The Resilience of Korean Culture

Discusses how the turbulence of modern Korean history manifested itself in Korean culture.

This paper explores how the Korean culture of the present day has been shaped by experiences of political and economic upheaval through much of the 20th century. The paper discusses the threats posed by China and Japan at different points in Korea’s long history and asserts that the resilience shown by Koreans in maintaining their distinctive culture fits with the record of compromised or oppressed human groups everywhere in the world. The paper looks at the thriving Korean enclaves in countries of Korean resettlement as a strong testimony to the cohesion and adaptability of this culture.
By the mid-1860s, a great variety of European business as well as missionary interests had appeared throughout most of Korea. The outsiders encountered a country that was beset by internecine politics and intrigue in different branches of it royal house. Occasions of populist unrest often led to brutal suppression by the authorities. Through it all, however, social order was maintained by aggressive campaigns of control but also, the power of the traditional family, not to mention the time-honored ability of the Korean masses to carry on through circumstances of what could be extreme adversity. (Tennant:1996:202-205) Korea has often been rather at the mercy of developments within China and has reacted at different times, in both attempts to maintain Korean insularity, and to further identify with Chinese mainland culture.