The Korean enlightenment period, 1896--1910, was characterized by intellectual experimentation and adaptation, as the leading intellectuals attempted to reconcile the new ideas and models originating from the West, as well as from contemporary Japan and China, with the very powerful equivalents from the Korean-Confucian tradition, and in constant consideration of the circumstances of the day. This study examines a key example of the reformulation of a traditional concept, that of kukka (commonly translated as "state"). The new meanings involved a wider array of concerns, including political legitimacy, sovereignty, and even rights. Furthermore, the notion of kukka provided the enlightenment activists an opportunity to get to the heart of their urgent concerns: What kind of Korean nation and polity should prevail in the brave new world of competing civilizations, and what should the enlightenment intellectuals' role be in this process? Two competing revisions of this ancient term emerged--one insisting that the kukka constituted a collective entity of people, land, and government and the other adopting a perspective that equated kukka with the ruling authority, or the "state." This study argues that the former, collectivist notion of the kukka was the first and foremost reconceptualization of this term in the Korean enlightenment period. Furthermore, the two contrasting concepts of kukka corresponded to differing views about the appropriate political form for Korea at the time. Ironically, while those who adopted the Western-oriented, statist notion of kukka called for an authoritarian ruling order dominated by a powerful state, the intellectuals who advocated the more liberal, people-centered concept of the collective kukka attempted to reconcile their political theory with, of all things, Confucian teachings. The Confucian intellectual tradition supported these activists' collectivist definition of kukka by establishing the concept of kukka-as-family, by providing a holistic connection between self-cultivation and the condition of the larger kukka, and by validating the efforts of sagely activists, such as the enlightenment thinkers, in working to save the kukka. In an important sense, the enlightenment project can be viewed as the latest in a long history of Confucian reform movements in Korea.


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