UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From center to periphery : the demotion of Literary Sinitic and the beginnings of hanmunkwa—Korea, 1876–1910 Wells, William Scott


From the 1876 Treaty of Kanghwa to Korea’s annexation in 1910, the last thirty-five years of the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910) were witness to some of the most impactful events in Korea’s modern history. Through encounters with Western powers and the influence, both direct and indirect, of a rapidly modernizing Japan, many Koreans began to reappraise their country’s Sino-centric past and the once-shared knowledge, symbols, and practices of the traditional East Asian cosmopolitan order. A major consequence of this reappraisal was the demotion of Literary Sinitic (commonly known as Classical Chinese) from its long-held status as the de facto official written standard of state and its removal from the center of the curriculum of state-sponsored education to the periphery in the guise of a newly created classroom subject hanmunkwa. This thesis details how shifts in the terminology for both Literary Sinitic and the vernacular script, the educational activities of Western missionaries, the abolition of Korea’s traditional civil service examination system, the establishment of a Western-style educational system, the proliferation of new Literary Sinitic teaching materials and methodologies, and the influence of Japan combined at the end of the Chosŏn dynasty to demote the learning and use of Literary Sinitic. Furthermore, this thesis shows that Literary Sinitic’s demise was not simply the collateral damage of a predestined and unavoidable rise of Korea’s native script, but was, by the time of annexation, already a long though still unfinished process. The reappraisal and demotion of Literary Sinitic in Korea is important for more than merely understanding the precolonial moment in Korea. It is vital to improving our understanding of Korea’s part in the disintegration of a once vibrant East Asian cosmopolitanism, while further exploring the early development of hanmunkwa will also help us apprehend the lingering effects and influences exercised by once transcultured practices, even after those practices are reimagined and reconfigured according to new, nationalized frameworks.

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