Korea at the Crossroads of Civilizations: Confucianism, Westernization, and the 1894 Kabo Reforms

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Korea at the Crossroads situates students in the great debates over reform that swept East Asia following the irruption of Western imperialism in the second half of the nineteenth century.   The game is set in the Deliberative Council, a body established by the Korean court in the midst of the Sino-Japanese War to discuss and implement measures to restructure government, economy, society, and education.   Members of the Deliberative Council represented a wide range of opinions.  Those pushing for radical reforms included men who had studied in Japan under Fukuzawa Yukichi and men who had studied at schools in the United States.  There was also a significant conservative Confucian group of the Eastern Way, Western Machines persuasion who, following the example of Qing China, sought to strengthen the traditional order by selectively adopting Western technology.   The Council was presided over by the erstwhile isolationist, the Taewŏn’gun, who was also the father of King Kojong.   The Council’s deliberations took place amid palace intrigue and foreign pressures.  Students will have to consult a wide range of writings from Korea, including Yu Kilchun’s Observations from a Journey to the West, as well as key documents by Japanese and Chinese thinkers, in constructing their arguments for and against reform.

About the Designers:

John Duncan is professor of Korean history at UCLA and has published widely on Korean history and Confucianism.   Some of his publications include The Origins of the Chosŏn Dynasty and such co-edited volumes as Rethinking Confucianism:  Past and Present in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam and Reform and Modernity in the Taehan Empire.

Jennifer Jung-Kim has a Ph.D. in modern Korean cultural history from UCLA, has published a number of articles on the construction of gender roles in colonial Korea, has taught at Smith, Occidental, and UCLA and is now Senior Editor and Assistant Director of the Center for Buddhist Studies at UCLA.