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Reviewed by:
  • Salvation through Dissent: Tonghak Heterodoxy and Early Modern Korea by George L. Kallander
  • Paul Beirne
Salvation through Dissent: Tonghak Heterodoxy and Early Modern Korea. By George L. Kallander, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2013, xxv, 312 p.

George Kallander set himself a challenging task, namely, to investigate, analyze and evaluate the religious, cultural, socio-political, philosophical and historical roots of Tonghak/Ch’ŏndogyo, the native Korean religion that grew into a revolutionary force in the latter half of nineteenth-century Korea. That he succeeds in this task is admirable, and is a tribute to the breadth of his scholarship and to his perspicacity as a scholar.

Kallander describes his work as follows:

This book expands the scope of the English-language studies and incorporates debates of Korean and Anglo historiography. It situates Tonghak in a broader social and religious milieu of the nineteenth century, particularly by contextualizing Tonghak within the ongoing Chosŏn struggle with the Catholics and Korea’s relationship with China. Second, it approaches Tonghak beliefs by addressing such rituals as the Daoist healing qualities, recognizing their adaptation by later leaders.

(xvii) [End Page 200]

To lay the groundwork for his study of Tonghak (Eastern Learning), Kallander examines regional patterns of heterodoxy in Qing Dynasty China, late Tokugawa and early Imperial Japan, and the latter stages of Chosŏn Dynasty Korea. As with his scholarship generally, these examinations utilize a wide variety of sources in their original languages. Having set a pattern of meticulous examination of texts, Kallander proceeds to consider the life and hard times of Ch’oe Cheu, the founder of Tonghak. This examination is enhanced by Kallander’s translations of Eastern Scripture and key sections of Song of Yongdam, Ch’oe’s two volumes of Scripture, which appear at the conclusion of his book, and to which he refers with great effect in the body of his text.

Kallander’s scrutiny of Ch’oe Cheu is insightful precisely because he works with primary sources. His examination of Ch’oe’s life—his transition from a disenfranchised, powerless mendicant to the founder of a movement that shook a dynasty and a country to its roots—is undertaken with the same rigor evidenced throughout the book. Kallander’s final two chapters, “The Tonghaks Have Again Arisen, 1864–1894,” and “Another Tonghak Revolution, 1904– 1907,” examine the development of the religion under Ch’oe Sihyŏng, the second leader of Tonghak, the Tonghak Revolution in 1894, and the religion’s transition from Tonghak to Ch’ŏndogyo in 1905 under Son Pyŏnghŭi, the third leader of the religion.

On completing the book—which includes translations of extracts from the writings of Ch’oe Sihyŏng as well as of Ch’oe Cheu, and a translation of the seminal early Tonghak text “Account of the Origin of the Way,” plus extensive notes to each chapter, a large and comprehensive bibliography and a glossary of terms—a person unfamiliar with Tonghak, Ch’oe Cheu and Korea at this time, would have a comprehensive understanding of the religion, the revolution, the programs of reform and the volatile times in which this religious, philosophical, and socio-political tapestry was woven into the Korean and East Asian psyche. This is certainly a considerable achievement.

There are two points I wish to make that may assist future reprints of this significant work. First, there is an occasional lack of clarity in relation to the two symbols which Ch’oe Cheu received from the Lord of Heaven, specifically, regarding their nomenclature. On page 50, in his initial treatment of these symbols, Kallander states: [End Page 201]

Later writings recreate this important moment as a sudden overtaking of his body, which ‘began to tremble in coldness and his mind grew unsettled.’ The passage continues: ‘There seemed to be a voice in the air. He heard it incessantly next to his ear but did not know where it came from.’ This moment was when God commanded him to accept the incantation and the written talisman (chumun), and to spread them to the people of the world

[. . .]

Uncharacteristically, Kallander does not note the origin of the passage he quotes above (it is recorded in the...