On March 18, 1871, Taewongun (Grand Prince) who held real power when King Kojong (r. 1863-1907) assumed power at the age of 12, issued a historical order that was enforced nationwide: All Confucian private academies ever built, except for the forty-seven royal-chartered ones, were to be destroyed. To justify this unprecedented repression, Taewongun argued that the academies were "the fundamental causes for the decaying nation." During the period from 1865 to 1871, over 800 academies were abolished and these intermediate organizations largely disappeared from the central scene of the Korean history and politics. Taewongun's startling regulation of private academies was rather surprising. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, Choson monarchs enthusiastically encouraged and sponsored the establishment of the academies on the ground that the academy growth would contribute to country's moral reform and state-building. Why did the dramatic change of governmental policy on the academies occur? How can we resolve this historical enigma? To answer these questions, Koo situates this historical drama in a broader -structural- sociological context involving political competition between the state and nascent civil society, in association with his aim of overcoming the current historical explanations emphasizing more imminent causes of the abolition, such as military and fiscal abuses of the academies.
Jeong-Woo Koo is a visiting scholar at the department of sociology, Stanford University. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from Stanford University in 2007. His interests include comparative-historical sociology, organizations, sociology of education, political sociology, quantitative method, and East-Asian studies. His dissertation explores a long term political competition between state and civil society in Choson Korea. He is currently working on two projects, one on the worldwide expansion of international human rights and its impact on nation-states (with John Meyer and Francisco Ramirez), and the other on the formation of regionalism in East Asia (with Gi-Wook Shin). His publications include "The Origins of the Public Sphere and Civil Society: Private Academies and Petitions in Korea, 1506-1800," Social Science History 31: 3 (Fall 2007), and "World Society and Human Rights: Worldwide Foundings of National Human Rights Institutions, 1978-2004," Korean Journal of Sociology 41: 3 (Spring 2007).