A Korean Confucian Way of Life and Thought: The Chasongnok (Record of Self-Reflection) by Yi Hwang (T’oegye)
312pp. November 2015
A Korean Confucian Way of Life and Thought: The Chasongnok (Record of Self-Reflection) by Yi Hwang (Toegye)
Translator: Chung, Edward Y. J.;
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.

Korean Classics Library: Philosophy and Religion
“This book is a study and an annotated translation of Yi Hwang’s (1501-1570) Chasŏngnok (Record of Self-Reflection) . . . Edward Chung has translated this collection and provides an insightful introduction to Yi Hwang’s thought and self-cultivation practice. . . . This is a significant contribution to the study of Neo-Confucianism. Chung suggests consideration of “Confucian thought as ‘spiritual humanism’ in dialogue with world philosophies and religions” (45). This book will help the uninitiated reader understand the practice of Confucian self-cultivation, while enabling the scholar to understand Yi Hwang’s thought more profoundly." —American Academy of Religion

". . . Along with the translation, Chung provides a critical introduction to the volume, which is extremely helpful in contextualizing this rather less-known work. In particular, he has done a wonderful job in extracting the metaphysical and theoretical subjects that readers will encounter while reading . . . Chung attentively escorts readers in this way for easy understanding . . . 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." —Acta Koreana

"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."–Religious Studies Review

Translator: Chung, Edward Y. J.;
Edward Y. J. Chung teaches Eastern religion and thought and comparative religion at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada.