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Confucianism and Justice, Shifts in Popular Mentality in the Late Joseon Dynasty

  • The Review of Korean History
  • 2012, (106), pp.175-202
  • Publisher : The Historical Society Of Korea
  • Research Area : Humanities > History

Kim Sung Hee 1

1동국대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

In the historical accounts of the Joseon Dynasty, the 18th century is generally described as ‘the Renaissance’, while the following 19th century is depicted as ‘the Resistance'. This radical reversal between those two centuries has not been properly explained. The existing studies of the Popular History have mainly concerned with economic shifts or class conflicts to explain historical changes of this period. For a better understanding of the history of the late Joseon Dynasty, to break from the old binomial perspective of the domination and resistance is essential. What really matters now is shifts in popular mentality. This study aims to elucidate how the political and cultural experience people had in the 18th century affected the course of history in the following century. Relevant historical records from that time have been examined through the researching process. During the reigns of the King Yeongjo and King Jeongjo, various human-oriented policies were conducted to consummate a Confucian ideal and they had narrowed the mental gap between the ruling and ruled classes. There were more educational opportunities and the lower class people spontaneously received an education. Through the education process, they could appreciate Confucian ethics and build their own social consciousness based on what they had learnt. It was this harmonious mood between classes in the Joseon society that enabled the society to sustain itself in spite of all kinds of social conflicts it was facing. The King was there for his people and the people were there to consummate the King's Confucian ideals. From the information gathered above, it is possible to conclude that people in the 18th century were not politically immature. They had their own standard of social justice, and independently interacted with their rulers. They were not just exploited. They were not just oppressed. And they were not just to be tamed. They were the ones who sustained the Joseon society. They were the ones who achieved moral independence. These shifts in popular mentality are how the political and cultural experience the people had in the 18th century affected the course of history in the following century.

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