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Korea Essay, Research Paper

There are many things to consider when characterizing a country. It?s geographic region, population, political status and foreign relations are all distinguishing marks that make up a country. Those features however, are not what make a country unique. The people of a country give that place it?s identity and it?s spirit, they are the physical representation of the place. The people exhibit their country everyday without even meaning to through their customs, values, traditions, and attitudes.

Religion is fundamental to the Korean culture. There are several different religions that are widely accepted and practiced. Some of these include, Taoism, Buddhism, Shamanism and Christianity.

Confucianism establishes many Korean values and serves as a social conscience for the Korean people. According to Confucius, there are some basic codes that one needs to practice to obtain a balance of opposites or the middle way. These are, ?Between friends, trust. Between elder and younger, respect. Between husband and wife, distinction in position. Between father and son, intimacy. Between king and ministers, loyalty? (Crane, 1967).

Buddhism also teaches essential principles that are important to life in Korea. According to Paul S. Crane (1967), some of these ideas are, one should encompass a respect for life, have an intolerance for war and hold the belief that it is meaningful to do good works in order to earn redemption.

Shamanism, Seok-Choon Lew (1988) relates, is an indigenous religion that is based upon spirits and the role they play in our realm. Shamanists believe that these spirits dwell on earth and control our fate.

Another common religion is Taoism. Taoism embraces the search for blessings and the concept of longevity. Because it readily accepts Confucian and Buddhist principles, its influence has remained widespread today (Handbook, 1978).The appearance of Christianity in Korea is somewhat current and has helped to modernize thew country. In fact, Paul S. Crane (1967) explains that, among other things, Christian missionaries started the first modern schools, were first to provide education for women, set up the first hospital and first medical school and even bestowed upon them the secrets of the apple industry.

With all these different religions and beliefs being practiced simultaneously, one would assume that conflict would be a familiar occurrence, but that is not the case.

Koreans live harmoniously because the beliefs of most religions often overlap. Seok-Choon Lew (1988) maintains that, ?There is no exact or exclusive criterion by which each believer can be identified because there is nothing contradictory in one person visiting and praying at Buddhist temples, participating in Confucian ancestor rites, an even consulting a Shaman.?

Koreans practice of worship is ideal to keep the peace. Americans could learn a lot from them with respect to religions. Most of the population in the United States claims a Christian denomination, and because Christianity maintains that it is the only undistorted religion, there is often an intolerance of other religions which results in disagreements.

Religion and beliefs for Koreans do not just remain in the church. They envelop all aspects of Korean life and guide most their decisions and actions in relationships with others. A common thought among Koreans is that, ?Normal behavior is based upon accepted communal norms and the failure to act properly is attributed to a lack of proper, moral education? (Pan-Asia). I think that this is an important matter to consider when looking at the Korean family.

The Korean family is established with respect to a hierarchy. According to Paul S. Crane (1967), familial relationships are entirely vertical rather than horizontal. Everyone has a place in the family and even between twins, one is always superior to the other.

Filial piety is also meaningful to the Korean way of life. The people are expected to be devoted to their parents, ancestors, spouse and friends. It is true that there are even, ?Korean fables and legends abound with episodes of filial sons and daughters as well as faithful wives who even risked their lives to prove their loyalty to family? (Facts, 1989). P146

Judy Hyun (1979) discusses associations and roles within the family unit in her article entitled, ?Life-style?. She declares that the elder members of the family are respected regardless of the situation and no swearing, smoking, drinking, loud talking, or fighting is permitted in the presence of the elders. The function of the parents is also noteworthy; on the surface, the father is perceived as a harsh governor of the rules, while the mother is patient with the children.

One writer portrays the goal of the parents when raising their child when writing, ?by affection and almost total attention to the child?s needs, coupled with the modeling process used by parents to teach, helps ensure that the values of the parents will be adopted by the child? (Pan-Asia). In the book, The Handbook of Korea (1987), it is explained that, ?Obedience to the superior was regarded as natural and one of the most admirable virtues?. Reverence for others in this civilization is preconscious. The excellent design of the family is only one demonstration of why Korea is so peaceful. There are infrequent controversies because everyone has a given status and it is rare for someone to try and breakout of their role.

All too often in America, children do not have a high enough level of respect for their elders. In this country, children tend to do as they please without any regard to the disappointment they will cause their parents or to the punishment they may receive. We teach our children that respect is not granted until it is earned. Perhaps if our children learned to unconsciously regard others courteously, we would have fewer obstacles to deal with later in life.

When looking at relationships with others, it is essential to discuss, ?kibun?. ? ?Kibun? refers to maintaining a good feeling within the self and with others. Whenever a person is in harmony within his interpersonal relationships, his ?kibun? is good. When the relationships are in trouble, his ?kibun? is bad? (Pan-Asia).

Many things about Korea are changing due to urbanization and industrialization yet the people are still trying to adjust yet still keep the values and traditions that were most important to their ancestors.

