Primary Source: The Royal Lecture

Kwŏn Kŭn: On Royal Action 1

saejonggumbo

The Royal Seal of King Sejong the Great,
Courtesey of the National Royal Museum of Korea

Confucians strongly believed that a nation’s peace and prosperity depended on the virtues of the ruler. In the Analects, Confucius offered this advice, “Let him preside over them with gravity; then they will reverence him. Let him be final and kind to all; then they will be faithful. Let him advance the good and teach the incompetent; then they will eagerly seek to be virtuous.”(The Internet Classics Archive, “The Analects,” Accessed, June7, 2012, http://classics.mit.edu/Confucius/analects.1.1.html)

Like Confucius, Korean scholars also felt that a nation’s king must be virtuous; they felt that it was their responsibility to educate the king in Confucian values. This education began with the young crown prince and continued until well after he became king. The formal name for this schooling was the Royal Lecture. Each day, the king would meet with select scholar-officials in the morning to discuss history, politics, philosophy, and other Confucian topics. Although many kings opted out of the Royal Lecture, some of the most prominent kings, such as King Sejong, benefitted greatly from these lectures.

The following is a petition submitted to King T’aejong by Kwŏn Kŭn, a famous scholar during the founding of the Chosŏn dynasty in early fifteenth century.

On Attending Royal Lectures

The way of emperors and kings is made bright through scholarship, and the rule of emperors and kings is extensive due to scholarship. From antiquity, those kings who were good and even established royal lectures in order to investigate the learning of sages. Although Your Majesty, since ascending the throne, has instituted royal lectures, the days on which the lectures are held are numerous. Your Majesty is, by natural disposition, talented and bright, and your scholarship is refined and broad. When Confucian scholars come to lecture, can they possibly elucidate anything to you? Nevertheless, when you attend the royal lectures, you fix your attention on them, and, in your mind, their meaning is clear and manifest.

There is indeed a difference between the time you are at ease and inactive and the time when you listen to the many matters of the government. Is it not through this that the learning of sages makes progress?

Your servant respectfully wishes that, regardless of the brilliance of your natural talents or the inadequacy of the Confucian scholars, Your Majesty would daily attend the royal lectures and, with unprejudiced mind and humble determination, diligently pursue the studies. May you not stop the lectures for one single day! On a day that you stop them for whatever reasons, it is nevertheless proper to receive the lecturers, to inform them directly, and then to dismiss them.

Critical Reading Questions

  • 1. From the text, what can you infer about the relationship between the king and Kwŏn Kŭn?
  • 2. What can you infer about the king’s personality?
  • 3. List several reasons why Confucian scholars would want to conduct Royal Lectures with the king.