Korean Nationalism: Yi Hangno and Ch’oe Ikhyŏn Essay

September 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

Yi Hangno and Ch’oe Ikhyŏn appear very devoted to preserving the Korean culture and nation and opposing external influences. In fact, they are quite sharp in their writings; for example, Ch’oe Ikhyŏn refers to the Japanese as people who “have the face of human beings but the mind of beasts” (Lee & de Bary, 1997, p. 241) and repeatedly refers to them as bandits. Both writers strongly oppose the religion that the conquerors are bringing them, and Yi Hangno claims that “Buddhism is nothing more than a heretical sect from the remote Western Regions” (Lee & de Bary, 2997, p. 140), while Ch’oe Ikhyŏn, his disciple, calls the religion that the Japanese promote wicked. Overall, these writings make the impression that the authors were nationalists in a negative sense, meaning that they constantly stressed how evil and barbarian foreigners were, which suggests their certainty about the superiority of the Korean nation over other nations.

However, there is a more complicated understanding of nationalism. In addressing it, one should ask: Is nationalism about loyalty to a government (or a royal family), appreciation of a culture, or dedication to the nation as a whole? In this regard, the identity challenge is faced. Different opinions can be expressed as per what it meant for a Korean in the 19th century to be a Korean. For example, one can speculate on what was more important for Yi Hangno and Ch’oe Ikhyŏn: Confucianism or the political independence of Korea? Upon reading their texts, I think the latter was more important for them despite the fact that they ferociously denied the religion imposed on them. In fact, religion and culture can be intertwined, but I think that the authors identified themselves as Koreans to a larger extent than they identified themselves as Confucian scholars.


Lee, P. H., & de Bary, W. T. (Eds.). (1997). Sources of Korean tradition. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

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