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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.

This is a Level 4 game that is still under development but has been approved by the Reacting Editorial Board (REB) for general use. A detailed explanation of the editorial process and game levels can be found on our REB Page.



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

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.


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. 

Please Fill out the Permissions Request Form Before Using Korea at the Crossroads in Your Class!


Students need a Gamebook, which includes directions, resources, and historical content

Download the Gamebook
(Members Only)

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. 

Download the Role Sheets
(Members Only)

Instructor's Manual

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

Download the Instructor's Manual
(Members Only)



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, where she currently teaches courses on East Asian history, including women's history and food studies. She has been an avid fan of Reacting since 1997, is co-author of the 1894 Kabo game, and a past Reacting board member. Jennifer won a 2021 UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award, which she credits largely to Reacting to the Past. She regularly teaches the Greenwich Village game in an Honors class and also teaches Reacting games in intensive summer classes for high school students. 


Raymond Kimball

Dr. Ray Kimball is the Founder and CEO of 42 Educational Games Coaching and Design, a service that helps higher ed faculty integrate game-based learning into their classrooms. He is the co-author of Eyeball to Eyeball, 1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis, and a co-editor of Teaching and Learning the West Point Way. He served for 10 years as a faculty member at the U.S. Military Academy, reaching the academic rank of Associate Professor. He holds a Doctorate of Education in Learning Technologies from Pepperdine University and Masters Degrees from Stanford University.

Reacting and Related Titles

  • The Mongol Matrix Game: The Invasion of Kievan Rus

  • After Catherine: The Russian Imperial Court, 1797

  • Cuius Regio: The German Reformation


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


Confucianism in China
Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor, 1587

Japan 1941
Japan, 1941: Between Pan-Asianism and the West

Russian Literary Journals
Russian Literary Journals, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy in St. Petersburg, 1877


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