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