Abstract

Following the collapse of the old indigenous social order, tenth-century Korea was engaged in innovative cultural borrowing of a societal scale under the influence of the brilliant and mature Chinese civilization. Among the many institutions borrowed during this period, the civil service examination system (k‘o-chü in Chinese and kwagŏ in Korean), introduced in 958 by King Kwangjong (r. 949–975) of the Koryŏ Dynasty (918–1392), constitutes perhaps the most engrossing case of institutional borrowing in traditional Korea. Aside from its long-range consequences for Korean society and culture, the significance of this particular instance of institutional transplantation lies in the wholesale manner in which the borrowing was made, adopting the system complete with its Confucian examination content as well as its Chinese system of writing. Significant too is the fact that the proposal for this institutional borrowing did not come from a Korean but the king's Chinese advisor, Shuang Chi. It was also to Shuang Chi that the youthful Korean king entrusted the role of cultural innovator in instituting the examination system. The far-reaching social and cultural implications of this undertaking and its great success as a cultural borrowing make this particular case a fascinating subject to study; that is, when fully explored, it may shed light on the problems of ongoing cultural borrowing in Korea today.

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