This research critically examines existing discussions on the trends and characteristics of the literary circles of the mid-Choson period, especially in the reigns of Seonjo and Gwanghae-gun, and investigates their concrete aspects. This period was ch ...
This research critically examines existing discussions on the trends and characteristics of the literary circles of the mid-Choson period, especially in the reigns of Seonjo and Gwanghae-gun, and investigates their concrete aspects. This period was chosen because it was an important turning point in the diachronic development of literary Chinese prose in Korea.
A characteristic of the literary circle of this era lay in the emergence of gomoonsa(古文辭, archaic prose), i.e., retroactive style of writing. This retroactive writing style, which closely resembled the literary theory of the former and latter seven masters who greatly influenced China's literary circles of the times, was advanced by Yun Geun-su(尹根壽) and Choi Rip(崔岦) and reinterpreted by Yu Mong-in(柳夢寅) and Heo Gyun(許筠). That these Korean literati focused on the former and latter seven masters can be verified through their reading list and commentaries. This can also be supported by references made by late-Choson critics. Hence the literati were classified by a group distinct from the early Choson writers whose writing style was characterized by proses of Tang and Song dynasties. Moreover, some were of the opinion that Imitative Classicism(擬古派) as well as Qin-Han Classicism(秦漢派) were established through the adoption of the writings of the former and latter seven masters. When these writers' views on writing style are examined in closer detail, however, it can be confirmed that the influence of the former and latter seven masters was not as great as was previously thought, nor could a point in common that could have led to the establishment of a literati school be found.
For Example, Yun Geun-su, who is considered to have created archaic prose along with Choi Rip, became fascinated with the works of the former and latter seven masters by publishing an anthology of Li Meng-yang(李夢陽) and attempted to publish Sachan(史纂), which took after Shijizuan(史記纂) by Wang Shi-zhen(王世貞), but his efforts did not in fact lead to the sphere of creativity. Yu Mong-in was the most lucid and active in revealing his opinions among the literati of his days. Although he adopted a retroactive position because he criticized the composition of Song classicists such as Ouyang Xiu and Su Shi as being monotonous, he was also severely critical of Li Meng-yang and Wang Shi-zhen, who advocated the retroactive theory, for having imitated and plagiarized other writers' composition. Unlike Yu Mong-in, Heo Gyun was very positive in his evaluation of the former and latter seven masters and was an inveterate reader of their works. Heo Gyun, however, was interested in the former and latter seven masters as writers who represented the Ming period; he was not interested in the former and latter seven masters' retroactive theory.
As mentioned above, the literary world may seem to have created a new literary style based on the prose of the pre-Qin and the two Han dynasties due entirely to the former and latter seven masters' retroactive view on writing. But in reality, the literary world of Joseon realized a creative and complex writing style that crossed over those from Qin-Han and Tang-Song dynasties based on its own subjective judgments. This signifies that the mode of writing accumulated since the first half of Joseon dynasty entered a stage that required change, which led to diverse modes of transformation by Choson literati of the time to suit their own individual thoughts and preferences. In this sense, we must revise past discussions which conclude that China's literary history was accepted as-is without changes to suit the internal aspects of Choson's literary world and that the emergence of the retroactive literary style was due to the acceptance of the former and latter seven masters based only on the limited materials on commentaries which appeared in the late Choson period.