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Hong Dae-yong

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Hong Dae-yong (洪大容, 1731-1783) was a member of the illustrious Noron faction and a Silhak scholar of the Bukhak group. He contributed greatly to the development of scientific thought during the Joseon dynasty. In 1765, he visited Beijing with his uncle Hong Eok (洪檍), where he experience Western culture and the Kaozheng method (考證學) of the Qing dynasty. After returning to Korea, he influenced individuals like Park Ji-won and participated in the formation of the Bukhak group. His writings include Damnheonseo (湛軒書 Writings by Hong Dae-yong) and Damheonyeongi (湛軒燕記 Records of an Envoy to Beijing by Hong Dae-yong).

1. Life

Hong Dae-yong belonged to the Hong clan of Namyang (南陽). The name given to him when he became an adult was Deokbo (德保), and his honorific pseudonyms were Damheon (湛軒) and Hongji (弘之). He was the grandson of Hong Yong-jo (洪龍祚), a former advisor to the king, and was the son to Hong Yeok (洪櫟), a former governor. His mother was the daughter to a county magistrate name Kim Bang (金枋), who belonged to the Kim clan of Cheongpung (淸風). Hong Dae-yong’s wife was the daughter of Yi Hong-jung (李弘重).

             Hong Dae-yong learned from the Confucius scholar Kim Won-haeng (金元行) and had close interactions with the Park Ji-won (朴趾源), another Silhak scholar from the Bukhak group. Hong Dae-yong tried several times but failed to pass the national civil service examinations, and as such he was unable to hold any serious government positions. Regardless, he made a place for himself as an important scientific thinker of the late Joseon dynasty, and this success was influenced greatly by his experiences in Beijing.

             In 1765, Hong Dae-yong went to Beijing with his uncle, Hong Eok (洪檍), who was a chronicler of a diplomatic envoy to Beijing. He stayed in Beijing for about 60 days. During this time, he interacted with various intellectuals of the Qing dynasty, such as Yan Cheng (嚴誠), Pan Ting Yun (潘庭筠), and Lu Fei (陸飛).

             Other important individuals that Hong Dae-yong interacted with during his stay in Beijing were Western missionaries. He met two German missionaries, August von Hallerstein and Antoine Gogeisl, whom with he had conversations about Catholicism and astronomy. Through these interactions he became familiar with the foundations of the natural sciences: mathematics.

             He made early arguments for the theory that the Earth rotated on its axis and the theory that the universe is infinite. He used these theories as evidence when raising doubt over the dominating ideology of the time, sinocentrism (華夷論). Regardless of these accomplishments, Hong Dae-yong never became a renowned bureaucrat. His highest achievement as a public official was taking office as county mayor of Yeongcheon. He died at the age of 52.

2. Writing

             Damheonseo (湛軒書 Writings by Hong Dae-yong) is one collection of writings left behind by Hong Dae-yong; included in this collection are the pieces: Geonjeongpildam (乾淨筆談 Correspondences with Three Friends), Damheonyeongi (湛軒燕記 Records of an Envoy to Beijing by Hong Dae-yong), Imhagyeongryun (林下經綸 A Suggestion of Reforms), Saseomunui (四書問疑 Four Inquiries), Hangjeoncheokdok (抗傳尺牘 Correspondences with Chinese Scholars), and Samkyeongmunbyeon (三經問辨 Questions Regarding the Three Classics of Confucian Scripture). Aside from a few letters and pieces of poetry, Damheonseo is comprised mainly of the writings Hong Dae-yong composed in the 10 years following his return from Beijing. For this reason, Hong Dae-yong’s experiences in Beijing make up the bulk of the discussions revolving his works.

             Damheonseo’s construction can be summarized as follows. First, the work is split into two parts, and “inner” collection (內集) and an “outer” collection (外集). The inner collection is further split into 4 sections. The pieces titled “Simseongmun” (心性問 Questions on Temperament), “Saseomunbyeon” (四書問辨 Four Inquiries), and “Samkyeongmunbyeong” (三經問辨 Questions Regarding the Three Classics of Confucian Scripture) are included in section one. Section 2 contains saro (史論 a type of historical essay) and a piece titled “Gyebangilgi” (桂坊日記 Diary of the Prince’s Royal Guards). Section 3 contains letters and poems. And Section 4 contains “Imhageongryun” (林下經綸 A Suggestion of Reforms) and “Uisamundap” (醫山問答 Questions and Answers on Mount Yiwulu). The outer collection is split into 10 sections. Section 1 is titled “Hangjeoncheokdok” (杭傳尺牘Correspondences with Chinese Scholars), section 2 and 3 contain the work “Geonjeongdongpildam” (乾淨衕筆談 Correspondences with Three Friends), sections 4 through 6 contain Juhaesuyong (籌解需用 Hong Dae-yong’s Thoughts on Mathematics), and sections 7 through 10 are records of his trip to Beijing (燕記).

