As printed in A HANDBOOK OF KOREA, 3rd-1979 and 9th-1993;
Published by the Korean Overseas Information Service
As printed in Chong YagYong-Korea's Challenge to Orthodox Neo-Confucianism; by Mark Setton; published by: State University of New York Press, Albany-1997.

Originally called Hwasung ("Brilliant Castle"), Suwon Castle was completed in 1796 after over two years of construction on the orders of King Chongjo, the 22nd monarch of the Choson dynasty, in memory of his father, the crown prince Sadoseja. Sadoseja, a victim of court intrigues and factional feuds, was starved to death in a locked wooden rice storage box. Thus, Suwon castle is a symbol of filial piety and political reform. The practical and utilitarian wisdom of sirhak (“pragmatic studies”) scholars in the 18th century were manifested in the innovative and scientific construction methods employed in building the fortress. Modern equipment such as a mechanical crane and pulleys and a new method of baking bricks were developed and used in erecting the walls of Suwon Castle, which were built in a unique style never found in China and Japan with both defense as well as political and commercial functions in mind.

Chong Yak-yong "Tasan"

Under "WELFARE" of the HISTORY-SECTION; of A Handbook of Korea-1993:

Chong Yag-yong was outstanding among the scholars who analyzed the evils of society and made positive proposals for reform. He saw the paramount importance of agriculture, stock-raising, fisheries, and sericulture. He advocated a system of land distribution based on egalitarian principles, and the placement of people in professions in accordance with their ability.

Exploitation continued, however, and distressed people sought salvation. Catholicism met the needs of many, since its tenets accorded with the new egalitarian principles in addition to stressing salvation. Some scholars were converted to Catholicism, and others benefitted from the scientific learning that accompanied the religion. The number of Catholics in Korea gradually ncreased.

Since Catholicism was opposed both to Confucian ancestral rituals and to rigid social stratification, Catholics were termed criminals by the state. Many of them, including prominent scholars such as Chong Yag-yong and his brothers, were punished or even executed.

Under "Advent of Practical Learning-Sirhak" of the HISTORY-SECTION; of A Handbook of Korea-1979:

Advent of Practical Learning—Sirhak

Meanwhile, partly because of the stimulus of Western ideas, a new school of thought was growing up among the Korean intelligentsia. Called Sirhak(Practical Learning) it was directed primarily against the preoccupation among the bureaucrats either with Chinese literature or with the speculative side of Chu Hsi’s neo-Confucianism. The Sirhak scholars demanded an end to empty formalism and concern with ritual trivialities and a return to the true spirit of Confucianism. They also demanded a practical, empirical approach both to government and to learning. The movement had its roots in the 17th century, but came to prominence in the 18th.


Chöng Yak-yong (1762-1836) added to these elements of Sirhak thought the stimulus of Western learning. He eagerly studied all the Western books he could obtain and, in addition, became a believer in Catholicism, for which belief he was banished in 1801 to a remote island where he remained for 18 years. During his exile he worked out in detail his ideas for reform, including redistribution of land to the farmers and insurance to them of a fair share of their crops, reorganization of both central and local administrations, the abolition of slavery and the development of technical education.

Under: "Emergence of Philosophy of Public Welfare and Introduction of Modern Science and Technology"; of A Handbook of Korea-1979:

Chöng Ta-san is also famed for his concern for public welfare. In his letters to his son, he not only warned that defense capability was important, but drew his attention to the importance of farming. “Planting fruit and vegetables in your garden would be far better than scribbling insignificant lines on your paper,” he instructed his son. To him, farmers produced wealth, and nothing would ever equal in importance the art of gardening, cattle-raising, fishing and sericulture, he advised. Men and women, old and young, each must possess professions fitting to their abilities. If the theory of sincerity concerned itself with moral issues, the problem of public welfare was connected with the development of economy and industry. The word “substance” has two edges to its meaning: it means both morality and industry. This thinking is closer than any other idea to the philosophy behind Korea’s endeavor for nation-building which includes the question of rediscovery of the nation as well as economic development.

The scientific way of thinking became more and more associated with the problem of public welfare during the time of Chóng Ta-san. At the age of 28, Chóng suggested that boats could be strung together to form a pontoon, and when he was 31 years old, he tried for the first time to use a crane to build the castle wall in Suwön. He had discovered the principle of the pulley. He was also interested in an early form of vaccination for his book carries notes on inoculation.

Although the Korean people lagged behind others in modern scientific development, this does not seem to indicate they did not feel the necessity for it, or they were incapable of digesting foreign technology. It is merely that objective conditions provided them with no opportunity to demonstrate their talents.

Under "Early Philosophers" of the BELIEF, PHILOSOPHY and RELIGION-SECTION; of A Handbook of Korea-1993:

Pak Chi-won (1737-1805) claimed that song (nature) caused the existence of sincerity. Being virtuous was the act of securing substance. Therefore, one must not expend energy in unrealistic fields but should occupy the mind only with realistic questions. A wise man prefers substance to surface, for it is in the nature of things that the brighter the surface, the less the substance.

