Saturday, October 31, 2009

Korean Identity: Follow-Up

The Korean People
(Image from Wikipedia)

Since I had a late night out with a Korean friend whom I've known since my time in Germany back in the early 90s, I'm not really clearheaded enough for a genuine blog entry, so I'll just inflict upon faithful readers another passage from my lightweight article on "Korean Identity?" This passage follows a longer one on Christianity in Korea, but it argues against a broadly significant Christian cultural influence here yet:
In the longer run, Christianity tends to reshape society from a shame culture to a guilt culture, for the real value of an individual is found not in what others think but in what God knows. Christian influence in Korea, however, has been of significance for only a very brief time, and Confucian values continue to predominate, maintaining a society where that which matters most of all is one's hierarchical status, undergirded by honor and threatened by shame. Confucianism would thus seem to be the dominate quality in Korean identity, though the long Buddhist presence on the peninsula has left an underlying substratum, and Christianity is growing in its significance. Korean identity would therefore appear to be what Brague calls "eccentric," centered on places that -- to its own geo-cultural sphere -- are external, namely China, India, and the West. But not all is as it appears. Koreans experienced thirty-five years of Japanese colonialism, and the post-liberation period has seen an exponential rise in Korean nationalism, a surge of feeling that pervades society and infuses the political right, left, and middle. Especially North Korea has emphasized Korean nationalism of an extreme form, for what is the North's ideology of juche other than a radically nationalistic elaboration of exclusively Korean identity? Hostility to the US and Japan, and distrust toward Russia and even China characterize the North's ethnically based ideology. The North Korean case is extreme, of course, but South Korea shares some degree of the North's ethnic nationalism and still claims Korean purity of blood as the basis for this nationalism. Koreans therefore appeal to an indigenous Korean identity that would predate Western Christianity, Chinese Confucianism, and Indian Buddhism, thereby centering Korean identity in nativist ethnocentrism.
I follow this passage with a longer one on the meaning of the Dangun myth, but I'll spare you that.

Now for some needed rest . . .

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At 4:54 PM, Blogger Charles Montgomery said...

You might add to that the influence of shamanism which long predates Confucius and is evident in all aspects of society and religion.

I have recently seen pretty compelling arguments that the late numerical advances Catholicism has made on Protestantism is because the Catholics (as they historically have done) have done a better job of absorbing the gut into their services.

In general, Christianity "lucked out" in Korea (compared to any other Asian states other than the Philippines) both because of Korea's desire to modernize/westernize and the fact that a "Christian" nation 'freed' South Korea.

Man.. a lot of quotation marks in that paragraph!


At 7:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Some scholars have argued that Pentecostal Christianity has caught on in Korea because of its shamanistic aspects, but I'd long thought that Catholicism succeeded because it came into Korea as a Confucian innovation.

Jeffery Hodges

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