Korean Culture Report Essay
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KOREAN CULTURE REPORT - HUMOR
I was the “funny guy” in my clique of high school friends. Ever since I learned to read English, I enjoyed reading and collecting joke books. I exhausted every single joke book from the small community library in town. Riddles, jokes about animals and wildlife, reasons why I didn’t do my homework, lawyer jokes, and later on, ethnic jokes. I knew they were funny, but I wanted more. Perhaps it was my lack of physical achievements that made me obsess with a need to entertain my peers.
My return to Korea in the summer of 2001 was nothing short of a culture shock. I was in a country I thought I had learned by heart. It was the country I always rooted my identity and pride from. I wasn’t ready for the shock. I…show more content…
KOREAN CULTURE REPORT - HUMOR
I was the “funny guy” in my clique of high school friends. Ever since I learned to read English, I enjoyed reading and collecting joke books. I exhausted every single joke book from the small community library in town. Riddles, jokes about animals and wildlife, reasons why I didn’t do my homework, lawyer jokes, and later on, ethnic jokes. I knew they were funny, but I wanted more. Perhaps it was my lack of physical achievements that made me obsess with a need to entertain my peers.
My return to Korea in the summer of 2001 was nothing short of a culture shock. I was in a country I thought I had learned by heart. It was the country I always rooted my identity and pride from. I wasn’t ready for the shock. I was wrong about Korea. What was worse, I was wrong about myself: I wasn’t funny! I was miserable and lonely, my social compass was spinning, and I desperately sought to adjust to a more “acceptable” form of myself. Coming full circle to securing a decent grip on the culture of my “fatherland” took five, maybe eight years. But I still wasn’t funny. At least not in Korean, anyway.
I had to continue trying.. How could I be funny in one language and culture, and not be in another language and culture? Best I could muster was slapstick and self-deprecation. Begging for laughs was clearly the only option left. Simultaneously, hearing my native Korean peers crack jokes that to me were horrendously unfunny, and generally being unable to partake in
Republic of Korea; Corean, Han'guk, Taehan, Taehanmin'guk
Identification. Koryo (918–1392) and Choson (1392–1910) were the last two Korean dynasties. Korean immigrants and their descendants in Russia, China, and Japan use the names of those dynasties as a reference for their ethnicity. Despite the continued use of Choson as a self-name in North Korea, the Japanese convention of referring to the Korean nation by that name (pronounced Chosen in Japanese) can be offensive to South Koreans because of its evocation of Japanese colonization of the nation (1910–1945).
Koreans share a common culture, but a sense of regionalism exists between northerners and southerners and between southeasterners and southwesterners in terms of customs and perceived personality characteristics. Some suggest that this regionalism dates back to Three Kingdoms of Koguryo (37 B.C.E. –668 C.E. ), Silla (57 B.C.E. –935 C.E. ), and Paekche (18 B.C.E. –660 C.E. ). In South Korea politicized regionalism has emerged between the southeastern (Kyongsang Province) and southwestern regions (Cholla Province) since the late 1960s as a result of an uneven pattern of development that benefits people in the southeast.
Location and Geography. South Korea occupies the southern half of the Korean peninsula, which protrudes about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) southward from the Eurasian landmass between Soviet Siberia in the northeast and Chinese Manchuria to the north. About three thousand islands belong to Korea, among which the Province of Cheju Island is the largest. The total area of the peninsula, including the islands, is about 85,000 square miles (222,000 square kilometers), of which about 45 percent or about 38,000 square miles (99,000 square kilometers) constitutes the territory of South Korea.
Geopolitically, the peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the sea and by Russia, China, and Japan. Korea has suffered from the attempts of these neighboring countries to dominate it, particularly in the twentieth century. Each of them considers Korea to be of major importance to its own security, and since 1945 the United States has had a major security interest in the nation. The peninsula was divided at the 38th Parallel in an agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union at the end of the World War II. Subsequently, the Military Demarcation Line established by the Armistice Agreement of 1953 to bring a cease-fire to the Korean War (1950–1953) replaced the boundary. A 2.5-mile (four-kilometer) wide strip of land that runs along the cease-fire line for about 150 miles (241 kilometers) is fixed at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) as the no man's land between North Korea and South Korea.
Korea is mountainous, and only about 20 percent of the land in the south is flat enough for farming. Seoul, the capital, is in the northwestern part of the country on the Han River, which flows toward the Yellow Sea. Seoul was first established as the walled capital of the Choson Dynasty in 1394. Before Japan colonized Korea in 1910, Seoul was the first city in east Asia to have electricity, trolley cars, a water system, telephones, and telegraphs. Seoul has grown into a metropolis of more than ten million residents. The palaces, shrines, and other vestiges of the Choson Dynasty are still prominent features of the city north of the Han River, serving as major tourist attractions. In the last few decades, the area south of the Han River has built trendy commercial centers and high-rise condominium
Demography. In 1997, the population was 45.9 million, with 1,200 persons per square mile (463 persons per square kilometer). Since the mid-1980s, when Korea stabilized at a low level of fertility, remarkably high sex ratios at birth have resulted from son-selective reproductive behaviors such as prenatal sex screening and sex-selective abortion. Another notable demographic trend is the increasing ratio of the elderly: the 1997 census revealed that 6.3 percent of the total population was 65 years of age or older.
