I was at the Chungang University Culture & Branding Forum a couple weeks ago (the photo below is from the February meeting though) and we were discussing the response of the Japanese to the recent earthquake/tsunami disaster and how the Japanese culture can be summarized in the one word "harmony" or "화 (和)”. I don’t think anybody disagreed with this.
지난 2월 26일 중앙대 문화브랜딩 포럼에 참석한 토론자들은 일본인들이 최근의 지진/쓰나미 자연재난에의 반응에 대해서 논하여, 일본 문화를 ‘harmony’나 ‘화 (和)’라는 단어로 표현할 수 있다는 일치된 의견이 형성되었습니다.
I brought up the point that, in my opinion, Korea also shares some of this 'harmony' characteristic but that if on a scale of 1-10, Japan is a 10 and American culture is a 0, then Korea would probably be a 3-4. I felt like most of the Koreans in the room generally agreed with my assessment on this.
제가 한국문화에서도 '화'라는 특징이 어느정도 있다는 저희 의견을 제시하였고, 0에서 10까지를 척도로 한다면, 일본은 10이고 미국은 0이면, 한국은 3-4정도 되지 않을까 하는 아이디어를 내 넣았습니다. 한국인 포럼 참석자 대부분은 저희 평가에 동의했다고 생각했습니다.
However, a bit later one person pointed out that he didn't think representing the cultures along a continuum like this was best. To represent Korea, he suggested the word "passion", and for the US, he suggested “constitution” or “rights” and for Japan, “social harmony” or “bureacracy”. This got me thinking again, because I've wanted to fit Korea into a box like that too.
그런데, 조금 있다가 어떤 한 분께서 3개의 문화들을 두고 이러한 척도로 점수를 매기는 것이 무리하다는 것을 지적하여, 한국문화를 한 단어로 표현한다면 ‘passion’이라는 말을 쓰면 되지 않겠는가 하셨습니다. 그리고, 미국을 ‘헌법’ 이나 ‘권리’로 표현하면 될 것 같고, 일본은 ‘사회적인 화목’이나 ‘관료주의’로 표현할 수 있을 것 같다고 의견을 주셨습니다. 이 말씀을 들은 제가 한국을 이렇게 ‘in a box’씩으로 표현하기 위하여 그 동안에도 많이 고민하였고, 한참 깊숙히 생각해 봤습니다.
I can completely agree that Japan is centered around social harmony or bureaucracy, and that the US is centered on our constitution and a sense of personal rights. But saying that Korea is passion-centered is just not a clear enough idea for me that works and that to generalize Korea with the word passion does not seem suitable.
일본은 ‘사외적 화목’이나 ‘과료주의’중심이고 미국은 '헌법'이나 '권리' 중심이라는 말씀에 제가 완전 동의합니다. 그런데, 한국은 'passion'중심이라는 발상은 좀 애매하고 별로 맞지 않다는 생각이 듭니다. 아무래도, 열정이라는 특성으로써 한국 사회를 일반화하기에는 무리인 것 같습니다.
In fact, the Korean cartoonist Won-Bok Rhie published an English book Korea Unmasked and in his book, he asserted that China is best represented by the word “oneness (일 – 一)”, that Japan should be “harmony (화 – 和)” and that Korea can be summarized with the words “orthodoxy/originality (충 – 忠). I don’t really know about China, and representing Japan with “harmony” is pretty much commonly accepted, it seems. But even after reading Cartoonist Rhie’s long explanation, I just haven’t been able to agree that “orthodoxy/originality” is the right word for Korea either.
한국 만화가인 이원복 씨께서는 얼마전에 Korea Unmasked이라는 책을 발간했는데, 그 분이 주장하기에 중국은 일(一), 일본은 화(和), 그리고 한국은 충(忠)으로 규정했습니다. 중국은 저는 모르겠습니다. 그리고 일본은 화(和)가 잘 해당하는 것이 틀림없습니다. 그런데, 만화가인 이원복 씨의 긴 설명을 읽고 깊이 고려해 봐도 한국을 충(忠)으로 정형화 하는 것에 저는 동감하지 못 하고 있습니다.
Finally, I was having coffee with Martin Roll (Asia Branding Expert –Click here for his interview on KBC last year) a couple weeks ago in Seoul and I asked him the same question. He immediately responded with “authenticity”, which is very similar to what Cartoonist Rhie proposes.
마지막으로는, 제가 아시아 브랜드 컨설턴트인 Martin Roll(작년 KBC에서 Martin Roll 해 주신 인터뷰를 듣기 위해서 여기를 클릭하십시오)을 며칠전에 커피숍에서 만나뵈어 대화를 하면서 제가 이 똑같은 질문을 여쭤 봤더니, Martin Roll께서는 “authenticity”라는 말로 대답해 주셨습니다. “Authenticity”라는 말은 중(忠)하고 아주 유사한 의미이네요…
Indeed, it seems to be very hard to pick out a word that fits the Korean culture as a whole. So my question is this... What do you think is one good word to describe Korea and Korean culture?
한국 문화의 전체에 딱 맞는 특성을 표현하는 것이 왜 이렇게 어려운지 모르겠네요. 제가 여러분들께 여쭈어보고 싶은 것은 한국을 한 단어로 표현한다면 어느 것을 선택하시겠습니까?
The problem for me with words like "passion" or "intensity" is that they aren't necessarily long-term pieces of the Korean cultural DNA. I mean, sure, they seem appropriate now that Korea's on a fifty-year roll and the country's feeling proud of itself (rightly) for a lot of modern achievements.
But these aren't words that would have fit Korea 100 or 200 years ago, I don't think, and there's no guarantee that this is how Korea will be in the future. By that time, other countries may be passionate and intense in their quest to join the ranks of the leading nations.
I want to find words that are more timeless...
Good point Steven!
...am not well-versed enough in Korean history to tackle this one alone (will consult with YB & challenge him to toss out a few words).
Presently, all that come to mind are:
I like those words a lot more than things like "incongruence" and "chaos", which just seem like attempts to psychoanalyze a nation's negative thought processes.
It's not that I'm trying to come up just with positive things either. Describing the US as "constitution-based", or Japan as "harmony-based" or China as "oneness-based" are all neutral descriptions that are manifested in both negative and positive ways.
True at the yangban level.
But the people of Korea has been struggling for a while against the elements and various occupants, and Goguryeo was not precisely quiet.
If both words seem opposite, couldn't we also say that Confucianism is more intense than anywhere else ?
PS: see you tomorrow
If we say that Confucianism is more intense in Korea than anywhere else, then that gets us back to "orthodoxy / authenticity". I remain to be convinced on that.
Looking forward to discussing this tomorrow. :-)
Not so much in a negative sense but I feel that Korea (not so much Koreans individually – but collectively) are stuck in the middle of knowing that changes in culture must occur in order to progress as an advanced country but they still are holding onto much of the past and are timid about moving forward and letting go.