I am pleased to write a guest editor’s introduction to this issue of
Let me first confess that when I was invited by the journal to write this introduction, I hesitated for some time because I thought it would be an enormously challenging task that would involve not only reading many articles on various topics and digesting all of them, but also developing a good comprehensive introduction that would effectively represent the conference’s general scope and fairly summarize the uniqueness and depth of each article in a holistic way. In other words, it would not be wise to write simply a quick, sketchy introduction for such an extensive journal volume. After some contemplation on this matter, I was happy to have accepted the invitation to write this piece of work. I thought about the best way of handling this task: its outcome is a type of introduction that will serve well for a relatively new interdisciplinary theme for a potentially wider Korean and international audience in this quickly growing field of study. After introducing all of the articles, I shall make my comments and concluding remarks for our future discussion of the theme.
As we know, the earth is getting more polluted and threatened these days, but the sense of reverence for nature around the world is seriously weakened by the exploitation of nature due to the various forces of materialism, industrialization, unrestricted urbanization, consumerism, and so on.2 So the ecological crisis of our time has already challenged the world’s great philosophical and spiritual traditions including Confucianism to critically re-examine and creatively reinterpret their doctrines about the relationship among nature, humanity, and the spiritual world. Of course, the environmental problems will continue to be debated locally and globally for many years to come. The ultimate goal of protecting our earth requires a “collective green shift” (Kearns and Keller 2007) with an international religious, ethical and intellectual intensity.
With these points in mind, I now review the articles by first mentioning Tu Weiming, a dean of Confucian Studies, who has led the discussion of Confucianism and ecology since the 1990s.3 Tu’s keynote speech at the KICKS 2011 conference4 is meaningful for introducing or reading all articles included in this journal volume. As Tu said several times, Confucianism is a “comprehensive, spiritual humanism,” and its self-cultivation remains both “naturalistic and a spiritual project” (2011:18).5 And “…respect for other human beings, respect for nature. The sense of reverence is because…we are grateful for nature… (and) the cosmic order,” so the practice of self-cultivation is “deeply rooted in the
Tu’s observation concurs with the nature of Korean Confucian thought and culture. It is encouraging also because the “holistic” and related ecological elements of Korean Confucian thought–which Tu has in mind (indicated in the italic font)–are more or less discussed in many of this journal articles.
Overall, these articles are carefully researched, clearly organized, and thoughtfully discussed. They all recognize the traditional as well as contemporary significance of the journal theme, “Korean Confucianism and Ecology,” from various perspectives: conceptual, textual, historical, social-scientific, philosophical, religious, and comparative. I’m also delighted to see that these kinds of methodological frameworks are presented here according to our expected international standards.
Hong Wŏn-sik’s article (“Confucianism, Korean Confucianism and Ecological Discourse”) was the second keynote speech delivered in Korean immediately following Tu Weiming’s first keynote speech at the conference. It first emphasizes that all life forms on earth are equal from the standpoint that they all share life. It consults some Western works and existing Korean articles in the field. The dilemma of reading Confucianism ecologically is that the tradition affirms humankind as the most intelligent of all beings. This points to some “anthropocentricism” in Confucian thought which is a type of humanism (p. 24); Hong quotes Tu’s view that the true spirit of Confucianism is its “anthropocosmic worldview.”7 This article gives an overview of Korean sources by discussing conceptual labels for the ecological nature of Neo-Confucianism; e.g., “humanistic ecologism” and “anthropocentric” cosmology. Other works (e.g., Han 2009, Lee 2000) also appropriated the discussion of Confucian ecological ideas in terms of “organicism,” “ecologism,” “cosmological ecologism,” “humancentricism,” and so on.8 In the final section, the author keenly argues that “Confucianism does contain such philosophical contents and characteristics” but “it is originally not a philosophy that was established on an ecological foundation” (p. 33). Although Confucianism has an “abundance of organic and ecological characteristics,” its moral humanism has remained at the heart of the tradition for thousands of years (p. 35). Quoting a Korean scholar, Hong challenges the limitation and over optimism of the Korean ecological discourses; therefore, we cannot rush to imposing on Confucianism to become an ecological philosophy. The reader might find this view stimulating yet debatable because according to Hong, some scholars seem to argue too easily that the world’s ecological crisis could be solved by Confucian wisdom or another teaching. However, we may ask if any scholar wants to easily or forcefully create an ecological Confucianism in such a way. I don’t think so; those of us in Confucian (and comparative) studies are endeavoring to do what we have demonstrated in our conference papers and published articles here and elsewhere. This approach is precisely what Hong states in his conclusion: Confucian thought can go beyond the boundary of philosophical discussion and should be interested in developing workable ecological ideas.
