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  • Turning Toward Edification: Foreigners in Chosŏn Korea by Adam Bohnet
  • Yeseung Yun
Turning Toward Edification: Foreigners in Chosŏn Korea, by Adam Bohnet. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2020. 284 pages.

The discourse of homogeneity has been dominant in South Korean society for a long time. However, the increase in international marriages led South Korea to gradually transform into a multiracial society. This transformation means the emphasis on homogeneity in the national identity is losing its persuasive power. The Korean peninsula has already experienced an influx of foreigners since the premodern period. Chosŏn was no exception. In particular, the Chosŏn court agonized over how to treat aliens properly. Then, what brought foreigners to Chosŏn? How did the Chosŏn court classify them in terms of the social order? Adam Bohnet's Turning Toward Edification: Foreigners in Chosŏn Korea finds answers to those queries.

Bohnet's monograph investigates the identity construction of foreigners concerning the centralization of Chosŏn Korea. Bohnet argues that Chosŏn Korea promoted foreigners' settlement through "edification" based on Confucianism. Above all, this book mainly focuses on the imperial subject, who migrated from the Ming empire during the Ming-Qing transition. According to Bohnet, the late Chosŏn identified itself as the new center of Chunghwa (Ch. Zhonghua/the central efflorescence) by improving the social status of imperial subjects, who were classified the same as other submitting foreigners before. Therefore, the Chosŏn court's [End Page 407] policy on constructing the identity of aliens shaped Chosŏn's national identity.

The book consists of six chapters. First of all, chapter one elucidates foreigners' settlement in the Early Chosŏn period. Chosŏn monarchs labeled foreigners from Jurchen and Japan as submitting-foreigner status (hyanghwain). By labeling hyanghwain, the Chosŏn court encouraged Jurchens and Japanese people to adjust to the Chosŏn society well. In chapter two, the author explains demographic transformation post-Imjin war. The author proves a significant influx of aliens after the Imjin war. Chapter three showcases that Jurchens and Liaodongese fled to the Korean peninsula during the conflicts between later Jin and Southern Ming. In chapter four, Bohnet analyzes the settlements of migrants after the warfare. Even though an influx of foreigners ceased, a submitting-foreigners status was maintained within the administrative system. Chapter five explains that as late Chosŏn set its identity as the last remaining bastion of the Chunghwa legitimacy, and the status of Ming migrants also changed. In chapter six, the author indicates imperial subjects (hwangjoin) set their identity as the descendants of the Ming loyalists by recording their loyalism toward ancestors in biographies.

Bohnet's Turning Toward Edification interweaves the four branches of genres: foreign relations history, social history, intellectual history, and political history. The author describes the geopolitical context in which foreigners came to Chosŏn. For example, incidents like the Imjin War, the Ming-Qing transition, and the Manchus War (Horan) caused an inflow of foreigners into the Korean peninsula. In other words, the Korean peninsula was a gathering place of diverse races. When it comes to social history, Bohnet traces back how foreigners were absorbed and adjusted to the Chosŏn society. In detail, he elucidates that they were accepted as social members through an absorbance of Confucian ideology. Also, some of these aliens contributed to the development of Chosŏn's military technology. In terms of intellectual history, the author shows that Chosŏn identified itself as the center of the civilization within the Chunghwa ideology to overcome trauma from warfare with Japan and the Jurchen. King Yŏngjo and King Chŏngjo conducted political ceremonies to consolidate this Chunghwa identity.

Bohnet's book provides a significant contribution to premodern Korean historiography. The book is noteworthy as it indicates that the dominating ideology of nationalism in South Korea should not be taken for granted. Bohnet effectively proves it in two ways. First, the author insists that the nationalistic perspective on Korean history stemmed from the [End Page 408] Korean empire era. Sin Ch'aeho, a pioneering nationalist historian, distorted Sino-Korean relations as "toadyism." According to Sin, Chosŏn abandoned the "self" by accepting Chinese...