During the early days of his direct ruling of the country, Gojong's political philosophy was based essentially upon the so-called 'Dongdo-Seogi' argument("putting the Eastern essence into Western devices"). Yet it should be noted that Gojong's emphasi ...
During the early days of his direct ruling of the country, Gojong's political philosophy was based essentially upon the so-called 'Dongdo-Seogi' argument("putting the Eastern essence into Western devices"). Yet it should be noted that Gojong's emphasis was placed upon the 'guarding the Eastern way & essence' part, instead of the 'embracing Western methods & devices' part.
At the time, the concept of 'Dongdo' was essentially a Confucian moral basis, and it also referred to the entire social order based upon Confucian ideology and the dynastic structure that was the royal kingdom. Yet the Japanese intervention in Joseon affairs during the Gabo and Eulmi years, and the spillover from the Japanese-Russian conflicts of the Daehan imperial period, the scope of the Dongdo concept was reduced to a much smaller one, such as only referring to the 'Eastern teaching'(東敎) of three principles and five morals, featuring certain qualities in the vein of religion. The argument of 'basing reforms on the old ways while consulting and embracing the new ways(舊本新參)’ was the Daehan empire days' equivalent of the 'Eastern teachings and Western methods(東敎西法)' sentiment of the early Gojong years. This new argument actually embraced more strongly the 'Western devices and methods', which came to display a relatively wider scope and more immediate priority than the already significantly reduced 'Eastern way'.
The seeds for changes(변법) were apparent in the people's elevated political consciousness which was inspired by the activities of the Independence Association(독립협회), and the launch of a civilian election system(민선의관제도) through the Jungchu-weon office. Gojong accepted such new ideas because he figured that the country would become strong and benefit from a reinforced king's authority which could only be possible to achieve based upon the evolution in human rights. Yet, on the other hand, the status of representatives vested in the hand of the people could indeed pose a threat to the king as well.
So Gojong tried to build a strong ruling authority of his own as the empire's emperor, and also establish a strong sovereignty for the country. And modern reforms accompanied such efforts as well. Among the reform efforts, only the Western constitutional system was not picked up, and other institutional reforms regarding social and economic issues all went forward, in a magnitude that could really be called as a 'change'. Such efforts were very important as they laid out the ground work for the Joseon society to enter a modern period. Yet in the process of securing necessary funding for such reforms, the civilian population was urged to pay for it, and Gojong's efforts to secure his authority over the military cost him of his own base of support.
Gojong wished to accept and embrace the Western civilization(and achieve a balance in the process), yet he also relied heavily upon the Confucian set of philosophical values in terms of observing ruling principles and moral duty. He was a king that had to witness a transitional period forming around him. So in his mind and his governance, the Eastern essence and the Western devices, Eastern teachings and Western methods were chaotically colliding with each other, and that resulted in Gojong's own featuring of an image of a monarch pursuing Confucian ruling of the country at one point, and an image of an Enlightened ruler embracing Western things on the other. And in the meantime there were weaknesses on Gojong's part as well, like basing his political philosophy upon a very narrow version of 'Eastern ways' and then inviting his own obsession with reinforcing his own authority to cloud his judgement, or losing the momentum of the reform efforts, and as a result alienating himself from both the public and from the possibility of establishing a certain level of unity with his own subjects.