Last modified on 26 April 2015, at 03:58

South Korea

Koreans are immersed in their culture and are thus blind to its characteristics and quirks. Examples of group think are everywhere. Because Koreans share values and views, they support decisions even when they are obviously bad. ~ Peter Underwood
They don't like anyone who isn't Korean, and they don't like each other all that much, either. They're hardheaded, hard-drinking, tough little bastards. ~ P. J. O'Rourke
In a society that employs a strong sense of ethnic and cultural unity, ethnic prejudice and discrimination typically prevent minority members from participating in main stream society. Both Japan and Korea are good examples of such a rigid society. ~ Eung-Ryul Kim
The magnificence of the courage and fortitude of the Korean people defies description. They have chosen to risk death rather than slavery. ~ Douglas MacArthur
South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, more than double that of the United States. ~ Adam Taylor
Unlike most other countries, South Koreans actually become more likely to commit suicide as they age. ~ Adam Taylor
The Korean people learned from the Japanese how to look at the world in racial categories. ~ Brian Reynolds Myers
Prejudicial attitudes are widely evident throughout the Korean system. ~ Paul Zoltan Jambor

South Korea, also known as the Republic of Korea (ROK), is a country located in eastern Eurasia, on the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. The word "Korea" is derived from the word "Goryeo"; Goryeo was a dynasty which ruled the Korean Peninsula in the Middle Ages. South Korea shares land borders with North Korea to the north, and oversea borders with China to the west and Japan to the east. Formed in 1948, South Korea lies in the north temperate zone with a predominantly mountainous terrain. It comprises an estimated fifty million residents distributed over a territory comprising 99,392 squared kilometers, or 38,375 squared miles. The country's capital and largest city is Seoul, with a population of 10 million residents. During the Korean War of the early 1950s, South Korea was invaded by North Korea and China, with the goal of placing the country under communist rule. With the assistance of the United States and the United Nations, South Korea was able to repel the invasion, with the war ending in 1953. However, sporadic attacks against South Korea's military and civilians by North Korea continue into the 2010s. Although the South Korean economy was one of the world's poorest after the end of the Korean War in the 1950s, it is now the 13th largest in the world. South Korea is the world's largest shipbuilder and the country's economy is focused heavily on exports, such as that of automobiles, electronics, and various technologies.



  • The tragedy of Korea is further heightened by the fact that its military action is confined to its territorial limits. It condemns that nation, which it is our purpose to save, to suffer the devastating impact of full naval and air bombardment while the enemy's sanctuaries are fully protected from such attack and devastation. Of the nations of the world, Korea alone, up to now, is the sole one which has risked its all against communism. The magnificence of the courage and fortitude of the Korean people defies description. They have chosen to risk death rather than slavery. Their last words to me were: 'Don't scuttle the Pacific!'


  • In May 1961 when I took over power as the leader of the revolutionary group, I honestly felt as if I had been given a pilfered household or bankrupt firm to manage. Around me I could find little hope of encouragement. The outlook was bleak. But I had to rise above this pessimism to rehabilitate the household. I had to destroy, once and for all, the vicious circle of poverty and economic stagnation. Only by reforming the economic structure would we lay a foundation for decent living standards.


  • We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, someway or another, and some in South Korea too.
    • Curtis LeMay in Strategic Air Warfare: An Interview with Generals (1988).
  • Unification, as I have mentioned, can be a euphemism for conquest, a gloss for winning the war. The south's disagreement is in part due to the fact that they believe that the nation and state must be one, that a confederation is not unification, and that North Korea must be totally absorbed into the south, its state destroyed, and its people assimilated.
    • Roy Richard Grinker, as quoted in Korea and Its Futures: Unification and the Unfinished War (1988), St. Martin's Press.


