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Salvation through Dissent

Tonghak Heterodoxy and Early Modern Korea

George Kallander

Publication Year: 2013

A popular teaching that combined elements of Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, folk beliefs, and Catholicism, Tonghak (Eastern Learning) is best known for its involvement in a rebellion that touched off the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and accelerated Japanese involvement in Korea. Through a careful reading of sources—including religious works and biographies many of which are translated and annotated here into English for the first time—Salvation through Dissent traces Tonghak’s rise amidst the debates over orthodoxy and heterodoxy in Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910) and its impact on religious and political identity from 1860 to 1906. It argues that the teachings of founder Ch’oe Cheu (1824–1864) attracted a large following among rural Koreans by offering them spiritual and material promises to relieve conditions such as poverty and disease and provided consolation in a tense geo-political climate. Following Ch’oe Cheu’s martyrdom, his successors reshaped Tonghak doctrine and practice not only to ensure the survival of the religious community, but also address shifting socio-political needs. Their call for religious and social reforms led to an uprising in 1894 and subsequent military intervention by China and Japan.

The work locates the origins of Korea’s twentieth-century religious nationalist movement in the aftermath of the 1894 rebellion, the resurgence of Japanese power after the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), and the re-creation of Tonghak as Ch’ŏngogyo (the Religion of the Heavenly Way) in 1905. As a study of religion and politics, Salvation through Dissent adds a new layer of understanding to Korea’s changing interactions with the world and the world’s involvement with Korea. In addition to students and scholars of Korea’s early modern period, it will appeal to those interested in global politics, Chinese and Japanese studies, world religion, international relations, and peasant history. The extensive, annotated translations will be of particular use in courses on Korea, East Asia, and global religion.

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Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

There are many people to thank for helping me bring this book to completion. Foremost, my gratitude goes to Robert Buswell Jr., Jennifer Jung- Kim, and others at UCLA and beyond for their support of the project and the opportunity to include my book in the Korean Classics Library of Philosophy and Religion series. ...

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pp. ix-xxvi

Tonghak, or Eastern Learning, was a Korean religion founded in the second half of the nineteenth century. Tonghak may also be read as “Korean Learning” because, before the twentieth century, Korean writers often referred to the Chosŏn dynasty as “the eastern country” (tongguk) in geographical relation to China. ...

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Chapter 1. Securing the People: Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and the Confucian State

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pp. 1-27

In 1796, a Korean envoy returning from Beijing reported that a religious rebellion had broken out in China: “It is named the White Lotus, and the leader is called their religious master. He incites the foolish commoners through his evil methods and dazzles them.” Another diplomat condescendingly concurred: ...

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Chapter 2. Uncertain Times, Uncertain Means: Rural Life, Western Ways, and Ch’oe Cheu

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pp. 28-57

Over the course of the nineteenth century, Catholics and Tonghak followers demonstrated the limits of centralized governance and its attempt to regulate religious expression as they continued to spread their teachings and worship in private spaces. While the Catholic community came into a direct conflict with the state, ...

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Chapter 3. Kumi Mountain: Center of the World, 1861–1863

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pp. 58-89

Drawing on a strong education, a sense of rural pride, and his exposure to Catholicism, Ch’oe Cheu began turning away from Qing China as the center of cultural authority and building on the Sinic Three Teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism to found a program of learning that centered on the Korean peninsula. ...

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Chapter 4. The Tonghaks Have Again Arisen, 1864–1894

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pp. 90-123

A letter from the missionary Siméon-François Berneux (1814–1866) to the Missions-Étrangers in France described Kyŏngsang Province in late 1863 as “the only district that had serious harassment [of Christians].” Monseigneur d’Acones (d. 1866), who was working in Kyŏngsang at the time, explained to Berneux that local officials ...

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Chapter 5. Another Tonghak Revolution, 1904–1907

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pp. 124-146

At the end of 1905, Son Pyŏnghŭi announced the inception of Ch’ŏndogyo, or Religion of the Heavenly Way, named after a line extracted from Ch’oe Cheu’s Spreading Virtue (P’odŏngmun), in the Korean daily papers Taehan maeil sinbo and the Cheguk sinmun: “Our teaching has its origin in the way of heaven and it is called Ch’ŏndogyo. ...

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pp. 147-154

In 1907, a year after the founding of Ch’ŏndogyo, Pak Hyŏngch’ae, a Tonghak follower and scholar in Seoul, petitioned the king about removing the ban against the status of Tonghak: “As for Ch’oe Cheu who was executed as the leader of Tonghak in the cyclical year kapcha [1864] ...


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Eastern Scripture

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pp. 157-176

From remote antiquity on, spring and autumn have replaced each other year after year, and the four seasons have come and gone. These have been unchanging phenomena and, indeed, signs of God’s transformations [chohwa] revealing apparently everything under heaven. ...

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Selections from Songs of Yongdam

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pp. 177-188

My children, sons and nephew, respectfully receive my writing. Everyone, including you, is born of the five phases and formed by the three fundamental principles. For twenty years, you have grown up in a prosperous family, partaking of the five moral relationships.1 ...

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Selections from Master Haewŏl’s Discussion on the Teachings

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pp. 189-197

Heaven and earth are parents.1 Parents are heaven and earth. Heaven, earth, and parents are one body. The pregnancy of parents is the pregnancy of heaven and earth. Nowadays, people only know the principle of the pregnancy of parents, and they do not know the principle and life force of the pregnancy of heaven and earth. ...

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Ch’oe Sihyŏng’s Petitions

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pp. 198-200

There are three religious teachings. Confucianism began with the period of five august emperors and three wise kings, and it was passed down to the Duke of Zhou and Master Confucius. Confucius carried on the ancient sages and brought back their learning. Human relations illuminate the superior, teaching transforms the inferior, ...

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Account of the Origin of the Way

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pp. 201-220

The family name of our Master1 was Ch’oe. His personal name was Cheu, and his familiar name was Sŏngmuk. Further, his honorary title was Suun Che. His hometown was Kyŏngju. He was the son of the rural literati Ch’oe Ok and the sixth descendant of the loyal military officer Ch’oe Chillip.2 ...


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pp. 221-270


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pp. 271-284


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pp. 285-302


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pp. 303-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837860
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824837167

Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • Ch'ŏndogyo -- History.
  • Ch'ŏndogyo -- Doctrines.
  • Ch'oe, Che-u, 1824-1864.
  • Religion and state -- Korea -- History -- 19th century.
  • Korea -- Politics and government -- 19th century.
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