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John Dewey’s Perception of Korea around 1920 – in Comparison with the Cases of Japan and China

Posted By admin On May 30, 2013 @ 12:33 pm In Abstracts for 2013, History, Philosophy and Religion | Comments Disabled

Gilsang Lee, professor

Department of Education,

The Academy of Korean Studies, Korea


John Dewey, a well-known American educational philosopher who had led the so-called progressive educational movement in early 20th century, visited East Asia around 1920 for a while. Facts about his visit, not to mention the meaning or impact of his visit, were not fully researched yet, while his educational thoughts have had deep and wide impacts on educational theory and practices in this region since then. Especially Korea is one of the countries in Asia where the thought and theory of John Dewey extended strong influence in educational reforms and academic debates on schooling.

Before and after his visit of East Asia, John Dewey expressed his notion about East Asian countries including Korea. His visit, as a matter of course, was done based on his knowledge about this region. This paper is interested in looking for the background, contents, and the significance of his perception of Korea around 1920 when Korea was under the colonial rule of imperial Japan and the name John Dewey was be in every intellectual’s mouth.

John Dewey visited Japan in the spring of 1919 for 10 weeks and subsequently went to China and stayed there as long as 2 years and 3 months. In Japan his main activities were giving public lectures and meetings with scholars and national leaders, while in China he visited a lot of schools and even undertook regular graduate lectures at many universities including Peking University. Though Korea is located geographically in between Japan and China, Dewey did not visit Korea without any clear or disclosed reason. At that time Dewey was well known among Korean intellectuals as well as educationists for his famous educational thoughts based on pragmatism and progressivism. I would like to clarify the reason why Dewey excluded Korea from his visit list through analyzing his understanding of Korea and view on Korea.

There is not a single article or document on Korea written by John Dewey. Some sentences or paragraphs on Korea are found among his works on Japan and China written by him around 1920. These recordings are fortunately included in the 15 volumn of collection of John Dewey’s middle works compiled by JoAnn Boydston and published by Southern Illinois University in 1982. These are some parts of the full collection of his writings, making up 37 volumes. This collection is to be analyzed carefully for this research.

Together with the story of Korea I would like to touch the meaning of his visit to Japan and China from 1919 to 1921. Backgrounds of his visit, impact of his visit, and especially responses of local intellectuals to his visit would be investigated. Why did the Japanese academic society reject Dewey’s demand on reconstructing of Japanese philosophy and educational thought? Why did the Chinese intellectual leaders welcome Dewey so ardently? These co-related and interesting questions would be answered in this study.

John Dewey’s visit to East Asia was a product of his dream to realize mutual understanding through education between different cultures which is the ultimate goal of contemporary education under multi-cultural context.

Key words: John Dewey, Progressivism, New education, Colonial education, Korea under Japanese rule.


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