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Foreign Dispatches explains Korea’s selective outrage

February 6th, 2007 . by Matt

Abiola has an interesting post about why Korea gets furious and aggressive towards Japan and the US for supposed insults, but less so to countries like China.

One of the recurring questions that watchers of South Korea must continuously ask themselves is why it is that the country’s people and government are capable of such intense – even hysterical – fits of anger and recrimination over even the most minor of (often entirely imaginary) offenses committed by ideologically sympathetic countries like Japan and the United States, and yet manage to restrain themselves to a much greater degree when the likes of China and North Korea engage in much more ominous actions.

Some have tried to explain this disparity in terms of Korea’s heavily heirarchical culture, but I cannot put much faith in such explanations myself: for one thing, Japanese culture is also very heirarchical, with the same manifold variations on status embedded in the national language, and similar expectations of deference to elders simply by virtue of their greater age, so if culture were really the answer, one should expect the Japanese public to be as quick to throw tantrums over minor insults from “lesser” cultures according to the Sinocentric vision of the world. A much more plausible explanation is the “Bully Theory”, i.e. that South Korea’s political atmosphere encourages these hyperbolic expressions of rage against Japan and the United States but never against China or Russia precisely because the first two countries can be counted upon not to hit back, just like a bully who only ever picks on the kids he’s sure will never give him a punch in the nuts. Furthermore, I believe that unlike the actions of Kim Jong Il, the South Korean penchant for such tantrums is not at bottom a purely rational matter of extracting maximum gains in international affairs by engaging in a game of bluff – as even mild repercussions such as the subsiding of the “Korean boom” in Japan are enough to make such behavior a losing proposition – but primarily a matter of a people steeped in ultranationalism, and yet insecure of its place in the world, attempting to quiet its self-doubts by deflecting blame for any and all failings on safe targets abroad. In short, these repetitive and childish chauvinistic displays are mostly just about South Koreans using perceived harmless foreign scapegoats to feel good about themselves.

It is good stuff so go an read the rest by yourself.


15 Responses to “Foreign Dispatches explains Korea’s selective outrage”

  1. comment number 1 by: MarkA

    That’s one of the most unique perspectives I’ve read to date. Good find.

  2. comment number 2 by: pacifist

    I suspect that Korea is still in the tributary state to China, although Japan once liberated Korea from China in 1894.

    Deep in their heart, they may still respect China as their former suzerain. So it is no wonder if Korean peninsula would fell into China’s hand when NK collapsed in the near future.

  3. comment number 3 by: crypticlife

    “Deep in their heart, they may still respect China as their former suzerain.”

    –>>

    Deep in their heart, they may still respect China as their future suzerain. It’s a possibility.

  4. comment number 4 by: Katz

    Abiola has an interesting post about why Korea gets furious and aggressive towards Japan and the US for supposed insults, but less so to countries like China.

    I as a Korean always thought that.

  5. comment number 5 by: kojibomb

    Not really…

    some Koreans I know are extremely racist against chinese people. Any Korean speakers here? how many racist words are there to call chinese people in Korean?? tons!

    I think many of them just don’t care about any other country except Japan and the US. They are similar to most Caucasian Americans and Canadians who don’t give a damn about any Asian countries.

  6. comment number 6 by: Toshiharu Honda

    Koreans do not like Chinese people either.
    In any country in China’s neighborhoods, there are some thriving China towns. We have three busy China towns, Yokohama, Kobe and Nagasaki. Korea has none. Koreans have repeatedly been bullied by China, Mongolia and Japan for thousands of years, which made them xenophobic and racist. However, they especially do not like Japanese and Americans among others. That is because Anti-Japan and America propaganda by North Korea staged in South Korea worked very well in addition to an inferiority complex towards the two countries.

  7. comment number 7 by: GarlicBreath

    Koreans should make it clear that they hate the USA and Japan and lick the boots of Chinese.

  8. comment number 8 by: Katz

    Koreans should make it clear that they hate the USA and Japan and lick the boots of Chinese.

    Why should they do that to whom they despise?

  9. comment number 9 by: Sonagi

    kojibomb wrote:

    “Any Korean speakers here? how many racist words are there to call chinese people in Korean?? tons!”

    I know only one, so please teach me those tons of words you know. Thanks.

  10. comment number 10 by: wiesunja

    I know only one, so please teach me those tons of words you know.

    Gladly,

    Of course you probably know the so commonly used “jjanke” which is so commonly used to refer to Chinese people that it doesnt even sound peculiar or shocking anymore. In addition you have:

    – Ddaenom
    – Jjakola
    – Kkenkken seki
    – Joong Ke
    ….

    And of course the list goes on.

    Having studied Asian languages, one thing about Korean that strikes me is that it has the most words and expressions that are racist in nature than any other language in Asia including Chinese or Japanese, etc. Japanese hardly has any and if is hardly ever used even in situations of expressing contempt.

    On the other hand, Koreans thrown out the equivalent of “nigger”, “chink”, “jap”, etc. as carefree in public as if it were just an everyday accepted custom. Basically shows how deeply accepted and tolerant of insensitive bigotry towards foreigners the Koreans are.

  11. comment number 11 by: shadkt

    Wow.
    I think the post pin-points the problem.
    Amazing analysis!

  12. comment number 12 by: kteen

    LOL….

    How the HECK do these people know more about Korea than we Koreans do?

  13. comment number 13 by: Ocebey

    It’s not that they know more but simply that sometimes to look at something from an outside perspective allow one to see things a very litterate insider wouldn’t see.

  14. comment number 14 by: kojibomb

    sonagi
    wiesunja listed some… but i love “bakibulae”? meaning cockroaches.
    Koreans think Chinese are only good at surviving but dirty and disgusting.
    Toshiharu Honda
    I think there is China town in Korea umm one in Inchon?
    http://www.lifeinkorea.com/Travel2/inchon/336
    yap there is…

  15. comment number 15 by: JonJon

    Chinese only have one derogatory term for the Koreans: Bangzi (棒子, which literally just means “Prick”).

    Chinese have two derogatory terms for the Japanese: Guizi (鬼子) and Wokou (倭寇, which isn’t used that much since many Wokou were also Chinese).

    What can I say… Koreans generally are just racist people. They are obsessed with race. That’s why they freak out when the Chinese claim that Koguryo a part of Chinese history.

    The true nature of the Korean attitude toward the Chinese have become increasingly exposed to the Chinese people in the past year. Korean products since last year have been doing very poorly in China.