  • There was little, if any, feeling of loyalty toward the abstract concept of Korea as a nation-state, or toward fellow inhabitants of the peninsula as 'Koreans'. Far more meaningful at the time, in addition to a sense of loyalty to the king, were the attachments of Koreans to their village of region, and above all to their clan, lineage, and immediate and extended family. The Korean elite in particular would have found the idea of nationalism not only strange but also uncivilized. Since at least the seventh century the ruling classes in Korea had thought of themselves in cultural terms less as Koreans than as members of a larger cosmopolitan civilization centered on China.
  • To live outside the realm of Chinese culture was, for the Korean elite, to live as a barbarian.
  • It was a grand success and a declaration of Korean independence. Ever since, Koreans have straightened their backs and walked with confidence.
  • In a society that employs a strong sense of ethnic and cultural unity, ethnic prejudice and discrimination typically prevent minority members from participating in main stream society. Both Japan and Korea are good examples of such a rigid society. Traditionally, the Korean government has been imposing various legal measures to prevent foreigners immigrating into Korea. However, Japanese minorities have been living in Korea, though small in number, for almost half a century. Most Japanese living in Korea today are elderly women with their Korean husbands, many of them now widowed.
  • Since the introduction of modern education, most school textbooks in Korea have proudly emphasized Korea's ethnic unity and its unique homogeneous culture. Although some historians questioned the uniqueness of Korean culture, especially in terms of its Chinese influence, most Koreans firmly believe that Korea consists of a single race and culture. They are very reluctant to accept inter-cultural marriages or emigration of foreigners to Korea in order to maintain a cultural homogeneity of their society. While Koreans show no apparent disapproval or hatred to foreigners in general, they have negative attitudes toward Japanese. Because of harsh memories of Japanese occupation period, a strong anti-Japanese sentiment has been prevailing throughout Korean society, especially stronger in the post-World War II era. Japanese women who were married to Korean men during the colonial period, hereafter described as 'Japanese women', moved to, or remained in Korea immediately after the war.


  • Korea was a vassal state of China for much of the previous 400 years. This client-patron relationship that endured for centuries, coupled with the deep cultural, ideological ties, has left an enduring legacy of respect for China within Korean culture and has strongly affected the Korean psyche. Korea has been criticized for being quick to react to even the slightest transgression by either the United States or Japan, while China often gets a pass, even when the transgressions are great.
  • I was seeking to explain anti-American movements that had erupted in South Korea in the 1980s. I was interested in explaining why South Korea, once considered a best friend and ally of the United States, had embraced anti-American rhetoric and movements during its pursuit of democracy. My research found that the movements had inherently been related to the politics of national identity, since with the anti-American rhetoric dissidents had sought to challenge the authoritarian state's definitions of nation and national identity.
  • The historical origins and politics of Korean national identity based on a sense of ethnic homogeneity has not recieved adequate scholarly attention. Ethnic unity is widely assumed on both sides of the Korean Peninsula, and most Koreans do not question its historicity. Indeed, it seems 'politically incorrect' to question the eternal and natural essence of Korean ethnic unity. However, one cannot assume that Koreans' ethnic national identity is fixed, or is something that stems from ancient times.
  • Korean national identity based on ethnic homogeneity should be understood as a product of particular historical processes that require scholarly attention.
  • This dispute is over whether nationhood is a product of nationalist political mobilization of uniquely modern dimensions, or, conversely, whether the prior existence of ethnicity in fact explains much of modern nationality. The issue is particularly complicated in the Korean context, where there exists substantial overlap between the levels of race, ethnicity, and nation. When Koreans shouted, 'We are one' in Seoul's city hall plaza and in Los Angeles' Staples Center, they meant that Koreans are one race, one ethnicity, and one nation, regardless of their current legal citizenship, place of residence, or political beliefs. Although race is understood as a collectivity defined by innate and immutable phenotypic and genotypic characteristics and ethnicity is generally regarded as a cultural phenomenon based on a common language and history, Koreans have not historically differentiated between the two. Instead, race has served as a marker that strengthened ethnic identity, which in turn was instrumental in defining the nation. Race, ethnicity, and nation were conflated, and this is reflected in the multiple uses of the term minjok, the most widely used term for 'nation', which can also refer to 'ethnie' or 'race'. What accounts for the rise and establishment of such a strong sense of ethnic national identity of racialized notion of nation held among Koreans? As in the general literature on the study of nations and nationalisms, there exist several contending views to explain the origins of the Korean ethnic nation.
  • As South Korea grew into one of the economic 'Four Tigers' of East Asia and left behind decades of dictatorship for democracy, North Korea developed into one of the nastiest and most psychotic tyrannies in history.
  • The various ‐isms in the numerous facets of the Korean system of education can very well hinder the ethical and moral development of the system so that students of all genders, sexual orientations, social backgrounds, races and ages could attend school without being discriminated against based on their dissimilarities. Moreover, a development could bode just as well for female and younger candidates alike for being instated into school principal positions at all Korean schools.
  • Korean society has for long been shaped by Confucian ideologies wherein age and gender among other factors predetermine one's position in relation to others among friends, family and society as a whole. Especially the determiners pertaining to age and gender lead to sexism and ageism which in essence encompass the widely spread prejudicial treatment of individuals in society based on their age and gender. In all segments of society older males hold the highest ranks while younger females hold the lowest positions. Moreover, since foreign and mixed racial children are not considered to be a part of the normal sphere of 'Korean society', these groups of students are regarded to hold even lower positions than the youngest of Korean females. 'Full-blooded Korean' homosexual children fair even worse due to the lack of tolerance for homosexuality in traditional Korean society. These prejudicial attitudes are widely evident throughout the Korean system of education and the system needs to have checks and measures in place to alleviate such racist, sexist and ageist attitudes so as to create equal opportunities and a safe environment for all students in Korea.
  • Not until these problems are resolved can the Korean system of educational truly call itself reformed. Unless the attitudes and institutional practices built on discrimination and intolerance are totally weeded out, the Korean system of education will have difficulty nurturing world leaders like Ban Ki‐moon that can rise to the challenges of today's global world. After all, with globalization in mind, multinational companies require multinational attitudes, for without such non prejudicial attitudes multifaceted organizations and businesses are simply unsustainable in the long run on a globe as ultifaceted and multicultural as the one we are living on. Simply put, if constructive changes are not made, healthy and sustainable relationships will be increasingly impossible to maintain as time goes on.


