[KS] Fwd: H-Net Review Publication: 'Modern Korean Buddhism'

Charles Muller cmuller-lst at jj.em-net.ne.jp
Wed Jul 6 08:53:46 EDT 2011

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: H-Net Review Publication:  'Modern Korean Buddhism'
Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2011 22:44:31 -0400
From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>

Jin Y. Park, ed.  Makers of Modern Korean Buddhism.  Albany  State
University of New York Press, 2009.  ix + 382 pp.  $80.00 (cloth),
ISBN 978-1-4384-2921-2; $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4384-2922-9.

Reviewed by Richard McBride (BYU-Hawaii)
Published on H-Buddhism (July, 2011)
Commissioned by A. Charles Muller

Modern Korean Buddhism

_Makers of Modern Korean Buddhism_ brings together thirteen
wide-ranging essays on individuals and topics associated with the
development and experience of Buddhism in modern Korea. Jin Y. Park
organizes this collection of essays in a roughly chronological manner
after separating the articles under the three general subheadings of
(1) "Modernity, Colonialism, and Buddhist Reform," (2) "Revival of
Zen Buddhism in Modern Korea," and (3) "Religion, History, and
Politics." Although six of the essays were published previously, all
have been revised by the authors. Taken together, the essays provide
multiple windows through which to view Korean Buddhism's complex and
multifaceted encounter with modernity, as well as demonstrating the
changing norms of intellectual discourse.

Scholars of Korean Buddhism trained in Korea assess the history of
Korean Buddhism from the opening of Korea to foreign influences in
the late Chosŏn (ca. 1876-1910)through the Japanese colonial period
(1910-45) with a different set of assumptions and intellectual
agendas than scholars of Korean Buddhism trained in the West. Thus,
the wide variety of scholarly approaches found in the book should be
both challenging and stimulating to readers interested in questions
of the emergence of modernity and the evolution of Buddhist doctrine
and practice, as well as issues of Korean nationalism. Jin Y. Park's
introduction does an admirable job in contextualizing the main themes
covered in the book: Buddhist reform movements, the revival of
Sŏn/Zen Buddhism, the Buddhist encounter with modern intellectual
ideas and views, and the reconsideration of Buddhism and modernity in

This collection of essays should cause students of Korean Buddhism
trained in the West to rethink the received academic understanding of
the significance and history of Korean Buddhism during the late
Chosŏn and Japanese colonial periods. Hitherto, scholarship on this
period of Korean history has centered on the seminal issues of the
reform and development of Korean Buddhism, and nationalism. In other
words, the people who have been studied primarily are those Buddhist
monks who published essays describing how the Buddhist church in
Korea should reform and modernize, regardless of their actual
influence. Also, the issue of nationalism has been paramount.
Buddhists, both monks and lay people, who played significant roles in
policymaking, scholarship, or practice, have been labeled either as
collaborators with the Japanese or as nationalistic patriots, neither
of which labels comprise a fruitful approach to truly understanding
who the most influential Buddhists were during this troubled time

Some essays illustrate this point by assessing their subjects using
criteria which the latter cannot possibly fulfill. In other words,
because the conventional scholarly classifications for Korean
Buddhists, monks and laity alike, have been only reformers,
nationalists, or collaborators with the Japanese, almost by
definition individuals who did not resist Japanese occupation and
colonization can only be seen as collaborators. In this sense, the
study of Korean Buddhism in the modern period shares much with the
study of Buddhism in modern China, Taiwan, Burma, Sri Lanka, and
other Asian countries.

