Making peace with the barbarians : Neo-Confucianism and the pro-peace argument in 17th-century Korea

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117–140
Journal / PublicationEuropean Journal of Political Theory
Issue number1
Online published16 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


This article investigates the Neo-Confucian discourse on war, premised on the “Chinese versus barbarian” binary, and its impact on the Neo-Confucian scholar-officials of 17th-century Chosŏn Korea. It shows that Korean Neo-Confucians suffered invasions from the Jurchens, who they regarded as “barbarians,” and that the political debate on how to respond to the “barbarians” drove the advocates of the pro-peace argument to reimagine Chosŏn’s statehood. The article consists of three parts. First, it reconstructs the philosophical foundations of the mainstream Neo-Confucian discourse on the war with the “barbarians” with reference to Zhu Xi. Second, it discusses the strong impact of the Neo-Confucian paradigm of war on the orthodox Korean Neo-Confucians of the 17th century. Third, it examines how Ch’oe Myŏng-kil, one of the rare champions of the pro-peace argument at the time, justified making peace with the Jurchens through the judicious use of “the expedient.”

Research Area(s)

  • Ch’oi Myŏng-kil, expedient, Korea, Neo-Confucianism, Zhu Xi