Another proponent of the philosophy of sincerity was Chong Yag-yong (Tasan, 1762-1836). At the age of 40, when he was thrown into jail, he confessed that night and day his only thought revolved around this central theme. He sought consolation by reciting the Song chapter in the ancient Chinese classic, The Great Learning. Life and death depended on heaven, and the only everlasting thing in life was sincerity, he said. Later, when he was exiled to Kangjin, he wrote letters to his two sons advising them to pin the Song chapter on the wall and abide by its rule. Sincerity was his last conviction.

As printed in Chong YagYong-Korea's Challenge to Orthodox Neo-Confucianism; by Mark Setton; published by: State University of New York Press, Albany-1997.

The Road to Tea Mountain

Chong Yagyong, or Tasan, as he later came to be known,(1) was born in 1762, the 38th year of King Yöngjo’s reign. He was the fourth son of Chông Chaewön (1730-92), who had served a lengthy stint as magistrate of Chinju County, and his wife, Yun Sugin.(2) At the time of his birth, Tasan’s family lived by the upper reaches of the Han River in Kwangju County, Kyónggi Province.(3) Earlier that year the country had been thrown into turmoil by the tragic death of Crown Prince Sado on the orders of his father, King Yongjo. Tasans father, badly shaken by the event and its factional repercussions, had decided to leave politics. When he was born, Tasan was thus given the courtesy name ‘Kwinong’ or ‘Returning to the land.”(4)

At the end of the Koryö period, Tasans ancestors on his fathers side, the Chôngs of Aphae, had lived in Paech’on, Hwanghae Province, now part of North Korea. However at the foundation of the Chosôn dynasty they moved to Hanyang, which is now Seoul. The first of the family to serve in government in the new capital was Chóng Chagüp (1423-87), who in 1460 took a position in the Office of Diplomatic Correspondence under King Sejo (1455-68) after passing the munkwa, the highest level of civil service examination. Including Chagüp, nine consecutive generations of the Chöng family served the kings of the Chosôn in various government posts, including key positions in the influential State Council, the Office of Special Counsellors, and the War Board.(5)

In an age when social status was directly related to government office, Tasan was hardly exaggerating when he referred to his family as one of noble lineage.(6) Nonetheless he himself was not born into the higher echelons of the ruling elite. Chong Siyun (1646-1713), five generations prior to Tasan, and his second son Chông Tobok (1666-1720) were the last of the family line prior to Tasan’s father to serve in public office, due to the exclusion of their faction, the Southerners, from senior positions in government after their fall from power in 1694.(7)

When Siyun left office in 1699 at the age of fifty-three, he moved to Mahyônri, by the banks of Lake Tu in Kyönggi Province, Tasan’s eventual birthplace. His second son Tobok served in office in the capital, but his first son Tot’ae, Tasan’s direct ancestor, remained in Ch’och’ôn, near Mahyonri, where Siyun built a thatched cottage, and where Tasan spent his youth.(8)

Chong Siyun studied the Neo-Confucian teachings for three months under the scholar Chong Sihan (Udam, 1625-1707) of the Southerners faction. His second cousin, and two of his sons, Tot’ae, Tasan’s direct ancestor, and Toje (1675-1729), were taught by Udam on a regular basis.(9) Furthermore, Chöng Siyun was an intimate lifelong friend of Yi Chik, a second cousin of Yi Ik, and as a result a long-standing relationship was established between the two families. In his youth Yi Ik met Chông Siyun a number of times.(10)

Yi Ik had deep regard for Udam’s scholarship and person, and consequently very much regretted not having studied under him, since Udam was still alive in his youth. According to Yi, Udam was the orthodox heir of the T’oegye school.(11) Tasan heaped even more praises on Udam for the same qualities, and frequently mentioned him in the context of his family background.(12)

Chông Toje inherited Udam’s learning to the extent that he came next to Udam in the praise he received from later scholars, conveying this learning to his nephew, Tasan’s great-grandfather Chông Hang-sin, as well as other relatives. Chông Hangsin educated his sons and cousins in the same tradition, including Tasan’s father Chaewôn.

Tasan’s father played a major role in his son’s early education. Inheriting the academic tradition of Udam, he was well-versed in the classics and histories, and personally taught Tasan to the age of fifteen.

