Korea and The World

Device Korean state. Confucianism Impact on Social and Ruling Structure of Joseon Dynasty. The main features of Confucianism. Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism as the state ideology of the Joseon dynasty. Series of reforms the Prince's Regent's.

Рубрика История и исторические личности
Вид статья
Язык английский
Дата добавления 24.05.2014
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1.What Confucianism is all about

korean confucianism joseon dynasty

Confucianism is an ethical and philosophical system, on occasion described as a religion, developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 BCE). The history of Confucius is crucial for understanding ideas he advocated, his philosophy, and attempt to answer some of the criticisms of Korean culture that appear to be based on Confucian tenants.

The philosopher has been known by several names, Confucius is the romanization of the Chinese original. In Chinese, he is K'ung Fu Tzu, in Korean, Gong Ja. He has a noble origin but his family that had lost power, and Confucius spent his youth in poverty. The philosopher had minor posts in the Chinese civil service until sometime around the year 500 BC when he became a middle level minister in the Lu Provinces.1 After a while, he tried to destroy an unlawful power of three ruling families in the area, but met with failure. He escaped from Lu and visited at least five provinces during a 13 year span. Although he was recognized on various posts during his travels, he was never given a job in which he could cause real change. Discouraged, he finally returned home to Lu in 484 BC where he studied and taught until his death in 479 BC.

To understand the ideas he contributed, it is helpful to know that Confucius lived during a very chaotic period of Chinese history. The Chou Dynasty was disintegrating and the ensuing power vacuum was creating mess in public life. Thus much of Confucian philosophy is aimed at defining the social structure and maintaining its stability.

Confucius identified five relationships which he felt are integral to public stability: husband and wife, father and son, elder and younger, king and subject, and that between friends. The relationship between friends was intended to be one of reciprocity and mutual respect between equals. The first four relationships described linear power relations with the first member of each pair being the dominate half. Confucius, though, did not intend this system to be one of despotism, but, rather, one which addressed a mutual need. The first member was required to protect and nurture the second, while the second respected and served the first.

The keystone of the Confucian philosophy is the concept of the gentleman. The gentleman has five important qualities: benevolence, wisdom, courage, reliability in word, and reverence. Benevolence was considered the key attribute. Confucius described it as the observance of ceremonial rites, and the effort to overcome the self. Particularly noteworthy is that true Confucianists believe power is never wielded in self-interest, but only for the sake of society. The importance of wisdom is credited to Confucius' lifelong ambition to be a scholar. Courage does not describe bravery in battle, so much as taking the right course of action even in the face of adversity and pressure to do wrong. Reliability in word includes honesty about the past, present, and future, as well as modesty. Reverence means acknowledging the immensity of the task of doing everything one can to better the lives of those for whom one is responsible.

One other important concept related to the gentleman is the "Decree of Heaven." Many leaders throughout history have used this concept to justify their power. However, Confucius widened the implications of Heaven's Decree to mean that everyone, regardless of his position, is ethically responsible for doing everything he can to help society.2 Once a person no longer lives up to the Decree of Heaven, but begins to serve himself, he loses the right to his position. Interestingly, this talk of heaven is the closest that Confucius came to an idea of a spiritual world. Confucius never talked about God or the soul and is widely considered to be agnostic. Confucius' vision of an individual's behavior and those of a ruler are close to Plato's philosopher king: a leader has the right to rule until he no longer fulfills his responsibilities to society.

2.Confucianism in Joseon Dynasty

Nothing has shaped Korean society as much as Confucianism. This philosophy was accepted so eagerly and in such a strict form that the Chinese regarded the Korean adherents as more Confucian than themselves. Confucianism influenced the growth of the Chinese examination system that became the means of attaining high government office.

It also contributed to the stability of society and perpetuated a very rigid class structure for centuries. Of the total population, ten percent was of the yangban class, the upperclass landowners whose goal was education in the Confucian classics and government and military service.

Neo-Confucianism was the state ideology of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) from its outset. Politically and intellectually, the foundation of the Joseon dynasty was the result of a coalition based on an alliance between the military and a group of reform-inclined Confucian scholars. Yi as the founder and new king of Joseon, abandoned Buddhism, the state religion of the previous Koryo dynasty, which had become severely corrupt.3 Yi adopted instead Chu Hsi's neo-Confucian philosophy as the state ideology and proceeded to consolidate his socio-political power.

