Korea is located on the eastern tip of the Asian continent, in the small peninsula that faces the Pacific Ocean. This small country has lasted over four thousand years, withstanding its powerful neighbors and developed a unique culture of its own. One of its main unique features comes from the fact that it pursued Confucianism as its core ideology. Therefore, even though Confucianism started in China, the application of it can be traced also distinctly in Korea.
The Dynasty of Joseon brought the principals of Confucianism, and indigenized it to fit its existing values. However, today Confucianism is not taught anymore, and the values of Confucianism are considered old and out of style. It has become of an old ideology that does not fit in with the values that the modern Koreans have today. Moreover, the development of Confucianism was the major constraint that limited Korea to grow and prosper in the Early Modern and Modern period.
and gender equality. The ancient Chinese Warring States Era was one of the most chaotic periods in the history of China. It was the time when people of all classes were desperate for stability and peace. Because of this instability, they established something called the Hundred Schools, which were philosophers who came up with many ideas to unite the people from the time of confusion to a desirable human lifestyle and peaceful, stable state.
These Sages, who were given “Zi” at the end of their names, went around the kingdoms, explaining to the ruler what they thought the best solution was for uniting China. The most prominent ideas were usually any of the three sects, Daoist, Confucianist or Legalist. Daoism was based on the ideas of Laozi and Zhuangzi, Confucianism on those of Confucius (Kongzi) and Mencius (Mengzi), and Legalism on those of Han Feizi. Confucianism was not adopted in Confucius’ life time. It developed later, during the Song Dynasty and was further advanced to Neo-Confucianism by Zhu Xi.
Unlike the Chinese dynasties that fully committed their state ideology to Confucianism, the Koreans in the corresponding period, from 60BCE to 900CE, used Confucianism as part of their source of moral training and their social mandate for their officials. This period was called the Three Kingdom Period (GoGooRyeo, Shilla, and BaekJae). The educational form of Confucianism for princes and ruling class continued through the Goryeo Dynasty (900 CE-1300CE) for about four hundred years and finally became the national religion of Joseon Dynasty (1392CE-1910CE).
The reason why Joseon chose Confucianism instead of Buddhism was that the elites that founded Joseon thought that Buddhism was the reason for the corruption and lack of morals between the nobles and the ruling class. The Joseon leaders sought Confucianism as a solution to their problems, and were attracted to Confucianism-oriented concepts that could complement the politics of the ideal state. The situation much resembled the period in 5th century BCE when Confucius and Mencius came up with their idea of ideal and peaceful world under the tyrant king and constant wars.
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