  • Sixty years ago, at dawn on June 25, the Korean War broke out when Communist North Korea invaded the Republic of Korea. In response, 16 member countries of the United Nations, including the United States, joined with the Republic of Korea to defend freedom. Over the next three years of fighting, about 37,000 Americans lost their lives. They fought for the freedom of Koreans they did not even know, and thanks to their sacrifices, the peace and democracy of the republic were protected.
  • The Republic of Korea has emerged as an important partner of the United States in many parts of the world. Also, in the course of investigating and responding to the North's March sinking of our naval vessel the Cheonan, Seoul and Washington have closely coordinated efforts and expertise. In all these endeavors, we are not losing sight of the necessity of eventually turning the Korean Peninsula into a cradle of regional and world peace.
  • On this significant occasion, all Koreans pay tribute to the heroes fallen in defense of freedom and democracy. I firmly believe that future generations in both countries will further advance the strong Republic of Korea-U.S. alliance into one befitting the spirit of the new age.
  • On the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, I remain grateful to America for having participated in the war. At that time, the Republic of Korea was one of the most impoverished countries, with an annual per capita income of less than $40. In 2009, my country became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Development Assistance Committee, the first aid recipient to become a donor and in only one generation. The Republic of Korea is engaged in peacekeeping missions in 14 countries to promote global peace. It will host the G-20 summit in November, and in 2012 the second nuclear security summit.
  • Korean schoolchildren in north and south learn that Japan invaded their fiercely patriotic country in 1905, spent forty years trying to destroy its language and culture, and withdrew without having made any significant headway. This version of history is just as uncritically accepted by most foreigners who write about Korea. Yet the truth is more complex. For much of the country's long history its northern border was fluid and the national identities of literate Koreans and Chinese mutually indistinguishable. Believing their civilization to have been founded by a Chinese sage in China's image, educated Koreans subscribed to a Confucian worldview that posited their country in a position of permanent subservience to the Middle Kingdom. Even when Korea isolated itself from the mainland in the seventeenth century, it did so in the conviction that it was guarding Chinese tradition better than the Chinese themselves. For all their xenophobia, the Koreans were no nationalists.
  • If you stay too long, Koreans become uncomfortable with you. ... Having a 2 percent foreign population unquestionably causes ripples, but having one million temporary foreign residents does not make Korea a multicultural society. ... In many ways, this homogeneity is one of Korea's greatest strengths. Shared values create harmony. Sacrifice for the nation is a given. Difficult and painful political and economic initiatives are endured without discussion or debate. It is easy to anticipate the needs and behavior of others. It is the cornerstone that has helped Korea survive adversity. But there is a downside, too.
  • Koreans are immersed in their culture and are thus blind to its characteristics and quirks. Examples of group think are everywhere. Because Koreans share values and views, they support decisions even when they are obviously bad. Multiculturalism will introduce contrasting views and challenge existing assumptions. While it will undermine the homogeneity, it will enrich Koreans with a better understanding of themselves.
  • Foreign traders were being restricted to certain parts of the peninsula well before the Korean people learned from the Japanese how to look at the world in racial categories. This makes it harder to figure out whether discrimination against foreigners in South Korea has more to do with xenophobia or nationalism. There still seems to be, as in Japan, a common sense of a certain racial hierarchy, with Koreans and perhaps the Japanese too at the top. But it's a moral hierarchy without much serious conviction of intellectual, let alone physical superiority. For all the loud professions of hostility towards Japan, the Japanese are considered the least foreign of foreign races.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated Korean-American Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College, as the next head of the World Bank. Obama's selection of Kim drew praise both in the U.S. and here in Korea. Kim moved to the U.S. with his parents when he was five and is an American citizen, but Koreans like to think of him as one of their own. Americans also congratulated Kim, who became the first Asian-American president of an Ivy League university and nominee for the next head of the World Bank. Critics voiced concerns whether Kim, a medical doctor by training, would be able to handle the developmental assistance the World Bank is known for, but nobody had any problem with his ethnic background. Yet the exact opposite is happening here in Korea right now. The Philippine-born naturalized Korean citizen Jasmine Lee, who became a Saenuri Party lawmaker, has been the victim of malicious attacks on the Internet since the April 11 general election. People have been posting malicious comments about her on Twitter and other social networks, somehow linking her to the grisly murder of a young woman recently killed by an ethnic Korean from China.