Tasan’s father had kept regular company with Southerner scholars since his youth, and was well acquainted with the prominent Ch’ae Chegong (1720-99) and his circle of associates and friends. The two of them formed ties of kinship as well as friendship through the marriage of two of their children. It was Chae who spearheaded the final, brief reaccession to power of the Southerners when he was appointed third state councillor in 1788, the twelfth year of Chöngjo’s reign, and who backed Chaewôn’s appointment to office during this period.(13)

Tasan’s mother Yun Sugin was descended from a prestigious family line which was also closely affiliated with the Southerners faction and in consequence had long been involved in factional struggle with the Westerners and their subfaction the Old Doctrine. Tasan’s mothers line was distinguished by a number of outstanding scholars, and could trace its descent to the Southerners leader and master of Sijo composition Yun Sôndo (Kosan, 1587-1671), who, as we have seen, sided with Yun Hyu as a fierce critic of Song Siyôl’s faction during the mourning rites dispute of 1659. Yun Sôndo’s great grandson Yun Tusö (Kongjae, 1668-1715), who was also well known for his artistic skills, was none other than Tasan’s great-grandfather on his mother’s side. This side of Tasan’s family also had close links with the family of Yi Ik.

According to Tasan, Yun Tuso and his elder brother Yun Hüngso (1662-1733) handed down the teachings of Yun Sóndo, and together with the three brothers Yi Ik, Yi Cham, and Yi So (1662-1723), they breathed new life into the study of the Six Classics, which had hitherto been treated with disdain by the sons of the aristocracy in the capital. The inference here is that, in preparation for the civil service examinations, career-minded youth had engrossed themselves in the mechanical study of the Four Books and Chu Hsis commentaries, to the neglect of the rest of the Confucian canon. In addition, Tasan indicates, this group of Southerner scholars revived the learning of T’oegye and Hankang (Chong Gu, 1543-1620),(14) which had previously been limited to the Yongnam region, in their home province of Kyonggi.(15) According to Tasan’s chronological biography, Yun Tuso took a liking to “ancient’ learning. He kept a library that was entirely devoted to “administration and practical usage,’ (kyongje siryong).(16)

Tasan mentions that, in keeping with the high academic standards of his predecessors, from an early age he had an exceptional ability to read. At the age of six (1768) his compositions already revealed unusually sharp powers of observation and inference, prompting his father to remark that he would “excel in mathematics and calendrical science.” By the age of nine (1771) he had already written the “Three Eyebrow Collection” a small volume of poems named after a characteristic scar on his forehead resulting from an early bout with smallpox. By this time he had also begun study for the civil service examinations and was making rapid progress in the study of the classics, histories, and rules of metre.(17)

For the following five years his father continued to distance himself from government, and was consequently able to concentrate on the supervision of his son’s intensive studies. During this time Tasan was already receiving praise for his poetry.(18) for which he became well known in later life, and which contributed in making him a favourite of King Chongjo (r.1776-1800), who often enjoyed exchanging compositions with him.(19)

At the age of fourteen (1776), not an unusual age for the customs of the time, Tasan married the daughter of a certain Hong Hwabo, a member of the P’ungsan Hong clan who had served as a royal secretary. In the same year he moved to the capital, where his father was reemployed in government as assistant section chief of the Board of Taxation, after the succession of the new king, Chongjo.(20) The following year Tasan was introduced to the writings of Yi 1k by Yi’s direct descendent and Tasan’s companion Yi Kahwan (1742-1801), as well as Yi Sunghun (1756-1801), both of whom were related to Tasan. Yi Ik’s writings, which were already much talked about, deeply impressed the young Tasan, to the extent that he decided to devote himself to scholarship.(21)

At the age of twenty-one (1783) Tasan passed the literary licentiate examination chinsagwa, which qualified him for entry to the Songgyun ‘gwan, the National Confucian Academy. There the quality of his scholarship won him the attention, and consequently the admiration, of King Chongjo. In 1784 Chongjo presented a list of eighty questions on the Mean to the Academy, including one on the subject of T’oegye and Yulgok’s expositions of the relationship between principle, material force, the Four Beginnings, and the Seven Emotions. In contrast to his friend and fellow Southerner Yi Pyok, who expressed agreement with T’oegye’s position, Tasan’s views, in his words, “happened to concur with Yulgok’s interpretations.” On examining the papers, the king highly commended Tasan for “breaking away from vulgar convention” as well as for his accuracy and objectivity, and assigned his work top place. This prompted the Royal Secretary Kim Sangjip to remark that “Chong is certain to make a name for himself after receiving such praise. (22) The objectivity that the king had referred to was reflected in Tasan’s refusal to blindly follow the established Southerners’ tradition of supporting the views of their champion T’oegye over those of Yulgok, who was revered by the Old Doctrine. This tendency for objectivity remained a hallmark of Tasan’s work, particularly reflected in his readiness to both praise and criticize certain schools of thought rather than adopt rigid attitudes in favour of one or the other. Nonetheless, it is clear that, on a broad level, he was influenced by his Southerner predecessors. In answer to another question on the Great Learning, Tasan had interpreted the meaning of “illustrious virtue” (ming-te/myongdok), a key concept of the classic, to be “filial piety, fraternal respect, and parental love. (23) The king wanted to give Tasan top place, but Ch’ae Chegong, who was supervising the examination, remarked that Tasan’s views must have been derived from Yun Hyu, and gave him second place. Ch’ae also mentioned that another leading Southerner figure, Yi Kiyang, had taken the same position, and quoted him as having formerly heaped lavish praise on Yun Hyu.(24)

