South Korea, Hanguk (한국), formally known as the Republic of Korea (ROK) Daehan Minguk (대한민국), is well known for its K-pop and its major Chaebol (재벌) companies like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG. Among other notabilities, South Korea has its North Korean neighbor, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Yes, North Korea does actually have the notation of democracy in its official title. Whichever name you use, South Korea offers a great experience into a lifestyle and culture that bears some Western semblance while maintaining its homogeneous and historical roots.
Regarded by some as the “most Confucian part of the world,” Korea has found a way to incorporate democratic capitalism while still maintaining ancient tradition to prompt the development of the nation. Since the Joseon Dynasty (대조선국), the traditional Confucian ideal of a “leader” and “follower” is still being followed. It encourages the idea of proper relationships that distinguish different social classes. Over time, this has helped to create a powerful community and a collectively proud nation. Another factor within Korean culture is the importance of education. Confucius himself emphasized the pursuit of education and constant studying. It extends so far as the national exams, benchmark tests for students that are posted to the public as a means to encourage competition. The success of an individual during these tests most often leads to job opportunity at a large and typically family-owned company, a Chaebol, also known as a conglomerate.
Individuals in Korea are free to make any choice, but there is a heavy impression that reveres respect for oneself and group harmony. The actions of the individual lead back to the group as a whole. It creates a fundamental and moral guideline for decision making. Most notable in Korea is a great respect for elders as well as honoring the family name. This is important because social status has played a major role in the workplace and how it can affect someone’s family and future. After the Korean War, South Korea came under authoritarian rule by the military regime as the country planned for major industrialization. For preparation of the changing state of the country and the resistance of communism, the education system replicated a militaristic style. This included mental and physical training, intense studying, and high regard for their leaders. Even the teachers were subject to strict policy. Instead of encouraging free thought on subject material, they were enforced to abstain from anything not in the material and instead to focus on Confucian ideology and social customs as a means to bring back its influence after the heavyset Japanese Colonialism of the first half of the 1900s.
Recently, the Korean Wave, Hallyu (한류), known as the “flow of Korea” is Korea’s rise to popularity in the 90s. Since then, Korea has seen big commercial successes on Youtube and the Internet that has led to the expansions of K-pop, K-drama television, and entertainment. Most notable was K-pop artist, Psy, with his song Gangnam Style (강남스타일) that was released in 2012. It was the first video on Youtube to reach one billion views and it helped to put a global spotlight on Korean media.
The modernization of Korea and foreign influence from western countries has helped to shape the minds of the younger generations in a way that is different than their ancestors. Despite all of these changes, tradition implemented in their youth has not been forgotten and customs are still held high when it comes to respecting elders and holding family value. It should be noted that Confucianism doesn’t solely give an explanation to Korean culture as a whole. One needs to look extensively at the other doctrines over the course of Korea’s history to get a better understanding. Be that as it may, the newer generations will continue to bring change and new ideas and Korea will continue to flourish while still maintaining its integrity as a country with tradition and value.