Establishing a Pluralist Society in Medieval Korea, 918-1170

History, Ideology, and Identity in the Koryŏ Dynasty


This book offers no less than a radically different view of the Koryŏ state. Until now scholarship failed to recognize the complicated historical descent, byzantine international relations and multiple incommensurable worldviews of the early Korean Koryŏ state (918-1170). Instead, it subjected these to reductionist categories favouring reified particulars over broader views. Asking how Koryŏ meaningfully dealt with its environment, Remco Breuker rejects the reduction of Koryŏ intellectual abundance to analytical categories, and emphasizes the functional importance of Koryŏ’s pluralism in allowing the notion that realities were scattered, inconsistent and plural.
Here is a convincing argument that Koryŏ’s pluralism decisively contributed to the formation of a region-transcending communal identity that enabled Koryŏ to engage in a civilizational competition with neighbouring Chinese and Manchurian states, while maintaining a dynamic but stable society domestically.
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Biographical Note

Remco E. Breuker, Ph.D. (2006) in Korean History, Leiden University, works on medieval Korean and Northeast Asian history and historiography. He has published extensively on Koryŏ history including Forging the Truth: Creative Deception and National Identity in Medieval Korea (2009).

Review Quotes

'The importance of this outstanding work goes well beyond reshaping our understanding of Koryŏ. Indeed, Koryŏ’s way of understanding and living within the world as analyzed by Breuker would become an object of fear during the subsequent Chosŏn (1392-1910) dynasty. Those fears—and the way they came to be expressed—provide much additional evidence for Breuker’s thesis on Koryŏ’s pluralism. They also point to a profound historical irony. In the minds of the Chosŏn elite, Myoch’ŏng was synonymous with political disorder. Yet in a fundamental sense, the Chosŏn elite’s outlook had far more in common with Myoch’ŏng’s monism than with Kim Pusik’s pluralism. Among many other things, Breuker illuminates the origins of that remarkable contradiction.'
Gregory Evon, University of New South Wales, The Review of Korean Studies 16:2 (2013)


All those interested in Korean history, intellectual history, identity formation, pluralism, region-transcending communities, nation formation and the history of international relations in East Asia, as well as medievalists and philologists.


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