Yi Hangno and Ch’oe Ikhyŏn appear very devoted to preserving the Korean culture and nation and opposing external influences. In fact, they are quite sharp in their writings; for example, Ch’oe Ikhyŏn refers to the Japanese as people who “have the face of human beings but the mind of beasts” (Lee & de Bary, 1997, p. 241) and repeatedly refers to them as bandits. Both writers strongly oppose the religion that the conquerors are bringing them, and Yi Hangno claims that “Buddhism is nothing more than a heretical sect from the remote Western Regions” (Lee & de Bary, 2997, p. 140), while Ch’oe Ikhyŏn, his disciple, calls the religion that the Japanese promote wicked. Overall, these writings make the impression that the authors were nationalists in a negative sense, meaning that they constantly stressed how evil and barbarian foreigners were, which suggests their certainty about the superiority of the Korean nation over other nations.
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However, there is a more complicated understanding of nationalism. In addressing it, one should ask: Is nationalism about loyalty to a government (or a royal family), appreciation of a culture, or dedication to the nation as a whole? In this regard, the identity challenge is faced. Different opinions can be expressed as per what it meant for a Korean in the 19th century to be a Korean. For example, one can speculate on what was more important for Yi Hangno and Ch’oe Ikhyŏn: Confucianism or the political independence of Korea? Upon reading their texts, I think the latter was more important for them despite the fact that they ferociously denied the religion imposed on them. In fact, religion and culture can be intertwined, but I think that the authors identified themselves as Koreans to a larger extent than they identified themselves as Confucian scholars.
Lee, P. H., & de Bary, W. T. (Eds.). (1997). Sources of Korean tradition. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.