Monday, August 16, 2010

Do Koreans Feel Connection with China?

Dear Korean,

I am a Chinese-American. Both of my parents were born and raised in main land China and whenever anything Korean comes into the conversation they immediately say "Korea is a part of China" or "Korean culture is just a variation of Chinese" or some other ethnocentric remark. They don't only think this way about Korea -- they also deny that Taiwan is a country in its own right, and think it is just an extension of China. I know that this attitude is just a result of my parents upbringing, but I was wondering if Koreans feel any connection with China.

Ina



Dear Ina,

The easiest way to explain is to examine the relationship between United States and Italy. Obviously, Italy is the modern heir of the Roman Empire. And as a part of the Western Civilization, America has many elements within it that reflects the influence of the Roman Empire. Our national seal involves an eagle, influenced by Roman standard of armies. Americans still frequently use Roman numerals. American colleges are made to look like Roman buildings. American lawyers (and assholes who want to sound smart) often resort to Latin phrases. And these are just a few examples.

But does all this extend to ordinary Americans' feeling any particular connection with Italy, like rooting for the Azzurri or suddenly thinking Snooki is not repulsive?? The answer is an obvious no. (And HELL NO with respect to Snooki.)

The Korean will still gag at the sight of Snooki 

The same is true with China and Korea. Much of classic literature in China -- such as Romance of Three Kingdoms or the Analects -- are classics in Korea as well. Like the way the learned in America use Latin phrases, the learned in Korea use Chinese phrases. Many of Korea's traditional buildings reflect a strong Chinese influence.

But that does not extend to Koreans' feeling particular connection with China of today. This is even more so because until very recently, (South) Korea and (People's Republic of) China were in an antagonistic relationship, facing off in the Cold War. (Diplomatic relationship between Korea and China did not exist until 1992.) While Korea and China have been actively engaging each other in the last 18 years, few in Korea feel a particular connection with China because of the Chinese influence over Korea. It is, simply put, ancient history.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

30 comments:

  1. I feel that Chinese is generally a pejorative in Korea. Ethnic Koreans from China, products from China and air from China, among other things, are not given high status.

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  2. I hope Chinese readers of this fine blog dont mind by my insensitive statement, but taking things face value Koreans look down upon Chinese. I felt it even more so when I visited Korea two years ago. I believe the negative sentiment towards Chinese probably is placed because of Chinese inferior products.

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    1. Chinese products..lol you mean the Korean Satillite (or lack of?) FYI everyone in the world CANT GET ENOUGH OF chinese products

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  3. Nicely said. I for some reason haven't ever been able to characterize this to people. I never thought to consider Modern China in relationship with Ancient China as the same thing as Modern Italy with Ancient Rome.

    I guess that's because Modern China controls as much (or even more) territory than ancient China did, whereas Italy does not have all the territory that ancient Rome did.

    I'm really impressed by this and I'll probably use the analogy in any further discussion about the subject.

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  4. While I don't agree necessarily with PRC opinions about the ROC, Mainland Chinese views of Taiwan are a completely different animal from their views of Korea.

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  5. Bah everybody looks down on other people in the Asian region....

    Koreans think they are superior to everybody else. (TCG's experience) hold on you're not Korean.... Hey when did I ever say I was korean.

    OMG ~ naked Korean girl runs away (this is a joke it actually happened at a Busan Petrol station where this woman was waffling at me for ages in Korean looking at the London sticker on my motorbike thinking my god! a Korean dude has gone and ridden around the world, actually a Korean guy did ride a motorbike round the world, he's called Joon Kim and owes me his life. They call Japanese people Jjokbari (쪽바리)

    Japanese think they are superior to everybody else. They and Americans call everybody else gooks.

    Taiwanese think they are superior to everybody else.

    Chinese think they are superior to everybody else. And add the word Si infront of Japanese. But they add the same words infront of black people, indians etc. Though IIRC they call Koreans Bangzi. (Off the boat from Incheon to China even I was called a Bangzi)

    In Europe we do the same, the British hate the French, the French hate the British. Everybody hates the Germans and there are many racial slurs between all of them.