From then on, Tasan’s performance in the various levels of examinations as well as his skill at composition continued to attract the king’s attention and special favor. This included the bestowal of royal gifts and personal audiences as well as invitations to the Royal Lectures.(25) Over the years Tasan became a close favorite of King Chongjo, and his chronological biography in particular is full of detailed accounts of the formal, informal, and even affectionate exchanges between them. Impressed by Tasan's scholarship, personality, and administrative skills, and most probably a little partial to Tasan’s affiliation to the “Expediency Subfaction” (Sip‘a) of the Southerners,(26) Chongjo clearly trusted Tasan and intended to promote him to positions in government of the highest rank.(27) Unfortunately for Tasan, his Old Doctrine colleagues were well aware of these royal intentions.

During his second year (1784) at the Songgyun’gwan Tasan accompanied his friend Yi Pyok (1754-86) to Tumi Gorge, where he heard about Western Learning for the first time and obtained a book on its teachings.(28)

Interest in Catholicism among Koreans had started long before. Yi Sugwang had mentioned Matteo Riccis work on Catholicism one and a half centuries previously. Yi 1k and his followers showed a particular interest not only in the scientific aspect of Western Learning, but also in its religious side. During the reign of Chongjo this involvement became more than a passing curiosity for a particular group of Southerner intellectuals, many of whom were affiliated with the school of Yi Ik. In 1784 a member of this group, Yi Sunghun (1756-1801), the son of the newly appointed emissary to the Ch’ing, was baptized by a Western Catholic priest in Peking and returned to Korea with books on Western Learning, the same year that the young Tasan was introduced to the new literature by Yi Pyok. On his return Yi Sunghun baptized Kwon Ilshin, Kwon Ch’olsin’s brother, and Yi Pyok, and the three of them became founding members of the Korean Catholic Church. Tasan could hardly have escaped the influence of Catholicism, for his colleagues in the Southerners, many of whom were related to him, as well as his brothers, were strongly drawn to it. Tasan, his elder brothers Chong Yakchon and Chong Yakchong, his close associate Yi Kahwan, and Kwon Cholsin all became involved in the activities of the early Church.(29)

In the conservative atmosphere of Choson Korea, opposition to the new movement was not long in consolidating itself. One year after Yi Sunghun’s visit to Peking, in 1785, official repression began with the proscription of Western Learning by Chongjo, and in the following year the import of books on Western Learning was banned. Nonetheless, in 1788 the fortunes of the Southerners, who had been excluded from high government position from the end of Sukchong’s reign (1674-1720) began to change for the better, with the appointment of Ch’ae Chegong, the Southerners’ leader, to the position of Third State Councillor.(30)

In 1789 Tasan took top place in the taekwa, the higher level examination for civil service, and as he now had two highly placed supporters in the persons of the king and Ch’ae Chegong, this qualification opened the door for service in a series of important government posts.(31) In 1790 Tasan as well as his cousin Yun Chinul (1762-1815) and four other members of their faction, the Southerners, were offered promotion to key positions in the Office of Royal Decrees by Ch’ae Chegong and the director of the Office of Special Counselors. This triggered off the fierce protest of the Old Doctrine, who, aware that their monopoly on the Office of Royal Decrees was being eroded, accused the authors of the reshuffle of factional bias. Consequently Tasan, who had been offered the post of diarist in the same office (Sr. 9), refused to take up the position, due to, in his words, “disapproval” in certain quarters.(32) Nonetheless, Ch’ae Chegong had his way, and in spite of continuing pressure from the Old Doctrine, Tasan was appointed to much more senior and influential positions in the same year, including fourth censor in the Office of the Censor-General (Sr. 6) and fourth inspector at the Office of the Inspector General (Sr. 5). (33)

Then in 1791 the so-called “Chinsan incident” brought the Catholic Church into direct confrontation with Neo-Confucian orthodoxy. This provided the Old Doctrine and particularly members of the Old Doctrine “Principle subfaction” Pyokp ‘a) with a pretext for pressuring the king to remove the “pro-Western faction” from power. This was in their political interests as the “pro-Western faction” to which Tasan and his comrades belonged included many young “up and coming” figures in the Expediency subfaction of the Southerners, the historical enemy of the Principle subfaction of the Old Doctrine. A literary licentiate graduate named Yun Chich’ung from Chinsan in north Cholla Province, a cousin of Tasan, was executed for refusing, in accordance with a papal ruling implemented in 1742, to prepare an ancestral tablet for his mother. Following this, opponents of Tasan’s faction led by an influential member of the Old Doctrine, Hong Nagan, petitioned Ch’ae Chegong, warning him that a group of seven or eight officials who “appeared to be capable and wise” would instigate rebellion. This was an indirect reference to Tasan and his “pro-Western” colleagues. Nonetheless the sympathies of Ch’ae Chegong, who was a leading Southerner figure himself, and the king, lay with the pro-Western faction, who came out of the confrontation ruffled but intact.(34)

