Integration Processes in the Circulation of Knowledge

Cases from Korea

by Marion Eggert (Volume editor) Florian Pölking (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 237 Pages
Series: Research on Korea, Volume 6


Korea, geographically situated at cultural crossroads, has a long history of creative engagement with knowledge from outside sources. This volume discusses processes of knowledge integration – of interpretive adaptation, dissection, selection and re-assemblage, of reduction and amplification, as well as of blending with existing cognitive structures – in pre-modern and early modern times. The articles assembled deal with a wide range of sources (including material objects as carriers of knowledge) and with diverse fields of knowledge, spanning the realms of philosophy, religion, literature, military and technical knowledge, and political thought. Together, they richly illustrate the transformative powers inherent in re-configurations of knowledge.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Marion Eggert - Introduction
  • Part I
  • Vladimír Glomb - Yulgok and Laozi: Integration of the Daodejing - into 16th Century Confucian Discourse
  • Felix Siegmund - Integration and Re-structuring of Military Knowledge in 17th and 18th century Korea
  • Gunhild Stierand-Kim - On War, the Waenom, and Waterwheels: Memory, Stereotypes, and Knowledge of Japan and the Japanese in Kim In-gyŏm’s Ilttong changyuga, an 18th century kasa travelogue
  • Barbara Wall - Literary knowledge reflected in Korean intertexts of Xiyouji (西遊記, “The Journey to the West”)
  • Part II
  • Deberniere J. Torrey - Catholic Didactic Poems in Korea’s Transition to Modernity
  • Sung-deuk Oak - Christianity as the Religion of Civilisation and Fulfilment: Global and Local Elements in Theology of Religions of Early Korean Protestantism
  • Shin Dongwon - Hygiene in Korea Around 1900: Between Civilisation and Colonialism
  • Eun-Jeung Lee - Yu Kil-chun’s translation of Karl Rathgen’s “Political Science” (Chŏngch’ihak) and its relevance to modern day Korean social science

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Marion Eggert


What happens when a canon of pre-existing knowledge, or a structured conglomeration of ideas that form a societal consensus, are challenged by “new,” hitherto unavailable or ignored knowledge? What are the mechanisms and intellectual tools with which individuals and groups come to terms with cognitive dissonances arising from the conflicts of knowledge items or knowledge systems, or from the sheer strangeness of the new? Why and how is the new accepted as knowledge (i.e. as “true,” “valid,” or “a given”)1 by individuals, and how do the latter convince others of their new insights? Are processes of integrating new elements on the structural level (i.e. in the case of literary texts: genre, literary device) and on the semantic level (i.e. in the case of literary texts: characters, plots, motifs) fully equivalent?

These were some of the questions guiding a conference conducted at Ruhr University Bochum in 2013, the results of which are presented in the volume at hand. Interest in cultural change, both synchronically as the result of cultural contact and diachronically as the result of “internal” developments, has become one of the dominant fields of inquiry in the humanities during the last decades, with research on knowledge systems and the nature of knowledge change as one of its major sub-fields. The research project conducted jointly between Ruhr University Bochum and Freie Universität Berlin in the framework of which the 2013 conference was held has devoted itself to making these approaches productive for Korean Studies, also with the hope of demonstrating that Korea’s past and present can provide excellent material for the study of the manifold aspects of knowledge circulation and ensuing social and cultural change. After two earlier conferences had ← 9 | 10 → inquired first into the spatial and social channels through which knowledge is transported and which work simultaneously as frameworks for and pre-conditions of knowledge change, and in a next step into the work of cultural translation that is by necessity a central part of all engagement with new knowledge,2 the conference documented here focused on the secondary transformations of knowledge that accompany or ensue after this initial transferral, i.e. cognitive and communicative processes through which new knowledge and its carriers are integrated into existing (canons of) knowledge. These include processes of interpretive adaptation, of dissection, selection and re-assemblage, of reduction and amplification, as well as of blending with existing cognitive structures.

How did such processes of integrating new knowledge play out in Korea in pre-modern and early modern times? Given Korea’s peculiar geographical and cultural position in East Asia and its strong tradition of Sinocentrism, what were the mechanisms—between exotism and xenophobia—in the negotiation of otherness? Which role (inhibiting, conducive, enticing) did the “strangeness” of new knowledge, its being derived from sources labelled as “outside,” play in the integration process; and did the nature of the knowledge carrier (text vs. object) make a difference in this respect? What do we know about institutional settings and their connections to knowledge acquisition and knowledge change? How did institutions of knowledge production and proliferation facilitate or inhibit the acquisition of new knowledge; and how were institutions changed, or even created, as a result of the influx of new knowledge? In the light of the strong bias on textual knowledge that we observe in pre-modern Korea, how was the knowledge inherent in objects actualised or transformed in their utilisation? Finally, how do we relate knowledge changes to political and social transformations?

