K-Culture Deep Dive- Chapter 1: Break the Common Misconception
Updated: Nov 24
Whenever we encounter a tough question, we need to revisit our preconceptions.
Is it true that Confucianism is common cultural roots in China, Japan, and Korea?
The answer is... well, it's uncertain.
Now we are going to deep dive. Please fasten your seat belt and hold your breath.
Before the Han dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), Confucianism never prevailed in other cultures and religions. After the Han dynasty, Confucianism is just one of three "ism" (the other two are Buddhism, and Taoism). In fact, after the Tang dynasty (618 AD – 907 AD), Taoism and Buddhism conquered China. Lu Xun (1881-1936) mentioned that,
"China's roots are entirely in Taoism"
Japan has the lightest touch on Confucianism among the Asian 3 countries. But on the other hand, Shinto and Buddhism overwhelmed Japan.
Korea has the deepest roots in Confucianism, among others, relatively.
However, before the 4th century AD, Korea had its unique culture and religion, Sungyo (仙敎) Confucianism was only introduced after the 4th century AD, and Buddhism subjugated Goryeo (Korea) from the 4th to 14th century. Confucianism only prevailed during the Joseon dynasty and rapidly fell after modernization. Please refer to the below Asian philosophical article written by Ph D. Kim Seong Hwan, which explains this in detail.
4세기 동아시아 질서 재편과 한국사상의 전환-선교적 국가이념의 정비, 불교와 유교의 수용에 대한 재고찰-김성환
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The question arises, "why do we think Confucianism has governed China, Japan, and Korea from when"?
Asserting that China and Korea are under the same cultural background,
"Let's build a union centralized by Japan to confront Western countries for the prosperity of China, Korea, and Japan".
Japan established a new concept the "Imperial Confucianism (皇道儒學)," and established the "Confucianism Cultural Area" to justify its colonization in Asia.
While Japan's colonization ended, Imperial Confucianism remained. The first President, Syngman Rhee, became the chairman of the Confucian Truth Association; President Chung-hee Park made 忠孝 (allegiance and filial piety) the core concept of Confucianism as the ruling Ideology. Without a doubt, Confucianism is an excellent tool for tyranny. This concept became a preconception of people, namely "Common Sense."
Common Sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18. - Albert Einstein
Confucianistic Fundamentalism was started by Mencius (孟子, 372-289 BC), promoted by Dong Zhongshu (董仲舒 179–104 BC), and finalized by Zhu Xi (朱熹, 1130 – 1200 AD). Like other fundamentalism, Confucianism tried to make all different ideologies "Heresy." It turned into Sinocentrism (中國中心主義, 華夷論, similar to Eurocentrism).
However, after communists became the ruling authority of China, Confucianism became the target to be destroyed as Feudalism (封建制, of course, the English term feudalism and 封建制 are not identical) by the Red Guards (紅衛兵). However, as Confucianism is the best Asian tool for either tyranny or imperialism, China is reliving Confucianistic fundamentalism, Sinocentrism (中華思想), and Emperor Wu of Han (156 – 87 BC). The Confucius Institutes is an excellent example of such a movement.
Confucianism was just an instrument for either (a) Centralization of Political Power and/or (b) Imperialism. If Machiavelli knew Confucianism, he would have included it in Il Principe, suggested using by Lorenzo de Medici (grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent).
Now, as we have broken the common sense, let's dive further into the next layer to find the solution.