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 homan 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 populur 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 marri age and child bearing, as evidenced by census data for China, Korea, Japan, and the ethnic Chinese popolations 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).

Modern Korea has a diversity of religious beliefs, and varioos religions coexist without significant conflicts (Choi Chang-Mou 1989:71; Yoon Seung-Yong 1990:30931). 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)(1). (See Table 1.) (Table 1 omitted)

Korea has a long-standing religious heritage. For the past wo 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 hierafchical 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 fonctions of production and consumption as well as the social functions of education and socialization, guided by moral and ethical principles (Lee Kwang-Kyu 1989). In its teachings, Confucianism has traditionally dei fied ancestors, institutionalizing ancestor worship, and delegated the duties of ritual master to he head of the male lineage--that is, to the father and husband. In this respect Confucianism may be viewed as a familial religion, and it seems that no other cuitures have placed such emphasis on the family as have the Confucianist cultures of East Asia (Lee Kwang-Kyo 1989).

In Korea, the values and traditional family system of Confucianism were given new impetus during the late Chosun dynasty (1650--1910), although the origins of that belief system date back to the historical and social conditions of two millennia before. The ideal of male superiority within the patrilineal family became more prominent in the late Chosun dynasty than it had been during the early Chosun dynasty (1392--1650). …

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