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Korea at the Crossroads of Civilizations: Confucianism, Westernization, and the 1894 Kabo Reforms

by John Duncan and Jennifer Jung-Kim

Radicals, reactionaries, and reluctant reformers rebuild Korea for the 20th century

Korea at the Crossroads situates students in the great debates over reform that swept East Asia following the irruption of Western imperialism in the second half of the nineteenth century. The game is set in the Deliberative Council, a body established by the Korean court in the midst of the Sino-Japanese War to discuss and implement measures to restructure government, economy, society, and education. Members of the Deliberative Council represented a wide range of opinions. Those pushing for radical reforms included men who had studied in Japan under Fukuzawa Yukichi and men who had studied at schools in the United States. There was also a significant conservative Confucian group of the Eastern Way, Western Machines persuasion who, following the example of Qing China, sought to strengthen the traditional order by selectively adopting Western technology. The Council was presided over by the erstwhile isolationist, the Taewŏn’gun, who was also the father of King Kojong. The Council’s deliberations took place amid palace intrigue and foreign pressures. Students will have to consult a wide range of writings from Korea, including Yu Kilchun’s Observations from a Journey to the West, as well as key documents by Japanese and Chinese thinkers, in constructing their arguments for and against reform.



Cultural and Social History; International Relations


19th Century; Late Modern Period

In a Few Words

Korea, Westernization, modernization

East Asia

Themes and Issues  

Class, colonialism, gender

Player Interactions 
Factional, Competitive, Collaborative, Coalition-Building

Level 4 game (what's that mean?

Notable Roles

Kim Hongjip, Yu Kilchun, King Kojong

Formal Podium Rule, Secret powers

Chaos and Demand on Instructor 
This game is mildly chaotic and fairly demanding on the instructor.

Primary Source Highlights 
Yu Kilchun, "Observations on a Journey to the West"

Using the Game

Class Time  
For this game, up to 10 setup sessions and up to 6 game sessions are recommended.

There are 5 modules (international relations, government, economy, education, society), so the instructor can choose which ones to include.

Possible Reacting Game Pairings
This game can be used on its own, or with other games. These pairings are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive or prescriptive. Korea at the Crossroads may pair well with:

You can adjust the assignments based on the desired learning outcomes of your class. This game can include traditional paper/research/thesis-driven writing. Not all roles are required to give formal speeches.

Class Size

This game is recommended for classes with 10-26+ students.


Reacting Consortium members can access all downloadable materials (including expanded and updated materials) below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading.  Basic game materials (Gamebook, Role Sheets, Instructor's Guide, and Handouts) are available to any instructor through the publisher. 


Students need a Gamebook, which includes directions, resources, and historical content.

Updated January 2021.

Role Sheets and Add'l Materials

Students also need a Role Sheet, which contains biographical information, role-specific resources or assignments, and their character's secret victory objectives. 

Instructor's Manual

The Instructor's Manual includes guidance for assigning roles, presenting historical context, assignments, activities and discussion topics, and more.  


John Duncan

John Duncan is a retired professor of Korean studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Jennifer Jung-Kim

Jennifer Jung-Kim received her Ph.D. in Korean History from the University of California, Los Angeles. At UCLA, she teaches courses on Korean history in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. She also teaches Introduction to East Asia in the International and Area Studies program.

She is also senior editor of the Korean Classics Library series and serves as assistant director of the Center for Buddhist Studies.


Members can contact game authors directly

We invite instructors join our Facebook Faculty Lounge, where you'll find a wonderful community eager to help and answer questions. We also encourage you to submit your question for the forthcoming FAQ, and to check out our upcoming events


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