    Even in the same country people look down on each other.

    In Britain everybody north of the Watford gap is considered scum, conversely we consider the same things of people south of the watford gap.

    Even in a small place like Hong Kong you get such shall we say dislikes:


    The many (but not all) caucasian people walk round like they own they place, then you get cantonese, then you get hakkas then you get mainlanders, then taiwanese, Singaporeans then you get dogs, then cats, rats, cockroaches then other people. (I'm joking about this last bit) Such is the widespread isms of the world.. It is a normal human trait and thus not something you can really change.


    @Miguk chonhnum

    Kinda sounds smug, I too thought Korean products were improved... but they aren't. In the UK (one of the biggest markets for motorbikes) nobody will even touch Hyosung, the inability to find parts and the fact that they fall apart before your very eyes is testament to that. Dalems are even worse and on a par with shit motorbikes made in China.

    While my made in Japan Hondas have survived horrible British winters with just a bit of surface rust.

    My samsung notebook needed to be replaced TWICE, while my Sony Vaio has lasted years. While my sister's Hyundai feels dangerous, the metal is uber thin such that when it rains it is noisy as hell and I'm not confident it would be very good in a crash either as Hyundais score pretty poorly in European Ncap tests.

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  6. I feel the definition of China differs depending on who you are. To non-Chinese, it is the ethnic Han plus those assimilated into the country; to Chinese (correct me if I am wrong), it is the greater community of various ethnic groups with a shared culture.

    The negative sentiment towards China is down to the Korean War and the association with Communism. It further leads onto the perception of being poor.

    There is of course the well publicised poor build quality but that is unfair seeing how many products Chinese factories make for reputable international companies. All countries have bad eggs and sometimes the arm of the law does not reach. And of course, the reputation of Chinese products is not exclusive to Korea.

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  7. I believe that "Koreans" north of the 38th probably feel one hell of a connection with China, much, more so, than those that consider themselves Chinese in Taiwan.

    And I wonder if anyone is asking those in the North just who they'd like to become part of once they get actually get the chance when the 'lil dud's house of cards finally collapses, China or South Korea? The answer might surprise a lot of people here in the South who think the answer is a "given" (they need to realize that this isn't geometry).

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  8. John, that might be true in terms of economic connection (whose importance should not be discounted,) but in terms of the connection that people "feel" -- i.e. the type of connection that Ina asked in her question -- it seems pretty indisputable that N. Koreans feel more connection with South Koreans.

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  9. SimonSays wrote:
    The negative sentiment towards China is down to the Korean War and the association with Communism. It further leads onto the perception of being poor.

    Perhaps, but it had been going strong throughout the 1990s as the left sought to divert Seoul's political focus from Benefactor America's umbrella to Big Brother China's basket.

    But that started to fall apart with things like this.

    That was like a blow to the bow of the ideological ship, and the momentum has turned back. It was a wake-up call that the benign way many South Koreans had come to view China was not shared (or at least viewed on an equal level). Lots of fraying of that China connection.

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  11. John from Taejŏn wrote:
    I believe that "Koreans" north of the 38th probably feel one hell of a connection with China, much, more so, than those that consider themselves Chinese in Taiwan.

    Economic and political connection, the "Who are our friends?" connection, then I would agree (many) North Koreans feel a strong (?) connection with China, one stronger than Taiwanese feel with China.

    But if you are talking about a "Who are we a part of?" connection, there is probably close to zero of that with China.

    Now if Manchuria were still a country, the equation might be different. I know a lot of people lump all of PRC territory as one big China, but people in East Asia are keenly aware of historic differences between different groups, and they know that the traditional territory of the Han Chinese never touched what is Korea today.

    People who look at a map of China today juxtaposed with the Koreas think it is inevitable that there was lots of influence, but the learned reality is that "Chinese" influence came as Mongolian influence, influence by various Manchurian groups, etc., as well as from Han Chinese (and that influence was not just a one-way street). But since half of Mongolia and all of Manchuria have been swallowed up by China, it's easy to forget this by looking at a map.

