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Korean religion

Korean religion. Korea, lying as it does between China and Japan, was of such importance in the transmission of Chinese culture to Japan that its own contribution is easy to overlook. Even now, after many conversions to various forms of Christianity (and the production of its own religion under Sun Myung Moon), elements of its own, shaman-based, religion persist. Mudangs (female shamans) are most common, but there are also some males, often blind, known as paksus. The Buddhist predominance in Korea began in 372. The second kingdom, that of Paekche (often in the later Japanese texts a synonym for Korea), sent to China for instructors, and in 545, the king sent the first missionary to Japan. The third kingdom, Silla, was the last to accept Buddhism but became the most stalwart. Of particular importance in the early centuries was Wŏnhyo. The country was united by the Silla kingdom, and under the Koryŏ dynasty (935–1392), Buddhism attained its greatest influence. The great endeavour of creating a Korean version of the major Buddhist texts was undertaken: see KOREAN TRIPIṬAKA. Although many temples were built of wood and have been burnt, some remains of the building activity of this period have survived. Notable is the cave, Sŏkkul-am, at the summit of Mount Pulguk-sa, containing an image of the Buddha illuminated by the rising sun. Yi Sŏng-gye overthrew the Koryŏ dynasty, establishing the Yi dynasty (1392–1910), and blaming the decay of the previous period on the excessive reliance on Buddhism (despite the efforts of such reformers as Chinul). He and his successors endorsed Confucianism, especially as taught by Chu Hsi, and reduced the status of Buddhism. In 1422, the many Buddhist sects were reduced to two schools, those of Sun (i.e. Ch'an or Zen) and Kyo (active in the world). Roman Catholicism entered Korea during the 18th cent., suffering considerable persecution. It was known as Sŏhak (‘Western Learning’) and evoked Tonghak (‘Eastern Learning’). This was founded by Ch'oe Che-u (1824–66), who had a vision of Sangche (i.e. Shang-ti) which led to a miraculous cure. Although Ch'oe Che-u was executed, the movement grew and became known as Ch'ŏndo-gyo/Ch'ŏndo-kyo (‘Sect of the Way of Heaven’). By 1893, the numbers were so great that they petitioned the king for official recognition. When no action was taken, they began campaigns for the removal of foreign influence; an appeal to the Chinese for help against them led to Japanese intervention against the Chinese, thus beginning the Sino-Japanese war (1894). Meanwhile, Protestant Christianity (especially Presbyterians) had been growing even faster, and to some extent allied itself with Korean opposition to outside interference. Buddhism itself underwent a revival under Pak Chungbin who established Won Buddhism. Despite the split of Korea and the pressures for each ‘side’ to outperform the other in secular terms, Korea remains a country in which religion plays a major part.

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