A Comparative Study of the Critical Inheritance of Confucianism in China and North Korea

Joanna Liu


This paper compares the political uses of Confucianism by the Chinese and North Korean leaderships throughout their modern history and identifies crucial similarities in the two regimes' motivations for utilizing Confucianism. Chinese and North Korean leaders have "critically inherited," or selectively used, aspects of Confucianism for their own political purposes, which are usually geared toward ensuring their power and regime stability. Although Confucianism is commonly regarded as a dominant influence in East Asian culture with great influence on the behavior of both the state and the people in the nations of Confucian Asia, an examination of the roots of Confucianism in premodern China and Korea reveals that even in the beginning, Confucianism was largely a top-down state-enforced ideology rather than simply a cultural force. Although Confucianism's direct influence has waned in the modern era, the Chinese and North Korean leaderships have continued to adopt elements of Confucian ideology to bolster their own agendas. The paired comparison method is utilized to evaluate whether the patterns observed in the motivations and methods of the Chinese and Korean regimes in regards to their selective utilization of Confucianism hold true in a cross-national analysis. The findings of the study will be applied to present day China to explain what significance the current rise of pro-Confucian sentiment, especially associated with President Xi Jinping's recent expressions of praise and support for a return to Confucian values, may hold for Confucianism's impact on China's political ideology in the future. This research hopes to contribute to the broader understanding of Confucianism's role in East Asian political ideology, which in turn provides insight into ideology's role in maintaining authoritarian or communist regime stability.

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