Late Chosŏn Literati Voices on Dissent and Individual Autonomy


Thursday, September 26, 2019, 4:30pm to 6:30pm


cBelfer Case Study Room (S020), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Wagner Special Lecture
9.26 Wagner Special Lecture Poster
Marion Eggert, Professor, The Korean Studies Department at Bochum University, Germany

Dr. Marion Eggert has studied Chinese Studies, Japanese Studies and Cultural Anthropology at the universities of Heidelberg and Munich, Nanjing University, and Sungkyunkwan University. She received her doctorate in Sinology in 1992, spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Korea Institute (1994-5) and finished her "Habilitation“ in 1998. In 1996, she received the Max Weber Award from the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities for her dissertation. Since 1999 she is professor of Korean Studies at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany. In 2019, she was elected into the Academia Europeae. She has published on Chinese and Korean thought and literature of late imperial and modern times, her topics including poetry and poetics, dream culture, travelogues, and historiography. Among her main interests are the production and circulation of knowledge, and formations of subjectivity in pre-modern Korea.

She served as dean of the faculty for East Asian Studies at Ruhr University Bochum 2002-2004, as deputy director of the Research Department CERES (Center for Religious Studies) at RUB from 2010 to 2013, and as president of the Association of Korean Studies in Europe since April 2019.

Chaired by Sun Joo Kim, Harvard-Yenching Professor of Korean History; Director, Korea Institute, Harvard University|

Confucian tradition is often described as producing a “collectivist” mentality, as lacking the resources necessary for developing a sense of individual autonomy, and thus as averse to the voicing of dissent in defiance of political authority and independent of bonds of personal loyalty. Given that Chosŏn Korea defined itself as Confucian state, literati culture of that period should be expected to disdain expressions of dissent. The well-known history of intense intellectual debates among Chosŏn literati runs counter to this expectation. Two arguments can serve to resolve this seeming contradiction: either that these disputes should be seen as pure power struggle; or that they revolved around orthodoxy and thus in fact attest to the Confucian abhorrence of dissenting opinions. While acknowledging the explanatory power of both arguments, this paper sets out to test a third option: that the above-mentioned assumptions about Confucian attitudes towards dissent are incomplete. Based on non-fictional texts most of which were part of a philosophical (or otherwise intellectual) controversy, I will provide a sample of the ways in which Chosŏn literati talked about dissent, dispute and discord. Attention is directed not to the points of contention themselves, but rather to the ways in which the fact of dissent is verbalized, narrated and evaluated, with an emphasis on statements about the legitimacy of maintaining and defending personal convictions that run counter to group consensus. It will be demonstrated that Chosŏn literati culture allowed for strong statements of moral and intellectual autonomy in disregard of status, power, and prestige.

Supported by the Edward Willett Wagner Memorial Fund at the Korea Institute, Harvard University