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« Man and Nature are One | Main | Visualizing Dao »

April 26, 2010


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Interesting subject Sam. My grown-adopted son is south korean, in heritage, so this drew my attention. The part I found most interesting was, within the reference to the Masters words on Integrity and Humanity, the use of the particular words depend and rely. I was wondering if you had further thoughts regarding the use of those particular words, or principles, in context to the principles of integrity and humanity.

Hi Sam; good stuff. I just taught a section on this in my Confucianism class. There's a good piece by Clark W. Sorensen ("Success and Education in South Korea" Comparative Education Review, 38:1). Confucian valuing of education, as opposed to manual labor, plays a role, but a large role was also played by the post war nationalist movement, particularly by the societal "exercises" (undongs) that Park Chunghee mandated for two decades for the sake of modernization. It's interesting, even commerce, in addition to manual labor, is devalued as an activity for aspiring junzis, so in Korea, even economic success isn't enough to give a person high status -- a high level of educational achievement is required.


Good observation about the role played by Park Chungchee and his junta in the South Korea education system. It was a total mobilization system, drilled to this bone during his formative years by the Japanese occupation army in Manchuria. Therefore, I would hesitate to use such name as “the past war nationalist movement", since his service in the Japanese army forever disowned him to the many Korea nationalists.

Park Chunghee's formative years were formed by the Japanese occupation army and he stole a page from the Japanese imperialists. Post war education system, including his all male drafting system, were copied from the Japanese War mobilization system.


Sam, this situation is symptomatic of many (all?) East Asian/Chinese societies. Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, the mainland - the emphasis on rote learning and pressure to perform are definitely not unique to South Korea.

Your suggestions are interesting, especially given it could be argued that the current learning style is derived from an Imperial examination system supposedly based on Confucianism. It is true that much of Confucianism has moved far from Confucius' original teachings. It is possible that a return to original Confucianism would address some of these problem. However, pure Confucianism is unacceptable to those who enjoy a Western lifestyle and post-modern values. So can you appeal to Confucius in part? I guess that's the question.

Thanks for the comment. You ask the big question: "...can you appeal to Confucius in part?" I think, as you suggest, that modernity does require certain revisions to traditional Confucianism (gender bias being perhaps the biggest immediate problem - see my post on that subject here). But, in doing that kind of revision, we can still hold onto certain key Confucian ideals - like Humanity (ren). Over the past four years or so I have blogged a lot on this topic; search around the site a bit and you will find various thoughts on how modernity and Confucianism can coexist...

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Hello, I am a South Korean middle school student. I have been surfing around the internet for articles on south korean educational system. I do not know much about confucianism (I know next to nothing about it), but I agree that our country's educational system must be reformed. The current educational system puts enormous amount of pressure on Korean students. We listen to teachers and take notes, but it is only to memorize it and get good scores on tests, not to truly understand the lecture. I wonder how it would be if we bring those Confucian ideas into our schools.

Hi Sam, this article lets us know the higher education system of Korea.I got your point! What is really important is the moral values development of the students..not just only subject-centered curriculum what is important is the outcome of what they have learned from their studies which they should put into practice.

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