Chongjo’s tacit support for Tasan and his close colleagues was not unrelated to their factional affiliation. During the reign of the previous monarch, Yongjo (1724-76), the so-called “Four Colors” (the Southerners, Northerners, Old Doctrine, and Young Doctrine) were further split into subfactions over another fierce controversy that revolved around the problem of succession, in this instance the issue of Crown Prince Sado’s death.(35)

Sado (1735-62), later named Changhön), the second son of Yongjo, became Crown Prince on account of his elder brother's early demise. The prince came to be at loggerheads with his young stepmother Kim (Queen Chongsun) as well as the kings favourite concubine, and his behavior came increasingly under question. Consequently, a memorial was presented to Yongjo accusing his son of gross misconduct, including the killing of palace concubines, the invitation of Buddhist priests to the palace, and the importation of literature on Western Learning. These accusations were prompted by a group of Old Doctrine officials including the father of Queen Chongsun. Finally, under increasing pressure from his palace entourage as well as Old Doctrine officials, Yôngjo put his son to death. This act split officialdom into two groups, the Principle group, which condoned Yôngjo’s behaviour, and the Expediency group, which strongly opposed it. Consequently, over the factional conflict between the “Four Colors” yet another bitter rivalry was superimposed, the conflict between the Expediency subfaction and the Principle subfaction, which persisted through Chongjo’s reign to the early years of Sunjo (1800-34).(36) Although the Old Doctrine were split down the middle by the affair, most members of the Southerners supported Prince Sado and considered themselves members of the Expediency subfaction.(37)

When Chongjo took the throne, he tried to fulfill his role as a filial son by attempting to vindicate his father Sado.(38) Consequently, the fortunes of the Expediency subfaction, and particularly the Southerners Expediency subfaction, gradually improved at the expense of their rivals, the Principle subfaction. On account of this, as well as the enforcement of the so-called “policy of impartiality”, Southerner officials found themselves in the top ranks of government for the first time since the reign of Sukchong. The Old Doctrine were particularly dismayed to see a Southerner leader, Ch’ae Chegong, appointed as chief state councillor in 1793, and did their very best to discredit him and his colleagues.(39) The involvement of Tasan and his friends in Western Learning provided them with the best of pretexts to do so. Tasan himself, in the center of the factional turmoil-as a key figure in the Southerners Expediency subfaction “pro-Western group” and a strong sympathizer of Prince Sado and his son, Chongjo-was not immune to factional antipathies. On occasion, when pointing out the political intrigues of the Old Doctrine Principle subfaction, he would refer to them as the “evil party."(40)

In 1792, after the turmoil produced by the Chinsan incident had subsided, Tasan was appointed sixth counselor in the Office of Special Counselors (Sr. 6). In the winter of the same year, the king, impressed by the successful construction of a floating bridge over the Han River, master-minded by Tasan, requested him to submit detailed plans for the construction of the walls at the emergency capital in Suwön. The cranes and systems of pulleys that Tasan devised for this project, using various sources including Chinese manuals that were based on Western texts, were given the highest praise by the king, who claimed that Tasan’s scientific expertise had considerably reduced the cost of construction.(41)

In 1794 Tasan was appointed to the position of lecturer at the National Confucian Academy (Sr. 5), and then to fifth and sixth counselor in the Office of Special Counselors (Sr. 5, 6). Very soon after, the king personally conferred him with the trusted position of the king’s secret envoy to Kyônggi Province, where he was responsible for investigating irregularities in local administration.(42)

In 1795, the sixtieth anniversary of the birth of Prince Sado, the king planned to grant an honorific title to the prince as well as his queen. The honorific title to be conferred was to reflect Sado’s character and status, and not surprisingly, the choice of names became a focus of conflict between the Expediency subfaction and the Principle subfaction, his supporters and opponents respectively. Tasan drew attention to this event in both of his self-written epitaphs, providing considerable detail in the epitaph for his collected works as well as a mention in the much briefer epitaph to be placed in his grave. According to Tasan’s account, Ch’ae Chegong, Yi Kahwan, as well as himself, played leading roles in determining the appropriate titles. In particular, Yi Kahwan and Tasan defended the name of Chongjo’s lineage by arguing that Sado and his queen be referred to in the most honorific terms possible.(43)

