Political Uses of Confucianism in North Korea
Abstract

Abstract:

In this article, I challenge the existing cultural approach that assumes a virtual Confucian transformation in North Korea. We can understand North Korea’s modern revival of Chosŏn Confucianism as an ideological phenomenon, created by political elites who reinvent and manipulate forms of Confucianism to legitimate their domination. The image of the so-called family-state, for which the cultural approach has argued, actually comes from the regime’s political discourses. I focus on how North Korea has systemized and transformed its ruling idea, the Chuch’e ideology, through its uses of Confucianism. Kim Jong Il’s ideas of sociopolitical life and loyalty and filial piety (ch’ung-hyo) are a reinterpretation of Chuch’e ideology and are reflected in the regime’s extreme political discourses. I argue that North Korea’s political power is not a projection of Confucian culture, but that the reverse is true. Based upon this fundamental claim, I explore how North Korean political elites have used Confucianism in order to legitimate their political power and how modern discursive uses of Confucianism in politics have reinterpreted Chuch’e ideology.