Facts and Fallacies – Culture

1. Disparagement of the Originality of Hangeul

Examples of Distortions
China: Many scholars worked together to create the 28 vowels and consonants by studying the Korean language and the combining it with the Chinese Language.(Junior High School, World History (1), Peoples Education Press, 1993.) 

US: The Korean alphabet was created by borrowing from Chinese characters… (Secondary School History, History of the Human Community, Prentice Hall, 1993.) 

Koreans have, since ancient times, had a distinct language, different from Chinese; however, they lacked an alphabet for the Korean language this caused much trouble, especially because the Chinese characters, which were borrowed for a long time, were difficult to learn and were not fully adequate for writing Korean. For this reason, King Sejong (r.1415-1450), and a group of scholars commissioned by him, created Hangeul, a unique alphabet for the Korean language and promulgated it in 1446. It is considered the most scientific alphabet in existence and one of the easiest to learn. Since this time, therefore, Koreans have been able to write their language without using Chinese characters, although many characters are used with Hangeul for words borrowed from Chinese. Korea is one of the few nations that have an alphabet exclusively for its own language. 

Hangeul is a phonetic alphabet created on scientific principles and can be used to transcribe almost any sound. It is completely different from Chinese characters which are ideograms. It is thus incorrect to say that the Hangeul alphabet borrowed from the Chinese. 

In a Philippine textbook, it is wrongly stated that although Korean and Japanese do not belong to the same language family, they are somehow interrelated. It goes on to state that the Korean language has adopted the Chinese style of writing which is also incorrect. 

A mistake that foreigners often make is to search for the roots of all elements of Korean culture in China. Textbooks that imply that the Hangeul alphabet was influenced by Chinese characters must be corrected as a matter of priority

2. Korean Culture as Being Heavily Influenced by China

Examples of Distortions
Poland: Because of the geographical and strategic conditions as well as natural resources, Korea was subject to constant battles between China and Japan and was much influenced by both countries. (Alexandra Dominique, Korea History, Katovicze, 1992.) 

Taiwan: Since the establishment of Joseon by Kija, Korean has received a seal from China. Korea is a country which shows the most Chinese influence among all of Chinas neighboring countries because it was subject to the teachings of Chinese culture. (Senior High School, Geography, National Institute for Compilation and Chinese Translation, 1994.) 

Most writings on Korea focus on modern history and therefore only a few deal with Korean history before the modern era. Even these few references overly emphasize the influence of China and Japan and the effect of foreign invasions and occupation. Examples found in these sources usually describe Korea as having been continuously influenced by the cultures of China and Japan. 

Historically, from the time of Gojoseon (37 B.C. -A.D. 668) and Balhae (698-926), Korean territory extended into almost all of Manchuria, and Korea was powerful enough to stand against China. Culturally, Korea developed its own distinct culture, which included such things as woodblock printing, movable metal type and Hangeul, a phonetic alphabet for the Korean language. 

Especially in relation to Japan, Korea was a conduit for culture from the Three Kingdoms era (18 B.C. ? A.D. 668) until the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) when special envoys were dispatched to that country. The period when Korea was the recipient of Japanese culture was during the Japanese colonial occupation from 1910 to 1945. 

Some people mistakenly think that Japan had a considerable influence on Korea because they overlook Korea as only a small peninsula attached to the Asian mainland. This is a frequent misconception in the textbooks of many countries. However, Korea has maintained a unique culture for Thousands of years, despite its relatively small size and has both contributed to and mistake to try to find the roots of Korean culture solely in China. This must be corrected by publicizing the originality of the Korean historic and cultural experience and the uniqueness of the Korean national identity.

3. Refusal to Acknowledge Koreas Dissemination of Culture to Japan

Examples of Distortions
Japan: Together with the receipt of the culture from the Continent, the contribution of visitors from the Continent was great, and once a country ruled by law had been established, their descendants were hired by the government. (High School, Japanese History, Daiichigakusyu Publishers, 1994.) 

In the sixth century, Confucianism, which is the teachings of Chinas Confucius, and Buddism, which was advocated by Indias Sakyamuni, have been transferred. (Elementary School Social Studies for sixth graders, Trends in Japan, Chyukyo Publishers, 1992.) 

The vague reference in the first textbook is intended to obscure the fact that the visitors were from Korea and is meant to give the impression that culture from the Continent was directly received rather that transmitted through Korea. This is thus a distortion of historic fact. 

It is generally acknowledged that culture is transmitted from a more advanced to a lesser-advanced country. Visitors from Korea brought to Japan Chinese characters, literature and Buddhism, among other things, so that the Yamato Administration benefited from this advanced culture. Furthermore, the introduction of technology and advanced agricultural techniques contributed greatly to improving Japanese Society. 

