The teaching of the great learning:
The cultivated self, the harmonized clan, the well-governed country, and peace throughout the world (修身齊家治國平天下)
Seung-Hee Lee (이승희, 李昇姬)
When things are investigated, knowledge is extended.
When knowledge is extended, the will becomes sincere.
When the will is sincere, the mind is correct.
When the mind is correct, the self is cultivated.
When the self is cultivated, the clan is harmonized.
When the clan is harmonized, the country is well governed.
When the country is well governed, there will be peace throughout the land.
From the king down to the common people, all must regard the cultivation of the self as the most essential thing.
It is impossible to have a situation wherein the essentials are in disorder, and the externals are well-managed. You simply cannot take the essential things as superficial, and the superficial things as essential. This is called, “Knowing the root.” This is called “The extension of knowledge.”
The Great Learning 大學, Translated by A. Charles Muller- July 4, 2013
The cultivated self, the harmonized clan, the well-governed country, and peace throughout the world(修身齊家治國平天下) is one of the frequently used phrases in Korea. This idiom captures the essence of the part mentioned above in The Great Learning (大學). The meaning is simple. To make peace throughout the world, you should cultivate yourself first.
This idiom has two interpretative modes. In the vertical meaning, peace throughout the world is available only after the completion of self-culture. This meaning has sometimes used to thwart the one’s plan for social justice since it often used for conformism. The horizontal meaning is alternative one. Though the first thing is still the most important, one can pursue the cultivated self, the harmonized clan, the well-governed country, and peace throughout the world in a holistic manner. They serve as complementary one to the other.
Before I wrote my thesis at Yonsei University, I was an adherent of the latter one and interpreted this idiom only to reflect the way of my life. However, after writing my thesis, I realized this idiom could also be applied to the research for both of vertical and horizontal meanings.
I look back on the time when I embarked on writing my thesis. I was looking for a topic which is differentiated from others but also is connected with them, and thought the Verdi reception in Korea satisfies my criteria. As Verdi is one of the famous topics in musicology, it was very interesting that I study how such theme connects with Korea, one of the countries that has actively embraced opera from the Western. I wanted to research the Verdi reception in Korea since I presupposed that it might deeply involve with modern Korean history, considering numerous political elements in his life and works. I thought my musical and political background would be helpful to tackle this kind of topic.
However, as I proceeded with this topic, I found many important things were against my expectations. Research materials were far from enough, and there looked no room for political discourse in the most popular opera, La Traviata, of Korea. Verdi’s political operas like Nabucco or Un Ballo In Maschera are not quite popular in Korea. The insufficiency of research materials and Verdi’s most intensely private opera: they both seemed to foresee my thesis’s doom. Dealing with this topic was too much for me, a master student. I tried to change my topic into the interpretation of research materials to narrow down my issue. But I realized the more I looked into the new topic, the more I was lukewarm about it because what I really wondered was the Verdi reception. Finally, instead of altering the topic, I made a resolve to narrow down it in a different way to the Reception of the Korean Premiere of La Traviata. Since then, I found I have been infatuated with the study of this theme.
Feminism was excluded from my study despite many studies on La Traviata deal with feminist theory, and I also found connection points in the Korean reception of the opera. I had seldom studied feminism but already knew it is a profound theory. Furthermore, a clause of the scholarship funded by Yonsei Seri-EU Centre (Currently Yonsei-EU Gean Monnet Centre) made me finish this work within two months. If I could not complete my dissertation until the semester I awarded this prize, I had to return the prize money to the center. I felt the need to control my desire. Instead of sticking to the topic what I really wanted to study, I had to exclude many things from my thesis. Though I found the popularity of the Korean premiere of La Traviata relates with the prevalence of tragic heroine in the mid-20th century in Korea, I decided to put this issue on the back burner. Topics on the relationship with the Korean War and the Cold War is also waiting for a ripe opportunity.
After I found that how many underlying materials are needed to deal with high dimensional problems through my thesis, I realized that I should reinforce my research potential and glean more data to solve the problem that I desire to. Further research can also be helpful to others. If I make meaningful arguments after the master’s thesis, they might be valuable sources for future researchers interested in opera in Korea as well as Korean opera singers as they can serve the better condition of scores and the precise rendition based on the correct interpretation. These are the reasons why I still have a lingering desire for the better study of opera and become keenly aware of the importance of ‘the cultivated self (修身).’
Maybe one of my duties as a musicologist is archiving of records on opera in Korea like Philip Gossett (1941-2017), an American musicologist and historian whose arduous work in archives helped unremembered operas back to the stage. I have lately heard from Jang Soo-dong, one of the leading opera directors in Korea, that the opera Chunhyangchun composed by Hyun Je-Myung has many orchestral accompaniments, but most of them seem to be lost. Though the most frequently performed opera composed by Korean in Korea, it has rarely received attention from musicologists. Now I fully understand researchers’ motivations to write textbooks, make archives, and visit theaters. Though I can spend most of my time in front of my laptop solving abstruse topics, presumably my effort ends in vain unless I solve underlying problems.
The reward for writing my thesis seems I realized my strength and weakness as a researcher, and what I should do for better results. Also, I fully understood my study is influenced by research material gleaned from everywhere, my research capability, and where my topic leads. That is, peace throughout the world is seriously affected by the degree how the self is cultivated. As much as I cultivate myself, I can make peace throughout the world.
Before writing my thesis, I planned to study film music just after the dissertation on opera. However, my thesis made me know that there are many lacunae whereby I explore this topic more, and opera in Korea rarely received attention from researchers.
Though I computerized the chronological list of the performance as I paid my friends with my scholarship, the research materials were still insufficient to compensate the deficit. I grasped my study is not based on sound foundation. People tend to say a level of a politician in a country does not exceed that of an electorate. Now I think so does research. A researcher neither makes a scholarly work far exceed what erstwhile researchers have studied nor far removed from there. There has been the only small number of the study on Verdi in Korea and little wonder my research on Verdi in Korea cannot far beyond them. The Verdi reception in Korea is based on a weak foundation unlike the one in other countries in the European and American continents. Then, what should I do? To satisfy my curiosity about my topic, I have no choice but put myself forward.
All these thoughts demonstrate the cultivating myself is the be-all and end-all in the word among the cultivated self, the harmonized clan, the well-governed country, and peace throughout the world(修身齊家治國平天下). The importance of root cannot be overvalued. But it is absurd I deal with the reception of Verdi only after I finish collecting the basic resources and the interpretation of scores of opera in Korea. Studying film music only after I arrive at successful results in my study on opera might be an another ridiculous idea.
Horizontal interpretation works in this circumstance. Investigating the fundamental sources as well as high-dimensional problems in opera, and studying opera as well as film music can bring together a synergy. What motivated me to think that issues like gender, melodrama, the Korean War, and the Cold War are key concepts were neither researches by the world-class scholars nor my assumption. Records on opera performances in Korea told me about them. Now I teach myself film music, but someday my research ability trained by the study on opera will be helpful to deal with the topics of film music, or, conversely, the study of film music might shed light on conundrums of opera.
I hope I gradually move on to peace throughout the world(平天下) as I cultivate myself and vice versa.