Korean History: The Climate and Culture of Foreign Business
The challenge of any cultural history undertaken to determine the foreign business fitness of a location is to make sure that there is due respect afforded the society with regard to issues that might not be seen as directly affecting the bottom line. So much of the time in the business world we are collectively focused on the ideas that surround the continued development of the global world economy, without regard for the existence of prior national issues. An easily made mistake for a researcher addressing issues of Korea from the United States would be to distill Korean history into a form that only include the interests of this country after the Korean-American War.
This account will attempt to address those issues by addressing the culture through its earliest history to its present state through modern demographics, religion, education, housing, leisure activities, climate, politics, language, currency and the recent developments associated with the division between North and South Korea. Both the very serious and the socially intriguing will be discussed in a brief overview of the cultural climate of South Korea. Though this is in no way a long enough work to encompass the entire rich history of Korea it is meant to be a starting point for the beginning of a more complete independent exploration. The kind of exploration that would be suggested to any person thinking of expanding their business into South Korea or simply immigrating there to answer the need of an already active and very prosperous foreign business market.
Of coarse, some of this information can be gleaned from long exhaustive research in history books and political commentaries but with the advent of the Internet information, especially about Asian culture has become much more available to the non-academic. If a researcher chooses his/her sites wisely by addressing the sources and organizations that enable this research so much can be easily accessed by simply logging on to the Internet and performing searches for the parameters of Korean Culture you wish to address, be they issues of education, language, or housing. Another intriguing way to receive real life information about cultural issues would be to find first person accounts of life in Korea by signing up for email list serves on the topic and also finding legitimate sources for first hand communication with Koreans and expatriates already in South Korea. This is a great starting point for any information about South Korea that might not directly relate to the business aspects of a planned transition.
Korean history is rich in culture and fable, a history as independently rich as any nation. The foundations of culture and government are traced through a series of dynasties, monarchical families. Each dynasty is associated with a time of change. The focus of each individual dynasty might run the gambit of all cultural and political development, some dynasties were known for their great contributions to literature, art and science while others were associated with more political focuses. The stories and the rich imagery of Korean Cultural History are often rejected by rationalists and often discredited as fable yet the need for understanding is evident regardless of the impetus. Korean Cultural history is ancient and rich and just as any ancient history the difficulty of proof or disproof through archeology or any other means is present. Yet, regardless of the secular identity or focus of today's world economy the validity of culture requires not only knowledge but also respect of a strong cultural character.
The real and spiritual connection that the Korean people feel to their long and rich history is a source of great pride. According to the Korean History Project:
The rational, logical mind quickly dismisses such legends as meaningless mythology, an indication of Korean totem worship. Much of what Westerners find so irrational and inconsistent with legends such as this represents the whole foundation of the Korean culture and it is the key to understanding their history. The ancient people of Choson did not question the significance of the legend's underlying truth that a deity had desired to become human of his own volition. Unlike Westerners, Koreans never considered the earth as a place of exile for the gods, or a place where sinners were sent to do penance. They believed their land and their nation comprised a wonderful dream, a dream so good that even the deities and animals wanted to live there. Koreans felt gratified to have chosen so beautiful a place for their home. (Korean History Project 2000 (http://www.koreanhistoryproject.org/Ket/KETIndex.htm)
One of the oldest and most fundamental stories of the origin of Korea is associated with the foundation of the first Korean Dynasty. The intervention of a god whose son coveted a place on earth where he could live in peace as a human founded the Choson state, literally translated as "Land of Morning Calm." Choson was said to be founded in 2333 BC. The prince came down from heaven and made his home near a sandalwood tree. Hearing of this occurrence two previous inhabitants of earth a Bear and Tiger when to the godly prince and asked him to make them human as well. He gave them a challenge. The Tiger failed the challenge and the Bear met the challenge and was transformed into a beautiful woman, who then became the wife of the prince. From this union springs the first king of the Choson Dynasty, Tan-gun, the Sandalwood King. From this legend springs the source of the legacy of the tiger as well, in the last year of Tan'gun's reign he bestowed a gift on the old tiger who had failed his earlier test and he became human but only for short periods of time. In this role he would know what it was to be human both the good and the bad and he would become the guardian and historian of the Korean people as they became their own separate sovereign. (Korean History Project 2000 (http://www.koreanhistoryproject.org/Ket/KETIndex.htm)
He is the Tiger of Shinshi, the Warden of Three Thousand Li, Defender of Choson, and Guardian of the Golden Thread. He is the strength and cunning the Korean people have used to defend their homeland. He protects and keeps alive the long and ancient history of Korea and his teachings pass this legacy to each new generation. He is the comforter who brings peace to the spirits of Korea's ancestors and who safeguards and protects the Golden Thread, that which ties and binds the Korean people together throughout time, a thread that must never be broken. (Korean History Project 2000 (http://www.koreanhistoryproject.org/Ket/KETIndex.htm)
Though to an outsider these stories may sound nothing greater than quaint and colorful real history of the Korean people is rooted in the stories of its first dynasty and in the ideals of its early ancestry.
Despite incomplete evidence to support it, many archaeologists and historians accept the Tan'gun legend's founding date of 2333 BC as correct. Even ancient Chinese records written twenty or thirty centuries before Christ, mention the name of Choson. Whether legend or fact, somewhere, sometime, the power and personality of a man called Tan'gun made a deep and lasting impression on the Korean people. (Korean History Project 2000 (http://www.koreanhistoryproject.org/Ket/KETIndex.htm)
Though there are several other dynastic legends that can be addressed through the early Korean History the Tan'gun legend and the history of the Choson Dynasty are a wonderful expression of the essence of the ancient history of Korea. During the Choson Dynasty much of the culture was developed as the formal Buddhist codes, mores and etiquette was replaced by the Confucian ideals. The focus on Confucian beliefs was extended to state policy and academic institutions.
Through the history of Korea there can be found a near constant conflict between the ideals of Confucianism and the reality of landed economic interests, this can be seen even in modern times.
Confucian dogma promoted career advancement according to a fairly administered examination system that demonstrated a candidate's ability in the art of governance. It also promoted the ideals of simplicity and frugality and condemned materialism. This inherent contradiction between Confucian doctrine and the power and privilege of the aristocracy existed regardless of who held power in government. Government agencies, staffed largely with younger, less privileged men deeply committed to Confucian ideology, constantly challenged the old guard's enjoyment of high station. The views of the highly reform-minded literati had an idealistic and moral thrust that differed from that of the scholar-bureaucrats in Seoul. They freely used the tools of character assassination and malicious, unfounded allegations against anyone they felt was their enemy. The most trivial point of Confucian doctrine, even a minor breach of social etiquette, could become the pretext for an attack from the literati. (Korean History Project 2000 (http://www.koreanhistoryproject.org/Ket/KETIndex.htm)
In the time of the fourth ruler of the Choson Dynasty, King Sejong (1418-50) the ideals of science and literature were developed as the class wide Korean alphabet, Han-gul a highly scientific yet simple and effective writing…