This research project primarily aims to analyze and evaluate the process of King Sejong’s statecraft in terms of each important political case based on a “leadership approach” to the King Sejong era. This study is expected to contribute to overcome and compensate for the limitations and problems of the existing studies of King Sejong, while clarifying the features of “Confucian statecraft” and paving the way for its conceptualization. This project aims to explore the whole process of statecraft in the Joseon period based on the spirit of “reviewing the old and learning the new”; put another way, this would be “getting better knowledge of the things that were unknown by examining and reflecting upon past experiences”—and ultimately aims to fulfill the tasks entrusted with Korean studies in the 21st century by creating a new paradigm of knowledge that contributes to the statecraft of contemporary Korea.
This article examines how Sejong, who pursued Confucian politics, recognized and embraced the need for Buddhism at a religious level. In general, Confucianism and Buddhism can be seen as theoretically conflicting. However, Sejong thought that he could govern with Confucianism while maintaining his Buddhist beliefs at the same time. Therefore, though he aspired for Confucian politics, he kept his belief in Buddhism. However, he made a strict distinction between his belief and the purpose of national policy, which led him to restructure secularized Buddhism in a political way. The goal of his reform in Buddhism was not to eradicate Buddhism but to maintain it as a religion. At the same time, he drew attention to the fact that Buddhism as a religion was still functioning nationally and socially under his reign. It was still a religion of the many. Some scholars who had studied Neo-Confucianism also maintained their belief in Buddhism. Under such circumstances, Sejong recognized and tolerated activities of the Buddhist order despite criticism from the strong opponents of Buddhism, and he controlled the content and speed of Buddhist reform. When seen from the Confucian scholars’ perspective, his measures may have seemed ideologically confused. However, for a king who is responsible for state administration, Sejong seems to have taken an appropriate policy that corresponded to the reality of his time.
What did politics mean to King Sejong (世宗: 1397-1450) of the Joseon dynasty? His theory on state administration is clear in the expression siin baljeong, that is, to “practice virtue and govern the nation,” which shows that Sejong succeeded the thoughts of Mencius. This concept in particular focuses on the formation and praxis of an institution, in which the practice of virtue, a Confucian idea, and governing the country, its actual policy, complement each other. The specifics of Sejong’s thoughts are evidenced in a number of literary records and books. This article will therefore focus on the process of how he enforced and institutionalized yukgije, the six-year term scheme, which was suggested as part of the policy regarding the long-term duty of chief magistrates.
Sejong’s reform of the taxation system, which has been identified as one of his most outstanding achievements, was unique not only in terms of the nature of the reforms but the process in which it was carried out as well. This reform was in essence premised on the abolishment of the sonsil dapheombeop, which was a taxation system that involved inspectors being dispatched to individual fields in order to assess taxes to be levied based on the amount of crop damage from that year, in favor of the gongbeop under which uniform amounts of taxes were assessed based on land fertility and regional productivity. However, even more important than the gongbeop itself was the process in which these reforms were carried out. Sejong was able to surprisingly make use of a deliberative process that would last for seventeen years to get even those who had opposed this new system to recognize the necessity for its introduction. This paper attempts to answer the following questions: 1) How did Sejong overcome the opposition of high-ranking officials, who represented the main political force at that time, to his reform efforts? 2) What was Sejong’s reasoning for making use of such a comprehensive nationwide public opinion survey, a survey which can arguably be considered as the first of its kind in world history up until that point? 3) Viewed from the standpoint of open and public politics that served as the main political mechanism during the Joseon dynasty, how should we assess the manner in which Sejong arosed public opinion and managed his Confucian deliberative politics? 4) What kind of lessons can today’s Korean politicians learn from Sejong’s leadership in terms of politics and state management?
In South Korea, the March First Movement of 1919 is the most revered manifestation of anti-colonial resistance. The national holiday of Samiljeol, the voluminous literature dedicated to the movement, the appearance of the event in presidential speeches, and the many monuments built for its memory all testify to this observation. It is argued in this paper that historical analysis does not suffice to explain this phenomenon. Instead, the research presented here is based on the premise that to understand both how and why the movement has been commemorated throughout the years is to realize that the natural image of this event is essentially a constructed image. This does not mean that history was fabricated, but it means that the issue is related to the politics of memory. Accordingly, this paper analyzes how the movement has been anchored in the country’s collective memory by focusing on the memorial sites for the two most notable icons of the event—Tapgol Park and Yu Gwan-sun. The central argument is that what appears to be today such a natural and fitting image—an image supported by sound historical data—has served for decades as a comfortable means to control and limit colonial memory at times when this memory was actually problematic.