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

Choong-Yeol Kim defended his thesis on 14 November 2019

Choong-Yeol Kim
14 November 2019
Leiden Repository

As Korea’s recent history has seen drastic transformations, researchers have usually read the history of Korean political thinking since the nineteenth century as one of discontinuity. The transition from traditional Confucian political thinking to current democratic and republican political ideals has been regarded as a discrete process. Such an appraisal is based on the observation of historical contexts rather than on an examination of the theoretical elements of the idea systems. Combining the latter approach with the former, this study establishes a continuity between Confucian political thinking and democratic and republican ideas. It does so by rereading the political ideas of the late nineteenth-century reformists (Kaehwap’a), as their ideas were formulated during a transitional period between Confucian and modern political thinking. This study embarks on a theoretical examination of Confucian political thinking through the application of a dichotomous perspective conceptualised as a tension between ‘political necessity’ and ‘ethical ideal.’ Through an analysis of various concepts used in the formulation of reformist thinking, this study argues that Confucian ideas on the political necessity spectrum functioned as a medium for the adoption of liberal and democratic political ideas.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. R.E. Breuker;
Co-supervisor: dr. K. de Ceuster

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