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 ideology, based on the 19th-century Donghak religious movement founded by Ch'oe Che-u and codified under Son Pyŏng-Hi.[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, social welfare in the present world, and rejects any notion of an afterlife.[2] Splinter movements include Suwunism and Bocheonism.[4]

Cheondoism flag
Korean name
Revised RomanizationCheondogyo


Cheondogyo 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, which is referred to by the honorific term Haneullim (하늘님), or “Divine Master”. According to the church doctrine, the term "Haneul" does not only mean Heaven but represents the whole universe.[5] This title implies the quality of Heaven as "instructor", that is a belief that man and things are not created by a supernatural (out of nature) God, but generated by a God that is inner in things.[6] 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]

Over time, Cheondoism has also adapted elements of other Korean religious traditions, including Taoism and Buddhism.[7]


Cheondoism originated from the Tonghak ("Eastern Learning"), a religious movement that arose in 19th-century Korea as a reaction to Western encroachment, particularly the spread of Catholicism. The Tonghak movement began with Ch'oe Che-u in 1860,[8] but it became an officially-recognized religion under its third leader, Son Pyŏng-Hi.[9]

Ch'oe Che-u formulated the Tonghak ideology in 1860 as an alternative to Catholicism ("Western Learning"), which was gaining movement with the lower classes in Korea due to its ability to provide a sense of structure and stability beyond the family unit.[10] Due to its basis in established religions—Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism—and its commitment to representing Eastern ideals, the movement rapidly gained broad acceptance among the peasantry.[11]

Cheondoism as a religion evolved in the early 1900s from the Tonghak peasant liberation movements in the southern provinces of Korea, particularly the unsuccessful, yet consequential, rebellion of 1894. Followers of Tonghak were severely persecuted until the establishment of the Protectorate Treaty of 1905, which guaranteed freedom of religion. Therefore, on 1 December 1905, Son Pyŏng-Hi 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, who had strong influence over Korea at the time. As a result, he officially changed the name of Tonghak to Cheondoism ("religion of the Heavenly Way"). Following this, a constitution and a Central General Bureau were laid out for the religion, centralizing it and making it more accessible to the public.[12]

Cheondoism today

As of 2005, Cheondoism had about 1.13 million followers and 280 churches in South Korea.[13] Very little is known of the 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.[14] Cheondoists are nominally represented in North Korean politics by the minor Cheondoist Chongu Party.

The website representing the DPRK claims that the Cheondoist party is there to create harmony amongst the people, and support the provision of welfare for the people, through the Juche state.

See also


  1. ^ "Anniversary of Chondoism Observed, KCNA". Archived from the original on 2014-10-12. Retrieved 2012-06-23.
  2. ^ a b c Yao, Xinzhong (2000). An Introduction to Confucianism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 121–122. ISBN 0521644305.
  3. ^ Lee Chi-ran, p.3 & p. 16
  4. ^ Lee Chi-ran, pp. 16-20
  5. ^ [1], 천도교개관(영문)-천도교
  6. ^ Lee Chi-ran, p. 16
  7. ^ 韓國 近代宗敎의 三敎融合과 生命·靈性 - 원불교사상연구원 Archived December 25, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Young, Carl F. pp.6-7
  9. ^ Young, Carl F. pp.113-121
  10. ^ Young, Carl F. pp.6-7
  11. ^ Young, Carl F. pp.10-12
  12. ^ Young, Carl F. pp.113-121
  13. ^ "Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Toronto". Archived from the original on 2012-09-07. Retrieved 2012-06-23.
  14. ^ 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.


External links

Dongcheon High School

Busan Dongcheon High School is a private school for those graduating from middle school. The school was established in 1980, and is located in Nam-gu, Busan. It is one of the eighty-four high schools in Busan.

The school is the only high-school run by The Cheondoism Foundation, a Korean traditional religion.

The school gives education based on "human is god" motto, and the religion of the school is Cheondoism. Graduates have made significant contributions in many fields.


Donghak (東學, lit. “Eastern Learning”) was an academic movement in Korean Neo-Confucianism founded in 1860 by Choe Je-u. The Donghak movement arose as a reaction to seohak (西學, "Western learning"), and called for a return to the "Way of Heaven". While Donghak originated as a reform movement and revival of Confucian teachings, it gradually evolved into a religion known today as Cheondoism in Korea under the third patriarch.


Haneullim or Haneulnim (하늘님 "Heavenly King"), also spelled Hanunim (하느님), Hwanin (환인), also called Sangje (상제 "Highest Deity") also known simply as Haneul (하늘 "Heaven") or Cheon (천 "Heaven", in Sino-Korean), or Cheonsin (천신 "God of Heaven"), is the concept of the sky God peculiar to Korean shamanism, and religions rooted in Korean shamanism (including Cheondoism and Jeungsanism). In some of these religions he is called Okhwang Sangje (옥황상제 "Highest Deity the Jade Emperor").


