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Title: Cheondoism  
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Subject: Religion in North Korea, Religion in Korea, Korean shamanism, Religion in South Korea, Monotheism
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Korean name
Hangul 천도교
Hanja 天道教
Revised Romanization Cheondogyo
McCune–Reischauer Ch'ŏndogyo

Cheondoism, spelled Chondoism in North Korean sources[1] (Korean Cheondogyo; hanja 天道教; hangul 천도교; literally "Religion of the Heavenly Way"), is a 20th-century Korean religious movement, based on the 19th century Donghak Confucian movement founded by Choe Je-u and codified under Son Byeong-hui.[2] Cheondoism has its origins in the peasant rebellions which arose starting in 1812 during the Joseon Dynasty.

Cheondoism is essentially Confucian in origin, but incorporates elements of Korean shamanism.[3] It places emphasis on personal cultivation, this-worldly social welfare, and rejects any notion of an afterlife.[2] A splinter movement is Suwunism.[4]


"Cheondoism" translated literally means "religion of the Heavenly Way", where cheon means "Heaven", do means "Way" (written with the same character as Chinese Tao), and gyo means "religion", "teaching", "-ism".

In keeping with its roots in Confucian thought, Cheondoism venerates Heaven as the ultimate principle of good and justice, and is referred to by the honorific term Haneullim (하늘님) or "Master Heaven". This title implies the quality of Heaven as "instructor", that is a belief that man and things aren't created by a supernatural (out of nature) God, but generated by a God that is inner in things.[5] Also in keeping with its Confucian background, Cheondoism places emphasis on personal cultivation in the belief that as one improves their innate nature, one comes closer to Heaven, and that all things are the same as Heaven in terms of their innate quality.[2]

Thus, Cheondoism rejects the notion of an afterlife, and instead works to create a paradise on earth through peace, moral virtue and Confucian propriety, while reforming society and overcoming old, outdated customs in Korean society.[2]

Over time, Cheondoism has also adapted elements of other Korean religious traditions including Taoism and Buddhism.[6]


Cheondoism originated from the Donghak ("Eastern Learning"), a Confucian movement that arose in the 19th century as a reaction to Western encroachment. While the Donghak movement began with Confucian scholar Choe Jeu, it did not become a religious movement until the 3rd patriarch, Son Byeong-hui.

Choe Jeu formulated the Donghak ("Eastern Learning") ideology in the 1860s to help ease the lot of the farmers suffering from abject poverty and exploitation, as well as to restore political and social stability. His ideas rapidly gained broad acceptance among the peasantry. Choe set his Donghak themes to music so that illiterate farmers could understand, accept, and remember them more readily. His teachings were systematized and compiled as a message of salvation to farmers in distress.

Cheondoism as a religion evolved in the early 1900s from the Donghak peasant liberation movements in the southern provinces of Korea. Members of Donghak were severely persecuted by the Korean Empire, and so, on December 1, 1905, Son Byeong-hui, who was the third patriarch of the original Donghak movement, decided to modernize the religion and usher in an era of openness and transparency in order to legitimize it in the eyes of the Japanese. As a result he officially changed the name of Donghak to Cheondoism ("religion of the Heavenly Way"). During the waning days of the Joseon Dynasty, King Gojong himself embraced Cheondoism and promoted it nationwide. The King added Buddhist rituals and codices to the new religion, which was organized into a formal organizational hierarchy.

Cheondoism today

As of 2005, Cheondoism had about 1.13 million followers and 280 churches in South Korea.[7] Very little is known of the current numbers or activities of Cheondoists in North Korea. According to official statistics, Cheondoism had 2.8 million adherents in North Korea (12.9% of the total population) as of 2000.[8] Cheondoists are nominally represented in North Korean politics by the minor Cheondoist Chongu Party, currently led by Ryu Mi Yong, a South Korean Cheondoist who defected to the North.

See also


  1. ^ "Anniversary of Chondoism Observed, KCNA". Retrieved 2012-06-23. 
  2. ^ a b c d Yao, Xinzhong (2000). An Introduction to Confucianism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 121–122.  
  3. ^ Lee Chi-ran, p.3 & p. 16
  4. ^ Lee Chi-ran, pp. 16-20
  5. ^ Lee Chi-ran, p. 16
  6. ^ 韓國 近代宗敎의 三敎融合과 生命·靈性 - 원불교사상연구원
  7. ^ "Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Toronto". Retrieved 2012-06-23. 
  8. ^ North Korea

This article incorporates text from Korea Web Weekly. Used with permission. Korea Web Weekly is not an independent source of information but is instead associated with various North Korea government sources.


  • Lee Chi-ran. Chief Director, Haedong Younghan Academy. The Emergence of National Religions in Korea.

External links

  • 천도교서울교구
  • 천도교
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