Great scholar’s heir teaches Confucianism

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Great scholar’s heir teaches Confucianism


Children wearing traditional aristocratic men’s caps and robes repeat classic Chinese idioms in loud voices after their teacher, Lee Chi-eok, 31, at the Dongin Cultural Center in Ikseon-dong, central Seoul. The cultural center opened a Chinese character course for teenagers last month, in time for the winter vacation.
“How should you present an object to your parents? You should kneel down and hand it over with two hands,” said Mr. Lee. “Okay, repeat after me.” It looked more like an old picture than a modern scene.
“It is very difficult for children to sit with their legs crossed in a traditional way for three hours. Still, they do seem dignified,” Mr. Lee said, looking at the children with a warm smile.
Mr. Lee is in the doctorate program for Confucian philosophy at Sungkyunkwan University. He also happens to be a 17th-generation descendant of the Joseon Dynasty scholar Toegye Lee Hwang.
Unlike other young men his age, he appears very composed. “I was born and raised in the Toegye head house in Andong, North Gyeongsang province. In the morning I would fold up my parents’ and grandparents’ sleeping pads and blankets, and unfold them in the evening. When I came back from a long trip or was about to go on a long trip, I bowed on my knees outside the door,” Mr. Lee said.
It was in this atmosphere that he learned Chinese characters ― he did so before learning Korean ones ― when he was five years old. His grandfather used a Chinese primer to teach him a thousand characters as well as calligraphy.
Told that he is a worthy descendant of the great scholar, Mr. Lee said, laughing, “I felt pressured to be a good descendant of Toegye Lee Hwang. I didn’t like studying and always tried to run away.”
As he grew older, he became more resistive because he wanted to be a writer, but his parents wanted him to study old literature. Following much discussion, he finally went to Mejiro University in Tokyo and majored in Asian studies.
After finishing his mandatory military service, he entered the masters program at Sungkyungkwan. Mr. Lee reads a lot of books related to Seongrihak, a Confucian philosopher in the Song Dynasty, his specialty. He also reads Toegye’s books. “My heart was full of passion,” he said. “I am pondering how best to revive Confucian philosophy. I want to unravel the misunderstanding that Confucian philosophy is an antiquated custom and help other people learn ideas of filial piety and benevolence.”
Mr. Lee also hopes to restore Dosan Seodang in Andong, where Toegye taught his students. The place is a cultural asset and tourist attraction, but Mr. Lee wants to open an alternative school nearby to educate students on Confucian discipline. Besides teaching Chinese characters in Dongin Cultural Center, Mr. Lee also teaches at a Confucian school in Goyang, Gyeonggi province.

by Shin Ye-ri
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