Linguistic Affiliation. About seventy million people speak Korean. Most live on the peninsula, but more than five million live across the globe. Korean is considered part of the Tungusic branch of the Altaic group of the Ural-Altaic language family. It also has a close relationship to Japanese in general structure, grammar, and vocabulary. The form of Korean spoken around Seoul is regarded as standard. Major dialects differ mainly in accent and intonation. Except for old Cheju dialect, all are mutually intelligible.
Koreans value their native tongue and their alphabet, han'gul , which was invented in the mid-fifteenth century. Until then, Korea's aristocratic society used Chinese characters, while the government and people used the writing system known as idu (a transcription system of Korean words invented in the eighth century by Silla scholars using Chinese characters). The Chinese writing system requires a basic knowledge of several thousand characters. Commoners who did not have the time or means to master Chinese could not read or write. Moreover, it is difficult to express spoken Korean in Chinese characters.
Considering the frustrating situation of mass illiteracy and troubled by the incongruity between spoken Korean and Chinese ideographs, King Sejong (1397–1450), the fourth ruler (1418–1450) of the Choson Dynasty, commissioned a group of scholars to devise a phonetic writing system that would represent the sounds of spoken Korean and could be learned by all the people. The result was Hunmin Chong'um ("the Correct Sounds to Teach the People"), or han'gul , as it is called today. The system was created in 1443 and promulgated in 1446. South Koreans observe Han'gul Day on 9 October with a ceremony at King Sejong's tomb.
Han'gul is easy to learn since each letter corresponds to a phoneme, and Korea now has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. UNESCO established the King Sejong Literacy Prize in 1988 and offers it annually to an individual or group that contributes to the eradication of illiteracy worldwide.
Symbolism. The national flag, T'aegukki , is a unique symbol. The flag of T'aeguk ("Supreme Ultimate"), symbolizes the basic ideas of east Asian cosmology shared by the peoples in the Chinese culture area. In the center of a white background is a circle divided horizontally in two by an S-shaped line. The upper portion in red represents the yang , and the lower portion in blue symbolizes the um ( yin in Chinese), depicting the yinyang principle of a universe in perfect balance and harmony. The central symbolism in the T'aeguk form is that while there is a constant movement of opposites in the universe (day and night, good and evil, masculinity and femininity), there is also balance. The four trigrams at the corners of the flag also express the ideas of opposites and balance. The three unbroken lines in the upper left corner represent heaven while the three broken lines placed diagonally in the lower right corner represent the earth. The trigram in the upper right corner represents water, while the one placed diagonally at the lower left corner represents fire.
In contrast to the cosmological symbolism in the flag, the national anthem, Aegukka , conjures a sense of the national identity of the Taehan people by making territorial references to the East Sea (Sea of Japan), Paektusan ("White Head Mountain," on the northern border with China), and the beautiful land of mugunghwa (the rose of Sharon, the national flower). The phrase samch'ol-li kangsan ("three-thousand-li land of range and river"), which is included in the national anthem, refers to the national territory.
The phrase han p'it-chul ("one bloodline") often is used by Koreans at home and abroad to symbolize their shared identity as the members of a homogeneous nation. Blood and territory thus are the most frequently invoked metaphors associated with the nation.
National days of celebration include Liberation Day ( Kwangbokchol ) on 15 August and National Foundation Day ( Kaech'onjol ) on 3 October. Kwangbokchol (the Day of Recovering the Light) celebrates the nation's liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. Kaech'onjol (Heaven Opening Day) commemorates the founding of the first Korean kingdom, KoChoson, by the legendary priest-king Tan'gun Wanggom.
History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. The Korean peninsula has been inhabited for more than half a million years, and a Neolithic culture emerged around 6,000 B.C.E. The legendary beginning date of the Korean people is said to be 2333 B.C.E. , when Tan'gun established the kingdom of Choson ("Morning Freshness," often translated as the "Land of Morning Calm") around today's P'yongyang. To distinguish it from the later Choson Dynasty, it is now referred to as Ko ("Old") Choson.
In the legend, Tan'gun was born of a divine father, Hwan-ung, a son of the heavenly king, and a woman who had been transformed from a bear. The bear and a tiger had pleaded with Hwan-ung to transform them into human beings. Only the bear achieved the transformation by following Hwanung's instructions, which included a hundred-day seclusion to avoid sunlight and the ingestion of a bunch of mugwort ( ssuk ) and twenty pieces of garlic. This bear turned woman then married Hwan-ung, and their offspring was Tan'gun. A recent interpretation of the bear woman is that she came from a bear totem tribe.
The Old Choson period is divided into the Tan'gun, Kija, and Wiman periods. Shortly after the fall of Wiman Choson in 108 B.C.E. and the establishment of Chinese military control in the north, the Three Kingdoms (Silla, Koguryo, and Paekche) period began. In 668, Silla unified the Three Kingdoms. Silla's decline in the late ninth century brought about the rise of Later Paekche and Later Koguryo. Wang Kon, who established the Koryo Dynasty, eventually reunified the nation. A series of Mongol invasions that began in 1231 devastated the country in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. General Yi Song-gye overthrew Koryo and established the Choson Dynasty in 1392. Despite invasions by Japan and Manchu (Qing) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, respectively, Choson continued for more than five centuries until 1910, when Japan colonized the nation for three and a half decades.
