For Koreans, the 20th century was an era of turmoil in which the world has never witnessed. What happened in Western Europe for two or three hundred years took place in the Peninsula much more intensively over a century. This intensiveness applies likewise to Korean philosophy and ideology. The Korean philosophic/ideological circle in the early 20th century, after the colonization of its mother land, felt the powerlessness of Korean Confucianism (성리학, 性理學) which had led Joseon Dynasty during its reign of five hundred years as well as other strands of traditional philosophies and ideologies. This feeling of powerlessness sometimes lapsed into utter frustration. Departing from such powerlessness and limitations of the traditional thoughts, numerous national and popular religions emerged to enlighten the people, as evidenced by Donghak (Eastern Learning), Jeungsangyo (Jeungsan religion), and Won Buddhism and Daejongism (Great ancestral religion). However, Korean intellectuals at the time was faced with the historical imperative to look for a new type of philosophy and ideology. This quest for new thoughts materialized itself in a number of ways. The foremost examples include: the Gonggyo (공교, 孔敎) movement, which sought to draw positive elements from the traditional philosophies and ideologies through thorough self-reflection; rediscovery of Yangmynghak (양명학, 陽明學); and the Sungyo (선교, 仙敎) movement, which represents Korea’s own traditional ideology. These movements, however, were paralleled by the dissemination of the imperialistic logic of the Japanese philosophic circle, which sought to devalue Korea’s traditional philosophies and ideologies with Takahashi Toru (高僑亨) taking the lead. Also, many scholars, especially those from 성균관, moved to the Emperor’s Province (황도, 皇道) to study. Similarly, many intellectuals, who had been less than accepting toward the traditional philosophies and ideologies in the course of colonization, chose to cross the seas to embrace Western philosophies and ideologies, resulting in considerable increase of overseas students studying in Japan, the United States, and Europe in the 1920s.
After the 3.1 Movement, interests in Western thoughts rose among Koreans, while the Civil University Movement gained momentum. The Japanese Empire built Kyeongseong Imperial University to domesticize these interests within the institution. The university had a department of philosophy, which represented the first case of philosophy education with modern nature and logic. The philosophy taught at Kyeongseong Imperial University, however, was fundamentally shaped by the colonial government at the time. It was evident that students of philosophy in Korea, with their deep concern for the state of the Korean people at the time, could not be satisfied with such education. The foundation to study Western philosophy in Korea was laid by the first group of graduates from Kyeongseong Imperial University and overseas student returning to the Peninsula in 1929. The philosophical study, in its true sense, began in the 1930s. This study put emphasis on the clear awareness on real-world problems and practical actions to resolve them from an autonomous standpoint. Their efforts were frustrated by the Japanization policy, whereby idealism of purely academic nature once again took to the mainstream around the Department of Philosophy of Kyeongseong Imperial University. In other words, the period from the 3.1 Movement to Liberation was, for Korean philosophy, a dark time when the emergence of a national consciousness and national interests resulting therefrom, as well as the philosophical creativeness and vitality that grew along with such consciousness and interests, were smothered by the Japanization policy of the Japanese Empire. Such frustration continued to affect the philosophical circle of South Korea unabated even after the Liberation, until the mid-1960s.
Although belonging to different disciplines, there was a space that opened up new perspectives where philosophy mingled with other strands of thoughts, where philosophers, litterateurs, artists, and scientists were all pondering on the same issues, where ordinary people joined such deliberation. That space is where philosophy, religion, science, and art all cohabited the ordinary and universal human values and emotions. In this sense, we seek to create the same space of new perspective where different disciplines and all people meet one another: this space, we expect, will open up the opportunities for philosophy to communicate with other disciplines.
We looked for and gathered philosophical materials published on newspapers and magazines during the colonization era for two years from 2006 to 2008. This research was funded by the National Research Foundation of Korea (formerly Academic Promotion Foundation).
To ensure efficient archiving, maintenance, and utilization of the outcome of the previous research, the researchers constructed a database and a search system for 1,031 philosophical materials published on newspapers and magazines during the colonization era for six months from March 2012 to August 2012 with sponsorship from the National Research Foundation of Korea. The database and the search system employed intuitive navigation and Web search engine to provide information on numerous terms as fast as possible.
Project Title : Funding for Basic Research, Human/Social Science (Specialized Theme)
Research Title : Rediscovering Korean Philosophy during the Colonization era - with Focus on Public Media and Personal Writings - [KRM Task Information]
Chief of Research : Choi, Jae-Mok
Research Institution : Yeongnam University
Research Period : 2 years (July 1, 2006 - June 31, 2008)
Project Title : Tracking and DB Construction for Foundational Human/Social Science Researches
Research Title : Systematic Archiving and Database Construction for Philosophical Materials Published on Newspapers and Magazines during the Colonization era [KRM Task Information]
Chief of Research : Choi, Jae-Mok
Research Institution : Yeongnam University
Research Period : 6 months (March 1, 2012 - August 31, 2012)