Sirhak in Late Choson Korea and Ancient Learning in Early Modern Japan from the Perspective of the History of Interaction

By Ha, Woobong | Korean Studies, Annual 2006 | Go to article overview

Sirhak in Late Choson Korea and Ancient Learning in Early Modern Japan from the Perspective of the History of Interaction


Ha, Woobong, Korean Studies


Ancient Learning, an approach to overcoming Zhu Xi Neo-Confucian metaphysics, emerged and developed as an intellectual track at about the same time in Korea, China, and Japan. This school was introduced to Choson via Korean elites who visited Japan as members of diplomatic embassies. Upon returning, these Sirhak elites wrote commentaries on the Japanese Ancient Learning school text. This article discusses the historical interaction between Sirhak and the Japanese Ancient Learning school and examines Sirhak commentaries on Japanese Ancient Learning writers.

Introduction

Entering the early modern period, a major issue in intellectual circles in East Asia was overcoming Zhu Xi Neo-Confucian metaphysics, which was the pillar of education and scholarship. Ancient Learning (K. Kohak; J. Kogaku), which refers to a school and to a scholarly approach that criticized the doctrines of Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming for straying from the original spirit of Confucianism, appeared as one logical method for overcoming Zhu Xi Neo-Confucian metaphysics. It asserted that scholars should return to the classical texts of Confucianism and inherit directly the ancient meanings of Confucius and Mencius. Although called by different names in Korea, China, and Japan, this intellectual current emerged and developed around the same time in these countries. (1) Further, there was a constant exchange of ideas among scholars of Ancient Learning in each country, and they influenced each other.

Comparing phases in the development of Ancient Learning in these countries is a difficult task. If one acknowledges that research on Practical Learning should treat East Asian history rather than focus on a single country, then the necessity of the history of interaction and of comparative research need not be stated. The comparative and reciprocal relationships between Sirhak (or, Practical Learning) in the late Choson period and Ancient Learning in early modern Japan, schools that display many similarities, is an especially interesting subject. However, problems in conducting comparative studies include the inadequacy of empirical research, the lack of consensus on terminology and concepts, and the ambiguity of a standard of comparison in each country. In this article, I will undertake an empirical study of this history of interaction, such a project being a precondition for comparative study.

Korean Neo-Confucian metaphysics was conveyed to Japan early in the Edo period and greatly influenced the formation of Neo-Confucianism in early modern Japan. Conversely, Ancient Learning was conveyed from Japan to Choson, where it influenced some Sirhak scholars. (2) Korean elites who visited Japan as members of diplomatic embassies (K. t'ongsinsa) introduced Ancient Learning to Choson. After reading books by Japanese scholars of the Ancient Learning School (J. Kogakuha), some Sirhak scholars produced commentaries on those texts. I will examine the writings of several participants in those embassies and then distinguish among the Sirhak scholars who wrote about the Confucianism of the Ancient Learning School in Japan.

The Introduction of Japanese Ancient Learning to Choson

THE CONFUCIANISM OF THE ANCIENT LEARNING SCHOOL IN JAPAN

In Japan the Ancient Learning School flourished during the early- and mid-Edo periods. It insisted on a return to the original Confucian and Mencian teachings. At the same time, it criticized Neo-Confucianism, which was the state teaching of the Tokugawa bakufu. The Ancient Learning School began around 1665, when Yamaga Soko (1622-1685) criticized Neo-Confucianism in his Seikyo yoroku and clarified the views of Ancient Learning. This school grew from the division of two schools. One group studied ancient meanings (J. Kogigakuha) and included Ito Jinsai and his eldest son, Ito Togai. The other group studied ancient words (J. Komojigakuha) and was represented by Ogyu Sorai and Dazai Shundai. …

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