For instance, Jongmyung Kim's essay, "Yi Nŭnghwa, Buddhism, and the
Modernization of Korea: A Critical Review,"examines the role of the
scholar Yi Nŭnghwa in the modernization of Korea. Throughout the
essay Kim struggles with his perception of Yi Nŭnghwa because all of
the exterior evidence suggests that, of the above three possible
choices, he must have been a collaborator: he never served time in
prison for resisting Japanese rule, he was a participant and
contributor to the _Chōsen shi_ (History of Korea) project executed
by the colonial government, and so forth. Kim's thesis is that Yi
Nŭnghwa was interested in the modernization of Korea, and that he
attempted to popularize and modernize Buddhism through his writings.
He attempts to rescue Yi's importance from the criticism of his being
a collaborator by focusing on his scholarship, because Yi's influence
on modern South Korean historiography concerning Korean Buddhism,
especially since the 1980s, has been immense. The problem is that Yi
does not fit well into the category of nationalist either. Because he
wrote exclusively in literary Chinese, he seems to be more of a
traditionalist propounding Sinitic universalism (not toadyism toward
the Chinese). However, this is precisely what is unpalatable to Kim,
who felt that Yi was sending mixed messages to his target
audience--who can only be Korean Buddhists by this reasoning--by not
writing in a language they could easily understand or appreciate (p.
98). Kim's essay is important because it suggests that scholars
reconsider their criteria for evaluating individuals. The
conventional schema for the evaluation of Korean Buddhism since 1876
should be reevaluated because the tripartite classification of
reformers, nationalists, and collaborators limits rather than
facilitates our understanding.

Jin Y. Park's essay, "Gendered Response to Modernity: Kim Iryŏp and
Buddhism," pushes the boundaries of conventional scholarly approaches
to Buddhism and provides a refreshing and important counterbalance to
the dominant narratives on the link between modernity and
Christianity in Korea. Raised in a Christian family, the writer Kim
Iryŏp was one of the central figures in the emergence of what was
called the "New Woman" in the 1920s and 1930s. Park describes how
failures in "modern love" led Kim to turn away from her Christian
background and embrace Zen Buddhism, and how she wrote books to
proselytize Buddhism. Because scholars usually emphasize the
widespread growth and influence of Christianity in discourses on
modernity in Korea, the case of Kim Iryŏp demonstrates that more
traditional modes of expression were just as viable and compelling
during the colonial period. This essay on Kim is a refreshing
addition to the field emphasizing the role of women in modern Korean
Buddhism, and that they too can be regarded as Zen masters.Patrick R.
Uhlmann's essay on "Sŏn Master Pang Hanam" emphasizes the role of
ritual in the development of modern Korean Buddhism and shows how
Master Hanam (1876-1951) crafted a viable system of monastic training
and practice that struck a balance between meditation (Sŏn/Zen) and
doctrinal learning. Uhlmann shows how Hanam's _Five Regulations of
the Sangha_ helped create the inclusive framework of religious
practice followed by most Buddhists today: (1) Sŏn; (2) recitation
of the Buddha's name (_yŏmbul_); (3) scripture reading
(_kan'gyŏng_); (4) rituals (_ŭisik_), and (5) protecting or
safeguarding the monastery (_suho karam_). Hanam's role, though well
known in Korea, has been mostly overlooked and he has been
overshadowed by more famous Zen masters such as Kusan (1908-83) and
Sŏngch'ŏl (1912-33). Uhlmann's essay helps create greater nuance
regarding the position of a Zen master in a religious community and
shows how reaching out to the laity through ritual was an important
component in Korean Buddhism during the colonial period.

_Makers of Modern Korean Buddhism_ will certainly be useful for
courses on the history of Korean Buddhism as well as courses on
Buddhism in modern Asia. There are also enough essays on modern Zen
masters for good coverage of Korea in courses on Zen Buddhism: Huh
Woosung's article on Paek Yongsŏng (1864-1940), Pori Park's essay on
Han Yongun (1879-1944), Henrik Sørensen's essay on Kyŏngho
(1849-1912), Mu Seong's article on Man'gong (1872-1946), Uhlmann's
article on Hanam, Yun Woncheol's essay on Sŏngch'ŏl, and Chong Go's
essay on Daehaeng (b. 1927). Park's book is a welcome addition to the
growing scholarship on Korea's experience with modernity and the role
of Buddhism in this transformative process.

Citation: Richard McBride. Review of Park, Jin Y., ed., _Makers of
Modern Korean Buddhism_. H-Buddhism, H-Net Reviews. July, 2011.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=31327

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
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