler without mandate of heaven deserves being driven away from the throne, these young people led the rebellion and construction of Joseon in alliance with military force of the Yi clan.

III.2 Confucianism under the Joseon Dynasty

III.2.1 Confucianism in Early Joseon (1392 - 1506)
            Confucianism in early Joseon was largely developed by those who tried to reform Goryeo and then led the rebellion after disappointment. In my personal opinion, these people have showed most ideal model of Confucian politicians who rule upon the basic principle of Neo-Confucianism but are always ready to accept other thoughts and ideas if they are helpful for state and its people.
            From the beginning, Joseon established systematic and leveled system of education. Primary education was mainly a role of Seodang which existed in town unit. These Seodangs taught the most essential knowledge of Confucianism and life ethics, mostly run by old and revered local gentlemen.
            Secondary education differed by location. In the capital, there were four schools which taught students an intermediate level Confucianism, distributed in each South, North, East and West part of Seoul. Hyanggyo was a government run provincial secondary education institute. It existed in Goryeo too, but it was neither government run nor prosperous as it was in Joseon. Teachers of Hyanggyo were generally government appointed professors and they not only taught students but also maintained local annual memorial of revered scholars like Confucius and Mencius.
            Tertiary education was monopolized by single institute in the middle called Seonggyungwan which pretty much resembled previous university level institutes in Korea.

III.2.2 Confucianism in Mid-Joseon (1506 - 1776)
            In 1506, the new king Jungjong started his reign with new faces in government. Until then, government of Joseon was largely run by the descendants of the scholars who led rebellion against Goryeo. These people who practiced liberal and flexible Confucianism were being fiercely criticized by local fundamentalists who developed their own perspective of Neo-Confucianism. Jungjong, in order to check strong power of old generation vassals, appointed numerous Sarims.
            Sarims, young fundamentalists and exclusive vanguards of Confucianism who were educated in numerous private colleges of local areas, had same problem as those of Ming: the partisanship. The beginning of partisanship was not that negative. Parties debated with the other parties on themes of Confucianism such as the nature of li and criticized each other for scholastic purpose. However, as partisanship extended to politics, it has caused numerous problems including stalemate of political decision or worthless debates.
            The best example is the Yesong Debate on court ethics which continued from 1659 to 1674. Traditionally, when a person dies, closely related families - whether in law or in blood - wear special sables. Though most Joseon people didn't really care about formality, court was totally different place. Hyojong, the seventeenth king of Joseon was the second son of Injo. He was born between Injo and his first queen, but the queen was already deceased when Hyojong became king. Thus, a woman of highest rank in court was king's stepmother, queen Ja-ee. Hyojong's wife, Queen Insun died early and according to formality, all members of the royal family except for the king had to wear mourning garb for three years. However, a portion of vassals objected upon three-year theory that first, queen Ja-ee was Hyojong's stepmother and second, that Hyojong was not the first son of Injo and thus was not completely rightful king. [29] This frivolous and ridiculous debate dragged for 15 years.

III.2.3 Confucianism in Late-Joseon (1776 - 1876)
            Mid-Joseon period was an era of extremely impractical Confucianism. However, in this period, very practical and realistic extension of Confucianism was made, like in a Qing at then which developed variety of practical studies based upon Confucian principles.
            Shilhak or 'studies of reality' was the key trend of intellectual trend during this period. As its name proposes, Shilhak scholars opposed the impractical trend of Confucianism as it was well exemplified in previous chapter by yesong debate. These new wave of scholars left as minority for most of the time as court was still dominated by fundamentalist who claim the absoluteness of Neo-Confucianism. Many radical Shilhak scholars were executed by government in early period of this era, named as guilty for practice of improper idea disturbing righteousness. [30] However, when a revolutionary and progressive monarch Jeongjo took the throne and started a policy of reform, these scholars returned from the countryside and led the reform.
            Subject of their study varied. Political Science and Economics were major concern of them. However, they accumulated significant development in natural science, applied science such as engineering, geography, history and historiography. Unlike previous scholars who unconditionally revered China and its culture, these scholars focused on Korean identity and Korean people. However, it didn't mean that they ceased learning from China. They learned from progressive intellectual trend of Qing and began to be curious about western philosophy and science due to western products introduced through China. One of the most prominent scholar, Jeong Yak-yong, conveyed various complex engineering techniques in building Hwaseong fortress and several people - it includes Jeong Yak-yong - even converted to Christianity. [31]