  • As a party list candidate, Lee has never made any campaign pledges. But somebody posted false rumors on the Internet that Lee had promised major benefits for foreign migrant workers and brides using taxpayers' money. Lee married a Korean and legally acquired Korean citizenship in 1998. After being widowed in 2010, she formed a group supporting foreign wives of Korean men and also worked at Seoul City Hall helping such women. She even played a small role in the movie 'Punch' about multicultural families in Korea and appealed to Koreans to pay more attention to people like her. It is perfectly fair to question her ability to serve as a lawmaker. But the criticism against her on the Internet reflects nothing but xenophobia. Lee will serve as a lawmaker representing the 200,000 foreign wives of Korean men who live here. They are all Korean citizens. It does not befit one of the world's 10 largest exporters to get excited about the achievements of an American who comes from Korea but on the other hand to react with hostility to an immigrant who achieves something here. Such double standards are unacceptable.
  • South Korea is an extremely wired country, so has a lot to attack. Unfortunately for the South Koreans, North Korea has extremely limited internet connectivity and hence is a target-poor country. Hence, the only option is [conventional] war - or convincing the North Koreans that they can attack them in cyberspace as well.
  • South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, more than double that of the United States. According to one recent OECD report, [South] Korea had bucked a trend of falling suicide rates among developed nations, with suicide rising to become the fourth most common cause of death. Unlike most other countries, South Koreans actually become more likely to commit suicide as they age.
  • In 1910, the Korean Empire, which had been a vassal state of China, signed a treaty with the Empire of Japan that merged the two empires into one. The Korean royal family was absorbed into that of Japan. Japan was the successor state, and the Korean Peninsula became part of the Japanese empire, enjoying equal status with its other territories. From then on, and notwithstanding the undeclared war that Japan waged on China from 1937 onward and its 1941 sneak attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Korean subjects not only paid taxes to Japan, but also contributed to Japan's Pacific War by serving in its armed forces. There were even Korean voluntary units in the Japanese military, and Koreans such as Crown Prince Euimin and Hong Sa-ik reached ranks as high as lieutenant general. All ROK Army chiefs of staff from 1948 to 1969 were former officers of the Japanese army, and the same is true of former ROK president Park Chung-hee. Japan was the lawful government of the whole of Korea during World War II. Considering these historical realities, what position is South Korea in to commemorate the anti-Japanese war?
  • A group of Korean nationalists set up a 'Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea' in Shanghai in 1919. On October 10, 1938, the Korean Liberation Army (KLA) was set up in Wuhan, China. This force operated under the authority of the Political Training Board of China's National Military Council, which also supplied its provisions. In 1940, the Chinese Nationalist government based in Chongqing decided to provide assistance to the Korean provisional government and placed the KLA directly under the authority of China's National Military Council, while the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) dispatched military and political officers to guide its operations. Following World War II, the ROK established a government and set up an independent state with the U.S.' backing. Considering its history of dependence on China and the U.S., what justification does South Korea have for its claimed tradition of anti-Japanese resistance? South Korea is not the only place where peripheral Sino-centric thinking obscures historical reality. Taiwan's governing authorities are holding an exhibition in the Zhongshan Hall, the former Taipei city hall, to mark the anniversaries of the 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident, China's victory in its war of resistance against Japan, and Taiwan's 'retrocession' to China from Japanese colonial rule. The exhibition glorifies resistance and martyrdom, and it embodies the outlook of a victor nation. Since its real purpose is political mobilization, it cannot be expected to present a fair account of historical facts.

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