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Korean Culture: History and Principles Essay

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Updated: Jan 20th, 2022

Korean culture is historically strongly connected to the Chinese culture. In fact, China has influenced almost every aspect of Korean culture, such as religion, language, and education. In religion, the most widespread confession, Buddhism, came from China during the Three Kingdoms period. In language, Chinese characters became the basis for the Korean writing system. In education, the first recorded schools were founded by Confucian classics. Although this may be true, Korea has its unique features and traditions taken from other cultures that have a more significant impact on Korean society today.

Buddhism has become an integral part of Korean civilization despite the fact that it originated in India. Although most of the Koreans do not belong to any confession, a considerable part of Korea’s population consider themselves Buddhists. Buddhism is a religion founded in 550 BC by an Indian prince Sakyamuni, who is believed to have found a way to overcome human suffering. Buddhism was entered to Korean peninsula in about 333 AD and soon became the state religion. Buddhism’s contributions to literature, art, philosophy, and architecture are tremendous.

In 1860 Ch’oe Che-u introduced a unique ideology called Tonghak. The other name of the religion is Heavenly Way, and it is based upon a sole statement that man is heaven and heaven is man. It means that Ch’oe believed that there is no external God, but only God that is inside of every person. Therefore, people can go to heaven if they treat their neighbor as if God is a part of everyone.

Despite the contributions Buddhism has made to shaping Korean civilization and defending Korean territory in the past, Buddhists have generally not been major players in the 20th century. Today, Christianity plays a far greater role than any other religion in the country. Therefore, while heaving deep historical roots in Buddhism, people of Korea tend to embrace Christianity in the pursuit of modernization.

Korean is one of the top 20 languages in the world in terms of the number of speakers. Korean belongs to the Tungstic branch of the Altaic language family, which includes Turkish, Mongolian, and Tungus. Although some dialects can still be heard in several administrative regions, South Korea shows a tendency towards the widespread use of the standard language. Besides, for Koreans, it is essential to speak honorific, as interpersonal communication is judged more by how one says something than by what one says.

The Korean alphabet, Hangul, was created in 1443 during the reign of King Sejong (1418-1450); before that the Koreans used Chinese characters. The language and literature, like all the other parts of Korean culture, have been greatly influenced by China. According to the Great Dictionary compiled by the Korean Language Society, Korean vocabulary of Chinese origin accounts for more than half (54%) of the words in use today. In brief, the Korean language is a synthesis of Chinese roots and modern developments.

Korean education has been an essential component of culture. On the one hand, classical approach to education deeply embedded in religious teachings of Buddhism and Confucianism. On the other hand, modern Christian approach to learning with an emphasis on sciences and technology was introduced recently. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that Korean education is a unique mixture of long-lasting tradition and present-day tendencies.

Cultural principles affect not only personal lives, but also business. The predominant features of the Korean culture are deep historical roots, strong connections with China in all aspects, and consistent modernization. In conclusion, in their strive to understand Koreans, people are to realize the rare fusion of tradition and innovation that is presented in Korean culture makes it rather progressive and unique.

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