             The following is a summary of a few of the works in Damheonseo that display his Silhak thought and his scholarly network:

             1. Yeongi:

Hong Dae-yong’s yeongi (燕記) were records of the envoy to Beijing in which he participated. Together with Kim Chang-eop’s (金昌業) Nohajaeyeonghaengilgi (老稼齋燕行錄 Records of an Envoy to Beijing by Kim Chang-eop) and Park Ji-won’s Yeolhailgi (熱河日記 Diaries of Rehe), Hong Dae-yong’s yeongi comprises one of three generations of yeonhaengnok, according to 19th century scholar Kim Kyeong-seon (金景善). These records were published in sections 7 through 10 of the outer collection of Damheonseo. These records were written over the 10-year period following Hong Dae-yong’s trip to Beijing as a part of the annual winter solstice envoy to Beijing, in which his Uncle Hong Eok (洪檍) participated as a chronicler.

Sections 1 through 3 of these records include several conversations Hong Dae-yong had with the intellectuals of the Qing dynasty, as well as the pieces titled “Yeonhaenggiryak” (燕行記略 Summary of Our Trip to Beijing) and “Kyeongseonggiryak” (京城記略 Summary of Our Stay in Beijing). These two pieces record the journey from Uiju to Beijing and the experience of staying in Beijing, respectively.

Sections 3 through 4 describe in detail the convenience of Western technological civilization, as well as the life of the Chinese. “Eulbyeongyeonhaengnok” (乙丙燕行錄 Records of an Envoy to Beijing from 1765 to 1766) contains the same information, but is written in hangeul and organized into 10 sections spanning 10 books.

2. “Yupomundap”:

“Yupomundap” (劉鮑問答 Conversations with Two German Missionaries Named Yu and Po) contains conversations Hong Dae-yong had with the German missionaries August von Hallerstein (劉松齡) (who was serving as scholar of astronomy and astrology for the Qing dynasty) and Anton Gogeisl (鮑友管) (who also held a government post for the Qing dynasty). This record comments on various aspects of Catholicism and astronomy. It was also one of the most detailed accounts of Western culture at the time.

3. “Hangjeoncheokdok” and “Geonjeongpildam”:

“Hangjeoncheokdok” (Correspondences with Chinese Scholars) and “Geonjeongpildam” (Correspondences with Three Friends) are comprised of letter correspondences with intellectuals of the Qing dynasty in Beijing. There are a total of 30 letters: 4 letters with Yukbi, 4 letters with Eomseong, 3 letters with Eomseong’s older brother Eomgwa, 2 letters with Eomseong’s son Eomang, 4 letters with Park Jeongkyun, 1 letter with Seo gwangjeong (徐光庭), 4 letters with Dong Mun-heon (鄧汶軒), 5 letters with Son Yong-ju (孫蓉洲), 2 letters with Jo Mae-heon (趙梅軒), and 1 letter with Ju Rang-jae (朱郞齋). “Geonjeongpildam” is comprised of letter correspondences with three men whom Hong Dae-yong became sworn brothers with: Yan Cheng (嚴誠), Pan Ting Yun (潘庭筠), and Lu Fei (陸飛). These documents allow us to see the friendship between intellectuals of the Joseon and Qing dynasties.

4. “Uisanmundap”:

“Uisanmundap” (醫山問答 Questions and Answers on Mount Yiwulu) is a record written in dialogue format of the conversations between two characters, a scholar of the Joseon dynasty named Heoja (虛子) and a man hiding in Mount Yiwulu (醫巫閭山) named Silong (實翁). This work is set in Mount Yiwulu, which Hong Dae-yong visited on his return trip from Beijing. The work contains a vide variety of topics, ranging from the origin of humankind, the formation of classes and nations, and law and institutions, to astronomy, yullyeok (律曆), arithmetic, science, earthquakes, hot springs, the tides, and mutations. In particular, the document has been of particular importance because it contains an argument for the theory that the Earth rotates upon its axis (地轉說).

4. Positions and Significance in the History of Korean Literature

             Hong Dae-yong was one of the representative Silhak and literati of 18th century Joseon. His visit to Beijing was the event that lead to his entering the world of academia. And the things he learned in Beijing served as the impetus for the formation of Bukhak thought. Not only did he learn about the theory that the Earth revolves around its own axis, he also learned of the Fubing system (府兵制) and the equal-field system (均田制), which he used as a basis to argue for economic reform in Joseon. He also called for several innovative and progressive policy reforms, such as: the abolishment of the civil service examination system and establishment of a system based on the gonggeoje (貢擧制) which recruited gifted individuals; the end to class discrimination; and that all children be educated.

             The most important of all of Hong Dae-yong’s ideas was the doubt and rejection of sinocentrism (華夷論), which had been for a long time the dominant ideology in Joseon. Arguing that all nations, not just China, were at the center of the world, he defended the independence of the Joseon people, as well as arguing that humans and nature had equal worth. In addition to social philosophy, Hong Dae-yong also showed a special interest in math. Actually, he went beyond just having a special interest in math; he made a name for himself as a respectable scientific thinker by writing the text on mathematics titled Juhaesuyong (籌解需用 Hong Dae-yong’s Thoughts on Mathematics).