Overall, Hong’s article is interesting. It is a systematic overview of current Korean scholarship; in this regard, it is similar to Kim Seajeong’s paper. As the first translated article in this journal, it nicely forms a basic framework for Kwon Jong Yoo’s and Kim’s papers to follow. The readers may find this setting helpful.
Michael Kalton’s article (“The Contemporary Confucian Heritage and the Environment of Worldly Confucians and
Overall, Kalton’s article is interesting and addresses some important questions about the future of Confucianism in Korea and China as well as its ecological implication. It nicely sets up a broad framework for the other articles to consider. For further reflection, the reader might ask what link there is between the potential “Confucian turn in China” and the development of “a revived
Philippe Thiébault’s article (“Human Fulfillment and Love of the Universe: A Meditation on Emotions in Korean and Chinese Sources”) begins by emphasizing that “weakening values and emotions are not sufficiently considered to correct…the abuse of the environment” (p. 57). It considers the ecological implication of Confucian thought by presenting the classics and two Korean Neo-Confucian thinkers, Yi T’oegye and Yi Yulgok (1536–1584). It also gives comparative reflections in connection to Western philosophers such as Paul Ricoeur and Teilhard de Chardin, who recognized “the necessity of a meeting with Eastern thought.” Regarding the
Overall, this article is detailed and engaging: a good introduction to several classical and Neo-Confucian doctrines and their basic ecological implications. Thiébault’s textual analysis complements Kalton’s article and some others included in this journal volume. However, the reader might ask whether we need to be more interconnecting in the future. For example, what linkage is there between Kalton’s proposal for a revised and updated
Edward Chung’s article (“Yi T’oegye on Reverence [
Chung’s article is a textual and interpretive approach to discussing the inner philosophical and religious dimension of Confucian ecological thinking. In this regard, it contributes to balancing this journal volume’s thematic scope and interpretive depth. A relevant question for the reader to consider is the extent to which T’oegye represents the deeper and religious dimension of Chu Hsi’s Neo-Confucianism. Another question that merits further reflection is whether T’oegye’s idea of reverence for nature can inspire Korea or the world community to strengthen our shared quest for a sustainable earth.
Young-chan Ro’s article (“Ecology and Cosmology: A Korean Neo-Confucian Approach”) presents the meaning of ecology from a Korean cosmological perspective by discussing Yi Yulgok’s two seminal essays:
Ro’s article is a worthwhile discussion of the topic, and it also clarifies what seems to be lacking in Thiébault’s article: namely, the implication of Yulgok’s cosmology for the ecological dimension of Korean Neo-Confucianism. For the reader’s further reflection, however, another question remains concerning the role of
Yoo Kwon Jong’s article (“Ecologism and Confucian Pro-life-ism”) begins by outlining the term “ecology” as a sort of science that discusses natural relations “among living organisms and their environments.” It also explains the meaning of “ecologism” by covering recent Korean books and articles written about ecology, “green culture” in Korea, Korean ecological thought, and “ecologism.” The article points out that our task to sustain a healthy life within the ecosystem is to revitalize Confucian thought “as a source of wisdom to save future generations,” and Confucianism can re-establish its prestige as a new culture and wisdom in order to deal with the contemporary environmental crisis. In this regard, Yoo concurs with the basic message of Kalton’s paper (“revived”
Overall, Yoo’s article makes some good points. But it is intended to be a general work, so it does not articulate any Korean thinkers in relation to ecology or ecologism (or simply the ecological dimension of Confucianism). It also complements Hong’s article by providing a different discussion of the topic.
