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Melissa Montes Intern. I am not alone in this belief. Michael Seth, a scholar of Korean history, has highlighted the dangers that can occur when scholars overemphasize the outside influences that Korea was subjected to around the turn of the twentieth century. If we think that our capitalist nation-states are the height of rationality and that there is a clear disjuncture between pre-modern irrational behaviour and rational modern behaviour, then we risk reducing human history before the railroad to a timeless, agricultural idyll or a dark, oppressive purgatory, depending on your preference.

What is worse, we risk dismissing 4 Park, Sangjin. Palgrave Macmillan, , p.


The Spread of the Korean Language

Harvard University Asia Center, , p. Two of his essays on literature stand out in this respect. The difference between the pre-modern and modern notion of literature is obvious to Yi: The cultural differences between Korea and the West lie in the earlier emphasis in Western societies on individuality.

In the past in every country in the world, human emotions were trivialized while knowledge was prioritized, which demonstrates that people had no clear notion of individuality back then. In an effort to create a distinctive break from what came before, Yi states that spontaneity and individuality was non-existent or severely repressed before. Routledge Handbook of Modern Korean History. Routledge, , p. Azalea 4 , p. Brill, , p. The idea in scholarship on Korean literature that individualism and in extension modernity could only have occurred in the East once its concept was transplanted or translated from the West, started with Yi Kwangsu and like-minded intellectuals from the late 19th and early 20th century.

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Their writings helped to create the illusion of a clear break, a radical change that was important to them in order to jumpstart their societies and bring development to their country. This was also the case in China. The intellectuals saw the concept as an important and indispensable tool in the creation a collectivist identity and to put the individual in the larger conceptual framework of the nation. This is also argued by Lydia Liu in the following manner: 12 Park, Sangjin. A Comparative Study of Korean Literature, p.

Duke University Press, , p. In both his essays on literature, Yi Kwangsu repeatedly argues that the development of literature will be pivotal in helping to develop the nation. The concept of individualism was therefore seen by Yi Kwangsu, just as the Chinese intellectuals did, as the most important component in bringing about the idea of the collective nation. The women, however, believed that humans had no responsibility for what happened in life.

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Human beings just lived life as it happened, with no improvement or reform through human will. This is how Koreans view life! If the people of a country lack literature, or if they merely transmit their cultural achievements orally, then no matter how lengthy their history, their culture will lack richness, and they will be stuck in a barbaric and primitive state.

Cornell University, , p. Here I borrow from the argument proposed by Anthony Giddens who explains modernity as a project to develop impersonal patterns of thinking. Therefore the transition from premodern to modern is the reorientation of perspectives from who and where people are to what functions, almost entirely impersonal, that people perform. The reorientation of perspectives was in this case to make the individual follow the imagined collective of the nation.

With this in mind, I hope you will indulge me and let me end this paper on a speculative note. Historians adapt a non-Eurocentric approach and include multi-vocal perspectives in their interpretations that are based on empirical research.

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