views updated Jun 11 2018


For centuries, Korea was the Hermit Kingdom, "The Land of the Morning Calm" in Asia, a country that was characterized as closed to the outside world. Nevertheless, throughout Korea's early history, neighboring nations such as China, Mongolia,

table 1
Korean households by type of family
 nuclear familyextended family 
source:national statistical office, annual report on vital statistics (1982–1997).
yearmarried couplemarried with childrensingle parent with childrenmarried couple with parentsmarried couple with parents and childrenother family type

and Japan have invaded the country often. The twentieth century also brought Korea tremendous upheaval, such as the Japanese occupation (1910–1945), the Korean War (1950–1953), the partition of the country (1953–present), and the foreign-exchange crisis in 1997. Korea and the Korean family are both in a period of transition.

The concept of the contemporary Korean family dates from the 1960s, a period of transformation that affected the economic and political spheres, as well as cultural patterns and legal affairs. From the end of World War II until the 1960s, Korea experienced great social and economic difficulties such as the Korean war. After the 1960s, Korea began to industrialize rapidly, while also becoming more urban, and since then the Korean economy has grown faster than at any other time in its history. The standard of living has improved significantly: Per capita income rose from $87 in 1962 to $11,380 in 1996, although it dropped to $9,628 in 2000 after the financial crisis of 1997. Few countries have changed economically as rapidly as has Korea.

During these periods, the government made industrialization its top priority. This process brought about urbanization and changes in family type to nuclear families. As a result, the average household changed dramatically, especially the relationships among family members.

Traditional Korean Families

Families were very different among the three historical periods of the Shilla (57 b.c.e.–c.e. 935), Koryo (c.e. 918–1392), and Chosun (c.e. 1392–1910) Dynasties because of their religious orientation.

Buddhism was introduced in Korea during the Early Kingdoms (C.E. 372) and was adopted as the state religion for a millennium. With its emphasis on rejecting worldly values and concerns, including the family, Buddhism delivered a message contrary to that of Confucianism. But Buddhism's influence was limited to the sphere of individual self-enlightenment and discipline, and it appealed principally to the ruling class because the majority of people, who lived at a subsistence level, had few material possessions to renounce. As a result, relatively few people were affected by the self-abnegation and antifamilial monasticism that Buddhism taught (Han 1981; Park and Cho 1995a). The religion's influence declined further during the late Koryo Dynasty (918–1392) when Buddhist groups in Korea became corrupt. They constructed extravagant temples, and followers of the religion observed only superficial rituals (Lee 1973; Hong 1980).

When the Chosun Dynasty succeeded the Koryo in 1392, it adopted Confucianism as the familial and state philosophy, suppressing Buddhism. The term Confucianism is used to refer to the popular value system of China, Korea, and Japan. This system 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, Buddhism, and, in the case of Korea and Japan, Shamanism (Park and Cho 1995a). Confucianism declares the family the fundamental unit of society, responsible for the economic functions of production and consumption, as well as education and socialization, guided by moral and ethical principles (Lee 1990; Park and Cho 1995a). In its teachings, Confucianism has traditionally deified ancestors, institutionalized ancestor worship, and delegated the duties of ritual master to the head of the male lineage, that is, to the father and husband. Confucianism is a familial religion (Lee 1990). As Confucianism took hold, 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) (Park and Cho 1995a).

Values and functions of the family. The family is the basic component of social life in Korea, and its perpetuation has been of paramount importance under patriarchal Confucianism. In a Confucian patriarchal family, the family as an entity takes precedence over its individual members, and the family group is inseparably identified with the clan. The most important function of family members is to maintain and preserve the household within the traditional Confucian system (Lee 1960). Society became organized around two principles: that males shall dominate females and that elders shall dominate the young (Kim 1993). Growing old in Korea had advantages for both women and men, for age was respected. According to this perspective, women were often self-assertive and highly valued, as the family finance managers, decisionmakers in family matters, and educators of children (Brandt 1971; Osgood 1951).

Traditionally, the ideal family type in Korea was a patrilocal stem family. The stem family typically consists of two families in successive generation, a father and mother living in the same household with married oldest son, his wife, and their children. The eldest son generally inherited the family estates. The other sons were expected to live in separate residences after their marriages (Cho and Shin 1996). The central familial relationship was not that between husband and wife, but rather between parent and child, especially between father and son. At the same time, the relationships among family members were part of a hierarchy. These relationships were characterized by benevolence, authority, and obedience. Authority rested with the (male) head of the household, and differences in status existed among the other family members (Park and Cho 1995a).

