Journal of Korean Religions, vol. 5, no. 2 (2014): Religion, Ritual, and the State in Chosŏn Korea

Guest Editor’s Introduction
Don Baker, 5

The five articles in this special issue explore the relationship of the Confucian government of the Chosŏn dynasty with religion and ritual. They reveal how much more that government was concerned with the ritual behavior of its subjects than have been the modern governments of the Republic of Korea. These articles also show that, unless we consider how important ritual behavior was to pre-modern government officials, we will misunderstand or overlook some important developments in the history of the Chosŏn dynasty.

Seoul and Salem: Contrasts in How States Treated Female Performers of Licentious Rituals
Don Baker, 11

If one feature of modernity is the degree of tolerance a state or society affords a religious minority, then for much of the Chosŏn dynasty Korea was more modern than Western Europe or North America. In contrast with the witch-hunts we see in the West, which took the lives of tens of thousands, Korea marginalized but did not usually kill its shamans. The Chosŏn state exercised ritual hegemony over its subjects, but that meant it attempted only to control their religious activities. Unlike in the West until a few centuries ago, Korea did not execute many religious non-conformists for their nonconformity. This changed in the late eighteenth century, when the Chosŏn government began killing members of Korea’s emerging Catholic community for being Catholic. Moreover, when Korea began killing Catholics, it tortured and executed women as well as men, though in the past any legal attacks on nonconformists were usually limited to men. In Korea today, we find the legacy of pre-eighteenth-century Korea to be stronger than the legacy of the nineteenth-century persecutions. Nevertheless, Korea continues to differ from the West in its relationship between the state and religious communities.

A Farce that Wounds Both High and Low: The Guan Yu Cult in Chosŏn-Ming Relations*
Joshua Van Lieu, 39

Scholarship on Chosŏn gratitude to the Ming in the wake of the Imjin Wars stresses Chosŏn loyalism and nostalgia for a lost civilizational order then only remnant as a final human outpost on the Korean peninsula standing firm before the tides of northern savagery. There was a very different undercurrent, however, in which the Chosŏn officialdom of the capital saw the Ming as irrational and even culturally alien, if not barbarous, violators of propriety. This paper examines these tensions and contradictions through the construction of Chosŏn state temples to Guan Yu, known in his deified form as Kwan Wang, at the close of the sixteenth century and the roles the cult and its temples played as a discursive space in which the Ming and Chosŏn governments negotiated the nature and dynamics of their relationship.

The Altar of Great Gratitude: A Korean Memory of Ming China under Manchu Dominance, 1704–1894*
Seung B. Kye, 71

With emphasis on the Korean performance at a special altar designed to pay tribute to the memory of Ming emperors, this paper looks at the way in which Korean elites under Manchu dominance recalled Ming China and actually summoned the ghosts of Ming emperors unto their political stage. From the early sixteenth century, Ming China had been honored in Chosŏn as the suzerain-father, with the result that the Ming became the object for Chosŏn filial piety as well as loyalty. Chosŏn’s submission to the Manchus in 1637, however, forced an ideological crisis upon the Chosŏn leadership since the country’s compromise with the Manchus meant that the Chosŏn king and court officials had violated two primary Confucian values, those of loyalty and filial piety, on which the ruling mechanism of the dynasty had been based. The establishment of the Altar of Great Gratitude (Taebodan) within a Chosŏn royal palace in 1704 was designed to offset the violation and visibly demonstrate Chosŏn’s righteous obligations to the fallen Ming regardless of the real geopolitical circumstances. Thereafter, Chosŏn kings regularly performed sacrifices for three Ming emperors on the anniversaries of those emperors’ deaths. These rituals continued until Seoul was occupied by the Japanese in 1894 on the eve of the Sino-Japanese War, implying that mainstream Chosŏn elites under Manchu dominance still sought to live spiritually under an imaginary Ming order.