Historically, family members often shared the same living quarters, but as a result of modernization that has also been transforming. In the book, The Handbook of Korea (1987), we discover that, there has been an increase in the number of nuclear families because newlyweds are now more likely to branch out on their own to their own apartments or flats.

Along with Korea?s recent industrialization, women have ascended in status. Traditionally, women were restricted to the home and activities associated with motherhood. They were not allowed to attend any functions that were not concerned with family affairs and were considered of lower rank than their male counterparts (Handbook, 1978). Here and now, women?s situations are changing. According to the book, Facts About Korea (1989), the education of women brought on tremendous transformations. Parents are beginning to realize that education for their daughters is just as meaningful as education for their sons. Also, women in the present are active in a wide variety of fields such as medicine, science and sports. ?These all attest to the fact that Korean women, given opportunities, can develop their potential and make significant contributions to society?.

Unfortunately, women though are still at somewhat of a disadvantage. According to, Jeung-seun Yi (1996), the Chairwoman on the Committee for War Comfort Women, ?preference for sons [in Korea] is more deeply rooted and going serious as ever, compared to any other countries with similar Confucian background.? She explains that, the recent widespread emergence of ultrasonography has made it possible to perform a ?sex test? before the baby is born. Because of abortions done on female fetuses, the ratio of female to male babies born in 1994 set the world record at 115.4:100. The reason that Koreans have such a tenacious aspiration for a son is because, ?As long as the headship of a Korean family is carried on by the paternal line, the absence of a son means the end of a family.? Even though the circumstances for women are improving, Koreans still believe that, ?Raising daughters in this male-centered society is having your money invested with smaller chances for the future.? We learn in the book, Korean Patterns (1967), that if a female is born into a family, she is of minimal significance and is the lowest in rank within her household. The reason a daughter is unimportant to her family is because when she gets married, she will leave her parent?s family and join her husband?s clan.A son is responsible for taking care of his parents.

A team of authors report that Korean families traditionally arranged the marriages of their children. The family contemplated many things when arranging a marriage such as, lineage, social standing and wealth. Though arranged marriages are still commonplace, the new generation is beginning to consider romance when looking for a mate. Despite the new freedoms the children are given, the same factors considered in an arranged marriage still must be considered in a marriage that was not arranged (Choi & Keith, 1991).

The reality of a man and wife in Korea after the wedding is much different than an American pair of newlyweds. Sook-Hyun Choi and Patricia M. Keith (1991) describe that, ?A woman was married into the family of her husband, not to him as an individual.? The authors portray a life in which a new wife must obey and serve her husbands parents and where her adjustment to them is more important than her adjustment to her own husband.

It is interesting to look at how much Americans and Koreans differ in many of their cultural values, attitudes, traditions, and beliefs. Still, many aspects of life are quite similar. The traditional wedding ceremony, ?involved many small rituals, with many bows and symbolic gestures. The participants were expected to control their emotions and remain somber? (?Traditional?, 1999) However, the modern Korean wedding ceremony is similar to Western ceremonies.

Much of the country?s heritage is reflected in their celebration of numerous holidays. With the influence of the West, however, ? . . . most traditional holidays are just remembered rather than observed? (Facts, 1989).

The traditional holidays that the Koreans do honor are very special and are usually celebrated extremely extravagantly. It is determined from the book, Focus On Korea: Korean Arts and Culture (1988), that one of the largest holidays is New Year, or Sol. On the first day of the lunar month, the whole family dresses in their finest clothes and observes ancestral rituals. After the ceremony, a feast of rice dumplings called ttokkuk and rice called ttok, is enjoyed.

The second important holiday that is celebrated is Ch?usok or The Harvest Moon Day. On this day, the 15th of the eight lunar month, most go to the gravesites of ancestors to pay respects then end with a feast of Songpyon, rice cakes filled with sweets or bean paste.

After much research with reference to Koreans and their way of life, one can appreciate their customs, values, traditions, and attitudes. Koreans set a good example for the rest of the world in terms of respect and loyalty within the family unit. Korea still has some issues to deal with in terms of their treatment of women and female children; however, they are making progress. The most important notion to remember when studying other countries is we should all celebrate our differences and try to learn things from the positive aspects of each other?s cultures.

Choi, S. & Keith, P. (1991). ?Are ?Worlds of Pain? Crosscultural? Korean Working Class Marriages.? Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 293.

Crane, P. S. (1967). Korean Patterns. Seoul: Hollym Corporation.

Facts About Korea. (1989). Seoul, Korea: Korean Overseas Information Service.

Focus on Korea: Korean Arts and Culture. (1988). Seoul, Korea: Seoul International Publishing House.

Hyun, J. (1979). ?Life-style?. Introducing Korea, 98-101.

Lew, S. (1988). ?Life in South Korea Today?. The Social Studies, 161-164.

Pan-Asia American Book, Child Rearing Practices

The Handbook of Korea. (1987). Seoul: Seoul International Publishing House.

Traditional Marriage (1999). [1999, November 1].

Yi, J. (1996). Male Chauvinism and the Preference for Sons. http://hotline. Peacenet.or.kr/gender_1. htm> [1999, September 26].

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