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  • The Analects of Dasan, Volume 1: A Korean Syncretic Reading by Jeong Yakyong (Dasan)
  • Dobin Choi (bio)
The Analects of Dasan, Volume 1: A Korean Syncretic Reading. By Jeong Yakyong (Dasan), Hongkyung Kim (tr. and comm.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. 260. $85.00, isbn 978-0-19-062499-6.

Dasan Jeong Yak-yong (다산茶山 정약용丁若鏞, 1762–1836) has been revered as one of the national intellectual heroes in Korea. Dasan's dramatic life career—acclaimed as a young elite government official, beloved by the King, but exiled for 18 years (1801–1818) due to his family's association with Catholicism (one of his elder brothers chose execution to keep his Catholic faith)—is common knowledge to contemporary Koreans, as he is a frequent character on various television dramas, and his birth and death sites are places of pilgrimage. Dasan's cultural fame is underpinned by two intellectual pillars: one is his practical theories for sociopolitical reformation that follow the scholarly tradition of "Practical Learning (silhak 實學)" in the late Joseon [朝鮮] period, and the other is his philosophical criticism of mainstream neo-Confucianism through his thorough reinterpretation of the Confucian classics. While the first culminated in Mongmin simso (牧民心書 (1817)),1 Noneo gogeum ju (論語古今 註 (1813)), Old and New Commentaries on the Analects, is the gem of Dasan's philosophical re-examination of Confucian thinking. The Analects of Dasan aims to reveal the original meanings of Confucius's teachings at the moment—"the learning by Zhu-Si 洙泗 waters" (p. 10)—through Dasan's critical reading of all the significant commentaries of the past with a syncretic perspective, as the title of Hongkyung Kim's book suggests.

This book, the first of a six-volume complete English translation of Dasan's Noneo gogeum ju, is a valuable gift to scholars and students of East Asian intellectual traditions. Without a doubt, the Analects is the principal text for our understanding of East Asian cultural and sociopolitical ethos. Despite the variety of its English translations, however, contemporary readers have rarely had the opportunity to access the notable commentaries of Confucian scholars over two thousand years, with the possible exception of Zhu Xi (朱熹 1130–1200). Taking Zhu Xi's Lun yu jizhu 論語集註 as a benchmark for distinction, Dasan seriously collected and critically reorganized both "old commentaries"—for instance, those in He Yan's (何晏 195–249) Lun yu jijie 論語集解—and "new commentaries," including those of East Asian scholars from the century before him, such as Mao Qiling (毛奇齡 1623–1713) and Dazai Zun (太宰純 1680–1747). By reading any one chapter of Dasan's Analects, we are able to discover "grounds" which he selected from a wide range of old and new commentaries, together with his own supplements [補] for additional information and "arguments" developed by Dasan to refute [駁] other scholars' views (toward Zhu Xi's interpretations, Dasan raised questions instead of refuting). In this way, Dasan seeks the given chapter's appropriate interpretation and essential meaning. For example, in chapter one of Book 1 "To Learn 學而," we are presented with four "grounds" regarding the historical and philological meanings of "Master [子]," the first word of the Analects, "learn [學] and exercise [習]" in the first statement, "friend [朋] and delightful [樂]" in the second, and "Junzi [君子]" in the last. These "grounds" are followed by five "arguments," containing Dasan's philosophical criticisms respectively against the readings of Mao Qiling, Huang Kan (皇侃 488–545), Wang Shu (王肅 195–256), Bao Xian (包咸 7 BCE–63), and He Yan. Dasan's detailed notes, originally placed between the lines to buttress each "ground" and "argument" are translated in the footnotes. The various materials of each chapter—the original text of the Analects, Dasan's grounds, arguments, and notes—are edited in such a clear manner that readers can comfortably peruse an entire chapter's meaning from various viewpoints.

Most of the chapters end with Hongkyung Kim's comprehensive commentary regarding Dasan's views on the given chapter.2 Kim's erudition about the historical and philosophical development of neo-Confucianism during the Joseon dynasty enables him to sharply contrast Dasan's views with the diverse readings of orthodox neo-Confucians and other commentarists, and to provide the historical contexts and textual origins of Dasan's commentaries. Philosophers who are...


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