National Identity. Before the 1945 national division of the peninsula and the subsequent establishment of the two political regimes of North and South Korea in 1948, Koreans identified themselves as the people of Choson. Tan'gun as the founding ancestor has had a symbolic meaning for Koreans throughout the nation's history. A temple erected in Tan'gun's honor in 1429 stood in P'yongyang until its destruction during the Korean War. In 1993, North Korea announced the discovery of Tan'gun's tomb and a few remains of his skeleton at a site close to P'yongyang. Some Korean calendars still print the Year of Tan'gun ( Tan'gi ) along with the Gregorian calendar year, which the South Korean government officially adopted in 1962.
Ethnic Relations. Korea is one of the few countries in which ethnicity and nationality coincide. The only immigrant ethnic minority group is a Chinese community of about 20,000 that is concentrated mainly in Seoul and has existed since the late nineteenth century. Since the Korean War, the continued presence of the United States Forces–Korea has resulted in the immigration of over one hundred thousand Korean women to the United States as
A house in Oh Ju Kon village, Kangnung, South Korea, reflects a more modern approach to South Korean rural housing.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
Traditionally, dwellings with thatched roofs and houses with clay-tile roofs symbolized rural—urban as well as lower-class—upper-class distinctions. The traditional houses of yangban (gentry) families were divided by walls into women's quarters ( anch'ae ), men's quarters ( sarangch'ae ), and servants' quarters ( haengnangch'ae ), reflecting the Confucian rules of gender segregation and status discrimination between the yangban and their servants in the social hierarchy of the Choson Dynasty. Western architecture was introduced in the nineteenth century. The Gothic-style Myongdong Cathedral (1898) is a prominent example of the earliest Western architecture in Seoul.
As part of government-sponsored rural development projects since the late 1960s, thatched-roof houses in rural areas have mostly been replaced by concrete structures with a variety of brightly colored slate roofs. The tile-roofed traditional urban residential houses have also become almost extinct, partly because of the ravages of the Korean War and the rush toward modernization and development. Now a wide range of architectural styles coexists. For example, the Toksu Palace of the Choson Dynasty built in the traditional style, the Romanesque Seoul City Hall built during Japanese rule, and modem high-rise luxury hotels can all be seen from City Hall Plaza in downtown Seoul.
According to the 1995 national census, about 88 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Lack of land for construction and changes in people's lifestyle have combined to make condominium apartments the dominant housing type in urban areas. Close to half the urban population consists of condominium dwellers, but the bedrooms in most condos still feature the ondol floor system. Traditional ondol floors were heated by channeling warm air and smoke through a system of under-the-floor flues from an exterior fireplace. Those floors typically were made of large pieces of flat stone tightly covered with several square-yard-size pieces of lacquered paper in light golden brown to present an aesthetically pleasing surface and prevent gas and smoke from entering the room.
Customarily, the "lower end" of the room ( araemmok ), which is the closest to the source of heat, was reserved for honored guests and the senior members of the household, while people of lower social status occupied the "upper end" ( ummok ), farthest from the source of heat and near the door. This customary practice reflected the social hierarchy. This distinction does not exist in the modern apartments because the heating system is centrally controlled.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. The rapid changes in lifestyles that have accompanied economic development since the 1960s have changed the traditional pattern of eating rice at each meal. Some urbanites may eat toast, eggs, and milk for breakfast, using a fork and knife. Nonetheless, for many people a bowl of steamed white rice, a soybean-paste vegetable soup, and a dish of kimch'I may still constitute the basic everyday meal, to which steamed or seasoned vegetables, fish, meats, and other foods may be added as side dishes ( panch'an ). Many people eat at a low table while sitting on the ondol floor, using a spoon and chopsticks.
Kimch'I is the national dish. It is a pungent, often hot, mixture of fermented and/or pickled vegetables. Almost any vegetable can be fermented to make kimch'I, but Chinese cabbage and daikon radishes are the most commonly used. As part of the national diet for centuries, it has many variations depending on the region, season, occasion, and personal taste of the cook. Kimch'I has long been the test of a housewife's culinary skills and a family tradition. A South Korean consumes an average of forty pounds (eighteen kilograms) of kimch'I a year. Many companies produce kimch'I for both domestic consumption and export.
Meat dishes such as pulgogi (barbecued meat) and kalbi (short ribs) are popular among both Koreans and foreigners. They are traditionally charcoal-roasted after the meat has been marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, minced garlic, and other spices. The foods available at restaurants range from sophisticated Western cuisine, to various ethnic specialty foods, to both indigenous and foreign fast foods. There are no food taboos, although Buddhist monks may practice vegetarianism and observe other food taboos.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. A variety of ttok (rice cake), other traditional confectionery, and fresh fruits are served to celebrate birthdays, marriages, and the hwan'gap (the sixtieth birthday). The offerings at ch'arye , memorial services for one's ancestors performed on special holidays, include rice wine, steamed white rice, soup, barbecued meats, and fresh fruits. After ritual offerings
Kwang-mok-chong-wang, the guardian of the West at Pulguk-sa Temple in Kyongju, South Korea.