In implementing neo-Confucian ideas, the Joseon dynasty was extremely dogmatic and restricted. For example, the broadly-based variety of Confucian schools in China was not permitted in Joseon, only the most orthodox form of Confucianism, that is the Chu Hsi school of neo-Confucianism. Thus Chu Hsi's tenets became, in time, even more rigidly adhered to during the Joseon dynasty than they were in China proper. The Confucian-style civil service examination of China was taken up by Joseon, but not its egalitarian principles. Confucian views on kinship were adopted into the dynasty but Confucian social structures came to be much more strictly observed than those in China. In Joseon only men of the yangban class (the hereditary nobility or aristocracy), might sit for the examinations, although the yangban accounted for less than 10% of Joseon's population.

Yi came from northern Korea, a region whose people were seen as militant trouble-makers, revolutionaries and rebels (like Yi himself). Thus, Yi deliberately avoided hiring government officials from this region. It was at this time that the northern part of Korea began to be seen as the land of exiles. A later example is the Hong Kyongnae (1780-1812) Rebellion in 1811. Hong, a fallen yangban from P'yongan province, was frustrated by the fact that southern Korean yangban officials blocked his passing of the civil examinations and so his participation in an official career. Thus Hong conspired with others in P'yongan province, such as U Kunch'ik and Kim Sayong, who shared his discontent. Declaring that discrimination against the people of P'yongan province must stop, they planned an insurrection. Subsequently, Hong and his associate conspirators met and drilled their force and rose in open revolt. But Hong himself was killed in the final clash against government forces and his uprising was suppressed.

In contrast, Seoul was the political, economic, and cultural centre of Korea. Hence government officials from southern Korea virtually monopolised all influential posts in the Joseon court. However, within the southern Korean elite in the government, there was strong factionalism, each faction aiming to expand its hegemony against the others. Factionalism was the prevalent political activity throughout the Joseon dynasty. Consequently, the Joseon Confucian elites who dominated the society and politics at the end of the dynasty 'stultified' themselves, being inadequately prepared to cope with the new dynamics of imperialism.

In the meantime, Joseon's ambassadors to China in the 17th century brought back with them a world atlas, scientific documents and tools made by Roman Catholic missionaries and information on the Western religion - Catholicism. Due to the influence of Catholicism and Western scientific ideas, in the 18th century some of the scholar-administrator group began to examine Joseon society and its problems, measuring it against the conservative Confucian ideology. This is known as the Sirhak (Practical Learning) movement.

In this regard from the end of the eighteenth century the conflict between Catholicism and Confucianism continued. The two viewpoints could not find a middle ground on the principal significance of Confucianism's devotion to the ancestor memorial ritual, chesa, which Catholicism rejected as idolatry. It is ironic that during the Japanese colonial period, Catholicism accepted Shinto shrine worship as 'cultural ritual'. One wonders why Shinto shrine worship was regarded as a cultural ritual when Catholicism did not accept chesa. Unsurprisingly the Joseon dynasty began to oppress Catholicism, believing that it opposed the fundamental ethical teachings of Confucianism. During the persecutions in 1801, 1839, and 1866, converts were either executed or compelled to renounce their religious beliefs.

King Kojong ascended the throne in 1864, but as he was too young to govern, his father, Yi Ha'ung (1821-1898) became the Prince Regent (Taewon'gun). 4 For a decade the Prince Regent governed in the name of his son. While the Prince Regent made a positive contribution to internal policy through various reform measures, his foreign policy was one of rigid seclusion and isolation. Noting the defeat of China in the Opium War (1839-1842) and its subsequent exploitation by the West, the Prince Regent had determined to strictly enforce a 'closed door' policy. However, during his regency Western gunboats appeared in pursuit of commerce and 'good will'. As a result, the arrival of Western vessels in Joseon and the growing Western pressure to open up the country added to an already unstable Joseon society.

As the entire machinery of government required renovation, the Prince Regent brought in a series of reforms. He appointed people to government posts without regard to factional alignment. Conscious of the abuses that had evolved under the Andong Kim clan, the Prince Regent arranged for his son to take a Queen from a member of the Yonghung Min lineage, a group that lacked influential political links. Notwithstanding, the young Kojong, who was weak-willed and easily controlled, fell under the sway of the Min faction's political power.