Marital roles and women's roles. During the Shilla and Koryo period, among commoners, couples entered freely into marriage with their chosen partners (Choi 1971). This changed, however, during the Chosun dynasty; strict rules were imposed on the selection of partners, and all marriages were arranged. Naehun (Instruction for Women), compiled by the mother of King Seongjong in 1475, was the most important and influential textbook used to teach proper Confucian roles to girls and married women. The book emphasized the basics of womanly behavior such as chastity, and it prepared girls for their future functions as moral guardians of the domestic sphere and providers for the physical needs of their families. The book also elaborated on a married woman's role, including being a self-sacrificing daughter-in-law, an obedient and dutiful wife, and a wise and caring mother (Kim 1993; Deuchler 1983).

Based on Confucian values, families observed strict gender differentiation in married life. Traditional Korean women's responsibility was restricted to the domestic sphere. As an inside master, the woman established her own authority and became a financial manager, symbolized by the right to carry the family keys to the storage areas for rice and other foods (Kim 1992; Lee 1990). Also, husbands and wives strictly observed a hierarchical relationship. A wife would sacrifice herself completely to serve her husband and family in an exemplary manner. In accordance with the rule of three obediences, a woman was required to obey her father, husband, and son, in that order. Under this system of severe discrimination, women of the Chosun Dynasty were confined to the home. Nevertheless, the position of women, at least those with children, was not hopeless. Just as women occupied a subordinate position in relation to men, children were subordinate to their parents and were required to revere their mothers as well as their fathers (Choi 1982a; Park and Cho 1995a).

Traditionally, Korean society considered divorce and remarriage deviant and problematic family events. Only the husband had the right to divorce his wife; if he did so, she had to be expelled from her family-in-law according to the traditional marital code that held the husband's authority and absolute power to govern his wife. A husband could legally divorce his wife when she committed the following seven faults (chilchul); being disobedient to one's parents-in-law; not giving birth to a son; committing adultery; expressing jealousy of the concubine; contracting a serious illness; and being garrulous or thievish.

Three exceptions (sambulgeo), however, prohibited a husband from expelling a wife who committed the above faults: The husband was not allowed to divorce his wife if she spent more than a three-year mourning period for her parents-in-law; if she had no place to return after the divorce; or if she married in poverty and contributed to the wealth and the social position of the family. The woman was forced to serve the husband's family after her husband died. Thus, people blamed remarried women for denigrating the reputation of their kin as well as themselves. Although a husband could not divorce under these circumstances, he could make an alternative arrangement. If, for example, a wife bore no son, it was common for the couple to adopt one or for the husband to keep a concubine.

It was customary for a man seeking remarriage to select a spinster from a lower-class family, because women who had been married before were socially unacceptable. Also, according to the patriarchal norm, Korean women were socialized to break their relationships with birth families and be thoroughly absorbed into families-in-law, and to assimilate their traditions. This meant that a woman whose first marriage was to a previously married man occupied a very humble position. These women were likely to want their own children to insure marital stability and secure their own position in the family.

Parent-child relationships. One of the most important doctrines of Confucianism was the requirement that children be dutiful to their parents. Filial piety has been the highest moral principle of the parent-child relationship and has greatly influenced the Korean family system. It guided the socialization of children enforced the moral rule that adult children should obey and serve their elderly parents and to repay them for their work as parents by looking after them for the rest of their lives (Chung and Yoo 2000). Thus, the stem family began to be considered an ideal type.

But what constituted filial behavior changed from the Shilla to the Chosun Dynasty. In Samganghangsil, the most important expression of filial

table 2
Traditional concepts of filial piety of Shilla, Koryo, and Chosun
[frequencies, percent]
category of filial pietyshillakoryochosun
source:h. chung and k. yoo. (2000). filial piety and the new generation in korea.
support and material services3 (75)5 (8.1)55 (8.1)
nursing1 (25)8 (12.9)279 (41.2)
self-sacrifice0 (0)11 (17.7)136 (20.1)
funeral services and worship0 (0)38 (61.3)207 (30.6)
total cases(percent)4 (100)62 (100)677 (100)

piety during the Shilla Dynasty was supporting the material needs of elderly parents. In contrast, in the Koryo and Chosun periods, filial piety was best demonstrated in formal and ritual services, such as funeral services and worship in the Koryo and nursing in the Chosun period (see Table 2). In particular, nothing was as important as worshiping of the spirits of one's ancestors as well as one's parents in the period of Chosun (Chung and Yoo 2000).

