Proto-Nationalism in Premodern Korea and Since 1780 Essay

December 2, 2021 by Essay Writer

Hobsbawm (1990) discusses the reasons and the ways of the concept of “national patriotism” becoming a powerful political force within a short time. The author speaks about the development of certain communal sentiments, which could have been predecessors of nationalism. These proto-national sentiments can be both “supra-local” and springing from local political communities (Hobsbawn, 1990, p. 46). Nevertheless, proto-national sentiments do not always transform into national sentiments. For example, the Jews managed to preserve their sense of common Jewishness even though they did not have a Jewish State for a long time and are now nationalistic.

The concept of proto-nationalism is difficult to define because it can be found in many aspects such as language, ethnicity, religion, and consciousness of belonging to a lasting political entity. Also, nationalism and proto-nationalism can be the same. Still, proto-nationalism itself cannot form nationalities, nations, or states due to certain reasons. Firstly, there are fewer national movements than human groups that can potentially form a nation. Secondly, proto-nationalist sentiments lose their importance for patriotism formation after a state is established. Thirdly, there is a lack of evidence of proto-nationalist sentiments’ existence because they could have been not recorded due to the illiteracy of the population that developed these ideas.

Duncan (1998) introduces the concept of proto-nationalism in pre-modern Korea. The author agrees with the majority of the twentieth-century scholars who claimed that nations could be treated as entities that preceded the development of contemporary nation-states. This theory is particularly true about Korea because the nation has been living on a single territory with very little racial mixing (Duncan, 1998). The author mediates between two attitudes towards the Korean nation, like the one preceding the development of the Korean state and being a modern creation.

Duncan (1998) addresses the ideas of Hobsbawn (1990) about the areas of proto-national identification, such as language, ethnicity, religion, and membership in a lasting political entity. While all of these areas are significant, belonging to a lasting political entity is considered to be a decisive criterion of proto-nationalism. Duncan (1998) claims that, in the case of Korea, all of the suggested areas contributed to the formation of modern nationalism.

The development of the nation and state lasted for centuries and differed from that of European countries. On the whole, the author agrees with previous ideas of proto-nationalism and adds that the Korean sense of self-identification had a long history and had a significant impact on the formation of the contemporary Korean state.


Duncan, J. (1998). Proto-nationalism in premodern Korea. In Lee & Park (Eds.). Perspective on Korea, pp. 198-221 Sydney, Australia: Wild Peony.

Hobsbawm, E. J. (1990). Nations and nationalism since 1780. Programme, myth, reality (2nd ed.). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Read more