Basic Economy. South Korea transformed its traditional agrarian subsistence economy to a primarily industrialized one in little more than a generation. In 1962, when the First Five-Year Economic Development Plan was launched, per capita gross national product was $87 (U.S.), in contrast with $10,543 (U.S.) in 1996. However, rapid increases in short-term debt precipitated by overinvestments by chaebols (family-owned and -managed conglomerates) and insufficient foreign exchange reserves caused the financial crisis of 1997, which necessitated emergency financial aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in December 1997. After a year of rising unemployment, negative economic growth, and reforms of the financial sector in 1998, the economy began to recover. For gross domestic product (GDP) of $406.7 billion (U.S.), the country ranked thirteenth and for per capita GDP it ranked thirtieth among the world's nations in 1999.
The working-age population (15 years or above) numbered 34.7 million, and 62.2 percent (21.6 million) of those people were in the labor force in 1997. More than two thirds of them were employed in the service sector in 1997.
South Korea still produces most of its domestically consumed rice. Traditional cash crops such as ginseng, tobacco, tea, and silkworms remain important. The livestock industry raises beef and dairy cattle, hogs, and chickens. Meat production has increased, largely in response increased consumption and government support. South Korea imports beef and milk, exports pork to Japan, and maintains self-sufficiency in chickens and most vegetable products.
Land Tenure and Property. Traditionally, land, especially farmland, was the main form of wealth, and tenants had customary rights that allowed them to farm the same plots year after year. The land survey and tax structure under colonial rule changed the nature and extent of land tenure, forcing many owner-farmers to sell their land to the Japanese. Some people argue that the violation of tenants' customary rights predates the Japanese incursion. The majority of the agricultural population became impoverished, landless tenants by the end of the colonial rule.
After the liberation, redistributions of land were effected in 1948, when former Japanese-owned agricultural lands were sold to the incumbent tenants, and in 1950–1952, when the government under the Land Reform Act (promulgated in 1949) acquired tenanted land owned by absentee landlords and the balance of properties larger than 7.4 acres held by owner-farmers. That property was sold to tenant farmers and those with no land. The imposition of a maximum of three chongbo (7.4 acres) on legal land holdings meant that large-scale landlords were eliminated, and the average farm size became less than 2.5 acres. The land reform was a political and social success, destroying the colonial landlord class. However, it contributed to a fragmentation of the land into small holdings, making cultivation inefficient and not conducive to mechanization. Since the 1960s, systematic efforts have been made to increase, rearrange and consolidate farmland by reclaiming mountain slopes and seashores as arable land to expand farm mechanization and increase the utility of farmland. In 1975, the Arable Land Preservation Law was modified to limit the use of arable land for purposes other than farms.
In a country where natural resources are scarce, the efficient use of the land is essential. Government land development projects started in the 1960s with the 1963 Law on Integrated National Land Development, the 1964 Export Industrial Estates Assistance Law, and the 1967 National Parks Law. Those laws were followed by the 1972 Law on the Management of National Land and the 1973 Law on the Promotion of Industrial Estates. In addition to the development of large-scale industrial estates at Ulsan, P'ohang, and elsewhere, a superhighway linking Seoul and Pusan and large-scale water resources development projects such as the Soyang Dam were constructed. A basic land price pattern was officially determined to allow an equitable distribution of the profits from land development. Despite a variety of regulations, however, speculation in real estate has been a major device for accumulating wealth rapidly and irregularly.
Major Industries. The share of primary industry in the economic structure decreased steadily from 26.6 percent in 1970 to 5.7 percent in 1997. Farmwork increasingly is done by women and old men as young people leave for urban jobs. As a result of structural reforms in the economy, Korea has built a strong industrial foundation, especially in the areas of electronics, automobiles, shipbuilding, and petrochemicals. The shipbuilding industry is second only to Japan's and has a 32 percent share of the world market. In the semiconductor industry, Korea ranks third in the world market. Three Korean companies supply more than 40 percent of the global demand for computer memory chips. The Korean automobile and petrochemicals industries rank fifth in the world in terms of production.
Trade. The economy is export-oriented and at the same time heavily dependent on overseas raw materials. In 1999 exports were $143.7 billion (U.S.) and imports were $119.8 billion (U.S.). Korea ranked twelfth for exports and fourteenth for imports among the countries in the world. The major trading partners are the United States and Japan. Since the 1980s, main export items have included computers, semiconductors, automobiles, steel, shipbuilding, electronic goods, machinery, textiles, and fishery products. Overseas construction is a critical source of foreign currency and invisible export earnings. Major import items are steel, chemicals, timber and pulp, cereals, petroleum and petroleum products, and electronics and electrical equipment. The current account balance for the first half of 2000 marked a surplus of $4.4 billion (U.S.).
Division of Labor. Leading chaebol companies such as Hyundai, Samsung, and the LG Group recruit white-collar workers from among college graduates through the kongch'ae system (an open competitive
A farmer hauls rice on his back in Pong Hwang, Naju, South Korea. Rice is a staple of the South Korean diet.
