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Political Participation in Traditional Korea, 1876-1910
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Symposium· POLITICAL PARTICIPATION IN KOREA The following articles were originally presented at a conference on political participation in Korea held at the University of Washington in Seattle on February 8-10, 1975. The conference was sponsored jointly by the University of Washington's School of International Studies and the Joint Committee for Korean Studies of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies . The authors benefited greatly from the useful discussion and criticism of their colleagues at the conference. The other participants in the conference were as follows: Chong Lim Kim, Jae-on Kim, Byung Chul Koh, Roger Benjamin, Young-hwan Kihl, Sungjoo Han, Chae-Jin Lee, and Sung-il Choi. Political Participation in Traditional Korea, 1876-1910 JAMES B. PALAIS 1 he purpose of this historical survey is to identify those aspects of political participation in the period from the opening of Korea in 1876 to the Japanese annexation in 1910 that will aid our understanding of subsequent political changes and contemporary South Korean politics. Since liberation from colonial rule in South Korea a severely authoritarian political system has been created with power concentrated in a monarchical presidency aided by a centralized bureaucracy, secret police, regular police, and a large military establishment . This system has been formed despite the adoption of the structure and ideology of constitutional representative democracy. Over two decades of experience with elections, political party organization , and parliamentary procedure have led to the subordination of those institutions to the agencies of centralized authoritarianism. The rapid growth of cities and urban population, literacy and education, communications, transportation, and commerce have also not succeeded in creating a participant political system. What appears to have been a growing participant culture in the cities has not been powerful enough to combat the authoritarian apparatus while the countryside appears conservative, quiescent, and manipulable. Although study of the late Yi dynasty will obviously not supply complete or sufficient explanations for the current low level of political participation in South Korea, it should aid our investigation to know whether the conservatism of traditional society inhibited the spread of new ideas and institutions and thereby delayed the extension of participation to large numbers of people and the creation of political or other associations for the mobilization of an emergent and politically conscious population. Is there any historical precedent for the repression of fledgling participant political movements by an authoritarian political structure and what conclusions can we draw about the 73 74Journal of Korean Studies relationship of the political environment to the growth of participation ? Why have Westernized intellectuals, peasant rebels, or extragovernment elites in general not been more successful in creating political institutions that could form a basis for mass participation and intrude themselves into the political system? Has the urban-rural gap in political participation and mobilization in South Korea been a continuation or a reversal of historical trends, and why did late dynastic peasant rebellion and nationalism not lead to a more politically active peasantry? Finally, what role has nationalism played in the creation of political consciousness and participation in the past? With few exceptions the literature on political participation has been concerned with explaining the nature and functioning of Western democratic political systems. The lead in this research has been taken by behavioralists determined to discover by empirical investigation whether Western political systems previously deemed democratic do indeed function in accordance with one strain of democratic theory that holds that mass participation is both a feature of and a necessity for any democratic political system. In general, the research on political participation in the West has reached a consensus that no matter how one defines political participation—whether as voting, campaigning, contacting officials or representatives, associational activities, engaging in political discussion, or influencing political -decisions—the levels of participation are much lower than expected and that even in supposed democratic states the actual participants are minorities, elites, or fractions of the population usually consisting of those with high socioeconomic status and education. Some have concluded that, given the necessity for elected representatives in large nation-states and the propensity of most citizens to be concerned primarily with economic and other matters directly affecting them rather than with...