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Thursday, 14 November 2013

Confucian Confusions in Korea, Part II: What are the differences between Hyanggyo and Seowon?

Daegu Hyanggyo at Namsan 1-dong, Daegu Jung-gu
There are two types of Confucian Institutions in Korea which are Hyanggyo (향교/鄕校) and Seowon (서원/書院). The Hyanggyo were government-run provincial schools established separately during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and Joseon Dynasty (July 1392 - August 1910), but did not meet with widespread success in either dynasty. They were officially closed near the end of the Joseon Dynasty, in 1894, but many were reopened as public elementary schools in 1900.

In the Joseon Dynasty, hyanggyo were established in every bu, mok, daedohobu, dohobu, gun, and hyeon (the last corresponding roughly to the size of modern-day cities and counties). They served primarily the children of the yangban, or ruling elite upper-class. Education was oriented toward the gwageo, or national civil service examinations. Although such education was in high demand, the hyanggyo were ultimately unable to compete with the privately run seowon and seodang.

Wolbong Seowon at Gwangsan-dong, Gwangju Gwangsan-gu
The Seowon were the most common educational institution of Korea during the mid- to late Joseon Dynasty. They were private institutions, and combined the functions of a Confucian shrine and a preparatory school. In educational terms, the seowon were primarily occupied with preparing students for the national civil service examinations. In most cases, seowon served only pupils of the aristocratic yangban class.

Seowon first appear in the early Joseon Dynasty. Although the exact year of their introduction is not known for certain, in 1418 King Sejong issued rewards to two scholars for their work in setting up seowon in Gimje and Gwangju. The first seowon to receive a royal charter was the Sosu Seowon in Punggi-eup, Yeongju City, Northern Gyeongsang, presided over by Toegye Yi Hwang, which was given a hanging board by King Myeongjong in 1550.

Many seowon were established by leading literati, or by local groups of yangban families. For instance, Joo Se-bong established the Sosu Seowon, which continued in operation long after his death. Some of them were built by Sarim scholars who retired to villages in the wake of literati purges of 16th century and served as their political bases.

Most seowon were closed by an edict of the regent Heungseon Daewongun in the turbulent final years of the 19th century. He banned the unauthorized construction of seowon in 1864, and removed their tax exemption in 1868; finally, in 1871, he ordered all but a handful closed. The provincial yangban were outraged by these measures, and this is among the reasons that Daewongun was driven from power in 1873; however, the seowon remained closed.