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Hwisang Cho

[De]Popularizing a Confucian Master: Yushin and the Birth of T’oegye Studies

Hwisang Cho, Xavier University

Abstract: T’oegye Yi Hwang (1501–1570) is generally considered the most prominent Confucian master of Korea. Notably, many aspects of the modern image of T’oegye were constructed by the Park Chung Hee regime during several years before and after the onset of the Yushin era (1972–1979). The collection of T’oegye’s writings was translated into Korean in 1968. In 1969, Park ordered and directed the restoration of the Tosan Academy, which had been the academic center of T’oegye’s intellectual heirs. In 1970, a committee for celebrating the fourth centennial of T’oegye’s passing was established, and his statue was erected in front of the Namsan Library in Seoul and unveiled by Park himself. In 1973, the Journal of T’oegye Studies began publication, which continues to this day. In 1975, T’oegye began to appear on the one-thousand won banknote. The Park regime claimed that the government supported these projects to promote the “national spirit,” which had been forgotten and denigrated during the rapid modernization of Korean society.

This paper will demonstrate how the Park regime manipulated T’oegye as an alternative to the resistant and subversive urban popular culture. This Confucian tradition, however, did not appeal to the public but developed into a specialized academic subject led by a small group of scholars. The Park regime neglected to follow the ways the Confucian tradition had modestly succeeded in the turn-of-the-twentieth-century mass media, which highlighted accounts about T’oegye from the records of his words and behaviors (ŏnhaengnok) and unofficial histories. The field of T’oegye studies developed under the aegis of the government displaced the modern popular base of T’oegye’s legacy and returned it to premodern domination by a few intellectuals.