Rethinking the Foundation and Development of “East Asian Silhak”: With a Focus on the Establishment of Its Concept and Periodic Classification

Journal of Confucian Philosophy and Culture 41:177-202 (2024)
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Abstract

In the seventeenth to the eighteenth centuries, East Asia witnessed new academic trends emphasizing social practice and reform over theoretical considerations. These trends gave rise to Silhak 實學 (“Practical Learning”) in Korea in the late Joseon dynasty, Qixue 氣學 (“Learning of Vital Forces”) in China in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, and Kogaku 古學 (“Ancient Learning”) in Japan in the Edo period. A concept of “East Asian Silhak 東亞實學 (East Asian Practical Learning)” can be conceived in the context of strengthening the Confucian statecraft in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this academic trend, so-called East Asian Practical Learning, was manifested in the form of “pursuit of West-centered modernity” in the three East Asian countries. It would be appropriate to understand it as a “modern transformation of East Asian Confucian thought” rather than as the Confucian statecraft in the context of Confucianism. When attempting to incorporate the ideological transformation of Confucianism in East Asia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries into the concept of Silhak, there are issues such as: the conceptual confusion between Silhak of the late Joseon dynasty of Korea and Kaozhengxue 考證學 (“Evidential Learning”) of the Qing dynasty of China; and their pursuit of modernity based on the premise of anti-Zhuzi studies. Given these complexities, this article underscores that the genesis of New Silhak in twenty-first-century East Asia lies in the simultaneous relationship between Zhuzi studies and Silhak, reflecting the Confucian ideal of neisheng waiwang 內聖外王 (“inner sage and outer king”).

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