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Confucianism as a comprehensive worldview and its role in the Korean value system and social institutions

Reflective Learning Journal Semester 2 2018
Your name
Alyssa Bersamina
September 22, 2018
Confucianism as a comprehensive worldview and its role in the Korean value system
and social institutions
For this reflective journal, I would like to talk about Confucianism, particularly Neoconfucianism and reflect upon my learning about it from class. I chose this topic
because this is what peaked my interest the most.
This topic particularly peaked my interest since Confucianism was something I have
learned about but never fully understood. We have learned about it way back
elementary, together with Judaism, Christianity and the like, so I only really thought
of it as a religion from China. However, learning about it class made me see that it is
more than that and it played a big role in the Korean value system and society. It was
really emphasized in class that Confucianism had a great impact on Korea, maybe
being the most influential, as a political ideology and as a system of values and norms.
What incident, event
or idea are you going
to reflect on?
What did I learn in
this class(over the
past three weeks)
What did I read for
this topic?
(apart from the text)
In class, we learned moral imperatives and ethical principles of Neo-Confucianism as
a system of social norms and values and how these were able to transform social
institutions in Korea. It is here that we could also see that loyalty and filial piety was
the most important principle for the Korean social structure and human relationships.
I was able to connect it to the fact that almost all documentaries and films I saw that
was set in past Korea emphasized loyalty to some king or paternal figure. It is here I
also learned why the male figure is given more importance in the Korean culture. Like
for example, a Korean taught me that when addressing the maternal side of the family,
i.e. your grandparents and great-grandparents on the mother’s side, the prefix oe- (외)
– pronounced ‘weh’ is added. She said that it meant “exit” because the paternal family
is more important and is therefore the “inside” family. Now I learned in class that this
is so because the Confucian ideology regarded hierarchical relationship as essential,
the patriarchal and patrilineal system was established for an organized descent group.
Aside from that, I was also able to learn about the value system of Confucianism like
valuing relationships within social networks rather than a person’s individual
characteristics and cherishing primary humane relations more then secondary
inhumane ones.
Apart from the text, I read about Korean Confucianism in the New World Encyclopedia
in the internet which gave me a background on the history of Confucianism in Korea.
One article was by Koh Young-jin entitled “Neo-Confucianism as the Dominant
Ideology in Joseon”. This article mainly talked about Neo-confucianism not simply a
metaphysical philosophy but a comprehensive system of thought attempting to explain
all aspects of nature, man, and society in a consistent fashion. The second article I read
was by Nicolas Levi entitled “The Impact of Confucianism in South Korea and Japan”
which tackles the influence of Confucianism on Japanese and Korean societies and
discusses issues such as loyalty and collectivism in the two countries previously
mentioned. It is here that I read that traditional ties between Korea and China
(especially during the rule of the Han dynasty) are deeply rooted in Korean history, and
also naturally forced Korea to become Confucian.
The most interesting thing I read for this topic was from an aricle Koh Young-jin
entitled “Neo-Confucianism as the Dominant Ideology in Joseon” that authorities had
to hide the wrong doings of the rulers just so that they could keep up with the facade
of serving the people with Confucian ideals. This surprised me because I didn’t know
they would go through such lengths just to promote an ideology. I also find it quite
ironic that they were promoting something good whilst doing something that was
completely opposite.
What was the most
interesting things I
learned and read for
this topic- why was
Evaluations: what
was good and bad
about the
What was new or
surprising to me?
Another thing I found interesting was something I read from the New World
Encyclopedia. Here it stated that the last part of the fifteenth century and the beginning
of the sixteenth century were plagued by an epidemic of political rivalry and
factionalism due often to ambition and narrow-mindedness far from the Confucian
ideal. I also read that one of the tragic peak was reached with Yônsan’gun his
persecutions of Confucian scholars called purges. One of the famed purges happening
in 1519 when Cho Kwang-jo. a noted Confucian reformer, was trying to bring back
ethics in politics. This made me realize that the transitions from Buddhism to
Confucianism must not have been always smooth sailing. It is from my understanding
that Neo- confucianism flourished prior to this epidemic. It surprised me that epidemics
far from Confucian ideals were still ensued despite the fact that great efforts were made
to establish Neo-confucianism. It reaffirmed me the fact that such any system of
thought will not be embraced by everyone.
