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Eastern Learning and the Heavenly Way

The Tonghak and Chondogyo Movements and the Twilight of Korean Independence

Carl Young

Publication Year: 2014

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 prominent 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. It was in this context of social change and an increasingly perilous international situation that Tonghak rebuilt itself, emerging as Ch’ŏndogyo (Teaching of the Heavenly Way) in 1906. During the years before Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910, Ch’ŏndogyo continued to evolve by engaging with new currents in social and political thought, strengthening its institutions, and using new communication technologies to spread its religious and political message. The story of Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo is an example of how new religions interact with their surrounding societies and how they consolidate and institutionalize themselves as they become more established.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Hawaii Studies on Korea


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Title page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book is the result of several years of research through different stages. For help in the preliminary stages of research, greatest appreciation goes to Professor Martina Deuchler, who at that time was at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London...

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pp. ix-xxiv

Along Chongno, the busiest street in Seoul’s crowded city center, is a park that is walled off from the hustle and bustle. It is called Pagoda Park (T’apkol kongwŏn), because of an ancient Buddhist pagoda located on the site. In this small piece of greenery where old men play chess and...

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1. Early Tonghak and the 1894 Rebellion

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pp. 1-30

Tonghak arose in the last half of the nineteenth century, a period of domestic and international turmoil in Korea and East Asia. Its founder, Ch’oe Che-u, started preaching his new religious ideas among peasants and marginalized members of the educated classes in southeastern...

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2. A Time of Trouble, 1895–1900

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pp. 31-50

Although the 1894 rebellion failed, it unleashed events that dramatically changed the social, political, and intellectual scene in Korea. Japan’s victory in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 led to a brief period of Japanese ascendancy in Korea. Between 1894 and...

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3. Exile—Son Pyŏng-hŭi in Japan, 1901–1904

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pp. 51-77

By 1901, Tonghak had recovered from most of the disarray caused by the failure of the 1894 rebellion. The leadership vacuum created by Ch’oe Si-hyŏng’s death in 1898 had been filled with the final confirmation of Son Pyŏng-hŭi as supreme leader of Tonghak in 1900. The...

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4. Tonghak and the Ilchinhoe, 1904–1906

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pp. 78-112

Tonghak was in a precarious position when the Russo-Japanese War broke out in 1904. Its continued illegal status as a result of the 1894 rebellion led to government repression and persecution, which hampered Tonghak’s efforts to rebuild and curtailed its ability to spread its...

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5. Administrative Centralization and Leadership Struggles in Ch’ŏndogyo, 1906–1908

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pp. 113-139

The announcement that proclaimed the name change from Tonghak to Ch’ŏndogyo on December 1, 1905, was the first step in a major reorganization of the religious movement that had been founded by Ch’oe Che-u in 1860. The renewal that occurred through the creation...

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6. Doctrine, Ritual, and Social Action in Ch’ŏndogyo, 1906–1908

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pp. 140-172

Tonghak’s reorganization into Ch’ŏndogyo was also accompanied by an intellectual and liturgical regeneration that supported Son Pyŏng-hŭi’s vision of a modernizing religious movement with a focus on social action. This led to a systematization of ritual and liturgy and...

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7. Ch’ŏndogyo’s Activities before the Annexation, 1908–1910

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pp. 173-198

Ch’ŏndogyo had been organized soon after the imposition of the protectorate regime by the Japanese. Much of its early organization therefore occurred during the years that eventually led to the full extinction of Korea’s sovereignty through annexation to Japan in August 1910...

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pp. 199-208

Why did Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo have such an impact in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? One reason is that although they were religious movements, adherence to Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo often had political and social implications as well. They were among the...


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pp. 209-246


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pp. 247-260


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pp. 261-272

Back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780824840167
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824838881

Page Count: 196
Illustrations: 7
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Hawaii Studies on Korea
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OCLC Number: 889220175
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Eastern Learning and the Heavenly Way

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Subject Headings

  • Ch'ŏndogyo -- History.
  • Religion and politics -- Korea.
  • Korea -- History -- 1864-1910.
  • Nationalism -- Religious aspects -- Ch'ŏndogyo.
  • Nationalism -- Korea.
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