Eastern Learning and the Heavenly Way

Eastern Learning and the Heavenly Way: The Tonghak and Chondogyo Movements and the Twilight of Korean Independence

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 196
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Eastern Learning and the Heavenly Way
    Book Description:

    Tonghak, or Eastern Learning, was the first major new religion in modern Korean history. Founded in 1860, it combined aspects of a variety of Korean religious traditions. Because of its appeal to the poor and marginalized, it became best known for its prominent role in the largest peasant rebellion in Korean history in 1894, which set the stage for a wider regional conflict, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. Although the rebellion failed, it caused immense changes in Korean society and played a part in the war that ended in Japan's victory and its eventual rise as an imperial power. It was in this context of social change and an increasingly perilous international situation that Tonghak rebuilt itself, emerging as Ch’ŏndogyo (Teaching of the Heavenly Way) in 1906. During the years before Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910, Ch’ŏndogyo continued to evolve by engaging with new currents in social and political thought, strengthening its institutions, and using new communication technologies to spread its religious and political message. In spite of Korea’s loss of independence, Ch’ŏndogyo would endure and play a major role in Korean nationalist movements in the Japanese colonial period, most notably the March First independence demonstrations in 1919. It was only able to thrive thanks to the processes that had taken place in the twilight years of Korean independence. This book focuses on the internal developments in the Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo movements between 1895 and 1910. Drawing on a variety of sources in several languages such as religious histories, doctrinal works, newspapers, government reports, and foreign diplomatic reports, it explains how Tonghak survived the turmoil following the failed 1894 rebellion to set the foundations for Ch’ŏndogyo’s important role in the Japanese colonial period. The story of Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo not only is an example of how new religions interact with their surrounding societies and how they consolidate and institutionalize themselves as they become more established; it also reveals the processes by which Koreans coped and engaged with the challenges of social, political, and economic change and the looming darkness that would result in the extinguishing of national independence at the hands of Japan’s expanding empire.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-4016-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxiv)

    Along Chongno, the busiest street in Seoul’s crowded city center, is a park that is walled off from the hustle and bustle. It is called Pagoda Park (T’apkol kongwŏn), because of an ancient Buddhist pagoda located on the site. In this small piece of greenery where old men play chess andpaduk,there are several bronze murals along the walls commemorating demonstrations against Japanese colonial rule in March 1919 that first began in the park. In front of these murals is a statue of Son Pyonghui, the first signer of Korea’s Declaration of Independence and leader of a native religion...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Early Tonghak and the 1894 Rebellion
    (pp. 1-30)

    Tonghak arose in the last half of the nineteenth century, a period of domestic and international turmoil in Korea and East Asia. Its founder, Ch’oe Che-u, started preaching his new religious ideas among peasants and marginalized members of the educated classes in southeastern Korea after a profound experience with the divine in 1860. The popularity of this new doctrine quickly drew the attention of local officials, who were concerned about the appeal of this unorthodox teaching. In the end, Ch’oe Che-u was arrested and finally executed in 1864. His new religion was declared illegal, his writings were burned, and the...

  6. CHAPTER 2 A Time of Trouble, 1895–1900
    (pp. 31-50)

    Although the 1894 rebellion failed, it unleashed events that dramatically changed the social, political, and intellectual scene in Korea. Japan’s victory in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 led to a brief period of Japanese ascendancy in Korea. Between 1894 and 1896, Japan sponsored a reformist Korean administration that implemented government reforms (known as the Kabo Reforms) similar to those undertaken by Japan in the Meiji Restoration. The reformists were influenced by new ideas coming from Japan and the West and aimed to revamp the structure of Korean government so it could better cope with the changes brought about by...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Exile—Son Pyŏng-hŭi in Japan, 1901–1904
    (pp. 51-77)

    By 1901, Tonghak had recovered from most of the disarray caused by the failure of the 1894 rebellion. The leadership vacuum created by Ch’oe Si-hyŏng’s death in 1898 had been filled with the final confirmation of Son Pyŏng-hŭi as supreme leader of Tonghak in 1900. The scattered remnants of believers were reorganized and new missionary endeavors were bearing fruit, especially in northwestern Korea.

    In spite of these encouraging developments, Tonghak was still considered an illegal organization by the Korean government. It was an easy scapegoat to explain rebellions and disruptions among the peasantry, and this led to bouts of persecution...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Tonghak and the Ilchinhoe, 1904–1906
    (pp. 78-112)

    Tonghak was in a precarious position when the Russo-Japanese War broke out in 1904. Its continued illegal status as a result of the 1894 rebellion led to government repression and persecution, which hampered Tonghak’s efforts to rebuild and curtailed its ability to spread its doctrine and extend its influence in Korean society. Persecution forced its activities underground and deprived it of membership and leadership. Ch’oe Si-hyŏng, the second Tonghak patriarch, had been captured and executed as a result of this government-instigated repression. Son Pyŏng-hŭi, who had succeeded him, was now in Japan, in large part to escape capture by the...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Administrative Centralization and Leadership Struggles in Ch’ŏdogyo, 1906–1908
    (pp. 113-139)

    The announcement that proclaimed the name change from Tonghak to Ch’ŏndogyo on December 1, 1905, was the first step in a major reorganization of the religious movement that had been founded by Ch’oe Che-u in 1860. The renewal that occurred through the creation of Ch’ŏndogyo would provide the foundation for the movement’s continued success in a colonial modernizing society and for its later role in nationalist social movements such as the March 1, 1919, independence demonstrations.

    The organization of Ch’ŏndogyo out of Tonghak was a result of several factors. TheTonghak hyŏngmyong 100-nyŏn sa(Hundredth year anniversary history of the...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Doctrine, Ritual, and Social Action in Ch’ŏndogyo, 1906–1908
    (pp. 140-172)

    Tonghak’s reorganization into Ch’ŏndogyo was also accompanied by an intellectual and liturgical regeneration that supported Son Pyŏng-hŭi’s vision of a modernizing religious movement with a focus on social action. This led to a systematization of ritual and liturgy and the use of new printing technologies to better disseminate Ch’ŏndogyo’s religious and social message to believers and the general public.

    Neo-Confucianism in Chosŏn Korea emphasized the moral and ethical basis of society and civilization, but as traditional norms and the validity of neo-Confucian thought in the new modern world were questioned, many searched for a new moral basis to support “civilization...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Ch’ŏndogyo’s Activities before the Annexation, 1908–1910
    (pp. 173-198)

    Ch’ŏndogyo had been organized soon after the imposition of the protectorate regime by the Japanese. Much of its early organization therefore occurred during the years that eventually led to the full extinction of Korea’s sovereignty through annexation to Japan in August 1910. By 1908, most of the leadership conflicts that had confronted Ch’ŏndogyo were resolved, doctrine and religious organization were increasingly systematized, and there were an increasing number of adherents.

    During the two years preceding the annexation of Korea, Japan’s control over Korea was steadily reinforced. The Japanese forced Emperor Kojong to abdicate in favor of his son in July...

    (pp. 199-208)

    Why did Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo have such an impact in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? One reason is that although they were religious movements, adherence to Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo often had political and social implications as well. They were among the largest organizations, religious or otherwise, in the early twentieth century under Korean leadership with a uniquely indigenous origin. During a period of increasing consciousness of Korean nationhood and an increased effort to stress Korea’s uniqueness within East Asia and the world, joining a movement whose origins, ideas, and leadership were unique to the peninsula would have been...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 209-246)
    (pp. 247-260)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 261-268)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-273)