It was not long before Tasan’s enemies, determined to put a stop to the rise of the Southerners, and wary of Tasan’s increasing influence as a close favourite of the king, found another pretext to discredit him and his colleagues. In the same year word got out that a Chinese priest named Chou Wen-mo (1752-1801) had secretly entered Korea and was actively engaged in gaining support for the newly founded Catholic church. Chou managed to evade the authorities, but three of his followers, including Yun Yuil (1760-95), whom Tasan had previously befriended as a member of the “pro-Western” group before the persecution, were arrested and killed. The King refused to accept rumors, instigated by the Old Doctrine Principle subfaction, that Tasan and his friends had been backing Chou’s activities. Nonetheless, to pacify the indignation of the Principle subfaction, he sent Tasan to Kümjong, South P’yongan Province, as superintendent of post stations (Jr. 6).” This also provided Tasan with an opportunity to prove that he had renounced any lingering affiliation he might have had to Catholicism. Many of those working at the post stations in Kumjông had embraced the new religion, and, following the personal instruction of the king, Tasan did his best to enforce the ban on Catholicism and encourage them to return to their Confucian ways and perform the ancestral rites.(45)

In 1796 Tasan was again promoted, this time to his highest post yet, fourth minister at the Board of War (Sr. 3), and then to the equally influential positions of fifth and fourth royal secretaries. In the following year, in the face of the repeated accusations of his opponents, Tasan turned down a further position in the Royal Secretariat and instead accepted a post away from the capital, in Koksan, Hwanghae Province.(46) During his service as county magistrate in Koksan, as well as during his previous period of office as secret envoy in Kyönggi Province, Tasan had first-hand experience of yangban excesses and the fierce public resentment they fed.(47)

In 1799 Tasan found himself back in the capital. For a time he was appointed to the position of Third Minister of the Board of Punishments, where on the recommendation of the king he took up many of the responsibilities of the ageing minister himself.(48) But the following year, troubled by continuing accusations and rumours of his affiliation to the church, he retired with his family to his home in Mahyön ri. On the insistence of the king he returned to the capital shortly after, but this period in office did not last long. In the summer of 1800, the day after he had presented Tasan with a collection of books and requested his participation in an editorial project, Chôngjo took ill. A month later he died, leaving the country in the hands of Yöngjo’s queen, Queen Dowager Kim, who had become regent to Chongjo’s young son, Sunjo.(49)

Tasan, deprived of the protection of Chongjo as well as that of the influential Ch’ae Chegong, who had died the previous year, was exposed to the opportunism of the Old Doctrine Principle subfaction, who were profiting from their close ties to the Queen Dowager, secured during the reign of Yongjo. Shortly after her accession to power, the Queen Dowager ordered that all Catholics be severely dealt with, initiating what came to be known as the Catholic persecution of 1801.(50) Yi Sunghun, Tasan’s brother Chong Yakchong and his close friend Yi Kahwan were put to death. Chong Yakchon, Tasan’s second eldest brother, was exiled to Hüksando off the southwest coast, and Tasan exiled to Kangjin, in south Chôlla Province.(51)

In 1803 Queen Dowager Kim issued a special decree to free Tasan, but this was opposed by State Councillor So Yongbo.(52) So was the powerful Old Doctrine (Principle subfaction) official whose questionable dealings in Kyonggi Province had been reported to Chongjo by Tasan during his service as the king’s secret envoy.(53)

In 1808 Tasan moved to a hill near Kangjin overlooking the south coast, called Tasan, or “Tea Mountain”. There he was granted use of a pavilion (later named “Tasan ch’odang”) belonging to Yun Tan (1744-1821), a member of his mother’s line, the Yun clan of Haenam.(54) It is no wonder that Tasan was named after this place, for this was where he spent one of the most significant periods of his life. He landscaped the site with trees, a pond, and a waterfall, and built two thatched cottages, one of which he used for studying. Soon after he built them, he began lecturing a small group of students on the Classic of Changes On the vertical face of a boulder nearby he wrote two characters meaning “Chong’s stone,” which are still visible today. Having created a suitable atmosphere for study and reflection, Tasan established a personal library of about a thousand volumes and, in the absence of the many distractions surrounding his years in politics, set about writing what were to become his major and most celebrated works.(55) The enthusiasm and methodical attitude with which he set about the study of the Confucian classics is best conveyed in his own words:

"Once I was banished to the coast I said to myself, “I set my mind on learning in my youth, but for twenty years I became enmeshed in secular affairs and was not able to discover the great Way with which the sage-kings of old governed the empire. Now I have the leisure to do so.”

"Consequently I was filled with happiness. I immersed myself in research on the Six Classics and the Four Books. I collected and investigated the whole range of Confucian commentaries supplementing the words of the Classics, from the Han and Wei to the Ming and Ch’ing, and correcting errors and distortions, as well as noting down selected passages, set out my personal views".(56)

Tasan’s work on the classics, which filled 232 fascicles, compared with a total of 262 fascicles taken up by his other works, drew on Japanese as well as Chinese and Korean sources, and was characterized by the broad variety of commentaries which he quoted, and in turn commented upon. His other writings include three major treatises on central institutional reform, local administration, and the legal system, entitled Kyongse yup ‘yo (Treatise on Government), Mongmin simso (Reflections on fostering the people), and Humhüm shinso (New Treatise on the Legal System), respectively. Summarizing the significance of these writings, Tasan stated, "By means of the Six Classics and the Four Books the person is cultivated, and by means of the one p’yo [the Kyongse yup’yo] and the two so [the Mongmin simsó and Humhum shinso], the world and nation are served. Thereby the root and the branches are provided for.(57)

This remark provides insignt not only into the functions which Tasan ascribed to his major writings, but also into the extent to which his work was governed by the traditional Confucian worldview, which saw the learning of the scholar as revolving around the dual and interrelated goals of self-development and the ordering of society:

As well as the political treatises and classical commentaries mentioned, Tasan’s encyclopedic writings covered such varied subjects as economics, national defense, geography, philology, education, and medicine.