Following the Regent's demise, Queen Min's supporters took control of the state, repealing many of the Prince Regent's reforms. Korea now succumbed to the rising pressure from abroad including Japan, France and the United States. The first Western-style treaty was signed with Japan, the unequal Kangwha Treaty of 1876. This led to the end of the Regent's isolationist policy and the opening of Joseon to Japan and the rest of the world. During the next two decades Joseon lay inert in the face of vigorous foreign competition and geo-political machinations, in particular between China, Russia and Japan. These three powers viewed Korea as the boundary of their defence lines.

Meanwhile in 1894 a series of populist rebellions swept Korea. They were above all anti-Japanese, due to fury not only at Japan's increasing political domination over Korea but also at the bounding wealth of Japanese tradesmen, who were abruptly arrogating most of Korea's business. In this regard, the Tonghak (Eastern Learning) rebellion resembled the Taiping Rebellion in China during the 1850s.

During the period 1900 to 1904, Russian and Japanese animosity and competition grew. The Korean nation was insecure, and its nickname, Land of the Morning Calm, was no longer true. The antagonism between the two countries climaxed in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. The United Kingdom and the United States, were primarily concerned with Russian expansion into the Far East and into the Pacific area, and with Russia's threat to China. Therefore, to some extent, Japanese domination of Korea was considered to be fundamental in blocking Russian expansionism. In particular, the Anglo-Japan Alliance in 1902 and 1905 was fundamentally aimed at restraining Russian expansion in East Asia.5

In this regard, during the Russo-Japanese war, two-thirds of Japan's war expenses were funded by the British and American governments. Inasmuch as the United Kingdom and United States were afraid of the domination of the Russian Empire in the East Asia regions, President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) considered that "realistic politics demanded the sacrifice of Korean independence, and that a Korea controlled by Japan was preferable to a Korea controlled by Russia". 6 Japan again triumphed, enabling it to destroy any signs of Korean independence at will. What is more, the Taft-Katsura Agreement with the United States in 1905 and the Portsmouth Treaty with Russia in 1905 consolidated Japanese hegemony in the Pacific region.

Accordingly Japan deprived Korea of diplomatic rights through the Protectorate Treaty of 1905, which was followed by the formal annexation of Korea in 1910.7 Under Japanese pressure, Emperor Kojong abdicated in favour of his young son, Sunjong, and the Imperial Korean Army was dissolved in 1907. But a section of the Korean Army, led by dismissed officials and Confucian scholars, had opposed the Japanese after the 1905 Japanese victory over Russia. After 1910 Korean resistance groups were driven into Manchuria. In this period, tens of thousands of Koreans left their mother country moving to Manchuria, Siberia, Shanghai, Hawaii and even Tokyo, where they formed various resistance organisations.

To sum up, from the beginning, the Joseon dynasty strongly maintained tributary relations with the 'middle kingdom' China. Along with the adaptation of the most rigid and dogmatic form of Confucianism as its state ideology, the Joseon dynasty also left an influential legacy of authoritarianism to modern Korea. The Joseon court also broke up into various factions, therefore factional conflicts consumed all its energy and strength in internal struggles, causing it to take an apathetic pose towards emerging outside pressures. By doing so, the Joseon court was totally defenceless in the face of twentieth century Western and Japanese imperialism. Therefore, the harsh period of Japanese colonialism began with the fall of the 'hermit kingdom'.


1 "Confucianism in South Korea." Http://www.kailash.ru/korea1/460.html. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2014.

2 "Korea's Religions." Korea. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2014.

3 "South Korea, Confucianism." Around the World. N.p., 11 May 2014. Web. 14 May 2014. <http://www.vokrugsveta.ru/tv/vs/cast/530/>.

4 "Confucius: History of Life." 12 Jan. 2008: n. pag. Web.

5 Kim, G. N. "Stories about Korean Religions." Koryo Saram. N.p., 20 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 May 2014.

6 "Confucionism in History of Joseon Dynasty." History of South Korea. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2014. <http://www.e-reading.ws/chapter.php/1007889/33/Kurbanov_-_Istoriya_Korei_s_drevnosti_do_nachala_XXI_v..html>.

7"Neo-confucianism in Asian Development." World Religions. N.p., 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 May 2014. <http://bhoga.ru/neo-con>.

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