Contemporary Korean Families

The tremendous demographic changes, as well as changes in the family makeup itself, make it very hard to grasp the characteristics of the contemporary Korean family. Korea's traditional culture, including its religious heritage, was seriously undermined during Japan's colonial rule of Korea (1910–45) and during the Korean War (1950–53). Further complicating the question, since the 1960s, within a single generation, Korea has been transformed from an agrarian to an industrialized urban society. The adoption of not only Western science and technology, but also Western culture, has played a decisive role in bringing about this transformation. Swept into the country on the tides of westernization, industrialization, and economic development, Protestantism has taken root and expanded its reach (Park and Cho 1995a; Yoon 1964). All of these societal forces have transformed the traditional value system and demographic characteristics of Korean families.

Population and household composition. The industrialization of the 1960s accelerated the regional relocation of the population. The urban population has grown from 28 percent of the total population in 1960 to 74 percent in 1990 and to 81 percent in

table 3
Korean households by type and average size
 one generationtwo generationsthree generationsmore than four generationssingle householdhouseholds w/ unrelated personsaverage size of household
source:korean national statistical office, annual report on vital statistics (1982–1997).

2000 (KNSO 2000). Since 1945, the number of households has constantly increased, but the average number of people per household has decreased from 5.7 in 1960, to 4.5 in 1980, 4.16 in 1985, 3.77 in 1990, and 3.34 in 1995. During the same period, the difference in average family size between urban and rural areas disappeared because of changes in the nuclear family and the increase in the number households consisting of a single person.

Since 1960, the number of nuclear families in rural areas increased more rapidly than it did in urban areas because young rural adults migrated into cities (KNSO 1970, 1980, 1995). In particular, the increase in life expectancy and decrease in filial responsibility led to more elderly people (over sixty-five) living by themselves, an increase of 16.0 percent between 1990 and 1995. The elderly represented 7.1 percent of Korea's population in 2000 (KNSO 2000).

Families with two generations cohabiting comprised 73.7 percent of the total population in 1995 (see Table 2). The number of households that consisted of childless married couples increased (see Table 3). At the same time, the percentage of stem families, three-generation families cohabiting, decreased. Thus, the traditional extended family system is changing to that of the conjugal family composed of a couple and their children.

But this phenomenon does not mean that Korean nuclear family is seen as an ideological construct (Chang 1997). Because the Korean people still cherish the ideal image of the extended family, modified nuclear families are more popular in reality. Economic factors also play a role (Kweon 1998). A strong discrepancy, then, is evident between the ideal images of the extended family, commonly cherished by Korean people, and the actual reality of Korean families.

Fertility. During this same period, the birth rate in Korea dropped. This drop is explained by a massive family-planning program by the government that began in 1962, more women pursuing higher education, and more women working outside the home. In 2000, the college and university enrollment was 60.7 percent of women and 99.1 percent of men of college age (Ministry of Education 2000). Because of all these factors, the total fertility rate (the number of children a woman has if her childbearing rate follows national averages) has decreased to 1.4 in 1999 from 2.7 in 1980 and 6.0 in 1960.

Even as the fertility rate dropped, the sex ratio at birth showed unique features. In patriarchal societies, more male children are born. This demographic trend may be due to the societal preference for sons over daughters, which pressures couples to produce children until they have more sons than daughters. For example, the sex ratio at birth was 109.5 men per 100 women in 1970, reached a record high in 1995 of 113.2, and decreased to 109.6 in 1999. Still higher ratios have been reported from large cities such as Taegu and Pusan (Park and Cho 1995b). Moreover, the number of males born increases with the number of conceptions. From this perspective, Larson, Chung, and Gupta (1998) pointed out, even though the total fertility rate is declining, preference of male offspring and patriarchy are strong predictors of second, third, and fourth conceptions.

Marriage, divorce, and remarriage rates. Today, customs governing marriage have changed dramatically. Young women and men mingle freely in parks and on the street, and far fewer parents choose mates for their children (Lee 1997). More and more people are postponing marriage, and the marriage rate is decreasing (see Figure 1). The average age of marriage for women in 1999 was 26.3 years; for men it was 29.1 years, higher than at any previous time. Comparing these figures to those of 1980 shows a very rapid increase; at that time, the ages were 24.1 and 27.3, respectively. These facts reflect the higher educational attainment of women and their increased participation in the job market.

From 1948, when the democratic consitution was adopted, in Korea divorce has been based on fault, or the assessment of blame against one of the spouses. Typically, both partners would be accused of committing adultery, desertion, or physical and mental cruelty; other grounds were cruel and inhuman treatment by in-laws, abandonment for two or more years, or long imprisonment for a felony. Thus, the changing pattern of divorce and remarriage can be seen as a symbol of a changing Confucian tradition.