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  12. John from Taejŏn wrote:
    And I wonder if anyone is asking those in the North just who they'd like to become part of once they get actually get the chance when the 'lil dud's house of cards finally collapses, China or South Korea? The answer might surprise a lot of people here in the South who think the answer is a "given" (they need to realize that this isn't geometry).

    If North Koreans en masse chose option (c), to remain independent, that wouldn't surprise me, depending on how the DPRK collapses, but I highly doubt North Koreans would willingly choose to become part of the PRC. In fact, if Beijing goes ahead with what I think at least some there would like to do, to create an Inner Cháoxiān Autonomous Region (à la Inner Mongolia), they would face guerrilla resistance if not open warfare much as we see in Chechnya, far worse than any resistance Beijing gets in "East Turkestan."

    Ethnic nationalism hammered into North Koreans' heads favors control flowing from Pyongyang or, as a reluctant secondary option, control by some entity in Korea such as Seoul. Control from Beijing is so anathema to North Koreans that it would become a nightmare for Beijing to even attempt that.

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  13. I think Koreans' estimation of China took a big hit after the fall of Ming.

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  14. I too am finding it very difficult to think of a scenario where N. Korea would want to join China if or when the regime collapses. Aside from the basic fact that the peninsula used to be united with the south, there's the whole factor of language and culture. N. Koreans are not going to just give up speaking Korean and learn Chinese, not to mention lose their ethnic and cultural identity, as China would surely impose as a condition for them to join. As harsh as the conditions in N. Korea have become, I find it hard to believe they would decide to annex themselves to China purely for economic and political reasons. Given their nationalistic pride, it seems unthinkable for a Korean (north or south) to voluntarily decide "ok I will no longer be Korean I am now Chinese".

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  15. S.A.R China number 3 (#1 being HK #2 being Macau) #3 could be a proper autonous Zone much like HK. And thus is allowed time to adjust and catch up. SAR HK was created so China mainland could catch up.

    East and west Germany reunification bankrupted west germany, the wealth divide is even bigger and SK has its own economic issues right now.

    If NK joins with SK, SK will be bankrupted totally and utterly unless there is some sort of division.

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  16. "If NK joins with SK, SK will be bankrupted totally and utterly unless there is some sort of division."

    Chinese guy I don't buy that for a second. If the two halves united, that would mean an enormous amount of job creating building projects in the North, an instant doubling in size of the country which would help ease population density, and create a bigger consumer market for everything. I don't think South Korea has much in the way of a welfare state so I don't see them going bankrupt over any social services. Also any drop in currency value due to reunification would also make Korean exports cheaper.

    Koreans in Seoul could sleep easier knowing that they don't have a bunch of artillery pieces aimed at them. The two armies and navies could join up and modernize (more ship building jobs). What ever hurdles are in the way, a unified country would still be worth it.

    The United States unified after the civil war and they didn't go bankrupt. Oh and last I heard, Germany managed to pull through.

    Your conclusion seems horribly melodramatic.

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  17. I don't need to be melodramatic.

    The GDP figures say it all, low estimates sat 15:1 of Sk vs NK economy wise. Some high estimates put this at 34:1 economy wise.

    German reunification was 3:1

    Also when you say lots of building work in North or ship building. Tell me who is going to pay for it?

    I would also note that we live in an age of rentier capitalists. You reckon Hyundai corp will keep their factories in SK post reunification? Or will they move the factories to the north and use the virtual slaves of the north?

    Lee Myung-bak remember was CEO of Hyundai, they won't be obvious about it. They'll say some rubbish like.

    Let us help our brothers in the North! The cheif engineers at Hyundai get sent to the north to train the engineers there and all the southerners will get their pink slips. I mean the cars are still going to be Korean right?

    Remember economics, when you increase the supply of something the price goes down, sticking 22 million extra Koreans into the workforce will push wages down to the floor.

    Conversations I used to have with my boss will occur. Where my bosses would say to me, why should I pay you more when I can hire and Indian outsourcer to do the job for less than you can live for?

    Similar ones will exist in any Korean reunification. Why Mr Park should I pay you 5000won an hour when I can pay 250won to a Northerner? SK Mr Park can't compete.



