Friday, May 02, 2014

Confucianism and the Sewol Ferry Sinking?

Sewol Sinking
Google Images

Choi Hyung-Kyu, the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo, wrote about a dinner with a Chinese professor with whom he discussed reasons for the tragic sinking of the Sewol ("Humbling encounter at an altar in Beijing," JoongAng Ilbo, April 29, 2014):
I had a dinner with a Chinese professor. The Sewol news naturally dominated our conversation. He said the Chinese took an interest in the South Korean education system after the ferry tragedy. "We were awed how students unquestioningly followed the rules and stayed below deck just because they were told to through the loudspeaker. If they were Chinese students, they all would have run outside and jumped into the sea. None would have believed or paid attention to the instruction."

I was dumbfounded by this observation and could not make out whether it was a bad joke or not. "I think the Koreans are still under the Confucius teaching of being obedient to authority," he added.
There has, in fact, already been a significant amount of discussion on Confucianism's role, some people blaming it entirely for the students' unquestioning obedience, others saying it played no part whatsoever. I'm not one to dismiss Confucianism's role, for culture surely plays a part in everything, but I wouldn't single it out in this case. If I were an American teenager -- and likely if I were even the adult I am now -- I would probably also follow instructions in such a case. Why? Because we know that in an emergency, we're supposed to follow instructions. The basic assumption is that those in charge are experts and know what they're doing.

The problem posed for obedience in this Sewol case was the incompetence, ignorance, and ignobility of the captain and most of the Sewol crew.



At 7:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a baby boomer from rural Arkansas. Urban millenials have very different values and attitudes. They are more likely to reject political and religious authority figures and institutions and are not obedient, which I see as positive changes. In a large, diverse country like the US, behavioral norms can change in a few years. An example of this is the widespread looting and vandalism seen in the 1977 NYC blackout versus the public calm and order in 1966. Lead poisoning,which drove up violent crime rates from the late 60s through early 80s may also have played a role. The problem I have with the culture angle is that US news reporters cite it only in reporting in foreign disasters and never seem to examine the role of culture in our own handling of events like Hurricane Katrina or the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.


At 7:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Would millenials refuse to follow instructions in an emergency? And don't forget that baby boomers were the original rebels.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Baby boomers embraced cultural behaviors that have become mainstream, like divorce, unmarried parenthood, and non-participation in organized religion. However, young baby boomers were more conservative as a cohort than millenials. This is not surprising given that social rebellion seems to have been confined to urban areas and college campuses. My rural maternal cousins who came of age in late 60s and early 70s worked, raised kids, and attended church just like their parents while my urban paternal cousins chose varied paths as adults.

I cannot offhand think of a recent tragedy that would allow us to compare the behaviors of young Americans with their Korean counterparts. The VT shooting, perhaps?


At 9:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Millennials. I always misspell that word. Surprised you didn't catch it. Anyway, this Pew generational cohort study might interest you.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I always misspell it, too, as you can see! I'll take a look at the Pew study.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A more interesting cultural comparison is the responses by Koreans in authority versus their American counterparts. Prime Minister Chung resigned, and the school vice-principal hanged himself on a tree near the place where grieving families were being housed. Contrast this with the Bush administration's response to the disastrous handling of Hurricane Katrina. Heckuva Job Brownie resigned reluctantly, insisting he had performed his duties well, and Bush avoided public criticism of the man widely blamed for the too-little-too-late evacuation and the horrible conditions at the Superdome. More than 1,000 people died during Hurricane Katrina, compared to just 113 during Typhoon Maeri, which came ashore in more densely populated Busan.


At 11:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think the operational aspect is Korea's shame-and-honor culture, which hasn't yet disappeared entirely.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Culture aside, one of the things I often see is "Group Mentality" actions. There seems to be a "Lets do what they do or say" mentality of today's youth in America. An example going on right now is the proliferation of anonymous threats of pending bombs or shootings in schools. Almost every school from the middle grades to high school has experienced some level of "threat" since the Newtown tragedy.

I hope you were not on the subway in Seoul that collided. Also, have you heard of the tornados Arkansas experienced last weekend? Two towns, Mayflower and Vilonia were pretty much devastated by an EF4, 2nd highest rating given, tornado.


At 9:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'd heard of one of the tornadoes -- I hope no one we know was hurt.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one I am aware of so far, however, that area is where a lot of my relatives from Mom's side of the family live. There were 15 fatalities though. That corridor through Arkansas seems to bear the brunt of severe weather. If you recall Cabot was blown away in the 70s, I actually saw that tornado while at college in Beebe. Rosebud, Beebe, Searcy, and several other towns along that line have all experienced some level of tornado destruction over the last 30 to 40 years.

At 10:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

In the old days, we didn't know as much about the tornadoes hitting the Ozarks because our hills were so sparsely settled.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:19 AM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

"baby boomers were the original rebels"

What would your students think about your lack of knowledge of United States history? I'd have to say those Pilgrims were the original American rebels.

At 11:44 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Korean students likely wouldn't know better, and American students would probably figure I was using hyperbole.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:40 PM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

"Turn" is a new look at some early British-American rebels. It is quite interesting on so many levels, many of which are still happening today.

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, JD!

Jeffery Hodges

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