The Korean Controversy
over Chu Hsi's View on the
Nature of Man and Things
NEO-CONFUCIANISM of the Sung period (960-1279), which had been systematized by Chu Hsi, was introduced in Korea at a substantial level in the thirteenth century. For about a hundred years thereafter, however, it did not flourish because of the religious, political, and social conditions of the time— especially the dominance of Buddhism, the state religion of the Koryo period (918-1392). Comprehensive studies of Neo-Confucianism began and flourished only with the establishment in the fourteenth century of the Yi dynasty (1392-1910), which adopted it as the official ideology. Since then, both the theory and practice of Neo-Confucianism have been vigorously studied and interpreted in various ways in Korea.
Two remarkable occasions mark the peaks in the process of the theoretical elaboration of Neo-Confucianism in the Yi dynasty. One of them was the debate in the middle of the sixteenth century about the interpretation, on the basis of the theory of li-ch'ia (principle-material force), of the Four-Seven Thesis. The other was the debate at the beginning of the eighteenth century about whether or not the nature of man and the nature of things are the same. These two debates were the most controversial issues in the academic circle of Neo‐ Confucianism, and they remained so until the Yi dynasty ended in 1910. Throughout the whole scholarly history of Korea, one can hardly find any other case in which so many scholars devoted themselves to the interpretation of and the controversy over a single precise subject. The intellectual fervor aroused by these debates eventually resulted in the formation of four schools of Korean Neo-Confucianism: the Toegye (Yongnamb) School and the Yulgok (Kihoc) School, resulting from the former debate, and the Hoseod School and the Rakhae School from the latter. Such being the case, it can safely be said that a study of these two debates would illuminate some important characteristics of Korean Neo-Confucianism.
Issues raised in the former debate, that is, about the interpretation of the