Kim Sea-jeong’s article (“The Present Situation of the Ecological Discourse within Korean Neo-Confucianism and Its Future Outlook”) begins by informing us that ecological discourse in Korean Neo-Confucianism started in the late 1990s along with the world’s growing environmental movements and ecological issues. Since then six Korean scholars have published two general books and seventeen journal articles on this topic. Kim gives a detailed overview of these works in order to make some suggestions for reviving “Korean Confucianism as a practical alternative.” In Kim’s view, although Korean Neo-Confucianism has an ample ecological dimension, it defines humans as the most outstanding beings, so it embraces both anthropocentricism and eco-centricism. Kim reviews two articles that highlight T’oegye’s moral view of nature and his philosophy of reverence. Regarding some articles on Yulgok, his “cosmocentric cosmology” and its ecological awareness are mentioned. Kim, however, also makes an unnecessary odd point that T’oegye and Yulgok did not “offer a practical plan to solve the ecological crisis.”11 He then goes over eight articles on Practical Learning (
Kim’s article is very informative and gives a comprehensive overview of current Korean scholarship. Like Yoo’s paper, however, it does not get into any primary texts because it was intended as a general review. It will enable generalists to learn about several leading Confucians and the ecological aspects of their philosophies according to the secondary sources.
Kim Jongwon and his research team worked together on the last article, “The Origin and Preservation of Relic Forests and Confucianism in Korea.” This is a conference paper originally written in Korean and presented by Jongwon Kim, a specialist in forest ecology and a historical and sociological ecologist. Korea has traditional rural forests called “relic forests” (
This article is not a philosophical or eco-philosophical one like the other articles. It certainly balances and complements the entire volume by presenting a significant topic which is not covered by others. What I find impressive about the article is its interesting presentation of a large amount of field work, historical analysis and eco-sociological data, together with “the cultural and natural history” of each historical forest. Nonetheless, it would be ideal for this kind of article in the future to include some more discussion of “Confucian community ethics” and to be a little more specific on the influence of “Confucian mentality” on the ecological sustainability of historical forests.
I think that the reader will find each article to be unique and engaging in its own way presenting a particular topic about Korean Confucianism and its ecological implication for Korea and beyond. On the whole, this special journal issue would serve its goal well for a broad inter-disciplinary audience of scholars, students, and general readers in Korean/East Asian Studies, Confucian Studies, Religious Studies, Philosophy, and related fields.
As some readers might have noticed, one related topic we need to consider in the future, if possible, is to compare Confucian people and institutions with Buddhists, Christians, and others in Korea. Do they socially, ethically or religiously care about the ecological issues?13 What is their standpoint in relation to their Chinese or Japanese counterparts? Another topic we could tackle is to advance the same theme of this journal issue in connection to other philosophical, religious or cultural traditions of the world; for example, similar issues are important among religious groups in the West (Christian, Jewish, Islamic, etc.). The question is as follows: can Korean Confucianism become a major contributor to global dialogue on ecology, religion, philosophy, and ethics? For a wider interdisciplinary and international audience, we need to move the study of Confucianism and ecology forward in that context as well.
We may recall a recent ecological slogan, “Healing the Earth with Care and Concern,” which represented the central theme of the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions (Melbourne, Australia) in partnership with The Forum on Religion and Ecology (Yale university). Hopefully, the Confucian meaning of this slogan will motivate the Korean Confucian leadership to promote love and compassion toward nature. In light of the unifying message of these journal articles, I also encourage Korean Confucian intellectuals to work with others in developing a well-integrated framework. To conclude, we look forward to a “green” value system based on Confucianism that will assist Korea and the world community in their endeavor to protect the earth and preserve the healthy future of our human-ecological world.
