Collaborative Work of 12 Oriental Scholars
25 Years of Study and Examination
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Classics, just like any other subject, is a field that requires a lot of in-depth knowledge to decipher and comprehend. Those with little or no familiarity with the subject might feel daunted with its contents and stay well away. Being aware of this commonly-mistaken perception of non-classicists, the 12 scholars including Professor Kim Tae-yong (Department of Philosophy) of Hanyang University, devoted their time and effort in publishing ‘The Four Books.’ They paved the road for the Oriental Classics to become an easy read. First starting as a small group in 1992 that discussed desirable paths in which our society should take after Oriental philosophy, it eventually became what is now called the Research Institute of Oriental Classics, consisting of Chinese and Korean philosophy experts. Joining the crew in 2009 from the invitation of professor Kim Byung-chae, the former vice-president of Hanyang University, Kim has been with the crew for eight years until the ultimate accomplishment—the translation of the ‘Four Books’ from Chinese into Korean.
The Four Books
There are lots of other Oriental philosophy books that deal with the same lessons but the ‘Four Books’ distinguish themselves by not writing any of the old words in Chinese, but putting them into easy-reading translations. The ‘Four Books’ are translated versions of Confucian classics in the archaic Chinese language into the modern Korean language, which are divided into four series: The Analects of Confucius, Mencius, Moderation, and University. Professor Kim said that translations of the metaphorically-illegible classics should be available so that more people could approach them without being troubled. Non-experts could feel less tortured to study them as well. In this sense, he hopes that the completion and publication of the ‘Four Books’ will lay a bridge to melting down the preconception that Oriental Classics is infinitely challenging. He also holds the view that Oriental philosophy is not necessarily more strange or difficult than Western philosophy.
▲The completion of the Four Books can be witnessed with these hard copies, published by Minumsa publishing company in August 2016.
In brief, The Analects of Confucius is composed of dialogues of Confucius’s disciples about his teachings and lessons that were gathered after his death. Mencius handles the thoughts and perspectives of Mencius, who succeeded Confucius and tried to expand and intensify his teachings. Finally, Moderation and University delivers the scriptures of Confucianist roots that helps an individual to elevate to a higher spiritual place by governing one’s mind.
“If you take a moment to think about it, Oriental philosophy is embedded in our day-to-day speech and behavior. Such common notions include practicing filial piety, respecting the elderlies, and stressing emphasis on love among siblings. These concepts may feel new to the head but they’re blended in our culture,” commented Kim. The society that we live in today is faced with globalization and multi-culturalism. “In such a condition,” the professor adds, “the acceptance and promulgation of Western philosophy and its culture into our own without any filtering have a great impact on our people’s perspective towards Oriental philosophy-simply fearing it.”
▲Professor Kim thinks Oriental philosophy is just as familiar to us as Western philosophy.
When he was first introduced to the work, Kim hesitated whether to take on the task because his main area of study was slightly digressive from the primary concern of the books. Nonetheless, after the publication of the books, he came to realize that his decision was worthy and began to view ‘Lao-tzu,’ his primary concern of studying, more objectively, which he plans to research further on. In the process of translating the books, combining different ideas and coming to an agreement among the 12 scholars had been a fastidious task. Translating the books from archaic Chinese words was unquestionably laborious but finding the middle ground of different interpretations and translations among the scholars was also a big trouble. Despite many disputes over the matter of compromising, the driving force that bound the scholars together was their sense of responsibility. They felt responsible for contriving the most appropriate translation for the future generation, as they will be seeking for a good start-up material to begin Oriental studies with. Thus, in a sense, the books were produced to become a guide in the field.
The Books as Teachers
Just as first impression matters by having a long-lasting impact on a person, when studying a subject, the first teacher can determine how the study will go forth in subsequent times. Professor Kim hopes that the ‘Four Books’ serve as the first teacher to those who want to study Oriental philosophy and open the door for them to go further into the discipline.
▲ Professor Kim and the 11 scholars worked on the Four Books in hopes of connecting Oriental philosophy with our daily lives.
In the book University, the four-character idiom (‘格物致知’) –each character meaning formality, material, achieving, and knowing—that holds the meaning ‘gaining knowledge by the study of things’ exemplifies the professor’s assertion that Oriental philosophy dwells nearby in our daily lives. The idiom employs the concept found in a university, where knowledge is accumulated through years of studying. The knowledge acquired could be the foundation of both good and bad deeds, depending on the will of the learner. This also gives rise to the thought that straightening out one’s mindset and earnestly taking into account the true meanings of knowledge are one of the highlights of Oriental philosophy. The completion of the books, as the professor hopes, will do its job in its mission as a teacher for all.
Jeon Chae-yun email@example.com
Photo by Moon Hana
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