Tasan additionally wrote a series of epitaphs, on himself as well as his close relatives, colleagues, and prominent figures of his time, which remain valuable historical sources. He also wrote a great deal of poetry dealing with his personal circumstances as well as the social and political life of the country. The vivid imagery he used in his many allegories on Choson society and its ruling elite, particularly during his period in exile, indicate the sympathies he had for the economic and social difficulties experienced by the peasantry, with whom he was now in closer contact. They also reveal his equally strong disapproval of the so-called in-law government imposed during the reign of Sunjo.(59) Concentration of power in the Andong Kim clan, centering on the in-laws of the young King Sunjo, had led to greater corruption among government officials and irregularites in the Three Administrations responsible for the collection of taxes. The Hong Kyongnae rebellion of 1811 was just one expression of the resulting popular unrest affecting many rural areas. Keen awareness of the abuse of political authority, which he had now seen from both sides of the political divide, and the living standards of the local populace, was reflected not only in the “social poetry” of Tasan, but also in the detailed measures for local administrative reform set out in his Reflections on Fostering the People (Mongmin simso).

Tasan's critique of orthodox Neo-Confucian thought, the focus of this book, is to be found mainly in his commentaries on the classics, but another important source for his opinions on a wide variety of subjects, including Neo-Confucianism as well as Han Learning, are a series of short essays (non) which are considered to have been written during his period of government service under Chongjo.(60) Nonetheless, perhaps on account of their brevity, they are not mentioned in his self-written epitaph or chronological biography, which include summaries of all his major works. Including his poems, letters, and other assorted writings, Tasan’s complete works, in the form of literary Chinese, take up almost 14,000 pages. Translated into English, they would take up approximately seventy volumes averaging three hundred pages in length.

In 1818, by dint of a memorial presented by Yi Taesun of the Office of Royal Decrees protesting his continued exile, Tasan was allowed to return to his hometown in Kyonggi Province after eighteen years of isolation. In the following year, attempts to reinvest him with a government post were thwarted by the powerful Old Doctrine state councillor So Yongbo, and a similar request was again turned down in 1827.(61) Consequently, the last fourteen years of Tasan’s life were also spent out of office, during which he produced several more major works, including his studies on the Classic of Documents and his selfwritten epitaph (Chach ‘an myojimyong). The account of Tasan’s life presented in this chapter, as well as the list of his major works set out in the appendix, are based mainly on his epitaph, both the shorter (kwangjungbon) and longer (chipchungbon) versions, as well as a chronological biography (Saam sonsaeng yonbo) written by Chong Kyuyong, Tasan’s fourth-generation descendant, who had access to materials lost shortly after the biography was written.

Chapter 2. The Road to Tea Mountain

1. His personal names were Miyong and Songbo, and his courtesy name Sa’am. He was later named Tasan after the mountain where he lived during his exile in Cholla Province.

2. Chach’an myojimyong, Myojimyong, la, YC, 146; SSY, 1.

3. Now: Nüngnae-ri, Choan-myôn, Namyangju County, Kyônggi Province.

4. SSY, 1.

5. Chach ‘an myojimyong, 2b.

6. Chegasung ch’waryo, Che, 39b, YC, 1:14.

7. Kasumg yusa, Yusa, 16b, YC, 1:17; Chach’an myojimyong, 2b.

8. Yoyudang chonso poyu (Seoul: Kyongin munhwasa, 1982), 2:647, quoted in Pak Sôngmu, "Tasanhak ui yônwon.”

9. Ibid., 2:644, 651, quoted in Pak, "Tasanhak üi yônwôn.”

10. Tokhaeng Chonggong myojimyong, in Songhosonsaeng chonjip (Seoul: Kyöngin munhwasa, 1974), 2:531.

11. Udam Chongsonsaeng myogalmyong, in Songhosonsaeng chonjip, 2:460.

12. Kasung yusa, Yusa, 18b.

13. Kasung yusa, Yusa, 18a.

14. Chông Ku followed the teachings of T'oegye, and together with him, is regarded as one of the founding members of the Yôngnam school.