    Which is why any reunification will have to be very slow and segregate both economies.

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  18. The Chinese Guy, though some southern factories may be relocated to the north, what's more likely is that South Korean factories already in China or elsewhere in East Asia will be moved to the former DPRK, or factories once planned for those countries will instead be built in what had been North Korea.

    Though I expect the road to be rocky, I think reunification presents great opportunities for both sides of the DMZ.

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  19. But I do agree with you that some form of "segregation" will be necessary for a while, not only to protect southern jobs but also to guard against exploitation of northern residents who are sudden owners of property that has suddenly become valuable to southern investors.

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  20. Let's consider some things from the viewpoint of a former North-Korean if reunification has happened already.
    Would you think, that now, when they are united and all equal members of one country, a North-Korean, rescued from terrible oppression, would be willing to work for just to maintain a pretty modest lifestyle compared to his capitalist brother?
    Our simply he just would be outraged, and feeling betrayed twice (once by communism, and once by capitalism)?
    They survived starvation, now they are a reach of an arm close to heaven, and someone just coming and say, they just can't get it, because they are from the North?
    I don't worry about economical issues. It is way more frightening to (at once)introduce 22 million brainwashed people to a new world.

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  21. North Koreans are not completely oblivious to the outside world as they used to be.

    With the famine in the 90s, the government's grip on the country greatly weakened and the Chinese border became very porous, which contributed towards the creation of local markets. The Korean Wave has already reached North Korea. The North feels a lot closer to South Korea than China.

    I think it is wrong to think the unification will end up bankrupting the Southern economy or creating lots of tensions. You should not think development of infrastructure in the North as charity or a money sink, but as investment. North Korea could in a few decades catch up with the South the same way South Korea (and other Asian Tigers) developed except now with plenty of investment from the rich South and raw resources that South did not have.

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  22. @Chinese guy

    "The GDP figures say it all, low estimates sat 15:1 of Sk vs NK economy wise. Some high estimates put this at 34:1 economy wise."

    "Also when you say lots of building work in North or ship building. Tell me who is going to pay for it?"

    South Korea alone has been paying billions of dollars (over 27 billion in 2009) to protect itself primarily from North Korea. With the North Korean threat gone just move a big chunk of that defense money into rebuilding money.
    You don't have to pay the total cost of rebuilding in one lump sum.

    "I would also note that we live in an age of rentier capitalists. You reckon Hyundai corp will keep their factories in SK post reunification? Or will they move the factories to the north and use the virtual slaves of the north?"

    Let's be clear about something. Post reunification, there will be no sk or nk for that matter. If you move a bunch of jobs north that will be like moving from California to Oregon the southern citizens will be able to move with the jobs as easily as we move state to state.

    "Lee Myung-bak remember was CEO of Hyundai, they won't be obvious about it. They'll say some rubbish like.

    Let us help our brothers in the North! The cheif engineers at Hyundai get sent to the north to train the engineers there and all the southerners will get their pink slips. I mean the cars are still going to be Korean right?"
    1) Your assuming Lee Myung-bak will still be president.
    2) Kushibo already pointed out that some of the Korean companies in China could come back.

    "Remember economics, when you increase the supply of something the price goes down, sticking 22 million extra Koreans into the workforce will push wages down to the floor."

    This is the part of your statement I understand the least. You make it sound like the supply of workers will go up, but the demand for goods from said workers will remain mysteriously stagnant. Every one of them will need to consume goods and everyone of them will add to the tax base. The 22 million North Koreans aren't some foreign nationals that will take South Korean jobs then send money outside the country.

    "Similar ones will exist in any Korean reunification. Why Mr Park should I pay you 5000won an hour when I can pay 250won to a Northerner? SK Mr Park can't compete."

    Because Mr Ha I have in my truck 20,000 booklets that describe the glories of the workers union to our northern brothers and sisters.

    Why those are some beautiful new tires on your grey 2011 BMW coupe Mr Ha.

    Phie wrote:
    "I don't worry about economical issues. It is way more frightening to (at once)introduce 22 million brainwashed people to a new world."