One of the good things about learning this in class is that we were able to hear opinions
from my fellow course mates who came from different parts of the world. It was
interesting how similar and how different our views on the subject matter are. For
example, someone from Uzbekistan was a bit confused on whether Confucianism is
treated as a religion, much like I did at first. He thought it was a religion in China to
which a Chinese student affirmed that it is not. The Vietnamese students being familiar
with Confucianism also had a lot to say. However, for others we were impartial, having
heard only little of Confucianism much less Neo-confucianism. Another good thing
about learning this in class is that we got to understood more of the social structure and
value system of South Koreans. We got to evaluate them and relate them to some things
we have observed here. Because of our classroom setting, other people were able to
pitch in and contribute observations as well.
I actually went to Gwangju Hyanggyo Confucius School last week and learned a little
about the the life of Confucian scholars. It was good that I was able to see the
environment. Quite similar to our university, they had dormitories and such. One thing
that surprised me was that they had a clear division of the rich and the poor even as
scholars. I couldn’t really say there was anything bad about the experience but I guess
I could still point out that being careful about talking about sensitive things such as
culture of others is very important especially when you are in another country and when
you don’t know a lot about it.
Something surprising to me was when I read a line in the text that said “Korea is the
most Confucian country in all of East Asia, more so even than Taiwan or mainland
China,” which was observed by an eminent historian. This surprised me because often
when I hear about Confucianism it is mostly associated with China and I never thought
of Korea. I mostly associated Korea with Buddhism before learning all these things in
What have I changed
my mind about, as a
result of these
classes?(over last
three weeks)
(general): What can
be concluded, in a
general sense, from
these experiences
and the analyses you
have undertaken?
One thing I really changed my mind about is really my view of Confucianism as a
religion. I now understand it as a way of life. I also now know how very much different
a religion is from a way of life. I also have changed my views about Confucius’s
teachings. In my life, I have always come across Confucius’s teaching like, “every one
has his or her place in society”. Now, I can fully understand his meaning behind saying
Also, I have watched dramas set in the Joseon dynasty but have been impartial to the
practices I saw there. Now, I am able to see the connection with Confucianism
especially now I understand why the kings I saw in the dramas were regarded with high
respect and in turn the kings had to really embody wisdom and reverence.
One thing I can conclude here, which I also read somewhere in the text is that
ideologies such as that of in Confucianism are abstract concepts that can only be fully
realized with institutions. The moral imperatives and ethical principles of
Confucianism are also the same. They are things that are abstract but are manifested in
the traditions and social structure of Koreans in the past and sometimes even now. The
most important moral imperative, loyalty and filial piety, served as the basic principles
defining social structure and human relations. That is why major institutions back then
were in accordance to the Confucian patrilineal, patriarchal and exogamous system
which is not fully manifested now but still paved way to the Korean modern socitety
present now.
All in all, I could see that it was quite Confucianism beliefs are quite similar to the
beliefs we also have in our country even though some things are unique to
Confucianism. This must be because it is a way of life and therefore regardless of
religion, nationality and environment, there would be some similarities of beliefs since
we are humans and it is in our nature to care for others especially are offspring. It is in
our nature to value relationships. It also already quite easy to differentiate what is right
and what is wrong. The most no
Personal Action
plans: What could
you do differently in
this type of situation
based on what you
have learned?
As I’ve stated prior, I feel like being careful about talking about sensitive things such
as culture of others is very important especially when you are in another country and
when you don’t know a lot about it. However, I wish I could have participated more in
class and shared my thoughts about it.
I am still unsure
I am still quite unsure about the difference of Confucianism and Neo-confucianism.
I’d like to know the thing omitted in Confucianism and why were they omitted in
establishing Neo-confucianism.
New Words
ideology and policy model that emphasizes the value of free market competition.
related through male descent or on the father's side
emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity
something that is imperative such as a:COMMAND, ORDER b: RULE, GUIDE
c: an obligatory act or duty d: an obligatory judgment or proposition
affecting reciprocally two nations or parties
a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic
marriage within a specific group as required by custom or law
relating to, based on, or tracing descent through the paternal line
of, relating to, or being a patriarch or patriarchy
marriage outside of a specific group especially as required by custom or law