15. Hyonp’a Yun chinsa haengjang, Haengjang, 29a.

16. SSY, 3.

17. Ibid., 2-4.

18. Chach ‘an myojimyong, 6a-b.

19. See, for example, SSY, 49-50.

20. Ibid., 5.

21. Ibid., 5-6.

22. Chach’an myojimyong, 3a; SSY, 9-10.

23. See discussion of these virtues in chapter 3.

24. Pogam Yi Kiyang myojimyong, Myojimyong, 32a-b. Intrigued by Ch’ae’s remarks, Tasan personally asked Yi whether all this was true, but Yi seemed inclined to play down his apparent admiration for Yun, putting it down to a “youthful phase.” There could have been ulterior reasons for this change of heart, in view of Yun Hyu’s status as a major opponent of the Old Doctrine.

25. Chach ‘an myojimyong, 3a.

26. See page 60 for a brief discussion of the origins of the “Expediency subfaction” (sip ‘a) and “Principle subfaction” (pyokp ‘a).

27. See SSY, 12-16, 25-27, 31-32, 45, 67.

28. Chach ‘an myojimyong, 3a.

29. Ch’oe Sóg’u, “Chong Tasan ui söhak sasang”, in Chong Tasan kwa ku sidae, Kang Man’gil et al. (Seoul: Minümsa, 1986), 108-112.

30. In 1793, when he had sufficiently strengthened his position, Chongjo promoted Ch’ae Chegong to the highest seat of government, the position of chief state councillor (Chongjo sillok, in Chosön wangjo sillok, 37:41a-b). But the opposition of the Old Doctrine was so strong that Ch’ae only retained his position for nine days. This indicates the extent to which the Old Doctrine, and particularly the Old Doctrine Principle subfaction, had obtained a secure grip on power (Chongjo sillok, 37:51a-52a).

31. SSY, 17-18.

32. The most senior rank in the eighteen ranks of Chosôn government office is referred to as Sr. 1, the next as Jr. 1 and so on down to Jr. 9.

33. SSY, 21-24; Chach ‘an myojimyong, 3b.

34. ,I>Chongjo sillok, 33:44a—b; Chach ‘an myojimyong, 3b; SSY, 28, 31.

35. Factional animosities continued to take center stage in the political process, regardless of the implementation of the “Policy of Impartiality” (T’angp ‘ yongch ‘aek), instituted by King Yôngjo (r. 1724-76) at the beginning of his reign, which required the appointment of officials irrespective of factional affiliation. As it turned out, the “Policy of Impartiality” had not eradicated the potential for conflict between rival groups, partly because previously disenfranchised factions vigorously sought to consolidate the foothold on power the policy had given them.

36. Chong Sokchong, “Chóngjo, Sunjo yon’gan ui chôngguk kwa Tasan ui ipchang,” in Chong Tasan kwa ku sidae, 17; Chongjo sillok, 25:45a.

37. Han’guksa, ed. Chindan Hakhoe (Seoul: Uryu munhwasa, 1959), 4:62-63.

38. Chongjo sillok, 1:5a-b.

39. Ibid., 37:51a-52a.

40. Chach ‘an myojimyong.

41. Chach ‘an myojimyong, 4a-b; SSY, 31-38.

42. During his period of service in Kyónggi Province, Tasan found that the governor was selling off government grain at extortionate prices, on the pretext of using the gains for building roads. As soon as Tasan returned to the capital, he reported this to the king. The governor in question was none other than So Yongbo, a leading figure of the Old Doctrine Principle subfaction who eventually became chief state councillor and presided over the purge of Tasan’s faction during the following reign (Myojimyong, 4b—5a).

43. Chach ‘an myojimyong, 5a-b; SSY, 45-47.

44. Chongjo sillok, 43:12a; SSY, 60.

45. Chach ‘an myojimyong, 6b-7b.

46. Ibid., 8a; SSY, 84.

47. Chach ‘an myojimyong, 3b-9b.

48. Ibid., 9b.

49. Ibid., lOa.

50. Sunjo sillok, in Chosan wangjo sillok, 2:4b.

51. Chong Yakchon (1758-1816) was also an accomplished scholar of the classics, who wrote several commentaries on the Classic of Changes and Analects, and during their exile he continued to take an interest in Tasan’s work, praising his commentary on the Classic of Changes and encouraging him (Sonjungssi myojimyong, myojimyong, 41a).

52. Chach ‘an myojimyong, 12a.

53. See note 42.

54. Situated in Mandok-ri, Toam-myon, Kangjin County. See Pak Songmu, Tasan sanmunson (Seoul: Ch’angjak kwa pip’yongsa, 1985) 44.

55. SSY, 150; Chach’an myojimyong, 12a.

56. Ibid., 12b.

57. Ibid., 18a.

58. These dual goals of Confucian learning were described by Chu Hsi in his preface to the Ta-hsüeh chang-chu, 3a.

59. Cho Kwang, “Chong Yagyong ui min’gwon uisik yon’gu,” Asea yon ‘gu, 56:81-118; Kim, Tasan Chong Yagyong munhak yon ‘gu, 130-162.

60. CYC, 1:11—12.

61. Chach ‘an myojimyong, 12b.

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