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ich war hier: SuedkoreaConfucianism

Confucianism as the key of Koreas Success?



The relationship between traditional Asian cultural characteristics, including Confucian ethics, and recent developmental experiences in various aspects of Korean society, especially in economic domain





I. The success story of Korea


In the eighteenth century the monopoly merchants were not longer protected by the government and private merchants could compete them. [1] From 1948 to 1960, during his regime, Syngman Rhee’s policy was not really helping Korea’s economy to rapidly develop. [2] After this, Park Chung Hee steered the economy, helped the chaebol to become internationally competitive and changed some labour policies. Although if he seemed to be very strict and sometimes cruel, he helped the economy to develop rapidly and positive. [3] So the economy of South Korea developed rapidly and positive since the mid 1960s. [4]

 (image: http://wdb.fh-schmalkalden.de/uploads/SuedkoreaConfucianism/confucianism.png)
Figure 1: development of Korea's economy, organization and ethics [5]


II. Reasons for this development


In James B. Palais opinion, there are a lot of factors, that were responsible for the success story of Korea, not only Confucianism. For him, the most important factors are the „state-directed, export-led system“ [6] and the „state-led, bureaucratic-autoritarian, or developmentalist economy“. [7] Another very important reason for the success is the propensity for hard work, even if it wasn’t always really voluntary, rather directed by the system and the government. [8] James B. Palais, Max Weber and some other persons think, that the negative effects of confucianism overweighted the positive effects and that it hindered economic development[9], because things like commercial profit, industry and blue-collar have less priority than ethical standards, agriculture and educated people. [10] He says: „…in the period when Confucian thought dominated Korea life, Confucianism had not prevented a certain level of economic development from taking place…“.[11] Another characteristics that are responsible for the development are „South Koreans valued thrift, investment, hard work, education, organization, and discipline.“. [12] Also very important in the opinion of Song Byung-Nak is the change to capitalism, or also called the free market system[13] as much as the amalgamation of capitalism and communitarianism. [14] Kihl Young Whan thinks, that the most important reasons for the success were modernization and democratization. [15] Also Gong Y. and W. Jang believe in the important role of the state for the economical development in Korea. [16] For them, there is not just a single theory that is able to explain the rapid development of Korea, there are a lot of factors „explaining the Asian puzzle“. [17]


III. Confucian ethics nowadays


Nowadays, the most important confucian elements can be found in the daily life, the private also as the business life[18] [19]:

Filial PietyRespect for elders and superiorsLoyalty to rulersObedience to authorityFamilism, Paternalism, social harmony


IV. My personal opinion


In my opinion, the traditional Asian cultural characteristics, including confucian ethics, are an important part of Korea and the Koreans. It is a part of their heritage, an important fragment of their history that outlasted several centurys and is still, even though changed and amended, a part of the ethic of the Koreans and their way of thinking. [20] Even if most of these characteristics, for example confucianism, haven’t led directly to the economic miracle[21], they have contributed their part to it and are the reason, why so much people in the whole world have positive associations when they think about Korea and their inhabitants. The most important aspect of confucianism in the past was the focus on education and self-improvement, this led Korea to a country with very well educated, intelligent people with an future-referred advantage to other countries and who can really change several things. „Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.“ (Nelson Mandela) Korea adopted the best factors of the traditional Asian cultural characteristics and layed down the negative ones. It showed flexibility and also adopted the most positive factors of the western cultures and ethics.[22] This mixture became a perfect symbiosis[23] and let miracles become true (economy).


V. Sources of information



• Palais, James B. 2002. "Confucianism and Economic Development in South Korea." Pp. 489-517 in Rethinking Confucianism, edited by B. A. Elman, J. B. Duncan, and H. Ooms. L.A.: University of California Press.
• Kihl, Young Whan. 2005. "Taking Culture Seriously: Confucian Tradition and Modernization," pp. 39-61 in Transforming Korean Politics. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe.
• Gong, Y. & W. Jang. 1998. "Culture and Development: Reassessing Cultural Explanations on Asian Economic Development", Development and Society 27(1): 77-97.
• Song, Byung-Nak. 2003. “East Asian Culture and Capitalism.” Pp. 53-80 in The Rise of the Korean Economy. 3rd Ed. Oxford University Press.
• John Power. 2012. „Does confucianism have a role in Korea today?“ in „The Korea Herald“




[1] Palais, James B. 2002. "Confucianism and Economic Development in South Korea.", Page 494
[2] Palais, James B. 2002. "Confucianism and Economic Development in South Korea.", Page 500
[3] Palais, James B. 2002. "Confucianism and Economic Development in South Korea.", Page 502
[4] Palais, James B. 2002. "Confucianism and Economic Development in South Korea.", Page 489
[5] Kihl, Young Whan. 2005. "Taking Culture Seriously: Confucian Tradition and Modernization,", Page 46 - 61
[6] Palais, James B. 2002. "Confucianism and Economic Development in South Korea.", Page 490
[7] Palais, James B. 2002. "Confucianism and Economic Development in South Korea.", Page 490
[8] Palais, James B. 2002. "Confucianism and Economic Development in South Korea.", Page 506
[9] Kihl, Young Whan. 2005. "Taking Culture Seriously: Confucian Tradition and Modernization,", Page 42
[10] Palais, James B. 2002. "Confucianism and Economic Development in South Korea.", Page 493
[11] Palais, James B. 2002. "Confucianism and Economic Development in South Korea.", Page 495
[12] Song, Byung-Nak. 2003. “East Asian Culture and Capitalism.”, Page 53
[13] Song, Byung-Nak. 2003. “East Asian Culture and Capitalism.”, Page 64
[14] Song, Byung-Nak. 2003. “East Asian Culture and Capitalism.”, Page 68, 69
[15] Kihl, Young Whan. 2005. "Taking Culture Seriously: Confucian Tradition and Modernization,", Page 61
[16] Gong, Y. & W. Jang. 1998. "Culture and Development: Reassessing Cultural Explanations on Asian Economic Development", Page 80
[17] Gong, Y. & W. Jang. 1998. "Culture and Development: Reassessing Cultural Explanations on Asian Economic Development", Page 95
[18] Palais, James B. 2002. "Confucianism and Economic Development in South Korea.", Page 504-513
[19] John Power. 2012. „Does confucianism have a role in Korea today?“ in „The Korea Herald“
[20] Kihl, Young Whan. 2005. "Taking Culture Seriously: Confucian Tradition and Modernization,", Page 43
[21] Gong, Y. & W. Jang. 1998. "Culture and Development: Reassessing Cultural Explanations on Asian Economic Development", Page 81
[22] Song, Byung-Nak. 2003. “East Asian Culture and Capitalism.”, Page 59
[23] Song, Byung-Nak. 2003. “East Asian Culture and Capitalism.”, Page 60






© Christoph Bieramperl (2016)

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