the early eighteenth century, members of the Sirhak-p'a (School of Practical Learning), which had developed among Korean neo-Confucian literati, were studying these works. The prominent scholar Yi Ik (1682-1763), in particular, recognized in the Jesuit publications a system of wisdom and ethics that was compatible with Confucianism. But he was sceptical of the overtly religious elements in the missionary writings, and some of his disciples subsequently called for action against the foreign religion.

In spite of a generally negative reception of Catholicism, a few followers of the philosophy of Yi Ik, from the Namin (southerner) elite, were nevertheless moved to take the faith more seriously. Well versed in Confucian thought and deeply committed to Confucianism, they sought in Catholicism a way to correct the growing political and social corruption of the stagnating Chosun Dynasty. The group consisted of Kwon Ch'ol-sin, the three brothers Chong Yag-yong, Chong Yak-chon, Chong Yak-chong, as well as Kwon Il-sin and Yi Pyok (Lee Pyuk). Deeply impressed with what he had read, Yi Pyok subsequently asked his brother-in-law Yi Sung-hun, a member of the Korean tribute mission sent to the Chinese imperial court in 1783, to obtain more information on Christianity. While visiting the foreign priests in Beijing, Yi Sung-hun received instruction in Catholicism and was baptized. Returning to Korea with books and religious objects in the spring of 1784, he and other ardent 'evangelists' began to preach the gospel to their friends and relatives, many of whom they converted. In the same year Yi Pyok wrote the Korean Christian book, Sung-gyo Yo-ji ('Essentials of the Holy Teaching').

These early converts established the first Korean Catholic Church in 1784, based upon what they knew of the church in China. Organized around a system of 'lay priests', it respected the traditional patriarchal family system and ancestor worship, helping to shape the early Korean Christian church as a family-based movement. Donald Baker has recently argued that the first converts 'used their common philosophical concerns and their political and marriage ties with fellow Namin to propagate their religion'. Most converts 'were persuaded of the superiority of Catholic doctrine and ethical practices by some relative or friend whom they trusted'.23 For early Korean Catholics, Confucian values and thought patterns played a vital role in interpreting some Christian doctrines. For example, such Christian doctrines as the resurrection of believers and eternal life resonated with Confucian beliefs and practices regarding the ancestors. Indeed, for the early Korean Catholics, the Christian memorial service for one's deceased parents was similar to ritual practices relating to ancestor worship.

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