Lessons of Martyrdom on Contemporary Immigration

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Simon C. Kim Elizabeth Oh


Confucianism greatly influenced the dynamics of the Korean monarchy and family hierarchical system in the 19th century when Catholicism was introduced by the educated yangban class. Catholic teachings so impressed Koreans that their loyalties toward the king were challenged by their new love for God, which went against societal norms based on filial piety. Eventually their disloyalty to the king led to thousands of martyrs. While some scholars may wonder at their courage, others felt their self-sacrifice might have been easier than other non-Confucian based cultures, as they had merely transferred their loyalty from a king to God. Thus, filial piety never disappeared with the appearance of the Catholic faith, as martyrs continued unto death while being loyal in their minds. Today, however, Korean American Catholics struggle with this Confucian heritage embedded in the Catholic faith, especially within the immigration context. The expectations of filial piety from the next generation causes friction because they lack sufficient cultural and historical awareness. Thus, this article looks at the Korean martyrs for re-envisioning traditional values especially when immigration radically transforms the ethnic faith narrative. 

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Author Biography

Elizabeth Oh

Elizabeth Oh is an adjunct professor of English at Harper College in Palatine, IL with an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte.