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

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Historian 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 Young
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Carl 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.