You are on page 1of 2



Although Protestantism was not originated in Korea, the size of Christian population
and Christian support is one of the biggest and largest. The paper tries to suggest the possible
reasons behind this ongoing situation, referring to the historical background of Korea. Further,
it tries to reason why not Catholic which was introduced to Korea earlier than Protestantism
flourished than Protestantism, in Korea. In fact, this situation is interestingly observed by
many scholars and they suggested possible reasons behind this. The proximity of Korean
folklore and Christianity could be one reason why Christianity could flourish. Though this
may true, it still does not explain why Protestantism in particular flourished rather than
Catholicism. Also, Church¶s initiative for modern education, medical service programs and
political reforms and etc may have affected the growth of church. Again, though this may be
true, growth of church and participation of church does not necessarily go along together.
Third suggestion is its effective missionary methods. However, this can be countered by
comparing to the cases in Japan and China. Though the countries went through the same
methods, they do not seem to show such development of Christianity

In the late Chosun period, evangelists arrived at Chosun, but faced with difficulties in
their activities due to several conditions. First, Korea¶s Sadae ideology towards China was
still too strong. Chosun¶s main focus was still on Confucian ideas as well as China. Due to
this reason, the societal atmosphere was to evade any other ideologies, and especially those
from the western countries. Further, the Chosun society was not integrated. There were
ongoing conflicts between the social classes. Also, the country was going through various
conflicts with western countries which created negative attitude towards the western
countries and their ideas. As a result, it was really difficult for the Christianity to be
recognized by Chosun at the time. Lastly, Catholic converts activities were unacceptable by
many Chosun people at the time. Especially, Chinese priest ordered not to have Chesa
tradition, which brought outrageous responses from Chosun society.
However, although Korea was under such closed circumstances, it eventually opened
itself towards the western countries and culture. One reason of such opening was activated by
demand within the country. The enlightenment party constantly demanded the government to
abandon the conventional ways and to seek for modernization. Such demand could be
represented by the 0 .
One important person in this period was Horace Allen. Horace Allen, one of the first
evangelists entered Korea as a doctor, not as a Christian. However, after he saved the life of
Queen Min¶s brother, he gained trust from the palace. Afterwards, he could gain support from
the palace which led him to institute Christian based hospitals and schools.

The opening to the modernization was also an important issue for Christianity.
Before Chosun opened itself to the western countries, they could not have active evangelic
activities in the soil. However, Chosun started to shift. Perhaps it was partly due to the
collapse of sino-centric world after China lost to Japan. Also, under Japanese pressure,
Chosun seek to find its own way of survival by slowly but positively opening itself to the
modernization which meant opening to the western culture.
At the same time, the ideas that Christianity brought to the lower class people was
attractive. Such ideas were freedom and equality. The population of such group was
persistently suffering from many conditions, eagerly longing for equality. On the other hand,
the upper class, who wanted to maintain their power and wealth remained conservative,
refusing such ideas.
During the colonization period, Christianity constantly prospered and increased its
influence in Korean society. Most importantly, as a religion, and specifically that from
western ideas, Christianity was a means of sanctuary for many people. Even Japanese could
not easily have restriction on religious movements from Christianity since they were afraid of
criticism and negative views from western counties. As a consequence, Christianity was an
advantageous tool to move against the Japanese colonization. The religion could provide
room for speeches and assemblies which could not have been granted otherwise.

Around the Korean war period, especially after the Korean war the circumstance for
the Christianity shifted. For the North where Communism prospered, Kim Il sung did not
allow any room for Christianity. On the other hand South Korean government and the U.S.
strongly supported the prosperity of Christianity. Such circumstances led many North Korean
Christians to move to South, getting away from the harsh religious persecutions in the North.
During the war period, the harsh conditions of the war led many people to join the church for
their own survival, since the church groups provided supplies such as food, clothing and
place to shelter. After the war when South Korea was going under rapid industrialization,
with Park government, people¶s rights were degraded and suppressed. Under these
circumstances, many people joined the church to seek for their ³spiritual salvation.´

The writer seems to logically reveal the reasons of success of Protestantism in South
Korea compared to Catholicism. Unlike the previous assumptions and arguments suggested
by many people, this writer directly relate his arguments with the historical context which is
somewhat self explanatory. Catholicism which was introduced by Japanese and Chinese at
the time where Chosun was not practically ready, could not have gained more success than
Protestantism. At the time when Catholicism was introduced, Chosun was somewhat closed
to western ideas. Perhaps it was too abrupt for lots of people to accept such new ideas. In fact,
even if a person is not a conservative, it is hard for anyone to abandon a tradition that has
maintained for more than few hundred years. In my point of view, Protestantism¶s influx
chose its right timing when traditional ideas were starting to collapse and modernization was
advocated. In addition to this, the fact that Protestantism came in after the failure of
Catholicism was important fact for the success of Protestantism. Even though Catholicism
somewhat didn¶t achieve its prosperity in Korea, it must have been a stepping stone for
Protestantism, in a way that it gave some ideas of what Christianity is to Chosun society
before Protestantism came in.