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Korean shamanism

Korean shamanism, also known as Shinism (Hangul 신교, Hanja 神敎; Shingyo or Shinkyo, "religion of the spirits/gods") or Shindo (Hangul: 신토; Hanja: 神道, "way of the spirits/gods") or Shinism or Muism, is the polytheistic and animistic ethnic religion of Korea which date back to prehistory and consist in the worship of gods (신 shin) and ancestors (조상 josang). When referring specifically to the shamanic practice (Hangul: 무속, Hanja: 巫俗; musog or musok), the term Muism (Hangul:무교, Hanja: 巫敎; Mugyo or Mukyo, "religion of the mu (shamans)") is used.The general word for "shaman" in Korean language is mu (Hangul: 무, Hanja: 巫). In contemporary terminology, they are called mudang (무당, 巫堂) if female or baksu if male, although other terms are used locally. The Korean word mu is synonymous of the Chinese word wu 巫, which defines both male and female shamans. The role of the mudang is to act as intermediary between the spirits or gods and humanity in order to solve hitches in the development of life, through the practice of gut rituals.Central to Korean shamanism is the belief in many different gods, supernatural beings and ancestor worship. The mu are described as chosen persons.Muism is related to Chinese Wuism, Japanese Shinto and to the Siberian, Mongolian, and Manchurian shamanic traditions. According to some scholars, the Korean ancestral king and later mountain god Dangun is related to the north Asian sky god Tengri ("Heaven"). Hereditary shamans, who are typical of South Korea, are called tangol (당골) or tangur-ari, a word considered related to the Siberian word Tengri (gods or spirits). Mudang are similar to Japanese miko and Ryukyuan yuta. Korean shamanism has influenced some Korean new religions, such as Cheondoism and Jeungsanism, and some Christian churches in Korea make use of practices rooted in shamanism.


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As of 2017, there were an estimated 7.4 million ethnic Koreans residing outside the Korean Peninsula.


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"the analysis of the principles of methods, rules, and postulates employed by a discipline";

"the systematic study of methods that are, can be, or have been applied within a discipline";

"the study or description of methods".

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National symbols of South Korea

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Religion in Korea

Religion in Korea refers the various religious traditions practiced on the Korean peninsula. The oldest indigenous religion of Korea is Korean shamanism, which has been passed down from prehistory to the present. Buddhism was introduced to Korea from China during the Three Kingdoms era in the 4th century, and the religion flourished until the Joseon Dynasty, when Korean Confucianism became the state religion. During the Late Joseon Dynasty, in the 19th century, Christianity began to gain a foothold in Korea. While both Christianity and Buddhism would play important roles in the resistance to the Japanese occupation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century, only about 4% of Koreans were members of a religious organization in 1940.Since the division of Korea into two sovereign states in 1945—North Korea and South Korea—religious life in the two countries has diverged, shaped by different political structures. Religion in South Korea has been characterized by a rise of Christianity and a revival of Buddhism, though the majority of South Koreans have no religious affiliation. Religion in North Korea is characterized by state atheism in which freedom of religion is nonexistent. Juche ideology, which promotes the North Korean cult of personality, is regarded by experts as the national religion.

Religion in North Korea

There are no known official statistics of religions in North Korea. Officially, North Korea is an atheist state. Based on estimates from the late 1990s and the 2000s, North Korea is mostly irreligious, with the main religions being Korean shamanism and Chondoism. There are small communities of Buddhists and Christians. Chondoism is represented in politics by the Party of the Young Friends of the Heavenly Way, and is regarded by the government as Korea's "national religion" because of its identity as a minjung (popular) and "revolutionary anti-imperialist" movement.

