Confucianism and the Korean Family

By Park, Insook Han; Cho, Lee-Jay | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

Confucianism and the Korean Family


Park, Insook Han, Cho, Lee-Jay, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


INTRODUCTION

Religious and ideological beliefs are the part of the adaptive culture that evolves over time. The ethics and values espoused by one religion during a particular period and in a specific culture may differ from those of another imposing a unique set of principles and rules upon human activities. Those principles and rules regulate the behavior of individuals, the family, and the community. East Asia, namely China, Korea, and Japan, with more than one-quarter of the world's population, over a long historical period has constituted a cultural sphere characterized by the use of Chinese and Confucianism. The term Confucianism is used here to refer to the popular value system of China, Korea, and Japan, which is derived from the synthesis of the traditional cultural values espoused by Confucius and his followers and subsequently influenced by elements of Taoism, Legalism, Mohism, Buddism and, in the case of Korea and Japan, Shamanism. Although Buddhism has had major impacts in East Asia along with Taoist traditions and certain aspects of Shamanism, Confucianism has been most influential in shaping the behavior pattern and structure of the family and the community. The central pillar of Confucianism is the family. Indeed, family cohesion and continuity are taken as the foundation for sustaining the human community and the state.

One demographically unique feature of the East Asian population that is consistent with the Confucian value is the pattern of universal marriage and childbearing, as evidenced by census data for China, Korea, Japan, and the ethnic Chinese populations of Southeast Asia and elsewhere. In the countries of East Asia (Coale, Cho and Goldman 1980 Cho, Arnold and Kwon 1982), there are common characteristics and similarities in the functions, structures, and patterns of the family and community, and these characteristics and similarities are reflected in government, corporate, and community institutions (Cho Hyung 1983).

Table 1 POPULATION BY RELIGIOUS PREFERENCE (%): KOREA, 1991

                                Area                    Sex

                       All     Urban     Rural
Religious belief     Korea     areas     areas     Males     Females

No religion           46.0      43.5      53.3      53.2        39.5

All religions         54.0      56.6      46.7      46.8        60.5
with religions

Buddhism              28.7      27.2      28.6      24.0        30.9
Christianity          18.6      20.6      12.6      15.8        21.1
Catholicism            5.7       6.8       2.8       4.8         6.6
Confucianism           1.0       0.7       1.6       1.3         0.7
Won Buddhism           0.3       0.3       0.4       0.3         0.4
Other                  0.8       0.7       0.8       0.6         0.8

Total                100.0     100.0     100.0     100.0       100.0

Source: NSO (1991:300)

Modern Korea has a diversity of religious beliefs, and various religions coexist without significant conflicts (Choi Chang-Mou 1989:71; Yoon Seung-Yong 1990:309-31). According to the 1991 National Survey on Korean Religion, the two largest religious groups are Buddhists (29 percent) and non-Catholic and Catholic Christians (24 percent); Confucianism as a religion is practiced only by one percent of the population. The remaining 46 percent of those surveyed reported having no religious affiliation (NSO 1991:300) (See Table 1.)

Korea has a long-standing religious heritage. For the past two centuries, the values of Confucianism, if not Confucianism as a formal religious institution, have pervaded the consciousness of Koreans (Yoo Seung-Kuk 1973:77). These values can be observed in Korean hierarchical social relations, such as those between ruler and subject, parent and child, and husband and wife.

Confucianism posits the family as the fundamental unit of society, incorporating the economic functions of production and consumption as well as the social functions of education and socialization, guided by moral and ethical principles (Lee Kwang-Kyu 1989). …

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