The eight papers assembled in this volume cannot, of course, answer all these questions; however, they address a significant number of them in one way or the other. The first part of the volume, dedicated to the Chosŏn period and knowledge originating from within the East Asian region, commences with an example of diachronic knowledge integration in 16th century Korea: ← 10 | 11 → Focussing on Yulgok Yi I’s partly vernacular Laozi commentary, Sunŏn, Vladimir Glomb shows that the classical Daoist texts belonged on the one hand to the standard repertoire of the Confucian literati elite, but that on the other hand integration of Daoist learning into Confucian discourse was a reiterative process of some complexity. Labelled as something “outside” the orthodox doctrinal system, philosophical Daoism was nonetheless continually scanned for valid teachings and compatibility with Confucian tenets, and discussion of the Daodejing (including the Chinese Confucian tradition of treating the text) was a useful venue for debates on and communication about the finer points of (Neo-) Confucian tradition among the literati. “Integration” of Daoist knowledge into the Confucian canon thus worked on a secondary level through the finer mechanisms of exclusion.

The next two chapters concern knowledge of “barbarian” origin acquired both through direct cross-border contacts and through the more common channels of textual dissemination. Felix Siegmund looks at the ways in which military knowledge was reconfigured in Chosŏn after the great wars of the late 16th/early 17th centuries. The perceived need to update existing military knowledge led to the creation, fortification, and “Koreanisation” of a canon of textual material of Chinese origin. Siegmund points out how in addition to its practical value, this canon was used for augmenting the social position of the carriers of military knowledge versus the civil literati. On the practical side, military techniques deployed by the Manchu had proven successful, but an age-old assumption of cultural superiority over the northern neighbours made open adaptation of their knowledge a less than straightforward matter. The article illustrates that the provenance of new knowledge had decisive effects on the ways in which it was integrated, but not so much on whether it was accepted or rejected to begin with. This is echoed to some degree in Gunhild Stierand-Kim’s article on knowledge about and from Japan. As she demonstrates, the Ilttong changyuga, an 18th century verse travelogue in Korean language, abounds with anti-Japanese sentiments and prejudice, but is not averse to noting, even praising Japanese advances in material culture (while Japanese intellectual contributions are persistently denigrated). The fact that stories about Japanese technical feats seem to have worked as a literary trope rather than as knowledge of serious concern raises questions about social mechanisms of learning that may provide a stimulus for further study. ← 11 | 12 →

Literary motifs are again the topic of the following chapter in which Barbara Wall provides a rich panoply of different modes and results of the reception of the Chinese novel Xiyouji and its hero Sun Wukong in pre-modern Korea. Xiyouji thus becomes a perfect example for how even a structured literary text can be disassembled and parts and pieces of it integrated into widely different objects, texts and contexts, with notable divergences in the degree to which explicit links to the original source were maintained—and to which knowledge about this link was necessary for an appreciation of the new cultural item resulting from the adaptation process. This seemingly seamless integration of Xiyouji into the Korean cultural arsenal stands in stark contrast to the patently exotic nature of the novel’s hero and plot (notwithstanding the novel’s Chinese provenance). The findings of this article thus provide much food for thought about differences between literary and other, more falsifiable kinds of knowledge in terms of their malleability in transfer processes.

The second part of the book is devoted to the field that provides perhaps the most prototypical examples within Korean history for epistemic changes and their transformatory power, and that has therefore been comparatively well studied. The article by Deberniere Torrey adds to the substantial body of literature on early Korean Christianity an indepth analysis of Catholic vernacular poems (kasa, the form also employed by Ilttong changyuga) of the 19th century. The implied audience of this mnemotechnically efficient genre—which had also been used for the dissemination of, e.g., Buddhist teachings and Confucian rules of propriety in the past—consisted of the less literate, non-elite populace, and the way in which the Catholic messages were adapted to the sensibilities of this audience by fusing them with themes of popular (Confucian) morality and by sticking to a conservative model of instructive kasa can teach us much about efficient ratios between tradition and innovation in the introduction of new knowledge. In his extensive study of Protestant missionary theology at the turn of the 19th century, Sung-Deuk Oak elaborates a similar point on the basis of the complementary phenomenon—Western missionaries integrating the knowledge of China and Korea and their religious traditions, knowledge they had acquired through books or “in the field,” into their theological worldview. As he convincingly shows through his thorough archaeology of late 19th–early 20th century missionary knowledge, the fulfilment theology resulting from this integration then ← 12 | 13 → became the basis for localised Korean forms of Protestantism that were able to reconcile the “new” (Christianity) with traditional religiosity. By juxtaposing this rooted form of Christianity with the fundamentalism that superseded it from the 1920s onward, Oak makes a case for seeing the hybridity inherently produced during processes of knowledge integration as a source of humaneness.

