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HIST 218 - Lecture: Northeast Asian Modernity / Korea (Jan. 14)

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HIST 218
Gavin Walker

Northeast Asian Modernity – Jan 14 − study of East Asian history usually focuses on China and Japan − however, Korea occupied an important geopolitical and cultural position between the two countries − although the Choson period is characterized by political stagnation, it also saw significant intellectual/cultural developments − East Asian geopolitics at the time did not have the same dynamics as it does now − significant division between North and South China − Choson also outlasted several Chinese and Japanese regimes Choson period Korea(1392-1910) − period characterized by Chinese dominance in Korean space − due to Confucianism and dynamic of civil examinations − also due to language, particularly classical Chinese (language of governance, and the literati) − it is thus no accident that Choson government also mirrors Qing government; Choson agencies were patterned on existing Qing institutions − Choson government − two branches: civil and military − civil service: formation of elites; training and cultivation of intellectuals, politicians − civil service examination system served as training centre, for officials and intellectuals—training in Confucianism and classical Chinese − however, like in China, civil examination system merely served to replicate the reproduction of elites King Sejong (1418-1450) − emphasis on the arts, sciences, intellectual work, scholarly endeavours − importance of creation of han'gul alphabet − written form to vernacular language; ease of learning; direct written adaptation for local linguistic elements; wider literacy − oversaw government patronage of science and the arts − ends division between language of governance and language of the people, which characterized East Asia polities − because it was designed conscientiously, the alphabet is easy to learn and use Choson Society − yangban class: linked to government and to state institutions; civil and military service − yangban and landlord system; feudal land tenure and local system of taxation; rent in kind − not necessarily involved politically, with the monarchy − importance came from being the main provider of people to state institutions − sees ability of yangban to manage local/regional economies − sees linkage between yangban as family and the system of property − as in Qing China, yangban elites also serve as the local expression of central governing authority − 'merit subjects:' directly appointed through royal decree and therefore not subject to the older elite structures of legitimation and acceptance − receive positions as either a landlord or to one having direct political control over a regional space − potential space for jockeying of political power between a yangban family and the royal household − remember that King does not necessary have absolute authority − had to make very careful alliances with certain yangban families − thus, appointing of 'merit subjects' always became a way of manoeuvring against or for certain configurations of yangban power − also became a source of jealousy, as 'ordinary' yangban regard 'merit subjects' as untrained, and having achieved their position extraordinarily fast − four-level division of classes, derived from Confucian division of labour: − yangban and nobles − farmers, agrarian labour − artisans, small producers − slaves and the lowborn − these divisions were very much fixed on the family; there is little class mobility − because merit subjects did not receive their positions in a hereditary manner, they were difficult to integrate into this hierarchical, lineage- driven structure − yangban succession: family lineage − Confucian emphasis on family structure as the guarantor of state legitimacy − Confucianism could be used to justify class divisions − however, it could also be used against that reading by emphasizing the importance of largesse of the elite; if state really is family, how could children not be taken care of? − yangban families were extremely powerful in comparison with the nobility in Japan and China at this time − though yangban were the most powerful class region
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