Confucianism: A Social Virus in the Way of Progress

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), June 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

Confucianism: A Social Virus in the Way of Progress


In the past 90 years, Korea has lost its sovereignty, fallen victim to colonialism for 35 years and suffered a devastating civil war in 1950-53. It is now engulfed in an economic crisis that at one point brought the entire nation to its knees.

A number of answers can be given that address these incidents from social, economic and geopolitical perspectives. However, when viewed from a domestic perspective says one outspoken critic, there is a common factor that never fails to show itself: Confucianism.

``The evils of Confucianism are always at work in the center of all these watershed incidents that have drawn back Korea's development process,'' said Kim Kyong-il, 40, a professor of Chinese Literature at Sangmyung University in Seoul, in his recent collection of essays entitled ``Confucius Must Die if Korea is to Survive (Pada Publishing Co., 327 pp).''

As indicated by the title, his writing style is sensational and provocative with a piercing, if not acid quality to a social message expressed in definitive and declarative sentences. The essay collection has been on the bestseller list in the humanities category for weeks since its release in early May, sending a tremor through Korean society, which has been built around the legacy of Confucian ideology since dynastic times.

According to the author, due to its inherent emphasis on authoritarian hierarchy in accordance with age, sex and social status, Confucianism tends to breed vanity and moral hypocrites in a society that in turn causes factional rifts.

Confucianism reveres filial piety and loyalty while aiming to maintain a rigorous moral standard. The state skillfully utilizes the ideology to form a stable, easy-to-control patriarchal political entity that has the king, who is he manifestation of the heavenly mandate, sitting atop the hierarchy and acting as the father of all people. Society is then divided into numerous clans, regional communities and family units headed by the eldest man.

Kim further claims that at the individual level, Confucianism is a sort of religion that enables one to live forever through the succession of blood lines, resulting in a social practice that permanently excludes women from society and dismisses them as a tool for reproduction.

Even though dynastic times have gone and modern values are replacing such authoritarian concepts, the modernization of Korea has been crippled by the vicious legacies of Confucian dogma: blind reverence of authority and elders and dependence on collective values that suffocate individual creativity, says the author.

Instead of praising Confucianism as a great school of philosophical thought, the critic compares Confucianism to ``a virus'' that poses a serious threat to Korea becoming a more modern, rational society, implying that it's virtues are nothing but a sham.

Calling its architect Confucius (552-479 B.C.) ``a liar'' who promoted the bogus idea of a natural ruling class, Kim then proceeds to prove the ``preposterous'' nature of Confucianism by investigating its origin.

Based upon research on ancient animal bone inscriptions and tortoise carapaces, Kim came to the conclusion that Confucianism originated from an ill-motivated ideology designed to rationalize the usurpation of the Shang Dynasty some 3,100 years ago in China. …

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