             Hong Dae-yong’s thoughts on mathematics and his progressive social philosophy were influenced by modern Western science and traditional Eastern views on nature. Within his writings are traces of Western scientific rationalism, Taoist mysticism, and even the geocentric model. And despite his unconventional and eclectic influences and philosophies, Hong Dae-yong was still a respectable scientific thinker who represented 18th century Joseon society. Perhaps most impressive was his bold, yet original claim that the universe was infinite—a claim that simultaneously criticized the sinocentric worldview which divided the world into those who were Chinese (華) and those who were barbarians (夷).

             Hong Dae-yong’s thoughts on society and science are closely related to his trip to Beijing. Of the many records he left of his trip to Beijing, “Uisanmudap” (醫山問答 Questions and Answers on Mount Yiwulu) is particularly important. This work takes the form of a question-and-answer dialogue between Heoja (虛者) who asks the questions and a man named Silong (實翁) who showed Silhak tendencies. And through the conversation between two these individuals on Mount Yiwulu, Hong Dae-yong criticizes academics who engage in empty formalities and banter. And by satirizing the character Heoja—who boasted of the fact he spent 30 years studying Neo-Confucianism only to travel to Mount Yiwulu to meet Silong and discover that all of his studies were in vain—Hong Dae-yong reveals his opinions on academics. Through this work, Hong Dae-yong expresses doubt over the existing worldview and offers, as a substitute, the theory that the Earth rotates on its axis and the theory that the universe is infinite.

             His philosophy and experiences were continued by his descendants. In 1826, 60 years after Hong Dae-yong’s return from Beijing, his grandson Hong Yang-hu (洪良厚, 1800-1879) followed his uncle Shin Jae-sik (申在植) on a winter solstice envoy to Beijing. There, Hong Yang-hu met the descendants of Yan Cheng (嚴誠), Pan Ting Yun (潘庭筠), and Lu Fei (陸飛)—the three classical scholars that Hong Dae-yong had become sworn brothers with, and with whom he continue letter correspondences even after his return to Joseon. Just as his grandfather had done, Hong Yang-hu wrote letter correspondences with the scholars of Beijing, the records of which are preserved in the collection of letters titled Gochingyeonsa (古稱燕士 Letters and Poems Sent to Hong Yung-hu by Chinese Scholars).

3. Reference

1. Jeong, Min. The Literature Republic of Chinese and Korean Intellectuals of the 18th Century. Munhakdongne, 2014.

2. Park, Hee-byeong. Love and Equality: The Social Philosophy of Hong Dae-yong. Dolbegae, 2013.

3. Kang, Myeong-gwan. Hong Dae-yong 1766: The Yeonhaengnok that Shook the Joseon Intellectual World. The Institute for the Translation of Korean Classis, 2014.

4. Mun, Seok-yun. Research of Hong Dae-yong. Sungkyunkwan University Press, 2012.

5. Hong, Dae-yong. The Letters and Poems Sent to Hong Dae-yong by Chinese Classical Scholars. Edited by Min Jeong, The Korean Christian Museum at Soongsil Universtiy, 2016.

6. Hong, Dae-yong. The Letters and Poems Sent to Hong Yang-hu by Chinese Classical Scholars. Edited by Min Jeong, The Korean Christian Museum at Soongsil Universtiy, 2016.

7. Choi, Sik. “Records of Correspondences between Intellectuals of the Qing and Joseon Dynasties.” Bangyo Society of Language and Literature. The Journal of Bangyo Language and Literature 40, 2015.

8. Shin, Rosa. “Hong Yang-hu, the Grandson of Hong Dae-yong: His Life and Trip to Beijing.” Daedong Institute for Korean Studies. Daedong Cultural Studies 81, 2013.

9. “Hong Dae-yong.” The Encyclopedia of Korean Culture. The Academy of Korean Studies:

http://encykorea.aks.ac.kr/Contents/Item/E0064019

10. “The Gravesite of Hong Dae-yong.” The Encyclopedia of Korean Culture. The Academy of Korean Studies:

http://encykorea.aks.ac.kr/Contents/Item/E0064020

11. “Hangjeoncheokdok.” The Encyclopedia of Korean Culture. The Academy of Korean Studies:

http://encykorea.aks.ac.kr/Contents/Item/E0062411

12. “Damheonseo.” The Database of Korean Classics. The Institute for the Translation of Korean Classics:

http://db.itkc.or.kr/dir/item?grpId=hj#/dir/node?grpId=hj&itemId=BT&dataId=ITKC_BT_0560A&solrQ=query%E2%80%A0%EB%8B%B4%ED%97%8C%EC%84%9C$solr_sortField%E2%80%A0$solr_sortOrder%E2%80%A0$solr_secId%E2%80%A0BT_HJ$solr_toalCount%E2%80%A02$solr_curPos%E2%80%A00$solr_solrId%E2%80%A0HJ_ITKC_BT_0560A

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