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Home > Books & Journals > Book Review Last Updated: 14:22 03/09/2007
Book Review #2: February 6, 2001

"Towards the Merger of Korea" by O-Son-Fa

Reviewed by Kanzo Kobayashi

Title: Towards the Merger of Korea ("Kankoku-heigo-eno-michi" in Japanese)
Author: O-Son-Fa
Publisher: Bungei-Shunju-Sha
Date/Time: 2000
Pages: Japanese text 236 pages (Paperback)


The author often points out in her seminars and elsewhere that roots of anti-Japan feelings came from little Sino-centrism by Li regime Korea, with its strong centralized system and ideology of despising neighbor countries--Japan in particular--while looking up to the suzerain Qing Dynasty of China. This opinion sounds unique and different from present Korea's 'common sense'; Korean journalism criticizes by saying that such opinions might be used as bribes by Japan.

Anti-Japan feelings were born of the 36-year colonial rule by Japan since 1910, and were reinforced after World war II by anti-Japan education in Korea.

It is surprising that a Korean researcher would insist that there were internal reasons and causes on the Korean side for the unavoidability of merger by Japan.

That is what this book is all about.

So far there have been no instant reactions from the Korean side, which seems unexpectedly calm and cool, the author comments.

One possible reason for this situation seems to be drastic changes which have been taking place in Korea since the economic crisis in 1997. In addition to defusing steps via North and South dialogue, recent Korea is keen to develop tourism, to invite Japanese investment and active promotion of IT revolution, mainly targeting Japan. During these processes anti-Japan feelings show considerable dilution.

The following is a summary of the main part of the book.

Starting from the Age of Three countries (Silla, Paekche and Koguryo) in the ancient Korean peninsula, Korea was unified by the Silla dynasty, and thereafter the 480 year long reign of the Koma dynasty continued. All these are Buddhist nations that at the time shined culturally with lots of Buddhist temples, pictures, celadon porcelain, etc.

The Li regime that followed lasted about 500 years since 1392, exceptionally long in world history, adopting Confucianism since its foundation and oppressing Buddhism, and bringing long, culturally-stagnant times.

The ruling class was composed of 'yang-ban' bureaucrats (civilian and military officers), a hereditary system resulting in increases in population (48% of total population toward the end of the Li regime), causing endless sterile factional disputes. Beneath this yang-ban ordinary class were ranked farmers, artisans and merchants. As the craftsmen were despised, they left no names to their works in contrast to Japan.

During the Li Dynasty a vertical bureaucrat mechanism filtered by the employment examination was thoroughly established as a hierarchy with centralized power in Seoul. The elite of the yang-ban class were civil officers, while military officers were inferior in power; there were only 2,000 soldiers among a population of 13 million during the Li Dynasty, which necessitated dependence on Quing's military power.

During the 26th King Kojong's reign, corresponding to the dawn of the Meiji Restoration, demands of European and American great powers caused the Li Dynasty to suffer the biggest crisis since its foundation. It is amazing that under such a critical environment, the last stage of the Li Dynasty still continued to keep its backward policy, maintaining Confucianism ideology, obsolete social order and absolute monarch hegemony. In particular the rule by 'Dae In-Kun' (a father of King Kojong), and Queen Minpi, as well as King Kojong, executed most reactionary policies, while China and Japan changed to open their countries.

The activity of Kim Ok-Kyun (1851-94; assassinated in Shanghai in the previous year of the Sino-Japan War outbreak) should be memorable, forming an Independence Party to achieve Korean independence and to reform to a civilized nation. During these periods Japanese involvement could not be neglected. Consequently, the movement for independence was oppressed, though it could not change the Li Dynasty's policy, which continued to swing among Quing, Russian and Japanese powers.

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