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International Journal of Korean History > Volume 1(1); 2000 > Article
International Journal of Korean History 2000;1(1): 149-190.
갑신정변 참여층의 신분과 정변 참여동기
서울시사편찬위원회 전문위원
Much research has been conducted on the 'Kapsin' Coup, especially regarding top-down nature of the reform movements which emerged in Chos?n in the course of modernization. However, there has hardly been any research on coup participants outside of the coup leaders. While there have been some attempts at in-depth analysis of the non-elite participants, these studies have generally -identified them to be chungin status (non-elite social group of professionals and technicians). After examination however, it appears that in fact, the active members were comprised largely of commoners (sanghan) and that the proportion of chungin participants was extremely small. In light of this fact, the tendency to view the main constituency of coup participants as chungin has to be reconsidered. Chungin have generally been thought to have contributed significantly to the formation and development of 'enlightenment' thought (kaehwa sasang) and as part of the leading figures of modernization, they were considered frontrunners of the enlightenment movement. However, the chungin did not appear to have played a large role in resistance and reform movements such as the Imo Soldier's Riot or the 'Kapsin' Coup. Rather, because of their parasitic dependency on ruling powers, they were in fact politically conservative. These points force us to recognize problems in exaggerating the role and strength of chungin in the course of Korea's modernization. If anything, the yangban, social and political elite of Chos?n, who were active in the enlightenment and the commoners who possessed wealth and skills were more ambitious modernizers than the chungin, making it likely that they and not the chungin were the ones to grow into roles of leadership in modernization efforts. An examination of the motives of those participating in the coup reveals that yangban participants appear to have been attempting to hold on tenaciously to political power and official posts through the coup. In particular, there were indications that lower strata yangban placed great importance on official posts. When commoners were arrested after the coup, there were many cases where were interviewed and clearly delineated their own roles, revealing their active involvement in the coup. The participants in the 'Kapsin' coup collectively shared a deep dissatisfaction with the stratified status system that centered around the ruling lineages of that time. The upper status yangban who led the coup wanted to eliminate the monopolistic system of lineages dominated by Min relations which thoroughly excluded them from politcal power. Even though they held the same yangban privileges, lower level yangban were unable to rise to upper levels of office due to restrictions based on social pedigree. Thus they clung to government positions while simultaneously holding deep antagonism towards the existing power monopoly by ruling lineages. They longed for a new world apart from the reality of the conditions of status stratification which did not allow them to adequately demonstrate their abilities. Other complaints by coup participants regarding status stratification are reflected in the 'Kapsin' ordinances.
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