Elites and Political Power in South Korea

Elites and Political Power in South Korea

Byong-Man Ahn

In Elites and Political Power in South Korea, Byong-Man Ahn examines problems related to Korea’s political and ruling systems. He examines the Korean government in a global context and explores Korea’s cultural and political matrix. The author goes on to analyze political power, political parties and the elites in terms of their contribution to the ongoing cycle of dominance. An understanding of Korean government is developed, with particular attention paid to the unique pattern of its administrative system vis-à-vis those of other systems.

Chapter 3: Bureaucracy of the Chosun Dynasty

Byong-Man Ahn

Subjects: asian studies, asian politics and policy, politics and public policy, asian politics


INTRODUCTION Confucianism was the ideological base for the bureaucracy of the Chosun dynasty, which highlighted such features as the dominance of civilian officials and a system of checks and balances. The effort of the founding sages to embody Confucian ideals into institutions unexpectedly set loose a counterproductive force in the form of factional strife. Collective consciousness had been undermined by recurrent factional strifes to the extent that factionalism is more often taken as a dominant Korean trait. This chapter begins with an analysis of the bureaucracy of the Chosun dynasty along the clarified characteristics and examines how the Confucian values worked their way through the bureaucratic system with their impact on the alternation of productive and counterproductive functions. CHARACTERIZATION OF KOREAN BUREAUCRACY The bureaucracy of the Chosun dynasty was characterized by a number of institutional patterns that are hard to find in other countries – such as a rigid ranking system, a highly centralized ruling system, a status-based recruitment of bureaucrats, collective rewarding and punishment, and a checks and balances system. These institutional devices were the outgrowth of a political culture infused with humanity-centered social relations, familism and collective consciousness. Ranking System The bureaucratic structure of the Chosun dynasty was characterized by a rigid ranking system that broke down into 24 or 25 grades. Each grade consisted of two groups, jeong (the principal) and jong (the deputy), which prefixed the numerical number indicative of a given grade. The lower the number, the higher the rank. For example, jong-il-pum means the first...

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