IV. Conclusion Debate: Overall development of China, Korea and Confucianism
            Conservative, stubborn, stratified, extra-formal and unworldly. These series of words expresses general perception of people on Confucianism. Traditionally, contemporary majority of contemporary historians asserted that reason why China or Korea, which had far more advanced culture and technology than Europe until about 15th Century had to kneel toward invasion of Western force in 18th and 19th Century. But I must speak against it. No one blames physics as a cause of Atomic bomb. So it is for Confucianism. What the idea results is always up to how the user apply it.
            In fact, Confucianism had numerous positive results. Concept of cooperative government which disabled the monarch from autocratic decision appears in west for the first time with Magna Carta. However, tradition of monarch-vassal cooperation has existed in China and Korea from about 1000 years before Magna Carta was signed. With little exaggeration, we can even say that government of Joseon which had magnified vassal power has nearly equivalent form to that of modern constitutional monarchic government.
            Another positive legacy of Confucianism is current fever of education which contemporary East Asian nations have. Society had great favor for educated people from very ancient days and therefore education system and methodologies were sophisticated. Contemporary development of Korea for example, with neither the prosperous natural resources nor the well-established industrial infrastructures, could have developed only through education and labor of people. Work ethics and emphasis on education both were extremely important themes of Confucianism, and were imposed by rulers from very early period. With major trend of culture almost crucifying idleness and ignorance, people came to work hard and study hard, and that became the tradition.
            It is true that some part of Confucianism was extremely authoritative, theoretical, speculative and impractical. However, all thoughts have such flaws and so is Confucianism. Nevertheless, in perspective of calculating loss and gain, I believe Chinese and Koreans gained thanks to Confucianism more than they lost. After all, it has become the most essential spirit of Koreans and Chinese. Confucianism and they are inseparable.


1.      Confucius. Analects. Korean translation 2006
2.      Mencius. Great Learning. Korean translation 2006.
3.      Shin 2008
4.      Killing History
5.      Sim 2002
6.      Same as [3]
7.      Kang 1994
8.      Same as [5]
9.      Same as [3]
10.      Kim 2011
11.      Same as [5]
12.      Same as [5]
13.      Kodung Hakkyo Kuksa 2006
14.      US News & World Report 23 June 2011
15.      Ki 2007
16.      Same as [2]
17.      Same as [5]
18.      Same as [3]
19.      Same as [7]
20.      Same as [3]
21.      Leng 2004
22.      ibid.
23.      Same as [1]
24.      Same as [5]
25.      Same as [13]
26.      Same as [13]
27.      Same as [13]
28.      Shin 2010
29.      Ji 2009
30.      ibid.
31.      Yi 2004


Note : websites quoted below were visited in November-December 2010.
1.      Kodung Hakkyo Kuksa. Kyoyuk Kwahak Kisulbu, 2006. Print.
2.      Sim, Kyu-ho. Yonpoyo Wa Sajin uro Ponun Chungguksa. Seoul-si: Ilpit, 2002. Print
3.      Shin, Seong-gon. Hangukineul Wihan Hanguksa. Seoul-si: Seohaemunjip, 2008. Print
4.      Kang, Gil-gyoung. 중국문화와 과거제도 (Merit Exam and China). Joongmoon, 1994. Print.
5.      Ki, Se-chun. 성리학개론 (Neo-Confucianism 101). Buy, 2007. Print.
6.      Leng, Chung-chin. 지전 - 청나라편 (The Anthology - Qing Edition). Kimyoungsa, 2004. Print.
7.      Shin, Bong-seung. 문묘 18현 (18 Wisdoms of Korea). Cheonga, 2010. Print
8.      Ji, Du-hwan. 조선 성리학과 문화 (Neo-Confucianism and Culture in Joseon). History and Culture, 2009. Print.
9.      Yi, Deokil. 정약용과 그의 형제들 (Jeong Yak-yong and His Brothers). Kimyoungsa, 2004. Print.
10.      Confucius. Analects. Korean translation by Kim, Hyeong-chan. Hong-ik, 2006. Print
11.      Mencius. Great Learning. Korean translation by Kim, Hyeong-chan. Hong-ik, 2006. Print
12.      "삼강행실도 - 문충정성." 역사과목 죽이기 (Killing History!). Web. 23 June 2011. .
13.      Kim, Edward. "커닝용 속옷 (Cheating Underwear)." Joins Blog. Web. 23 June 2011.
14.      "Harvard University | Best College | US News." US News & World Report | News & Rankings | Best Colleges, Best Hospitals, and More. Web. 23 June 2011. .

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