The Confucian Systematization of the Royal Ancestral Cult: On Chosŏn’s Hamhŭng Pon’gung
Wook Lee, Se-Woong Koo, 89

Hamhŭng Pon’gung was the house in Hamhŭng that Yi Sŏnggye inhabited prior to founding the Chosŏn dynasty. After assuming the kingship, Yi Sŏnggye posthumously crowned his direct patrilineal ancestors going back four generations. In addition to enshrining their spirit tablets at the Chongmyo (Royal Ancestral Shrine) for official rites, he also had their tablets installed at Hamhŭng Pon’gung. After Yi Sŏnggye’s own death the tablets of him and his first wife were added to the altar at Hamhŭng Pon’gung, making it a shrine for five generations of kings and queens. Initially a source of great controversy and nearly abolished, the rites at Hamhŭng Pon’gung ultimately gained official acceptance during the reign of King Chŏngjo (r. 1776–1800), though they continued to be omitted from the sajŏn 祀典 (state register of sacrifices). This paper discusses the history of the Hamhŭng Pon’gung rites and examines the process through which a non-Confucian royal rite was transformed into an official state rite. In so doing, it also highlights the way in which autochthonous religious rites in Korea that predated the transmission of Confucianism were marginalized or altered by Confucianism. Additionally, it illustrates the process through which unofficial royal rites unconnected to official state events were transformed into official rites of the state. It concludes with a discussion of the dual character of royal rites that preserved both Confucian and autochthonous beliefs and combined the public with the private.

The Confucian Transformation of Mountain Space: Travels by Late-Chosŏn Confucian Scholars and the Attempted Confucianization of Mountains
Kyungsoon Lee, Se-Woong Koo, 119

In Late Chosŏn, touring mountain locales, and penning travelogues of such journeys, came into vogue among sajok (Confucian literati elite). But by the Late Chosŏn period, mountains were also one of the few places where Buddhism and shamanism could survive, thus the Confucian sajok foray into mountains naturally resulted in a cultural collision between the forces of Confucianism on the one hand, and Buddhism and shamanism (musok) on the other. This project on the part of sajok to “Confucianize” mountain space took three strategic approaches: the critique of traditional beliefs embodied in mountains; the injection of Confucian interpretations into mountain narratives; and the reclamation of mountains as something fundamentally Confucian. Ultimately, however, the project of Confucianizing mountain space came face to face with its limits as the authority and cohesiveness necessary for completing the Confucianization of mountain space eroded even as deep-rooted Buddhist and shamanist traditions prevailed. Nevertheless, the attempted Confucianization of mountain space, as expressed in the process of travel writing, place-name changing, and the establishment of noted sŏwŏn by Confucian scholars, has significance in the study of changes in the religious environment of Late Chosŏn, while highlighting the aspect of mountain space as an arena for competing intellectual and religious discourses.


The Korean Origin of the Term Samch’ŏ chŏnsim 三處傳心 (Three Places of Mind-Transmission)
Seong-Uk Kim, 145

Samch’ŏ chŏnsim (Three places of the mind-transmission 三處傳心) is one of the best-known terms in the Korean Buddhist tradition. It refers to three different events in which the Buddha Śākyamuni transmitted the mind to his successor, Mahākāśyapa. These events include the Buddha sharing his seat, holding up a flower, and sticking his feet out of his coffin. Despite its popularity, the term has hardly attracted serious academic attention. Scholars have assumed that it originated from China to refer to those “historical” episodes that happened in India. However, textual evidence shows (a) that many mind-transmission episodes developed in medieval China to substantiate the Chan separation from the scriptural tradition and (b) that the term Samch’ŏ chŏnsim was first introduced in Korea to treat the three episodes of Samch’ŏ chŏnsim collectively and to attempt a new interpretation of the mind-transmission. The term first appears in the Koryŏ Sŏn master Kagun’s Sŏnmun yŏmsong sŏrhwa 禪門拈頌說話 to present the idea that the Buddha transmitted to Kāśyapa different minds or different aspects of the mind in different times and places.


Hanŏguk yŏsŏng chonggyoinŭi hyŏnsil kwa chendŏ munje ed. by Sogangdae Chonggyo Yŏn’guso
Reviewed by Kyung-Mi Park, 175

Encountering Modernity: Christianity in East Asia and Asian America Ed. by Albert L. Park and David K. Yoo
Reviewed by Kirsteen Kim, 180