The Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yongjo and the Politics of Sagacity

The Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yongjo and the Politics of Sagacity

The Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yongjo and the Politics of Sagacity

The Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yongjo and the Politics of Sagacity

Synopsis

The Neo-Confucian kingship was based on the ideal of the sage king, an ordinary human being rendered supreme through his extraordinary virtue. The eighteenth-century Korean ruler Yôngjo, one of that country's most illustrious yet most tragic rulers, is a fascinating example of the Neo-Confucian sage kingship. In this book, JaHyun Kim Haboush provides an outstanding, dramatically realized introduction to traditional Korean culture through the story of Yôngjo, and offers profound insights into the complex interplay between Confucian rhetoric and the politics of the Yi monarchy. Haboush focuses on the deteriorating relationship between Yôngjo and his only son, Crown Prince Sado, and relates the agonizing choices the Confucian ruler was forced to make between saving either his son or his dynasty. Originally published as A Heritage of Kings, this paperback edition contains a new preface reflecting new discoveries and updated scholarship in the field.

Excerpt

When this book was first published in 1988, it was the only study of Korean kingship available in English. Surprisingly, this remains true. the book is an investigation of the way in which Yŏngjo, the twenty-first king of the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910) who ruled from 1724 to 1776, understood and embodied the Confucian kingship. in this sense, it is a study of the mentalité of eighteenthcentury Korea seen through the complex and changing relationship between the kingship and the king, the office and the person. Because the sage-kingship emerged as the dominant concept of rulership in Chosŏn Korea, any investigation into the nature of the interplay between ideology, history, and the person centers upon the sage-kingship. in the absence of other studies, this might give an impression that the history of Korean kingship is a history of sage-kingship. I have had many discussions with students on this issue over the years, and, as a corrective, I would like to offer several observations. a study of the evolution of the Korean kingship, however, will have to wait for someone else’s attention.

There are three features that I believe to be useful in conceptualizing the history of Korean kingship. the first is the transformation of the rulership—the adoption of the Mandate of Heaven at the beginning of the Koryŏ dynasty (918–1392) in the tenth century, replacing the charismatic kingship. One might be tempted to place this in a Weberian framework: a change of rulership from the charismatic to the bureaucratic. However we may see it, this . . .

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