The final two articles deal with the realm of politics. Dongwon Shin relates how the concept of hygiene was introduced to Korea during the last decades of the 19th century, replacing the earlier ideas of “nourishing life,” and how the hygiene regime was used by the Japanese colonisers of Korea to control the social body. Touching deeply on matters of basic physical life and the embodiment of social norms, the introduction of the new concept of hygiene in the context of modernisation, nation-building, and political domination can serve as an excellent example of the deep linkages of knowledge change to social transformations. On a more theoretical note, Eun-Jeung Lee studies an early 20th century Korean work attempting to introduce German political science to Korea. The book in question, Yu Kil-chun’s Chŏngch’ihak, turns out to be a selective translation of a Japanese book that consisted of translations of lecture notes by the German Karl Rathgen. Moreso, this result of a convoluted process of transmission, selection, translation, and adaptation was never published until the 1970s, and yet could be regarded as the prototype of Korean political science studies to this day. Although the article explains Yu Kil-chun’s choices based on his personal interests and mindset, this example still points to the larger forces in which processes of knowledge integration are embedded and which may shape the final outcome to a higher degree than the actors in knowledge circulation can possibly be aware of.

Knowledge transfers, knowledge adaptations, and cultural change have been important topics in Korean Studies for decades before these themes attained their present day prominence in the humanities at large. The volume at hand makes therefore no claims of breaking new ground. However, by assembling papers that deal diachronically and from a joint systematic perspective with knowledge change in fields ranging from military technique to religion and literature, we hope to contribute valuable material to a scholarly debate that needs to be pursued further to better understand the rich texture of the Korean cultural tradition. ← 13 | 14 →

Special thanks are due to the colleagues who joined our discussions at the conference: Judit Árokay (Heidelberg), Charlotte Horlyck (London), Kim Dong-taek (Seoul), Andreas Müller-Lee (Berlin/Bochum), Vladimir Tikhonov (Oslo), Dennis Würthner (Bochum), Myoung In Yu (Bochum), and last but not least Jörg Plassen (Bochum) who also contributed to the original conceptualisation of the conference theme. We gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the Academy of Korean Studies, without which neither conference nor publication would have been possible. Finally, we owe a debt of gratitude to Elsa Küppers and Stefanie Oppermann for their indispensable help in the editing process.

Marion Eggert


Eggert, Marion, Felix Siegmund, and Dennis Würther, eds. 2014. Space and Location in the Circulation of Knowledge (1400–1800). Korea and Beyond. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang.

Lee, Eun-Jeung, and Hannes B. Mosler, eds. 2015. Lost and Found in Translation. Circulating Ideas of Policy and Legal Decision Processes in Korea and Germany. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang.

1 For the purposes of this volume and the series of which it is part, we have employed an open concept of knowledge, not restricting contributors in their choice of fields through any—in the case of historical topics by necessity anachronistic—definition. What is accepted as knowledge in a given historical situation, even whether a term for knowledge exists, is employed or is of any cultural consequences, is in itself the result of epistemic set-ups and their transformations.

2 For the results of these conferences, see Eggert/Siegmund/Würthner (2014) and Lee/Mosler (2015).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
East Asia literature modernity religion
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 237 pp., 3 coloured fig., 3 b/w fig., 4 tables

Biographical notes

Marion Eggert (Volume editor) Florian Pölking (Volume editor)

Marion Eggert is Professor of Korean Studies at Ruhr University Bochum. She has published on Korean and Chinese literature, especially travel literature, and intellectual history, primarily of the 17th to 19th centuries, as well as on literary and intellectual transactions within East Asia. Florian Pölking is a researcher and lecturer for Korean Studies at Ruhr University Bochum. He teaches Korean History as well as courses on Korean society and philosophy. He is engaged with the sociopolitical value of technical knowledge and craftsmen within the wider field of state-sponsored building projects during the 17th and 18th century.


Title: Integration Processes in the Circulation of Knowledge