- MATHEMATICS AND SOCIETY IN KORYO AND CHOSUN
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- Journal for History of Mathematics, volume 2, issue 1, 1985, Pages 91~105
Abstract
Though the tradition of Korean mathematics since the ancient time up to the "Enlightenment Period" in the late 19th century had been under the influence of the Chinese mathematics, it strove to develop its own independent of Chinese. However, the fact that it couldn't succeed to form the independent Korean mathematics in spite of many chances under the reign of Kings Sejong, Youngjo, and Joungjo was mainly due to the use of Chinese characters by Koreans. Han-gul (Korean characters) invented by King Sejong had not been used widely as it was called and despised Un-mun and Koreans still used Chinese characters as the only "true letters" (Jin-suh). The correlation between characters and culture was such that , if Koreans used Han-gul as their official letters, we may have different picture of Korean mathematics. It is quite interesting to note that the mathematics in the "Enlightenment Period" changed rather smoothly into the Western mathematics at the time when Han-gul was used officially with Chinese characters. In Koryo, the mathematics existed only as a part of the Confucian refinement, not as the object of sincere study. The mathematics in Koryo inherited that of the Unified Shilla without any remarkable development of its own, and the mathematicians were the Inner Officials isolated from the outside world who maintained their positions as specialists amid the turbulence of political changes. They formed a kind of Guild, their posts becoming patrimony. The mathematics in Koryo is significant in that they paved the way for that of Chosun through a few books of mathematics such as "Sanhak-Kyemong, "Yanghwi - Sanpup" and "Sangmyung-Sanpup." King Sejong was quite phenomenal in his policy of promotion of mathematics. King himself was deeply interested in the study, createing an atmosphere in which all the high ranking officials and scholars highly valued mathematics. The sudden development of mathematic culture was mainly due to the personality and capacity of King who took any one with the mathematic talent onto government service regardless of his birth and against the strong opposition of the conservative officials. However, King's view of mathematics never resulted in the true development of mathematics per se and he used it only as an official technique in the tradition way. Korean mathematics in King Sejong's reign was based upon both the natural philosophy in China and the unique geo-political reality of Korean peninsula. The reason why the mathematic culture failed to develop continually against those social background was that the mathematicians were not allowed to play the vital role in that culture, they being only the instrument for the personality or politics of the King. While the learned scholar class sometimes played the important role for the development of the mathematic culture, they often as not became an adamant barrier to it. As the society in Chosun needed the function of mathematics acutely, the mathematicians formed the settled class called Jung-in (Middle-Man). Jung-in was a unique class in Chosun and we can't find its equivalent in China of Japan. These Jung-in mathematician officials lacked tendency to publish their study, since their society was strictly exclusive and their knowledge was very limited. Though they were relatively low class, these mathematicians played very important role in Chosun society. In "Sil-Hak (the Practical Learning) period" which began in the late 16th century, especially in the reigns of King Youngjo and Jungjo, which was called the Renaissance of Chosun, the ambitious policy for the development of science and technology called for the rapid increase of the number of such technocrats as mathematicians inevitably became quite ambitious and proud. They tried to explore deeply into mathematics per se beyond the narrow limit of knowledge required for their office. Thus, in this period the mathematics developed rapidly, undergoing very important changes. The characteristic features of the mathematics in this period were: Jung-in mathematicians' active study an publication, the mathematic studies by the renowned scholars of Sil-Hak, joint works by these two classes, their approach to the Western mathematics and their effort to develop Korean mathematics. Toward the "Enlightenment Period" in the late 19th century, the Western mathematics experienced great difficulty to take its roots in the Peninsula which had been under the strong influence of Confucian ideology and traditional Korean mathematic system. However, with King Kojong's ordinance in 1895, the traditonal Korean mathematics influenced by Chinese disappeared from the history of Korean mathematics, as the school system was changed into the Western style and the Western matehmatics was adopted as the only mathematics to be taught at the schools of various levels. Thus the "Enlightenment Period" is the period in which Korean mathematics sifted from Chinese into European.od" is the period in which Korean mathematics sifted from Chinese into European.pean.