The failure of readaptation of Korean Confucianism : the school of practical learning
It is the intent of this thesis to examine the School of Practical Learning during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Korea and to indicate how and why this School failed to readapt the liberal aspects of the original doctrines of Confucianism in a manner which would prepare and encourage the modernization of Korean society. In the Korea of this period, the prevailing interpretations of Confucianism were dogmatically traditionalistic and conservative. Consequently, Confucianist orthodoxy, which provided the ultimate and authoritative intellectual and moral standards governing the entire nation, served to preserve the absolute monarchy and the feudal order (in the Korean historical sense of the term) from fundamental change and modernization. The rigid conservatism of Korean Confucianism, with its emphasis on abstract metaphysics and complex formalism in social relations, was also unable to cope efficiently with the many serious social and economic problems which threatened virtual social disintegration. The School of Practical Learning represented an intellectual reaction to these socio-economic crises and attendant political disorders. The major objective of the School of Practical Learning was to overcome what appeared to its members as a distortion of Confucianism by returning to its original and more liberal aspects which could develop Confucianism into a more utilitarian or practical philosophy capable of relieving the misery of the peasantry and restoring internal peace within the country. These efforts were largely unsuccessful. Their failure, in turn, suggested that it was the nature of Confucianism to be refractory to modernization. However, the argument of this thesis is that this failure of the School of Practical Learning was not due to any incorrigibly conservative character of Confucianism itself, but rather stemmed from the limitations of its loading members who, despite their reformative intent and good-will, wore, themselves unable to transcend the historical conditions and perspectives of their time. The modernization of Korea had to await the fall of the Yi dynasty and the Japanese occupation in 1910.