Classes and Castes. The traditional gentry ( yangban ) status was formally abolished by the Kabo Reforms of 1894, but the legacy of the class system is seen in social psychological and behavioral patterns. In 1994, 60 percent of South Koreans regarded themselves as belonging to the middle class. The subjective perception of one's class position was closely correlated with one's level of educational attainment. Eighty-three percent of those with a college education perceived themselves as belonging to the middle class, compared with 41 percent of those with a primary school education. In general, industrialization and urbanization have contributed to a leveling of the nonkin hierarchy in social life, but the income gap between the working classes and the industrialist class as a new power elite has grown. Family background, education, occupation, and the general acceptance of a meritocracy are major social factors that contribute to the unequal distribution of wealth by class.
Symbols of Social Stratification. Major symbols of social status include the size of one's condominium or house, the location of one's residence, chauffeur-driven large automobiles, style and quality of dress, membership in a golf club, and the use of honorifics in speech. According to the government classification, residential space between eighteen and 25.7 p'yong (one p'yong equals 3.95 square yards) is regarded as medium-sized housing. People in the middle and upper-middle classes tend to live in apartment units of over thirty p'yong. The precise number of p'yong of one's condominium often is interpreted as a barometer of one's wealth. Academic degrees such as a doctorate and professional occupations such as medicine also symbolize higher social status.
Government. Koreans lived under a dynastic system until 1910. After liberation from Japanese colonization in 1945, the southern half of the peninsula was occupied by the United States and the northern half by the Soviet military until 1948, when two Koreas emerged. Since then, South Korea has traveled a rocky road in its political development from autocratic governments to a more democratic state, amending its constitution nine times in the wake of tumultuous political events such as the Korean War, the April Revolution of 1960, the 1961 and 1979 military coups, the 1980 Kwangju uprising, and the 1987 democracy movement. The government has maintained a presidential system except in 1960–1961, when a parliamentary system was in place. Government power is shared by three branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial. The Constitutional Court and the National Election Commission also perform governing functions.
The executive branch under the president as the head of state consists of the prime minister, the State Council, seventeen executive ministries, seventeen independent agencies, the Board of Inspection and Audit, and the National Intelligence Service. The president is elected by popular vote for a single five-year term. The prime minister is appointed by the president with the approval of the National Assembly. The legislature consists of a single-house National Assembly whose 273 members serve four-year terms. Some degree of local autonomy was restored for the first time since 1961 by the implementation of local assembly elections in 1991 and popular elections of the heads of provincial and municipal governments in 1995. The judiciary has three tiers of courts: the Supreme Court, the high courts or appellate courts, and the district courts.
Leadership and Political Officials. Political parties have been organized primarily around a leader instead of a platform. The hometown and school ties of the founding leader of a party have often influenced voting patterns, contributing to emotional regionalism among voters as well as politicians. The political parties represented in the Fifteenth National Assembly (1996–2000) are the National Congress for New Politics (NCNP), the United Liberal Democrats (ULD), and the New Korea Party. The NCNP (founded by Kim Dae-jung) and the ULD (founded by Kim Jong-pil) as opposition parties formed a coalition for the 1997 presidential election to help D. J. Kim win the election. The socalled DJP alliance, named for the coalition of Kim Dae-jung and Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil, promised to change the executive branch into a cabinet system with the prime minister as the head of state. The constitutional amendment for a parliamentary government thus has become a major political issue in the Kim Dae-jung administration.
Social Problems and Control. According to the National Statistical Office, the number of reported major penal code offenses was 864 per 100,000 in 1997, and the most common crime was theft. Since the 1980s, sexual violence against women has drawn public concern, and legislation to deal with it was enacted in the 1990s.
Public prosecutors and the police are authorized to conduct investigations of criminal acts, but theoretically, police authority to investigate criminal acts is subject to the direction and. review of prosecutors. The National Police Agency is under the authority of the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, while the Supreme Public Prosecutor's Office, the penal administration, and other legal affairs are supervised by the Ministry of Justice. The supreme prosecutor general is appointed by the president. Historically, the executive branch exercised great influence on judicial decisions. There is no jury system. Cases that involve offenses punishable by the death penalty, life imprisonment, or imprisonment for more than one year are tried by three judges of a district or branch court; other cases are heard by a single judge.
Military Activity. The North Korean invasion in June 1950 led to the fratricidal Korean War that ended in 1953, killing a million South Korean civilians. Since then, the armed forces have grown to be the largest and most influential government organization. According to the 1998 Defense White Paper, the nation has 690,000 troops. The 1997 defense expenditure accounted for about 15 percent of the national government budget. Weapons and equipment modernization and the operational costs of the three armed services and the armed forces reserves are the main items in the defense budget. Based on the 1953 Korean-American Mutual Defense Treaty, the two countries hold the joint exercise Team Spirit every spring to promote military cooperation and readiness. The Korean peninsula is the world's most densely armed zone with over 1.8 million combat-ready troops confronting each other across the DMZ.
The traditional Korean Confucian New Year's Day celebration in Seoul, South Korea, includes prayer and special food.
Social Welfare and Change Programs
Much progress has been made in the area of social welfare since the 1970s, especially in the health care system. The National Health Insurance Program, which started in 1977 with coverage of less than 10 percent of the population, covered the entire population by 1989. The government also enacted the National Health Program Law and the Mental Health Law in 1995 to promote health education, antismoking campaigns, and the improvement of the civil rights of the mentally ill. The budget of the Ministry of Health and Welfare has been growing rapidly.