Among the ancient Three Kingdoms Goguryeo(37 B.C. ? A.D.668), Baekje(18 B.C.-A.D. 660) and Silla(57 B.C.-A.D. 935)- Baekje was the most active in spreading culture to Japan. Baekje people sailed to Japan and taught Chinese characters, Buddhism, music and art. As a result, the Asuka culture Flourished. Goguryeo also disseminated Buddhism and Confucianism, as well as the knowledge of how to make paper and ink-sticks. The murals of Horyu Temple, which are considered as treasures in Japan, were painted by the Goguryeo monk, Damjing. Silla taught Japan embankment and shipbuilding skill. These examples show that, during the Three Kingdoms period, Koreans transmitted advanced technology to Japan and contributed greatly to the birth of the Yamato Administration and to advancement of Asuka culture

4. Distortion of Koreans Lifestyle & Customs

Examples of Distortions
China: Generally, the family elder has his own table at mealtimes. It is taboo for father-in-law and daughter-in-law or a brother-in-law and sister-in-law to eat together at the same table. (Guidelines on Trade and Investment in Korea, Jilin University Publishers, 1993.) 

Germany: These are nothing to do women. Korean women have had a very inferior social status because the moral law influenced by Confucianism emphasized the authority of patriarchs only. This tendency has rarely been changed in modern Korean society, which is represented by the lack of women in leadership position in both the economy and politics. (Secondary School Geography of Japan, China, and Korea, Der Asiatich Pazifische Raum, Oldenbourg, 1990.) 

It is no longer true that a Korean father-in-law cannot sit at the same table with his daughter-in-law or brother-in-law with his sister-in-law. In fact, in modern households, families usually sit together at the dinner table. Such habits have almost completely disappeared and survive only in a very few traditional households and as a quaint custom. 

Some foreign textbooks and other writings say that in Korea there is severe gender discrimination. This is an exaggeration, although it cannot be entirely denied that Confucian traditions still remain. 

Korean women maintain their maiden names even after marriage. This is a good example of gender equality, which is difficult to find in other countries. 

In addition, today, there are many women leaders in all areas of society, including politics and economy. In education, women play an important role, especially in the area of elementary education. 

Other foreign sources appear to misunderstand the Korean character. It is stated that the first impression a Korean gives is somewhat tense and unkind. Koreans prove, however, to be very friendly and caring once they have known someone for a while. Traditionally, outbursts of emotion were frowned upon, and this may explain the tendency of Koreans not to use emotional facial expressions. Koreans, however, are becoming more outgoing.

5. The False Claim that China Invented Metal Printing Type

Examples of Distortions
U.S.: The metal typefaces which had been first invented in China were actually used first by Koreans. (Secondary School History, World History, Prentice Hall, 1992.) 

The metal prints were first invented in China in about 13th century and the technology was spread to Korea and Japan (Secondary School Social Studies, Global Studies II, Barrons, 1993.) 

Ancient Koreans strove to preserve information by inscribing on rock and with the use of wood block printing. During the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C-A.D. 935), Buddhist scriptures were printed with wood blocks. The Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392) also endeavored to print many books which were kept in the royal library for the use of students and scholars. 

In the 11th century, Goryeo printed numerous volumes of Buddhist scriptures using wood blocks. However, wood blocks were not efficient in producing a large number of copies in a short period of time to fulfill the demand for books. In the 12th century, bronze type was invented after Goryeo lost countless volumes due to fire during wartime. Goryeo needed to meet the demand for the quick reprinting of a large number of books for a relatively small number of people. The invention of metal type was revolutionary in that it was more efficient and allowed for the quick reproduction of documents. 

In 1234, a book entitled Gogeum sangjeong yemun(Manual of Ancient and Modern Rituals) was printed with metal type during and invasion by the Mongols. It is believed that this book was the first material in the world printed with movable metal type, but it is difficult to prove as no copy remains today. However another scripture entitled 

Buljo jikji simche yojeol (The Selected Sermons of Buddhist Sages and Seo Masters) was printed with movable metal type in 1377. It is preserved at the French National Library. In 1972, this scripture was recognized internationally as the oldest extant work printed with movable metal type. 

The advancement of Goryeo printing technology resulted in the improvement in the skill of producing long-lasting, high absorbent paper, as well as high quality ink sticks. Te quality of Goryeo ink sticks was famous, and they were even exported to China during the Sung Dynasty. Such advanced technologies contributed greatly to literary and academic advancement as well. 

It was long thought that the first metal type was invented by Johannes Gutenberg (1397-1468) in about 1450. However, not many seem to appreciate the contribution made by Goryeos advanced printing technology to the development of printing and the advancement of culture

Published by the Korean Educational Development Institute 
- Editors: Yong Taik Sohn, Ph.D. (KEDI), Mr. Kwang Jae Kim (KEDI Research Assistant) 
- Editorial Consultant: Suzanna Samstag (Editor of Newsweek Korea),Robert Abraham (LG EDS Systems) 
- Writers: Yong-ha Shin, Ph.D. (Seoul National University), Ki Suk Lee, Ph.D. (Seoul National University),Yong Kyu Choi, Ph.D. (Korea National University of Education)ang Joon Nam, Ph.D. (Chungju University of Education) Bum Jik Lee, Ph.D. (Konkuk University), Jae Taik Yoo, Ph.D. (KEDI)- Reviewer: Won Soon Lee, Ph.D. (The National History Compilation Committee of the Republic of Korea),John Hee Lee, Ph.D. (The University of Seoul),Mr. Byong Yong Yoo (The Academy of Korean Studies),Wan Bom Lee, Ph.D. (The Academy of Korean Studies),Chan Hee Lee, Ph.D. (KEDI)

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