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Revised RomanizationSadae

Sadae (lit. "serving-the-Great," Hangul: 사대 Hanja: ) is a neutral, non-pejorative Korean term which is used in pre-modern contexts.[1] The term is used as a descriptive label for bilateral foreign relations between Imperial China and Joseon dynasty Korea. Sadae is also understood as relevant in understanding pre-Joseon diplomacy.


The historical term is derived from the Chinese shi da (Korean, sadae) as used by the philosopher Mencius. Sadae literally means "dealing with the great" or "serving the great."[2]

The neutral term is distinguished from the pejorative "sadaejuui", which was invented by early 20th century Korean nationalists.[3] The genesis of the term "sadae" arises in the work of the Chinese philosopher Mencius:

  • 梁惠王下
  • Mencius - Liang Hui Wang II


Sadae describes a foreign policy characterized by the various ways a small country acknowledges the strength of a greater power like that of China. Sadae is made manifest in the actions of the weaker state as it conveys goodwill and respect through its envoys.

The utility of the sadae concept in Korea was recognized from the period of Three Kingdoms of Korea to 1895;[2] and it is demonstrated in the relationship of mid-Joseon Korea towards the Ming Dynasty of China.[5] The Joseon Dynasty made every effort to maintain a friendly relationship with Beijing for reasons having to do with realpolitik and with an idealized Confucian worldview. Sadae construes China as the center of a Confucian moral universe.[6]

As a foundation of diplomacy, the Joseon kingdom presumed that the Korean state was positioned within a Sinocentristic milieu. The Joseon foreign policy was organized around maintaining stable Joseon-Chinese relations in the period from 1392 through 1895. The concept of sadae is contrasted with limited trade relationships or kyorin diplomacy (교린정책; lit. "neighborly relations") which marked Joseon-Japanese relations in this period.[7]

20th century re-interpretation[edit]

The concept of sadae was rejected in the writings of polemicist Shin Chaeho and other Korean nationalists in the 20th century.[8] Shin is known for having argued that the sadae effectively functioned in two ways:

  • to devalue the ethnic origins of the Korean people and state[9]
  • to subjugate Korean history within a Confucian interpretive framework[9]

His revisionist writings sought to deny the relevance of sadae as an important element of Korean history.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Armstrong, Charles K. (2007). The Koreas, p. 57-58., p. 57, at Google Books
  2. ^ a b Pratt, Keith L. et al. (1999). Korea: a historical and cultural dictionary, p. 394.
  3. ^ Mitchell, Anthony. "Happier Economy Better Than Larger Economy," Korea Times (Seoul). October 12, 2008.
  4. ^ Liang Hui Wang II, Mencius
  5. ^ 구도영 (Koo Do-young). 중종대(中宗代) 사대인식(事大認識)의 변화 - 대례의(大禮議)에 대한 별행(別行) 파견 논의를 중심으로 ("Changes regarding ‘Perception of Sadae’(事大認識) that became apparent during the reign of King Jungjong - Examination of Discussions over the issue of dispatching a special envoy(別行) about the Grand ceremony (大禮議) in Ming (明) dynasty’s court"),] 역사와 현실 제62호, 2006.12 (History and Reality, No. 62, December 2006). pp. 3-405.
  6. ^ Mansourov, Alexandre Y. "Will Flowers Bloom without Fragrance? Korean-Chinese Relations," Archived 2008-01-08 at the Wayback Machine Harvard Asia Quarterly (Spring 2009).
  7. ^ Kang, Etsuko H. (1997). Diplomacy and Ideology in Japanese-Korean Relations: from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century, p. 49.
  8. ^ Robinson, Michael. (1984) "National Identity and the Thought of Shin Ch'ae-ho: Sadaejuüi and Chuch'e in History and Politics," Journal of Korean Studies, Vol. 5, pp. 121–142.
  9. ^ a b Robinson, p. 129.
  10. ^ Robinson, pp. 131-132.


  • Armstrong, Charles K. (2007). The Koreas. London: CRC Press. ISBN 9780415948524; ISBN 9780415948531; OCLC 71808039
  • Kang, Etsuko Hae-jin. (1997). Diplomacy and Ideology in Japanese-Korean Relations: from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century. Basingstoke, Hampshire; Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-312-17370-8;
  • Levinson, David and Karen Christensen. (2002). Encyclopedia of Modern Asia. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 978-0-684-80617-4; OCLC 49936055
  • Mansourov, Alexandre Y. "Will Flowers Bloom without Fragrance? Korean-Chinese Relations," Harvard Asia Quarterly (Spring 2009).
  • Pratt, Keith L., Richard Rutt, and James Hoare. (1999). Korea: a historical and cultural dictionary, Richmond: Curzon Press. ISBN 9780700704637; ISBN 978-0-7007-0464-4; OCLC 245844259
  • Robinson, Michael. (1984) "National Identity and the Thought of Sin Ch'ae-ho: Sadaejuüi and Chuch'e in History and Politics." Journal of Korean Studies 5: 121–142.
  • Robinson, Michael. (1988). Cultural Nationalism in Colonial Korea, 1920–1925. Seattle: University of Washington Press. ISBN 9780295966007; OCLC 18106164