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Korea before the "Treaty of Kanghwa" and the trouble of the Modernity

Luciano Martín Lanare, National University of La Plata

There is a big debt in Korean studies in Latin America. This debt is the obligation to adjust the socio-historical categories at processes and historical events of the Korean Peninsula. Often the historians use occidental socio-historical categories without regard to the particularities of the history of Korea. To begin, one of the categories that we must approach is that of Modernity. Marshall Berman defined to the Modernity as a way of life experience of being in a changing world which is related to a particular way of perceiving the universe. And this form of experimentation is rooted in Marxist terms, in the structural changes experienced by European society since the Renaissance. In this sense, modernity (and we always refer to the modernity that is produced in Western Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) was a great process of secularization that has swept the old continent in this time. But this Modernity is the modernity that triumphs in Korea in the late nineteenth century? The signing of Kanghwa treaty ended the isolation policy of the kingdom of Choson and inaugurated an era of intense exchanges between Japan and Korea and which put to this last nation almost under the Japanese economic domination. Many authors (or at least those with whom we have language access) see this treaty of Kanghwa as Korea's entry into modernity. This, in the eyes of many, was one hard pushed but necessary. However, this is where the confusion is general. Because the Kanghwa Treaty must be seen only in the context of capitalist expansion of the Western powers. Secularization was market. Not was to the conscience. Furthermore, the implementation of the socio-historical category of European Modernity denies the weight the Confucianism in Korean history, vital element in the worldview of this society. The hypothesis we propose is that to speak of modernity is to refer to a profound process of secularization. As I referenced above, the great wall that delayed the development of industrial capitalism in some niches of developed Europe was the presence of the old regime. Within this, medieval Christianity was the main delay. Consequently, modernity was built as a pervasive secularization process this "another world". Under no consideration can speak of modernity in Korea. In any case, we can only mention a strong process of modernization that seeks to insert to peninsula in the world capitalist system.

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Center for Korean Studies