Reversing the Stream: Virtue Politics and Moral Economy in Neo-Confucian Korea


This article investigates the Neo-Confucian project of “reverse moral economy,” which aims to restore the ideal congruence between political power and moral virtue, by examining a political debate on the selection of the new Crown Prince and the incumbent ruler’s subsequent abdication that took place in Korea during the formative period of the Chosŏn 朝鮮 dynasty in light of the so-called “the Mencian trouble,” a compromise between Mencius’ ideal vision of Confucian virtue politics and his realistic concern with political stability. After discussing how Korean Neo-Confucians were able to justify their choice of a more virtuous candidate in violation of the Lineage Law, which upheld father-son transmission as the constant norm, by judiciously balancing between the candidate’s virtue and the incumbent ruler’s recommendation, it articulates the Korean Neo-Confucian project of reverse moral economy from the standpoint of the constitutionality of the new dynasty.

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Sungmoon Kim
City University of Hong Kong

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