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Vladimir Tikhonov at SOAS: “Heroes” in Qing China and Korea late C19 / early C20

The second of the autumn series of Korean studies seminars at SOAS:

“Heroes” in Qing China and Korea in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century

Vladimir Tikhonov (Oslo University)
Date: 19 October 2012
Time: 5:15 PM
Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings
Room: G50


Both Liang Qichao (1873-1929) and Sin Ch’aeho (1880-1936) were instrumental in defining the basic modernity paradigms in their respective societies, late Qing China and late pre-colonial/colonial-time Korea. Both were elite Confucians by training and personal value system, and Sin was in the beginning strongly influenced by Liang, although later their ways diverged. In the beginning, however, both emphasized the role of the “heroes” and “heroic” in the transition to modern nation state. “Heroes”, these modern incarnations of the Confucian “sages” and “worthies”, were to “cultivate” the uneducated commoners into modern citizens, and themselves to pioneer the practice of the modern “public virtues” – in good Confucian spirit, without being motivated by profits or other “egoistic desires”. A big difference between Liang and Sin was, however, in that the first still envisioned the “heroes” as practising the compassion-based Confucian self-cultivation, whereas the latter accentuated their loyalty to ethnic nation and violent, revolutionary potential. Count Cavour (1810-1861) was Liang’s model hero; Mazzini (1805-1872) the republican revolutionary was Sin’s. The difference between Sin’s and Liang’s views on “heroes” further widened in the 1910s and 1920s, as Sin was developing into an anarchist revolutionary, whereas Liang was increasingly seen as a conservative defender of the Confucian ethics. However, in favouring the “hero” free from profit motive as well as essentially non-capitalist set of modern values, both Sin and Liang anticipated certain important developments in twentieth century’s East Asian modern and contemporary history. Both South Korean-style state-led neo-mercantilist economic development, with its accent on state and company loyalty, and Maoist view of a Communist as purely altruistic elite revolutionary hero echo to some degree Sin’s and Liang’s pioneering views respectively.

Speaker Biography

Born in Leningrad (St-Petersburg) in the former USSR (1973) and educated at St-Petersburg State University (MA:1994) and Moscow State University (Ph.D. in ancient Korean history, 1996). Vladimir Tikhonov (Korean name – Pak Noja) has worked for Russian State University of Humanities (1996), KyungHee University (1997-2000) and for Oslo University as associate professor (2000-2006) and as a full professor (from 2006). His main field is the history of ideas in early modern Korea, particularly Social Darwinist influences in the formative period of Korean nationalism in the 1880s-1910s. Another major area of Tikhonov’s research is the history of Korean Buddhism in modern times, particularly in connection with nationalism and militarist violence. His book, Usǔng yǒlp’ae ǔi sinhwa (The Myth of the Survival of the Fittest, 2005) is one of the first monographic studies of Social Darwinism in modern Korea and its relations to Korean nationalism. The same topic has been dealt with in English in his Social Darwinism and Nationalism in Korea: The Beginnings (1880s-1910s) (Brill, 2010). Recently, he edited, together with Torkel Brekke, a book on the connections between Buddhism and militarism in Asia: Buddhism and Violence: Militarism and Buddhism in Modern Asia (Routledge, 2012). He also regularly contributes to South Korea’s liberal and progressive media, including socialist website

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