Villages Astir: Community Development, Tradition, and Change in Korea

By John E. Turner; Vicki L. Hesli et al. | Go to book overview

9
Korean Villagers and Their Urban Cousins

Korea's shift from a rural to an urban society is a postwar phenomenon (see The Korea Annual, 1986: 182-183). The 1985 census listed the urban residents (in cities of over 50,000) as comprising 65.4 percent of the total population, with about 24 percent of them living in Seoul. Since 1955, the urban population has increased at an average rate of 5 percent each year. The relocation in the urban areas, which was precipitated in strong measure by the poor living standards in the countryside, reached its peak in the period from 1966 to 1970, when 70 percent of the growth in the urban population was attributed to the migration of people from the rural districts. More than 60 percent of the migrants sought new homes in Seoul. Between 1945 and 1970, its population increased by more than 800 percent; estimates indicate that in the early 1970s about 500 people moved into the city each day, most of them seeking to improve their lot ( H.J. Lee, 1971: 11). The Saemaul movement was partly designed to arrest the migration of people from the rural districts to the cities, which was creating problems for both the urban centers and the countryside.


IMPACT OF THE URBAN SETTING

Much of the literature indicates that urbanization, whether slow or rapid, fosters the development of attitudes and the growth of institutions that are different from those found in a rural environment.1 It brings changes in the nature and functions of the kinship group. In the rural setting, villagers found security in the cohesion of the extended family, whose rules, specifying kinship obligations, guided their outlooks and behavior. The code involved reverence toward ancestors and the older generation and was reinforced by elaborate rituals. In the city, however, functions hitherto reserved for the family are now performed by the school, the workplace, and the government. Usually having to commute to a job outside the residential area, the individual enters into social relations with a broader range of people beyond the kinship network.

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