Sample Essay Paper on Asian History

Introduction

The period between 1896 and 1910 demonstrated the intellectual experimentation, as well as adaptation of ideas from the Western countries into the Korean tradition. It also embraced the contemporary practices of Japan and China who were the neighbors of the region. At this time, Korea was in the process of reformulating its traditional concept dubbed kukka, which was also interpreted as “state”. The notion of kukka created enlightenment as to what kind of nation Korea was likely to embrace under the new civilized world. According to the late 19th century Confucian elitists, kukka signified a people-oriented political order, or a popular sovereignty. This study will focus on explaining the significance of the “Kukka” as viewed in the Korean history.

Significance of the “Kukka” Debate in Korean History

After the end of the Sino-Japanese War, Korea took the opportunity to launch its modernization projects. The region took the advantage of the competition between Russia and Japan to promote reforms, nationalism, and modern political organizations.[1] The Korean enlightenment era, which occurred between 1896 and 1910, led to emergence of two competing ideas of what kukka, or state, would mean. One idea was that kukka was “a collective entity of people, land, and government” while the other perceived kukka as a ruling authority.[2] The two competing notions matched with the suitable political form that existed in Korea at that time. One of the supporters of the collectivist idea of kukka was the Confucian intellectuals. Confucian reformers perceived kukka, or state, to mean “people-centered political order, if not popular sovereignty itself.”[3]

The gradual Japanese domination that happened from 1905 up to 1910 redirected much of the Korean intellectuals to accept the establishment of the enlightenment project. The Japanese occupation resulted in adoption of Western culture, which equated kukka with the ruling authority.[4] This domination led to loss of sovereignty, even though the intellectual activities were still in existence. Although kukka was translated in English as the state, the Korean people chose to maintain the second translation as “country”, since it carried more meanings that included political legitimacy and sovereignty. According to Schmid, nationalism thrived on crisis, as both conservative Confucians and foreign observers accepted that the peninsula was in a dilemma.[5] During the early years of the Choson dynasty, kukka meant a decentralized dynasty order.

The most influential enlightenment period envisioned kukka in a collective manner, and eventually, it was interchanged with nara (country) to emphasize on collectivity. The hierarchy of importance begins with people, then the country, and eventually, the government. People and government are two important elements in the Korean intellectual community. However, the second re-conceptualization of kukka focused on the state to reflect the current political structure of Korea. The concept, which originated from Confucian intellectuals, depicted the modern sociological, economic, as well as political practices in East Asia. Nationalism in Korea and China was influenced by Japan through cultural influence, as well as oppositions to nationalism from both Korea and China.[6]

The intellectuals emphasized that understanding of kukka was essential in the spread of knowledge as people endeavor to satisfy the country’s pressing needs. As the meaning of kukka kept on evolving, the enlightenment activists had the opportunity to decide on the kind of nation that Korea should embrace under the competing civilization. The re-conceptualization process changed the political circumstances to merge the foreign principles with the native realities. The transition from tradition to modernity and from independence to colonization, stressed on having a strong Korean state, since submission to the kukka could assist the new Korea to fight Darwinism. Under the Japanese protectorate, the second re-conceptualization perceived kukka as a ruling mechanism that soared over the people and demanded them to be strictly compliant.[7]

Conclusion

The concept of kukka elicited essential debate on what the state, or the country incorporates during the re-conceptualization period.  The development of modern customs in Korea was indivisible from the emergence of nationalism. Korea was capable of upholding the kukka after Japan’s declaration that Korea was its protectorate. The concept of kukka enabled the Koreans to exercise political participation and sovereignty in their region. The understanding of kukka enabled the intellectuals to meet the country’s critical needs. The intellects believed that only when people submit fully to the kukka (state) that they can overcome the struggle that emanate from the Social Darwinist word. However, the contemporary influence, mainly from the West, changed the emphasis of kukka as people-based collectivity to an organic ruling unit that soared above the society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Boyd, Richard, and Ewa Atanassow. Tocqueville and the Frontiers of Democracy. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Duara, Prasenjit. “The global and regional constitution of nations: the view from East Asia.” Nations & Nationalism 14, no. 2 (April 2008): 323-345. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 12, 2014).

Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, and Anne Walthall. East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. Volume II, Volume II. Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth, 2013.

Hwang, Kyung Moon. “Country or State? Reconceptualizing Kukka in the Korean Enlightenment Period, 1896-1910.” Korean Studies 24, no. 1 (2000): 1-24.

Schmid, Andre. Korea between Empires, 1895-1919. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Patricia Buckley Ebrey, and Anne Walthall. East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. Volume II, Volume II. (Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth, 2013), 400.

[2] Kyung Moon Hwang, “Country or State? Reconceptualizing Kukka in the Korean Enlightenment Period, 1896-1910.” Korean Studies 24, no. 1 (2000): 1.

[3] Richard Boyd, and Ewa Atanassow, Tocqueville and the Frontiers of Democracy. (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2013), 118.

[4] Ibid, 119.

[5] Andre Schmid, Korea between Empires, 1895-1919. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 23.

[6] Prasenjit Duara, “The global and regional constitution of nations: the view from East Asia.” Nations & Nationalism 14, no. 2 (April 2008): 323-345. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 12, 2014).

[7] Hwang, “Country or State?”  6.