Korea at the Crossroads of Civilization
Confucianism, Westernization, and the 1894 Kabo Reforms
Movie Depiction of the Gabo Reform Council
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Image of Yangban elites
The Game
The goal of the game is the production of a reform document that addresses the following critical areas:
Joseon Government Official (with explanation of various elements of the official clothing)
One of the most urgent issues facing the Council was how to situate Korea in the rapidly changing world system. Should Korea terminate its traditional tributary relationship with China and declare itself to be China’s equal in all matters? Should Korea enter into full diplomatic relationships with the “barbarian” states of the West? And how should Korea deal with the demands of the Japanese whose military forces were now occupying the capital city?

The Council also had to deal with the question of restructuring domestic political institutions. However well the old system may have worked in the past, it was clear that Korea needed a new political system. One key question was how to deal with the overlapping offices, functions, and responsibilities between the royal household and the regular government that inhibited strong and effective administration. Another major issue was what form a new Korean government should take. Should Korea follow the example of countries like Russia to develop a strongly autocratic state, should Korea adopt a constitutional monarchy such as that of Great Britain, or should Korea consider the more radical step of creating a republic? Which of these systems could most successfully address the ills of nepotism, corruption, and inefficiency that were exposed for all to see by the Tonghak uprising? Which system could be most easily implemented in a country with a strong Confucian tradition? (Kabo Gamebook, 7)
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Chart showing the Joseon Social Structure 
Pressure had been building over the previous centuries for social reform. Many Koreans chafed under the traditional status system that had given inordinate political, educational, and social privileges to the aristocratic yangban elites, restricted opportunities for commoners and other secondary status groups, and had condemned large numbers of people to hereditary servitude. Should the government service examination, which guarantees yangban monopoly on all positions of power and prestige be abolished? Or should it be modified to allow greater social mobility? Should yangban social and political privileges be eliminated? Should servile status groups be liberated? And should various laws and practices that disadvantage women, such as early marriage, sequestering in the inner quarters, and prohibition of remarriage for widows be abolished? (Kabo Gamebook, 7)
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Map showing trade with China and Japan during the Joseon Dynasty
Despite substantial growth in a market economy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, merchants continued to be held in deep disdain by Korean Confucian elites, as were those artisans who engaged in the manufacture of such products as pottery, brassware. One of the urgent questions faced by the Council was how to encourage commerce and develop domestic production so as to resist the inroads of foreign merchants and reverse the unfavorable balance of trade that had developed after the opening of the ports. The Council also has to grapple with questions of how to start building the infrastructure for a modern commercial economy. These included implementing currency reform, creating a banking system, putting the state on firmer financial footing, extending railroads and telegraph lines, and expanding on electrification projects. (Kabo Gamebook, 7-8)
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Reenactment of the Joseon Dynasty's Civil Service Exam System
The state-operated educational system of the Choson dynasty focused almost exclusively on literacy in classical Chinese and in training students in the Confucian classics. The only exception were the handful of schools that trained men from secondary status groups for service in such technical fields as law, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and interpretation/translation of such foreign languages as vernacular Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian. Only men were allowed formal educations. After the opening of the ports, the state did experiment with establishing new schools to teach English and a few other Western languages. By the late 1880s, a few new schools were established by Western missionaries, including one for women, but those schools were regarded with suspicion by the yangban elite. Up until the summer of 1894, the traditional educational system, with its ultimate focus on preparing yangban men to sit for the civil service examinations, remained unchanged. The Council is facing a number of critical questions. Should the state maintain the old Confucian style education, abandon it in favor of the new learning from the West, or attempt to integrate the two in some fashion? Should the state begin to teach the Korean language and the long-neglected Korean phonetic script? Should the state encourage the teaching of Western science and technology? Should the state create elementary schools for the entire population and vocational schools to train older students in commerce and other practical fields? And should schools be established for women? (Kabo Gamebook, 8)
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Because of the interrelated nature of many of the items under consideration, the final votes on all issues will be delayed until the final session of the Deliberative Council. The finalized program of reform may call for wholesale Westernization, limited Westernization along the lines of the “Eastern Way and Western Machines” approach, or possibly even a reassertion of “Protect the True and Reject the False” Confucian orthodoxy. The shape of the final reform document will depend on the philosophical commitments of the participants, their ability to formulate persuasive written and oral arguments, and their skills at forming alliances with other groups. (Kabo Gamebook, 8)
Animated image of woman bowing