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
Until the late 1980s, civil organizations generally developed in opposition to the government and contributed to democratization. In the past decade, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have increased in numbers and services. The Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice, the Korean Federation for the Environment Movement, the Korean Women's Associations United, and the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (known as Chongdaehyop ) are well-known NGOs. Since its formation in 1990, Chongdaehyop has achieved remarkable success in bringing to the attention of the world community the "comfort women" who served Japanese troops before and during World War II. Its activities have improved the living conditions of the surviving victims and strengthened feminist human rights movement. Many Christian church supported NGOs send missionaries and provide on-site aid in Africa and other regions.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender. Gender and age have been the two fundamental influences in patterns of social organization. Housework is most commonly regarded as women's work even when a woman works outside the home. Industrialization and democratization have given women more opportunities to play diverse roles in public life, but the basic structure of a gender division of labor is observable in public life. As of April 1998, 47.7 percent of all adult females worked outside the home. Women's average earnings were 63.4 percent of those of men in the same jobs. In June 1999, there was one woman among seventeen cabinet members and no woman vice minister. Women occupied 2.3 percent of the provincial and local assembly seats in 1999. Women as professional leaders in religious life are limited in numbers in both Christian churches and Buddhist temples. The exception to this pattern is seen in shamanism, in which women dominate as priestesses.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. The constitution stipulates equality of all citizens before the law, but the norms and values that guide gender relations in daily life continue to be influenced by an ideology of male superiority. The interplay between these gender role ideologies complicates the patterns and processes of social change in the area of gender role performance and the relative status of women and men.
One of the consequences of these dual gender role ideologies is the behavioral pattern that compartmentalize the social arena into public versus private spheres and formal versus informal situations within each sphere of social action. The patriarchal gender role ideology tends to guide people's behavior at group levels in public informal situations as well as private formal situations. Democratic egalitarianism is more readily practiced at the societal level in public, informal situations, and at the individual level in private, informal situations. Thus, a woman can and did run for the presidency, but women are expected to behave in a submissive manner in public, informal gatherings such as dinner parties among professional colleagues. In private, informal situations such as family affairs, however, urban middle-class husbands tend to leave the decision making to their wives. Nonetheless, male authority as the household head ( hoju ) is socially expected and the law favors husbands and sons over wives and daughters.
The main sources of social change in gender status have been the women's movement and the role of the state in legislating to protect women's rights and improve their status. In response to feminist activism, some men organized the first National Men's Association in 1999. Complaining of reverse sexism, they asserted that laws enacted to prevent domestic violence and sexual harassment unfairly favor women and vowed to campaign to abolish the exclusively male duties of military service so that both sexes may shoulder the duties of national defense.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage. Family background and educational level are important considerations in matchmaking. Marriage between people with a common surname and origin place ( tongsong tongbon ) was prohibited by law until 1997. Many urbanites find their spouse at schools or workplaces and have a love marriage. Others may find partners through arranged meetings made by parents, relatives, friends, and professional matchmakers.
In urban centers, the arranged meeting often takes place in a hotel coffee shop where the man, the woman, and their parents may meet for the first time. After exchanging greetings and some conversation, the parents leave so that the couple can talk and decide whether they would like to see each other again. Most individuals have freedom in choosing a marital partner.
Marriage has been regarded as a rite of passage that confers a social status of adulthood on an individual. Marriage also is thought of as a union of not just a man and a woman but of their families and a means to ensure the continuity of the husband's family line. Ninety percent of women marry in their twenties, although the average age of first-time brides has increased from 20.4 years in 1950 to 25.9 years in 1997. Traditionally, divorce was rare, but it tripled from 1980 to 1994.
Remarriages constituted 10.9 percent of all marriages in 1997. Traditionally, remarriages of widows were not allowed and remarriages of divorced women were difficult. However, changes are occurring in the remarriage pattern, especially for divorced women. The ratio of a divorced woman marrying a bachelor used to be lower than that of a divorced man marrying a never-married woman. Since 1995, however, this situation has reversed in favor of women, with a 1997 ratio of 2.9 to 2.6 percent. Divorced women with independent economic means, especially successful professionals, no longer face the traditional gender bias against their remarriage and can marry bachelors who are younger and less occupationally advanced. This phenomenon clearly reveals the importance of the economic aspect of marriage.
Domestic Unit. Two-generation households constituted 73.7 percent of the 11.1 million households in 1995, one-generation and three-generation households constituted 14.7 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively. Traditionally, three-generation stem families were patrilineally composed. That custom continues, but some couples now live with the parents of the wife. In an extended family, the housekeeping tasks usually are performed by the daughter-in-law unless she works outside the home.
Inheritance. Traditionally, the oldest son received a larger proportion of an inheritance than did younger sons because of his duty to coreside with aging
South Gate in downtown Seoul, South Korea, provides greenspace in the urban center.
