[KS] Re: More on HKT

Kirk Larsen kwlarsen at fas.harvard.edu
Mon Feb 28 18:53:51 EST 2000

A comment and a question motivated by this very interesting thread:

Mickey Hong wrote:

>His basic belief was that one should be recognized for his skill than his
>It's close to the basic idea of democracy (all men should be treated
>that in a Neo-Confucian society. 

Correct me if I err, but I thought the idea of meritocracy (e.g. that
people should be recognized, recruited and promoted based on skill or
virtue or character rather than blood) is as "Confucian" as it is
"democratic." One of Confucius' key tenets is that the idea of the
virtuous "Noble Man" (junzi) should replace the idea of the "Nobleman" who
possessed a right to rule based only on his birth. This is one of the
explicit purposes of the civil service exam system. Of course the reality
has never lived up to this ideal in any "Confucian" society, Korea not
excepted. Aristocrats seem to have always found ways to ensure success
regardless of their "merit" however defined. That someone in 17th century
Korea should believe in the idea of meritocracy doesn't seem too
surprising to me. 

A question: the comments on whether certain versions of this story may
have been written in han'gul prompts the wider question: according to the
latest scholarship, just how widespread was the use of han'gul before the
late 19th century? Are there sources (in English if possible; most of my
students can't read Korean) that explore this issue more generally?


Kirk Larsen


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