Religion in South Korea

Religion in South Korea is characterized by the fact that a majority of South Koreans (56.1%, as of the 2015 national census) have no formal affiliation with a religion or follow Korean folk religion. Among those who are members of a religious organisation, Protestantism represents (19.7%) of the total population, Buddhism (15.5%), and Catholicism (7.9%). A small percentage of South Koreans (0.8% in total) are members of other religions, including Won Buddhism, Confucianism, Cheondoism, Daesun Jinrihoe, Daejongism, Jeungsanism and Orthodox Christianity.Buddhism was influential in ancient times and Christianity had influenced large segments of the population in the 18th and 19th century, yet they grew rapidly in membership only by the mid-20th century, as part of the profound transformations that South Korean society went through in the past century. But they have shown some decline from the year 2000 onwards. Native shamanic religions (i.e. Sindo) remain popular and could represent a large part of the unaffiliated. Indeed, according to a 2012 survey, only 15% of the population declared themselves to be not religious in the sense of "atheism". According to the 2015 census, the proportion of the unaffiliated is higher among the youth, about 65% among the 20-years old.Korea entered the 20th century with an already ingrained Christian presence and a vast majority of the population practicing native religion (Sindo). The latter never gained the high status of a national religious culture comparable to Chinese folk religion and Japan's Shinto; this weakness of Korean Sindo was among the reasons that left a free hand to an early and thorough rooting of Christianity. The population also took part in Confucianising rites and held private ancestor worship. Organised religions and philosophies belonged to the ruling elites and the long patronage exerted by the Chinese empire led these elites to embrace a particularly strict Confucianism (i.e. Korean Confucianism). Korean Buddhism, despite an erstwhile rich tradition, at the dawn of the 20th century was virtually extinct as a religious institution, after 500 years of suppression under the Joseon kingdom. Christianity had antecedents in the Korean peninsula as early as the 18th century, when the philosophical school of Seohak supported the religion. With the fall of the Joseon in the last decades of the 19th century, Koreans largely embraced Christianity, since the monarchy itself and the intellectuals looked to Western models to modernise the country and endorsed the work of Catholic and Protestant missionaries. During Japanese colonisation in the first half of the 20th century, the identification of Christianity with Korean nationalism was further strengthened, as the Japanese tried to merge native Sindo with their State Shinto.

With the division of Korea into two states after 1945, the communist north and the anti-communist south, the majority of the Korean Christian population that had been until then in the northern half of the peninsula, fled to South Korea. It has been estimated that Christians who migrated to the south were more than one million. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the South Korean state enacted measures to further marginalise indigenous Sindo, at the same time strengthening Christianity and a revival of Buddhism. According to scholars, South Korean censuses do not count believers in indigenous Sindo and underestimate the number of adherents of Sindo sects. Otherwise, statistics compiled by the ARDA estimate that as of 2010, 14.7% of South Koreans practice ethnic religion, 14.2% adhere to new movements, and 10.9% practice Confucianism.According to some observers, the sharp decline of some religions (Catholicism and Buddhism) recorded between the censuses of 2005 and 2015 is due to the change in survey methodology between the two censuses. While the 2005 census was an analysis of the entire population ("whole survey") through traditional data sheets compiled by every family, the 2015 census was largely conducted through the internet and was limited to a sample of about 20% of the South Korean population. It has been argued that the 2015 census penalised the rural population, which is more Buddhist and Catholic and less familiar with the internet, while advantaging the Protestant population, which is more urban and has easier access to the internet. Both the Buddhist and the Catholic communities criticised the 2015 census' results.

Religious text

Religious texts (also known as scripture, or scriptures, from the Latin scriptura, meaning "writing") are texts which religious traditions consider to be central to their practice or beliefs. Religious texts may be used to provide meaning and purpose, evoke a deeper connection with the divine, convey religious truths, promote religious experience, foster communal identity, and guide individual and communal religious practice. Religious texts often communicate the practices or values of a religious traditions and can be looked to as a set of guiding principles which dictate physical, mental, spiritual, or historical elements considered important to a specific religion. The terms 'sacred' text and 'religious' text are not necessarily interchangeable in that some religious texts are believed to be sacred because of their nature as divinely or supernaturally revealed or inspired, whereas some religious texts are simply narratives pertaining to the general themes, practices, or important figures of the specific religion, and not necessarily considered sacred by itself. A core function of a religious text making it sacred is its ceremonial and liturgical role, particularly in relation to sacred time, the liturgical year, the divine efficacy and subsequent holy service; in a more general sense, its performance.

It is not possible to create an exhaustive list of religious texts, because there is no single definition of which texts are recognized as religious.

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Suunism (Hangul: 수운교; Hanja: 水雲敎; RR: Suungyo) is one of the Korean ethnic religions derived from Sinism. It is a splinter from Cheondoism that in turn originated as an organised formation of the Donghak movement. "Suwun" was another name used by Choe Je-u. Suwunists claim to have transmitted a purer version of his teaching.The religion's headquarters are located in Daejeon, where Suwun himself moved in 1929 after having preached in Seoul since 1923. The religion focuses on the worship of Okhwangsangje Hanulim (the "Great Jade Emperor of Heaven"), in order to make the earth a paradise through the reconnection to the One. An important symbol of the faith is Gungeul ("Archer Bird"). The doctrine includes belief in the Maitreya.


Yongdamjeong (lit. Dragon Pool Pavilion) is a sacred place to Cheondoism, located on Mt. Gumi in Gajeong-ri, Hyeongok-myeon, Gyeongju, South Korea.

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