AAS Annual Meeting

Korea Session 689

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Session 689: Sage-King Chongjo: Political Power in 18th-Century Korea

Organizer: Christopher Lovins, University of British Columbia, Canada

This panel examines the relationship between King Chongjo and his world. Drawing on presenters from Korea, US, and Russia, it will explore politics and philosophy of the late Choson period. Seung B. Kye will delve into Chongjo's use of Confucian ritual to reinforce royal power through Ming loyalism. How did the kings of eighteenth-century Korea reconcile their support of the Qing with Confucian demands for fidelity to Ming? Kirill Ermakov will examine the impact of King Chongjo on the writings of Tasan Chong Yagyong and the shifting dynamic between ruler and subject. How does a loyal official defend his right to think independently, even of a benevolent sovereign that he respects? Christopher Lovins will use exciting new research coming out of cognitive science to reappraise the use of metaphor in Chongjo's Confucian writings. Why did Chongjo choose the 'Imperial Pivot' as a metaphor, and why was it effective? The panel hopes to generate discussion on how King Chongjo operated in his world and engender a greater understanding of eighteenth-century Korean history in general.

Making Sense of the Imperial Pivot: Metaphor Theory and the Writings of King Chongjo
Christopher Lovins, University of British Columbia, Canada

Chongjo was the last strong king of Korea and the most successful of the latter half of the Choson period. He brought an end to two centuries of bitter factionalism that had continuously set off bloody purges of the ranks of the ruling yangban elite and in the process strengthened the Korean throne. As an eventual heir to the throne from his birth, he received intense instruction in the state Neo-Confucian ideology. Chongjo was to use this extensive Confucian education to propagate a royalist political philosophy through which to combat the minister-centered thought of the aristocracy and wrest control of the central sage-king concept away from the aristocracy. This paper draws on conceptual metaphor theory and blending theory to examine how King Chongjo argued for royal power in his preface to the Book of the Imperial Pivot. After a brief background of factionalism in late Choson, it explores four primary metaphors embedded in the complex metaphor of the king as the “Imperial Pivot”. Then it looks at the metaphor as a double-scope blend that creates a new space from the source domains of CENTRAL PIVOT and KING IN POLITICS. It argues that Chongjo draws upon four primary metaphors—particularly that of BALANCE—in order to provoke a visceral desire in his ministers for him to use the power of the throne to eliminate divisive factions. The Imperial Pivot is a blended space that allows Chongjo to invoke the visceral desire for equilibrium provided by the pivot metaphor while leaving behind its connotation of passivity.

Living in the Past: A Korean Memory of Ming China in the 1700s-1800s
Seung B. Kye, Sogang University, South Korea

This paper looks at the historical background of the conservative Korean attitude toward the outer world in the 1700s within the context of the politico-intellectual trend after the compromise with the Manchus in 1637. Ming China had been honored in Choson Korea as the suzerain-father since the 1500s, with the result that the Ming became the object for Choson filial piety as well as loyalty. After the surrender to the Manchus in 1637, however, the Korean leadership faced an ideological crisis because it meant that king and court officials themselves violated the two primary Confucian values, loyalty and filial piety, on which the ruling mechanism of the dynasty had been based. The establishment and enlargement of the Altar of Great Gratitude (Taebodan) was designed to offset the ‘violation’ and demonstrate visibly Choson’s fulfillment of its righteous obligations to the fallen Ming regardless of the circumstances. The ‘post-Ming’ Korean kings Yongjo and Chongjo performed sacrifices for three Ming emperors on the anniversaries of their deaths every year. These sacrifices were regularly performed even after Choson opened up its ports to Japan (1876) and Western powers (1880s), and continued until Seoul was occupied by the Japanese on the eve of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), implying that the majority of the Korean elites still lived spiritually under the imaginary Ming order on the threshould of the so-called modern era.

The Impact of King Chongjo on Chong Yagyong's Thought
Kirill Ermakov, Moscow State University, Russia

This paper is focused on the relations between sovereign and subject and on the a nobleman’s perception of royal power in eighteenth-century Korea viewed through the prism of the relations between King Chongjo (reigned 1776 – 1800) and Chong Yagyong (1762-1836). Notwithstanding the fact that a large part of the treatises by Chong Yagyong, Korean scholar of the Late Choson period, was written in exile where he was sent after King Chongjo’s death, it was due to Chongjo that Chong got the opportunity to serve both at the central and local government levels and to deal with some practical issues (defense, construction etc.). Serving as an official was crucial for the formation of Chong’s reformist outlook, and dealing with the subjects that might have been looked upon as something unworthy of much attention of a virtuous Confucian scholar definitely enriched Chong’s life experience. The paper will argue that the attitude of Chong Yagyong towards his King was somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, he personally respected him as an ideal Confucian ruler, but on the other hand, Chong was confident of his right to think independently. However, the relations between the King and the future sage raise certain questions. First, it is important to define the reason for Chongjo’s keen interest in the young scholar. Second, it is necessary to understand Chong’s perception of royal power. This topic can be of benefit for a better understanding of Korean political history in the Late Choson period.