Kin Groups. Outside the family, the patrilineal kin group ( tongjok ) is organized into tangnae and munjung . Consisting of all the descendants of a fourth-generation common patrilineal ancestor, the members of a tangnae participate in death-day and holiday commemoration rites of the kin group. Munjung as a national-level organization is composed of all the patrilineal descendants of the founding ancestor and owns and manages corporate estates for conducting the annual rites to honor ancestors of the fifth generation and above at their grave sites. The main purpose of these lineage organizations and ancestor rites is to assert gentry ( yangban ) status and reaffirm agnatic ties. Since food offerings and ritual equipment are costly, only a small number of kin groups have formal lineage organizations. The Kimhae Kim, the largest lineage, is said to have more than 3.7 million members. "Kim" as the most common Korean surname is composed of about one hundred fifty groups of that name with different places of origin, accounting for approximately one-fifth of the population. The Hahoe Yu of the Hahoe Iltong village in Kyongsang Province are the best known example of kin groups living in the same village.
Infant Care. Because of rapid changes in lifestyles in the last few decades, the care of infants varies widely, depending, among other things, on the class positions of a family. Generally, during the first two years children receive great deal of affection, indulgence, and nurturing from their parents. Infants seldom are separated from their mothers. They used to be carried on the mother's back but today may ride in baby carriages. Many parents sleep with their infants in the same room. Infant care practices encourage emotional dependence of the children on their parents.
Child Rearing and Education. Obedience, cooperation, respect for the elders, and filial piety are the major values inculcated in a child's early years. Most children receive traditional gender role socialization from early childhood. Parents go to great lengths to provide the best education for their children, especially their sons, since parents traditionally have depended on their children in old age. Children, particularly sons, maintain a strong sense of dependence on their parents throughout adolescence and until after marriage. The differential treatment sons and daughters receive from their parents is considered a fundamental source of the gender structure in Korean society, where women are likely to be more self-reliant and individualistic than men.
Higher Education. The traditional high regard for education as a means to improve one's socioeconomic status continues in contemporary Korea. The annual college entrance examinations are extremely competitive. Many unsuccessful applicants repeat the examinations in order to enter elite universities. From only nineteen institutions of higher education in 1945, the number has increased to nine hundred fifty. Over 26 percent of men and about 13 percent of women age twenty-five and over received higher education as of 1995.
Koreans are very status conscious, and their speech behavior reflects the hierarchical relationship between social actors. Except among former classmates and other very close friends, adults do not use first names to address each other. Position titles such as "professor," "manager," "director," and "president" are used in combination with the honorific suffix nim to address a social superior.
Koreans are generally courteous to the extent of being ceremonious when they interact with social superiors but can be very outgoing and friendly among friends and acquaintances of equal social status. Their behavior with strangers in urban public situations may be characterized by indifference and self-centeredness. Koreans appear to be rude to strangers since they generally do not say a word when they accidentally push or jostle other people on the streets, and in the stores, train stations, and airports. Traditional Confucian teaching emphasized propriety in the five sets of human relationships, which included the relations between sovereign and subject, father and son, husband and wife, senior and junior, and friend and friend. Confucianism still serves as the standard of moral and social conduct for many people.
Religious Beliefs. As a result of constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, there is a wide range of religious beliefs, from shamanism, Confucianism, and Buddhism to Christianity, Islam, and other religions. Indigenous folk beliefs and shamanism have co-evolved, sharing a fundamental belief in the existence of a myriad of gods (such as the mountain gods, the house gods, and the fire god) and spirits of the dead, all of which may influence people's fortunes. Korean Buddhism has both doctrinal and meditative traditions. Buddhists believe that human suffering is caused mainly by desire. Thus, some Buddhists try to obtain enlightenment by cultivating an attitude of detachment, while others seek to fulfill their desires by offering prayers of requests to Kwanum, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Confucianism is a political and social philosophy that emphasizes the virtues of in , usually translated as "human-heartedness," and hyo or filial piety, which is expressed through ceremony such as ancestor rites. The Confucian concept of heaven is an impersonal yet willful force in nature and society, and is beyond human control.
Early Korean Catholics who embraced Catholicism as part of Western Learning ( Sohak ), suffered persecution during the Choson Dynasty for renouncing their ancestral rites as "pagan" rites. Christianity, including both Catholicism and Protestantism, has become a major religion. Lay Christians seek material and spiritual richness through fervent prayers, while some theologians have advocated new theologies focusing on the plight of the underprivileged minjung (the "masses") and/or women. Ch'ondogyo (the Teaching of the Heavenly Way), which began as Tonghak (Eastern Learning), founded by Ch'oe Che U in 1860, is a syncretistic religion that grew on the grassroots level. "Humanity and heaven are one and the same" is its basic tenet, which emphasizes human dignity and gender equality.
Religious Practitioners. Shamans derive their power from their ability to serve as a medium between the spirit world and their clients during kut (shaman rituals). The Buddhist and Christian clergy derive their power from their knowledge of scripture. Another source of power for the clergy of major religions is the wealth their churches have accumulated from the contributions of followers. The activities of the Christian clergy include not only sermons but also routine personal visits to the homes of their congregants. Buddhist monks may perform personalized prayer services in return for monetary donations.