    Now that DOES worry me.

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  23. All I can say is interesting times lay ahead....

    In fact that might make a good plot for something...

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  24. question wrote:
    Kushibo already pointed out that some of the Korean companies in China could come back.

    Forty thousand South Korean companies have an "accumulated investment" of about $100 billion. That's not trade, that's investment, and South Korea is one of China's largest foreign investors (occasionally clocking in at #1, I believe).

    My search for such stats inspired me to write an entire post on this, as I'm beginning to wonder if the loss of all this FDI is not the real reason China is discouraging reunification. Or at least a major factor.

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  25. I can tell you one thing Ina, Korean's don't appreciate the believe from many Chinese that "Korea is a part of China" or "Korean culture is just a variation of Chinese." It won't help Koreans feel "endeared" to Chinese, that's for sure.

    Just because there are ruins of an amphitheatre in England does not make England merely a "part" of the Roman Empire or English culture just a "variation" of Roman culture.

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  26. All I know is, whenever I say I'm Taiwanese, I get one of four responses:
    "I love Taiwan! But I don't like stinky tofu."
    "Taiwan is really hot!"
    "Down with China!"
    and
    "Omg frickin F4 Meteor Garden 꽃보다남자! ♥♥♥♥♥"

    Granted, this is from a limited demographic of friendly taxi drivers. Except for the last response, which usually comes from happy Korean fangirls. Who don't strictly say the word "frickin."

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  27. My father was able to read the Korean newspaper in the 1970's and comprehend 70% of it. That was when they still used Chinese characters. I would think this is why elder Chinese feel more connected to Korea than vice versa.

    Formerly the languages of the Korean peninsula were written using Chinese characters, using hyangchal or idu. Such systems relied on principles of rebus, and were lost, later in history. Writing became confined to the ruling elite, who used hanja to write in Classical Chinese.
    Korean is now mainly written in Hangul, the Korean alphabet promulgated in 1446 by Sejong the Great; hanja may be mixed in to write Sino-Korean words. While South Korean schools still teach 1,800 hanja characters, North Korea has abolished the use of hanja decades ago.

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  28. Hummmm... there really isn't a comment that addresses Ina's question in a neat and tidy way. So, I will try.

    Upon my own independent study of history, anthropology, and culture, I've come to the conclusion that the Koreans and the Chinese are different people with different origins. However, due to geographic proximity and shared history over time, Korea has adopted aspects of Chinese culture, especially "high" culture like writing, government structures, architecture, statecraft, literature, etc. This does not make Koreans Chinese or a "part" of China.

    For example, let's take language. In the Korean language has 60% Chinese loan words borrowed from the Chinese language (from something more similar to Cantonese than Mandarin, given that Mandarin evolved from the language of the Jurchen/Chinese kingdom of Jin, but that's a different story for a different time). Cantonese speakers will recognize these Korean loan words whereas a Mandarin speaker may not. Any ways, many Chinese cite this as evidence that Korea "came from China" or what not. However, the English language has at least 50% loan words from Latin (language of the Roman Empire) and Greek. However, no one would say that the English (and by extension Americans) "come from" or were an "appendage" to the Romans and the Greeks. Many of these Chinese loan words are technical and high culture related and are nowadays being replaced by English loan words. The Koreans don't really care where they loan the word from.

    Another reason why many Chinese believe that Korea is a part of China is that Korea, for large swaths of history, gave and paid tribute to the various Chinese kingdoms. This is a huge misunderstanding of the tribute system as it was practically implemented to non-Chinese or barbarian nations, for which Korea was considered as. Tribute among non-Chinese nations was a tool used by Chinese dynasties to placate and stabilize nations and people groups along their borders (so those border people wouldn't invade them). It was never a system to directly administer such nations and people groups.

    The only time Chinese kingdoms had direct administrative control of Korea was between the 1st century BC and the 4th century AD, and that was only the northern portion of Korea. Other then that, China never had direct administrative control of the peninsula.

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  29. Dear Ask a Korean,

    Snooki is Chilean....not Italian.

    ReplyDelete

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