Social Darwinism as History and Reality

The Story of "Competition" and "The Weak" in the First Half of Twentieth-Century Korea

Author: Vladimir Tikhonov


By the time of Korea's forced integration into the Japanese Empire in 1910, Social Darwinism was established as the main reference frame for the modernizing intellectual elite. The weak had only themselves to blame for their misfortune, and Korea, if it wished to succeed in collective survival in modern world's Darwinist jungles, had to strengthen itself. This mode of thinking was inherited by the right-wing nationalists in the 1920s-30s.; their programs of "national reconstruction" (minjok kaejo) aimed at remaking weak Korea into a "fitter" nation, thus preparing for the eventual independence from the Japanese. At the same time, in the 1920s-30s some nationalists appropriated the slogan of solidarity and protection of the weak, nationally and internationally, in the course of their competition against the Left. After the liberation from the Japanese colonialism in 1945, "competition" mostly referred to inter-state competition in South-Korean right-wing discourse. However, the neo-liberal age after the 1997 Asian financial crisis witnessed a new discursive shift, competition-driven society being now the core of the mainstream agenda.

Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan | Korea

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September 2016
© Arthur Jones, PhD