Rituals and Holy Places. A shaman keeps a shrine where her guardian deity and the instruments for ritual services are kept. Kut , which include songs, dances, and incantations, are performed at various places to secure good fortune, cure illnesses, or guide the spirit of a deceased person to heaven. Numerous Koreans perform Confucian-style ceremonies to commemorate their ancestors on death dates and special holidays at home and/or grave sites. The National Confucian Academy in Seoul holds semi-monthly and semiannual ceremonies to honor Confucius, his disciples, and other Confucian sages. Christian churches are ubiquitous in urban and rural areas. Some offer services not only on Sundays but also at predawn hours on weekdays. Leading Christian churches have huge new buildings that can accommodate several thousand worshipers. Buddhist temples used to be located away from urban centers near the mountains, but more temples are now being erected in urban areas.
Death and the Afterlife. Many Koreans believe in ancestral spirits and observe Confucian rituals concerning funerals, mourning practices, and memorial services. Folk beliefs about the afterlife are somewhat influenced by Buddhism but are characterized by diversity. Mourning periods vary, depending on the social status of the deceased, from one day to two years. Selecting good grave sites according to geomantic principles is regarded as important for both the ancestral spirit and the descendants'
Shoppers indulge in the markets and stores of the Namdaemun shopping district in downtown Seoul, South Korea.
Medicine and Health Care
The health care system includes both Western and traditional medicine. As a result of increasing public demand for traditional medicine, the Oriental Medicine Bureau was established in the Ministry of Health and Welfare in 1966. There were 62,609 Western doctors and 9,289 traditional doctors in 1997. Traditional doctors practice acupuncture and prescribe herbal medicine for the prevention and treatment of illness. Some people turn to a shaman for elaborate kut performance to cure illnesses attributed to evil spirits.
The two most important national holidays are New Year's Day and Ch'usok (which falls on the eighth full moon by the lunar calendar). Koreans observe both solar and lunar New Year's holidays of which many people wear hanbok (traditional dress), offer sebae (New Year's greetings with a "big bow") to their parents, eat ttok-kuk (rice-cake soup), play traditional games, and observe ancestor rites. On Ch'usok, the harvest festival celebrations include eating special foods such as songp'yon (half-moon-shaped rice cakes) and making family visits to ancestral graves to tidy the tomb area and offer fruits and other foods, including steamed rice cooked with newly harvested grain.
The Arts and Humanities
Literature. Korean classical literature was written in Chinese, and the late Koryo and early Choson sijo poems dealt mainly with the theme of loyalty. The kasa form of Choson poetry expressed individual sentiments and moral admonitions. After the creation of the Korean alphabet, many works of fiction were written in Han'gul and royal ladies wrote novels depicting their personal situations and private thoughts. Modern literature started in the mid-nineteenth century as a result of the new Western-style education and the Korean language and literature movement. The themes of twentieth-century literature reflect the national experiences colonization, postliberation division of the homeland, the Korean War, urbanization, and industrialization. Translations of literary works began to appear in foreign countries in the 1980s. The novelists whose works have been most widely translated are Hwang Sun-won and Kim Tong-ri.
Graphic Arts. Traditional brush paintings include realistic landscapes; genre paintings of flowers, birds, and the daily lives of ordinary people; and calligraphic presentations of Chinese phrases extolling Confucian virtues such as filial piety and loyalty decorated with designs and pictures. Traditional sculptures in bronze, stone, and rock were inspired by Buddhism. The Sakyamuni Buddha in the rotunda of the Sokkuram Grotto is regarded as a national masterpiece.
Performance Arts. Korean music and dance evolved over three thousand years from the religious ceremonies of shamanism and Buddhism and often were linked to the agricultural cycle. Traditional music has two genres: Chong'ak ("correct music"), a genre of chamber music with a leisurely tempo and a meditative character, and minsok'ak (folk music), characterized by spontaneity and emotionality. P'ansori as a category of folk vocal music is a unique combination of singing and storytelling by a single vocalist with the accompaniment of a changgo (traditional drum). The Tale of Ch'unhyang , a love story and one of the five extant traditional p'ansori compositions, requires more than eight hours to perform. Among folk instrumental music, samul nori has been the most popular form since the 1970s. The primarily percussive music is played on gongs made of bronze and leather and double-headed hourglass and barrel drums. Koreans also enjoy classical and popular Western music. South Korea has thirty-one symphony orchestras and has produced internationally renowned violinists such as Kyung-hwa Chung and Sarah Chang.
There are two categories of traditional dance: court dances and folk dances performed by farmers, shamans, and villagers. Kut and nong-ak (farmers' festival music), which combine music and dance with ritual and entertainment, continue to be popular. Mask dances performed by villagers combined dance with satiric drama, making fun of erring officials and monks for entertainment and ethical edification. The Traditional Dance Institute of the Korean National University of Arts was established in 1998 to educate future generations in the traditional dance heritage.
The State of the Physical and Social Sciences
The Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology was established by the government in 1971 as a model for research-oriented universities producing scientists and engineers. The Pohang University of Science and Technology was founded with similar aims by the Pohang Steel Corporation in 1986. The Korean Science and Engineering Foundation and the Korea Research Foundation are the major funding agencies for university research in basic science. The Academy of Korean Studies was founded in 1978 to encourage in-depth social science and humanities studies of the heritage of the Korean nation. Since 1980, it has offered graduate courses in Korean studies.
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