Late Chosun philosophies and human rights
DOI link for Late Chosun philosophies and human rights
Late Chosun philosophies and human rights book
In the previous chapter, I have shown the ideas on human rights from some of the classic Western conservatives and contemporary liberal communitarians and how their ideas have common denominators with North Korean rights thinking in many ways. This chapter explains some of the Chosun philosophies, namely Confucianism, Sirhak, and Tonghak, and extracts their conceptualisation relating to human rights. The main reason and assumption, as a social constructivist, is that these primitive ideas about human rights have become intertwined with other contemporary concepts of Marxism and fi nally affected the formation of ideas and identities about human rights in the DPRK. Other schools or historic events, broadly since the end of the Chosun dynasty and before the offi cial establishment of the DPRK in 1948, were relevant to human rights but did not affect the process of ideational formation of human rights in North Korea very much. First, the Kabo reform was enacted in 1894 by the Japanese during colonisation. Its ideas resembled contemporary liberal rights ideas closely but failed to survive in the DPRK after national liberation. Second, many Western-educated independent movement activists based in the US, including the fi rst president of the ROK, Syngman Rhee, and Philip Jaison Suh, had some liberal ideas on democracy and human rights but their political activities were limited to the southern part of Korea and therefore did not have much impact on North Korean thinking. Third, nationalists like Kim Ku or Cho Man-sik, both born in North Korea, only focused on the nation’s independence and probably grasped the ideas of the right to self-determination in regional or international politics, but they all kept a relatively conservative perspective on individual or liberal concepts of human rights. Both Kim and Cho were widely respected and admired by the general masses in Korea, but both were assassinated after 1948: the former by the South and the latter by the North.1 First of all, Confucian characteristics – such as a virtuous ruler’s duty to his subjects, his primary duty for people’s material well being and security, and an emphasis on social harmony and collective unity – are noticeably prevalent in the contemporary rights thinking of the DPRK. Second, Sirhak, a particular form of Korean neoConfucianism in the seventeenth-to-nineteenth-century Chosun dynasty, was different from conventional Confucianism in terms of its revolutionary and practical elements, stressing people’s material well being and philosophical independence
from China. Third, Tonghak, a late nineteenth-century radical Korean school of thought that has led nation-wide peasants’ rebellion movements against the upper class, had many revolutionary ideas on human rights, including social equality, antislavery, and gender equality, as well as criminal justice and land reform. A religious form of Tonghak, Ch’ŏndogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way), still remains in North Korea but only because of its contribution to national independence movements. Tonghak even managed to form a political party in the DPRK, Ch’ŏndogyo Ch’ŏng’udang (The Party of the Young Friends of the Heavenly Way or the Ch’ŏndogyo Youth Party), but again it has never played a major role in North Korean politics or in the promotion of human rights in reality.