1I was glad to be there and participated in a very lively and engaging discussion of the conference theme. I previously participated in many conferences in my fields (including Korean studies), but this was one of the best I have ever attended, for which reason I eventually agreed to write this introduction. It was a great pleasure to do so. 2I also note that the earth has been suffering from polluted water, species extinction, air pollution, massive oil leakage into ocean waters (e.g., Gulf of Mexico, 2010), dangerous nuclear radiation exposure (e.g., Fukushima, Japan in spring 2011), and so on. As reported most recently by the global media and press, we are also familiar with the ongoing protests by the so-called Occupy environmental activists and supporters against the proposed “Keystone XL” pipeline (from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast through six U.S. states); these protests occurred in majors cities in Canada, America, and elsewhere. This fight is expected to continue in 2012 until the project proposal is completely rejected or cancelled. 3Thanks to Professor Tu’s leading role and others’ contribution, the first international conference on Confucianism and Ecology was held at Harvard University in 1996. This was one of The Religions of the World and Ecology Conference series hosted by the Harvard Center for the Study of World Religions over a 3–year period (1996–98). It concluded that the ecological crisis requires a fresh review of Confucianism in the context of ecological thinking; other groups of this series including Taoist studies and Buddhist studies made similar conclusions. See Girardot, Miller, and Liu 2001 (Taoism and Ecology) as well as Tucker and Williams 1998 (Buddhism and Ecology). 4This speech may be found in the conference program of the KICKS 2011, 15–22. 5For this and related perspectives, see also Tu 1998 and 2004 in References. 6Tu, Weiming, “Keynote Speech,” Program of the 5th Keimyung International Conference on Korean Studies, June 2–4, 2011 (Keimyung University, Daegu, Korea), p. 21. 7See Tu 1998, 2004, 2011; for more discussion of Tu’s works, see also Chung’s and Ro’s articles in this journal. 8Here I want to comment that some of the articles intensively used numerous terms and concepts (old and new) in discussing the ecological or eco-philosophical dimensions of Confucian thought; e.g., anthropocentric (ism), anthropocosmic (ism), nature-centric (ism), organic cosmology, natural cosmology, natural/humanistic ecology, ecologism (passive ecologism, active.., anthropocentric.., organic…, etc.), cosmological ecologism, and so on, in addition to Professor Ro’s terminology of cosmocentric (ism), cosmocentric cosmology, cosmoanthropic, and cosmoanthropic cosmology. It seems that Korean scholars traditionally demonstrate a great conceptual mind by focusing on specific theories or definitions. So it is interesting that Professors Hong, Yoo, and Kim Seajeong (in addition to conference panel discussants and others whose works are cited in their articles) have a shared tendency to follow such a focused conceptual mode of analysis. Nevertheless, we may note that although these kinds of terms are useful, many of them are actually inter-related to one another and can easily confuse some readers especially when these technical concepts are unnecessarily over-emphasized or frequently repeated. 9Chung borrowed this phrase from Kearns and Keller 2007 (Eco-Spirit: Religions and Philosophies for the Earth). 10See Tu 1998, 2004 for his leading discussion of the term “anthropocosmic”; for more discussion of Tu’s works and perspectives, see also Ro’s and Chung’s articles in this journal. 11It is not clear whether the author meant that T’oegye or Yulgok should have developed a “practical plan” for solving the ecological crisis in sixteenth-century Korea (?). Kim also asks if Korean Neo-Confucianism can now “directly offer a realistic and practical solution” to overcome the ecological crisis? In my opinion, most scholars and students in Confucian studies or its related fields are not necessarily ecological activists, ideologists, or policy-makers; i.e., we are not in the business of rallying an environmental action plan or creating an actual “green” solution. As we know, many of our environmental problems can be confronted and managed by eco-friendly scientific innovation, new technology and policies, green waste recycling, clean energy systems, and so on. And these scientific improvements will be critical for the ecological system and sustainability. In other words, what a contemporary Confucian scholar/philosopher could do is to facilitate or advise policy-makers, environmental activists/institutions, or scientists by providing them with eco-Confucian ideas and values in an “updated,” “revitalized” and engaging manner. Of course, as the Pope and the Dalai Lama have done recently (2011), the world’s religious or spiritual leaders may write or speak out against any anti-environmental or earth-threatening industrial project or government policy, or against those people in policy-making power who make these decisions. Anyhow, this is another subject-matter beyond the scope of the current journal issue. 12It is also ironic that Kim, like Hong, criticizes certain scholars in Korea for the fact that when discussing ecological thought in T’oegye, Yulgok, or others, they have tended to “exaggerate its ecological nature or its role in solving today’s ecological crisis.” In Kim’s view, these scholars also thought that Korean Neo-Confucianism (or another tradition) alone could solve the world’s ecological problems (p. 165). 13For this perspective, I am indebted to Professor Lee Dong-hee (Department of Philosophy, Keimyung University) who made similar points about Korean Confucians, Buddhists, and Christians in his written and oral commentary at the conference (he served as the discussant for our second panel group). Ecological awareness and concern are said to be stronger among Korean Buddhists and Christians than Confucians. From a sociological or religious angle, this observation may be important for our future discussion of the topic.