Social Darwinism and Nationalism in Korea: the Beginnings (1880s-1910s)

"Survival" as an Ideology of Korean Modernity

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The book deals with the influences Social Darwinism exerted upon Korea’s modern ideologies in their formative period - especially nationalism – after its introduction to Korea in 1883 and before Korea’s annexation by Japan in 1910. It shows that the belief in the “survival of the fittest” as the overarching cosmic and social principle constituted the main underpinning for the modernity discourses in Korea in the 1890s-1900s. Unlike the dominant ideology of traditional Korea, Neo-Confucianism, which was largely promoted by the scholar-official elite, Social Darwinism appealed to the modern intellectuals, but also to the entrepreneurs, providing the justification for their profit-seeking activities as part of the “national survival” project. As an ideology of Korea’s nascent capitalism, Social Darwinism in Korea could, however, hardly be called a liberal creed: it clearly prioritized “national survival” over individual rights and interests.

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Vladimir M. Tikhonov, Ph.D. (1996) in History, Moscow State University, is Professor of Korean/East Asian Studies at Oslo University. He has published extensively on Korean modern and Buddhist history including Selected Writings of Han Yongun (Global Oriental, 2008).
All those interested in East Asian intellectual history, history of modern and contemporary Korea, history of evolutionary and Darwinist thought, as well as Korean Studies specialists in general.
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