Remember that the Superior Man is always in control of his emotions and actions. You must not behave so as to bring dishonor to your family and position. As such, keep these rules in mind. Council Members must observe proper decorum during debates. Council members are always to address each other as the “Honorable Council Member ...,” except for the Chair of the Council who is to be addressed as “Honorable Chair.” ... Council members are to bow deeply whenever they encounter one of the Royals (actual protocol called for officials to get down on their knees and touch their foreheads to the floor ...) and also to bow slightly whenever greeting each other. Nonetheless, certain Council members of high aristocratic backgrounds hold men of lower social status in disregard, often failing to return their bows and using blunt language when speaking to them. (Kabo Gamebook, 8-9)
"Top Secret"
Each member of the Council will have an individual role sheet (printed on blue paper) that contains special information and instructions that must not be shared with other Council members. It is vitally important for the success of the game that you keep your individual role sheets to yourselves. (Kabo Gamebook, 9)

Memorial to the throne handwritten by Choe Ik-hyeon
Written Memorials/Speeches
Each Council member will write 500-word memorials on two of the four topics that will be debated in class (i.e., political, social, economic, and educational reform). Those who are affiliated with a faction should coordinate with their colleagues to choose topics of interest (based on their role’s Secret Task) while ensuring that the faction’s perspective is appropriately presented at each debate. “Indeterminates” (i.e., those who are not affiliated with a faction) may wish to caucus with like-minded players, though they are under no obligation to promote a unified perspective. The Royals (if roles are assigned) will be expected to write position papers outlining their views on two of the four reform issues; Royals may also give short statements after receiving reports from Min Yongdal at the end of each deliberative session (with the permission of Kim Hongjip, the Chair of the Deliberative Council).
Memorials and position papers should be written in character and include references to at least two of the assigned readings (which should be properly cited with Chicago Style footnotes); references to Chinese and/or Japanese perspectives on the topic are strongly encouraged (and will generally enhance your grade). Since other members of the Council may wish to read your memorial in order to prepare for the debate, it must be uploaded to Blackboard/RTTP2/Assignments by 10 pm the evening before the debate. Memorials may not be submitted after the debate, so if you fail to prepare a speech, you will need to write on another topic. For additional details regarding essay requirements, see the RTTP Assignment Rubric.
NOTE: The Chair of the Deliberative Council (Kim Hongjip) should be informed about who will be presenting speeches for each of the four deliberative sessions by the end of the day on which the initial faction meetings take place; if changes need to be made, the Chair should be informed as soon as possible. Game Master Brian (i.e., Professor Hoffert) should be cc’d on all correspondance with the Chair.
Person jumping over the word "Reform"
Final Reform Program
Each of the four factions will submit a Reform Proposal, which should explain the faction’s reform philosophy and provide a reform edict for each of the four topics. (Faction leaders should submit their Reform Proposal to Blackboard by 10 pm the evening before the final game session.) After all four proposals have been debated, the Council will develop a Final Reform Program by majority vote on each of the four debate topics; if a majority is not achieved in the first round, the least popular proposal will be eliminated and a new vote will be taken on the remaining proposals; if a majority has still not been achieved, the process will be repeated with the top two proposals.
Image of a person writing an essay on a computer
Reform Program Analysis
After concluding the game, each student will write a 2000-word analysis of the Reform Program that was adopted by the class. The paper should begin with a discussion of the historical context in which the actual Kabo Reforms took place, highlighting what you regard as the most significant challenges associated with the modernization of Korea. You will then explain the Reform Plans potential to address these challenges and successfully resolve the tension between traditional and modern perspectives on sociopolitical order. Your paper should include appropriate references to at least 3 primary sources and 5 secondary sources using Chicago Style footnotes; you should also include separate bibliographies for your primary and secondary sources. For additional details regarding essay requirements, see the RTTP Historical Analysis Rubric.
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15% Two Written Assignments (500-word minimum; 7.5% each)
5% Participation
25% Historical Analysis
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Click for Role Assignments
Kabo Faction
Kim Hongjip (Faction Leader/Council Chair)Brianna Roy
Kim Yunsik Jessica Taylor
Ŏ Yunjung Raphael Felix
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Kapsin Faction
Yu Kilchun (Faction Leader)Lilly Schultz
An KyŏngsuMilosh Mihajlovic
Kim KajinSarah Peters
Kim HaguAva Slowinski
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Chŏngdong Faction
Pak Chŏngyang (Faction Leader)Joel Jaquinde
Yi YunyongNick Stumpf
Kim HayŏngNick Snow
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Taewŏn’gun Faction
Pak Chunyang (Faction Leader)Skyler Tuason
Yi Wŏn’gŭngTake Yokoyama
Yi T’aeyongEmilie Gibney
Yi ChunyongLucas Pelloso
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Min Yŏngdal (Indeterminate Leader)Thanh Huynh
Chŏng KyŏngwŏnVince Angland
Sŏ SangjipBrent Swenson
Queen Min
Katie Wagner
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Click for slideshow of Joseon Palace