Korea's Religious Placesa - 4.1.1 Yongdamjeong Pavilion (Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
|Understanding Korea Series No.6|
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|1) Cheondogyo (Donghak)||* Yongdamjeong Pavilion (Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)||* Cheondogyo Central Temple (Seoul)|
Yongdamjeong Pavilion (Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
In a picturesque narrow gorge with a beautiful little waterfall and a pond below the waterfall sits a pavilion that marks the spot where Choe Je-u began to see a new world order, a new beginning.
The core doctrine was in nae cheon—man and God are one, or man is god. The religion was egalitarian, in stark contrast to the hierarchy of Confucianism. In traditional Korea under the influence of Confucianism, one’s family background was of primary importance. In Donghak, they took on new names that did not have surnames—eschewing all that a family name could mean, implying high status or low status.
The religion ran afoul of the government as soon as it started, and Choe Je-u was arrested and executed—ironically, under the anti-Catholic laws whereby hundreds of Catholics were executed. But the religion did not die with the founder. A distant cousin, Choe Si-hyeong, became the next leader, and mostly while hiding from the authorities for the next thirty years, he led the religion.
Choe Si-hyeong resisted the faction that wanted to use the religion to tackle social injustice, but finally, in 1894, succumbed and allowed the political elements in the party to take action. Jeon Bong-jun led the Donghak followers to take over government offices at the county level and break into the government granaries that had been set up for disaster relief, general welfare purposes, and to distribute grain to the poor or the unfortunate, but had become a tool for corruption of local magistrates who would use the granaries for self-enrichment. The movement, once ignited, spread like wildfire, and soon the Donghak rebels took over much of the southwest quadrant of Korea.
The suppression of the movement by government forces was not successful, and the government called upon its ally China to send in troops. China had just put down its own neo-religious uprising, the Taiping Rebellion of 1850 to 1864, and it sent troops. The Japanese cited a treaty of 1882 that neither side would send troops without informing the other, and accused China of violating the treaty. Really, it was the excuse that the Japanese militarists were waiting for, and thus Korea was the venue for the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895.