Yi Hwang (1501–1570)—best known by his literary name, T’oegye—is one of the most eminent thinkers in the history of East Asian philosophy and religion. His Chasŏngnok (Record of self-reflection) is a superb Korean Neo-Confucian text: an eloquent collection of twenty-two scholarly letters and four essays written to his close disciples and junior colleagues. These were carefully selected by T’oegye himself after self-reflecting (chasŏng) on his practice of personal cultivation. The Chasŏngnok continuously guided T’oegye and inspired others on the true Confucian way (including leading Neo-Confucians in Tokugawa Japan) while it criticized Buddhism and Daoism. Its philosophical merit rivals T’oegye’s monumental Sŏnghak sipto (Ten diagrams on sage learning) and “Four-Seven Debate Letters”; however, as a testament of T’oegye’s character, scholarship, and teaching, the Chasŏngnok is of greater interest. The work engages with his holistic knowledge and experience of self-cultivation by articulating textual and historical material on various key doctrines and ideas. It is an inspiring practical guide that reveals the depth of T’oegye’s learning and spirituality.
The present volume offers a fully annotated translation of the Chasŏngnok. Following a groundbreaking discussion of T’oegye’s life and ideas according to the Chasŏngnok and his other major writings, it presents the core of his thought in six interrelated sections: “Philosophy of Principle,” “Human Nature and Emotions,” “Against Buddhism and Daoism,” “True Learning,” “Self-Cultivation,” and “Reverence and Spiritual Cultivation.” The bibliography offers a current catalogue of primary sources and modern works in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and English. As the first comprehensive study of the Chasŏngnok, this book is a welcome addition to current literature on Korean classics and East Asian philosophy and religion. By presenting T’oegye’s thought-provoking contributions, it sheds new light on the vitality of Confucian wisdom, thereby affording scholars and students with an excellent primary source for East Asian studies in general and Confucian studies in particular.
Chung, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, is one of the finest connoisseurs of T’oegye and his thought. This he combines with solid translational skills, crafting a prose that is highly readable while retaining the intricacies of the original text. . . . This is a recommended reading for advanced students and specialists of Neo-Confucianism.
. . . this translation of the Chasŏngnok is unquestionably a welcome addition to the studies of Korean Confucian tradition and intellectual history. Readers will be able to observe how Neo-Confucian moral philosophy actually developed in Chosŏn scholarly culture. These letters also reveal both the patterns of and the content discussed in scholarly networks in sixteenth-century Korea. Literary scholars of other parts of the world who focus on writing genres and/or reading practices will find T’oegye’s innovative usage of letters for purposes other than communication intellectually interesting.
Author Y. J. Chung takes a respectful look at the seminal writings of the revered scholar. The translated letters do give the reader insights to the distinctions of the three great Asian philosophies. He has added an extensive bibliography, which offers a catalog of primary sources and modern works in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and English. The book serves as an excellent reference to Hwang Yi and the influence of Confucianism.
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