This study explores the origin of Korean reformist intellectuals’ self-deprecating attitude towards their past, and these intellectuals’ viewpoints of the seemingly contrasting values of munmyeong gaehwa 文明開化(civilization and enlightenment) and of the nation. Concerning the origin of the reformists’negative view of their past, a number of scholars have ascribed it to the effects of social Darwinism. This study, however, finds it in the modern conception of time and specifically in the Enlightenment’s progressive view of time. This view of time prompted the reformist intellectuals to place more weight on the future than the past. The past was regarded as the state of being less developed and less progressed and the present as the time to be devoted to accomplish an enlightened future. The Korean reformist intellectuals’ negative view of their past arose from this conception of time. This notion of time provided the reformists with a deontological view of munmyeong gaehwa. However, they did not pursue munmyeong gaehwa at the expense of national independence. Contrary to previous studies, this study proposes that most of the reformist intellectuals balanced between the two values at least until the 1890s. In order to analyze these points, this study draws on the discourse of Dongnip sinmun (The Independent).
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