New Look at Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo Movements in CKS Book Series

Book coverHis­to­ri­an Carl F. Young has under­tak­en a new study of the inter­nal devel­op­ments in the Tong­hak and Ch’ŏndogyo move­ments between 1895 and 1910. The results are pre­sent­ed in the lat­est vol­ume in the Cen­ter for Kore­an Stud­ies Hawai’i Stud­ies on Korea book series, East­ern Learn­ing and the Heav­en­ly Way: The Tong­hak and Ch’ŏndogyo Move­ments and the Twi­light of Kore­an Inde­pen­dence. The book, just issued, is co-published by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawai’i Press.

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 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.

Draw­ing on a vari­ety of sources in sev­er­al lan­guages such as reli­gious his­to­ries, doc­tri­nal works, news­pa­pers, gov­ern­ment reports, and for­eign diplo­mat­ic reports, Young 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.

photo: Carl YoungCarl Young is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor in the His­to­ry Depart­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of West­ern Ontario in Lon­don, Cana­da. A grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Lon­don, his research inter­ests focus on reli­gious social move­ments, nation­al­ism, and impe­ri­al­ism in mod­ern Asia, cen­ter­ing espe­cial­ly on Korea and Japan. He also has a strong inter­est in com­par­a­tive world his­to­ry and cross-cultural inter­ac­tion between dif­fer­ent world regions. His pre­vi­ous research has includ­ed a com­par­i­son of South Kore­an min­jung (pop­u­lar) the­ol­o­gy and Latin Amer­i­can lib­er­a­tion the­ol­o­gy in the 1970s and 1980s. For more infor­ma­tion about the book, vis­it the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawai’i Press Web site.