ABSTRACT

Korea was for much of its history under the spell, and sometimes the rule, of China, and suffered from invasions both from the north and from Japan. Its primary philosophies have been variants on Chinese Confucianism and Buddhism, often fresh and vigorous, but tracing out partly Chinese trajectories. After the early period of tribal leagues there emerged the Three Kingdoms – first the northern state of Koguryo, then the Paekche and Silla kingdoms. The last of these became dominant on the peninsula, during the time from 668 CE to 935. During the Three Kingdoms period, Buddhism became well established, and Paekche, which was an advanced seafaring state, was able to send Buddhist missionaries successfully to Japan: in this way Korea was a vitally important bridge (as geography dictated) between China and Japan. The Silla dynasty not only saw the introduction of the important Chinese schools such as Tiantai and Huayan, but also used Confucian learning and philosophy as an ideology of centralized administrative rule. The coming of Sŏn or Chan Buddhism to Korea was also momentous, as it was to be the single most influential form of Buddhism in the peninsula. The succeeding Koryo dynasty was a time of great prosperity for Buddhism; but the Yi dynasty, which lasted from 1392 to 1910, turned increasingly to Confucianism, and it was during this period that there came to be a distinctly Korean school of Neoconfucianism, with such notable thinkers as Yi Hwang, better known as T’oegye (1501-70), and Yi Yulgok (1536-84). The Hideyoshi invasion from Japan (1592) and the Mongol invasion (1636) did not staunch the flow of Confucian debate, and various noted scholars emerged in this late period, including Yun Hyu (1617-80) and Chong Yagyong (1762-1836). In the 1870s and 1880s ports were successively opened to Japan and Western powers, preparing

the way for Japanese annexation in 1910. After World War II, Korea was divided into North and South (1948), the former being ruled under the iron principles of the dictator Kim Il-sung, and the South having a more open culture. We shall deal with modern developments, from the late nineteenth century, in a subsequent chapter.