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The Modern Transformation of Korean Political Thinking: Revisiting the Political Ideas of the Late Nineteenth-Century Reformists

donderdag 14 november 2019
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


As Korean history of recent past had drastic transformations that included modernisation after Western encroachments, colonisation, and ideological strife and separation of the state, researchers have usually seen the history of Korean political thinking since the nineteenth century as that of discontinuity. The transition of traditional Confucian political thinking to current democratic and republican political ideal was thus regarded as a discrete process. This appraisal is based on the observation of historical contexts rather than the examination of theoretical elements of the idea systems. Appending the latter approach to the former, specifically breaking down Confucian political ideas into two elements, my research testifies that the Confucian political thinking was in continuity with the democratic and republican ideas. For this objective, I revisit the political ideas of the late nineteenth-century reformists, for their ideas are located at a transitional period between the Confucian and the modern political thinking. A predominant previous view on them is that they abandoned their traditions and sought for an all-out Westernisation. Researchers who hold this view, however, have failed to grasp the elements within Confucian political thinking which were compatible with modern political ideas. My research begins with a theoretical examination of Confucian political thinking and suggests a new perspective of comprehending it, conceptualising that in terms of a tension between ‘political necessity’ and an ‘ethical ideal.’ Examining several aspects of the reformists’ ideas, I argue that the Confucian ideas related to political necessity functioned as media for the adoption of liberal and democratic political ideas.


  • Prof.dr. R. Breuker


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