This study focuses on examining the political use of Shangshu (尙書 or 書經), the Book of Documents, and its meaning in the early Goryeo (高麗) dynasty. There are two purposes of this study. First, this study attempts to understand the Confucian principle of political operation which Goryeo’s ruling class pursued. Second, it aims to search for the political and academic background why the principle was pursued in Goryeo society.
In the age of the ancient Three Kingdoms, five Confucian scripts were read importantly. In case of Silla (新羅), the ruling class had already accepted the principle of political operation which Shangshu suggests, from the late 6th century to the early 7th century. From the mid-7th century, there was a change of understanding Shangshu as the Three Kingdoms sent students to the national school of the Tang (唐) dynasty in China. Just at that time, Emperor Taizong (太宗) of Tang let scholars such as Kongyingda (孔穎達) to arrange existing annotations and to make new ones related to five Confucian scripts. As students returned to their own country, they brought those scripts named Wujingzhengyi (五經正義). As a result, new annotations were accepted to the three countries. Shangshu became understood through Shangshuzhengyi (尙書正義) which was one of the Wujingzhengyi.
Goryeo’s intellectuals read the scripts as well. Also they wanted to apply the principle of political operation written in Shangshu. Accordingly, it was used to cope with various political situations in early Goryeo. Shangshu gave imperativeness and authority to the king’s and bureaucrats’ political decision-making. Also it was used as an example to several political systems performed at early Goryeo. As Goryeo society accepted the Confucian principle of political operation, it was natural that they accepted Shangshu’s contents. Also Shangshuzhengyi, which contains Tang Taizong’s ideal politics, became a model for Goryeo’s ruling class who pursued his political operation.
By the turn of the 12th century, solving the problem resulting from the huge natural disaster became important for the Goryeo government. For them, the most fundamental way to solve this problem was found from the king’s self-discipline and by reading Confucian texts. The reason why they thought like this was an influence from Neo-Confucianism of the Northern Song (北 宋) dynasty. In particular, Shangshu’s certain selection “Hongfan (洪範)” received attention since it was recognized as the way to solve the natural disaster. As a result, King Yaejong (睿宗) in Goryeo studied Shangshu, especially “Hongfan,” at the king’s study with his scholar bureaucrats called Gyeongyeon (經筵). This shows the changes had been made in using Shangshu at this time. However, Shangshu was still used actively at giving imperativeness and authority to the ruling class.