North Korea And Confucianism Essay

2125 words - 9 pages

North Korea has been in the centre of political discussions for many years, therefore much research has also been done on its regime, international status, foreign policies and other matters. However, North Korea is not just a communist hermit kingdom that was created by the Soviet troops during the Korean War, it is also a traditional Confucian state that shares many fundamental similarities to its neighbours. Furthermore, this same Confucianism has played an important part in the creation of the North Korean regime. Despite being actively criticized for several centuries, this philosophy turned out to be a great tool of power legitimation and a strong base for the totalitarian state. In this essay, three topics will be discussed. Firstly, the appearance and overview of the Confucianism in the Korean peninsula – its roots and changes through the years. Secondly, the importance of Confucianism in North Korea with a focus on the analogy between family hierarchy and society structure. Finally, the comparison between North Korea and other Confucian states will be made for a better understanding of reasons why North Korea became the totalitarian state that it is.

Confucianism, one of the most significant East Asian philosophies, had been present in the Korean peninsula since the 4th century and for many centuries had played a significant role in transforming the Korean society (Lipman). Despite its roots in the contemporary Ming China, Koreans adapted the fundaments of the philosophy by interpreting the classical texts. (Lipman 45) Since the beginning of its existence in the peninsula, the philosophy was more important among the elite men, it promoted feudalism and filial piety, creating an inferior group of slaves, women and commoners. Right up to the 18-19th century, the Joseon dynasty saw itself as the main centre of real Confucianism. (Lipman 123) However, right from the 14th century the rulers decided to follow a different branch of this ideology – Neo-Confucianism, which was declared a state ideology. (Savada) Neo-Confucianism combines the thoughts of Confucius and Mencius with the values of Buddhism and Daoism (Levi 5). Neo-Confucianism, as its mainstream branch, defines the relations in all the societal levels. Yet, these are not “conceived in terms of happiness or satisfaction of the individuals (…), but in terms of harmonious integration of individuals into a collective whole.” (Savada). The aim was to create a “harmonious integration of individuals into a collective whole” (Levi 5). Yet, not everyone in the Korean society was following Confucianism, there were also some supporters of Buddhism, Shamanism, Daoism and Christianity. (Young 139) Consequently, it created diversity in the state which might have been a reason for the temporal overthrown of Confucianism. This philosophy had been already condemned during the Joseon dynasty as being too restrictive and stagnant, and it faced a large wave of criticism in the late 19th century, as...

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