The Great Thinker Dasan Jeong Yak-yong
The National Museum of Korea (Director Kim Youngna) presents a special exhibition commemorating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Jeong Yak-yong, pen name “Dasan.” The event displays 142 relics related to the renowned scholar, including his collection of poems, Dasansagyeongcheop (Treasure #1683). Visitors will gain a renewed appreciation for the academic achievements, philosophy, and personality of this great thinker, who constantly pondered how to improve his country and the lives of its people, even during times of personal trouble.
The exhibition is divided into several themes, highlighting Jeong’s life, academic achievements, and books. The first section, “His Hometown and New Influences in Hanyang (Seoul),” introduces Jeong’s hometown of Majae Village, Neungnae-ri, Joan-myeon, Namyangju-si. After getting married, Jeong left Majae for Hanyang, where he encountered new influences such as Seohak (Western learning) and the work of Yi Ik (pen name “Seongho”). The display includes pictures of places near Jeong’s birthplace and books about Catholic teachings that were used during his time.
The section “King Jeongjo and Jeong Yak-yong” focuses on the period when Jeong became a trusted advisor of King Jeongjo. At the age of 28, Jeong passed the state exam to become a high-ranking official, and he was chosen to design Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon. This section features a picture of Gyujanggak (Royal Library), a silver-inlaid steel ruler that the king gave Jeongjo, Hwaseong seongyeok uigwe (Record of the Construction of Hwaseong Fortress), and Magwa hoetong (Jeong’s book about how to treat measles).
Jeong was exiled to Gangjin for helping to spread Catholicism, but even in exile he continued his research and writing. The sections “His Path to Academic Learning” and “His Will for Innovation” examine this troubled period of Jeong’s life, through items such as Juyeoksajeon (a book explaining the I Ching), Gyeongse yupyo (National Management Book), Mongmin simseo (Admonitions on Governing the People), and letters he wrote concerning these books.
The section “His Life in Exile in Gangjin” offers more information about Jeong’s daily life in exile and the people who remained close to him. The displayed items include Dasan’s Straw-Roofed House, a painting by Priest Choeui; Dasansagyeongcheop, a collection of poems Jeong wrote about the beautiful scenery near his house; Dongguk Yeojijido (Travel Map of Korea, Treasure #481-3), made by Yun Du-seo, Jeong’s great grandfather-in-law; a letter of concern about the health of Jeong’s older brother Yak-jeon; Jeong’s letters to Buddhist monks and his disciples; Maejodo, Jeong’s painting and poem of birds in a plum blossom tree, rendered on a skirt that his wife sent him on their 30th anniversary; and his portrait.
The section “His Return Home to Majae” details the books Jeong wrote and the academic exchanges he made in his later years, after returning home from his 18-year exile. Displayed items include Heumheum sinseo (Toward a New Jurisprudence), On Meishishangshu (a book on the study of Confucian classics), a landscape painting and a fish painting featuring Jeong’s poem, and his letters.
Finally, the section “Re-Appraising Jeong Yak-yong” examines how Jeong’s legacy was revitalized during the period when campaigns were carried out to inspire patriotism in the general populace. The displays include relevant articles from Hwangseong sinmun (Capital Gazette); Yunyeon pildok seogui (Required Children’s Reader Commentary); Yeoyudang jeonseo, a collection of Jeong’s literary works published on the 100th anniversary of his death with funds that had been raised nationwide; a receipt issued by the publisher; and an article praising Jeong in Dong-A Ilbo.
The exhibition will let visitors re-examine the life and personality of this innovative Confucian scholar who constantly worked to reform and improve the governing systems of Joseon and the lives of the citizens, even during his 18-year exile.