After 1911, the earliest year for which statistics are available, Korea witnessed a steadily increasing divorce rate except for the years from 1946 to 1966, a period that included the Korean War and post-World War II industrialization. Since the 1970s, the crude divorce rate has increased significantly every ten years, almost doubling from 0.67 per 1,000 population in 1970, to 1.16 in 1980 and again to 2.6 in 1999 (NSO 2000; see figure 2).

Divorce patterns in recent years have changed in several ways. First, the average duration of a marriage was 10.1 years in 1998 because of an increase in the number of couples who remained married for more than fifteen years. Second, divorce increased with 1997 financial crisis; in more cases, both parties agreed to part because of financial problems. Third, couples now divorce less often because of conflict with kin and more often for marital incompatibility. This suggests that conjugal ties have become more crucial in maintaining a marriage, while the traditional kin relationships have declined in importance (Chung and Yoo 1999).

Social changes such as alternatives to traditional marriage, the declining stigma attached to divorce, and the rising standard for happiness in marriage have occurred in Korea. Women's growing independence, the product of feminist ideas and employment outside the home, have significantly contributed to a continued rise in the divorce rate.

As the divorce rate rose, so did the number of remarriages, a figure that has grown continuously since the 1970s (Figure 1). Remarriage, however, has also changed (Figure 3). The proportion of men who married a woman who had never been married, the dominant remarriage type until the 1980s, has dropped from 48.2 percent in 1970 to 34.4 percent in 1998. During the same period, the proportion of remarriages in which both parties were remarrying for the second time increased from 41.2 percent to 52.2 percent. And the proportion also increased of women who had been married before and married, for their second marriage, men who had not been married before; these grew from 10.6 percent to 25.8 percent during the same period (KNSO 1999). Korean society thus seems more accepting of the egalitarian remarriage norm and less prone to traditional attitudes that discriminated against women. The change is not universal; some of the traditional negative images of remarried families still strongly persist in Korean society (Leem 1996; Yoo et al. 1998).

Women's Labor Force Participation

One of the biggest changes from the past is the increasing number of women in the work force. Dual-income families, in which both partners work either in full time or part time, now represent 60 percent of families in Korea (KNSO 1997). Since 1987, the number of married women who were employed outside the home has exceeded the number of employed unmarried women.

These figures do not reflect the complete picture. Although most working women take jobs out of economic necessity (Korean Women's Development Center 2000; KNSO 2000), their contributions are not valued because men still play authoritarian roles in the family. In addition, the greatest cause of stress for employed women is society's expectation that they have complete responsibility for the raising of children. Women experience conflict about their dual roles and also feel overload of roles (Chung 1997; Ha and Kim 1996; Kim and Kim 1994; Ko 1994). The double standard continues in Korean society. Although Korean husbands prefer working wives (Chungang Daily, March 15, 1989), 26 percent of women office workers are forced to resign their jobs upon marriage (Choson Daily, January 9, 1991). Although many young husbands want working wives because they contribute to the family's finances, these same husbands still regard their wives' work as part-time. Although women's labor force participation rates are increasing, the reality is that most of housework and the rearing of children are left to women in Korean households (Chung 1997; Kim 1999).


Significant changes have occurred in recent times to the structure and dynamics of family life in Korea, yet some of the old patterns persist. In terms of structure, Korean families are very similar to those of Western countries. But Koreans' attitudes differ greatly from those of Westerners because of the society's dualistic mentality. For instance, Korean society includes both progressive and conservative trends, coexisting with the Western and Asian mentalities; a dual class system with the emergence of the middle and the poor classes alongside a very powerful rich class; a division among the generations, as with individualism of the younger generations nurtured on Western culture and the traditional patriarchy of older generations; and a duality between family centered on the relationships of couples and children and society composed of collective families centered on adults. Finally, Korean society shows discrepancies between action and mindset. Although many Koreans have a Western mentality, their actions reflect a very conservative tendency, which grows even more pronounced with age (Chung 1999). The Korean family is in transition, and one result of these opposing forces is confusion.

Despite these changes, family laws and policies in Korea still represent the traditional value systems in many aspects. Countering this have been recent movements toward improving individual and women's rights. The family law reform in 1991, for example, included an asset partition claim right for women and visitation rights for noncustodial parents. Also, new family law entitles a divorced woman to a share of the couple's property based on the extent of her contribution to it. Furthermore, custody of the children, which used to be automatically awarded to the father upon divorce, will now be decided in court. Drastic changes in the property inheritance system include eliminating discrimination against daughters. When her husband dies, a childless widow will be entitled to half of the inheritance, with the other half going to the husband's parents. The law was abolished that prohibited a woman's remarriage until six months after the end of a former marriage. However, the new family law does not completely abolish the controversial head-of-the-family system, which Confucians lobbied to preserve. More political and legal support is needed for the welfare of elderly and children, as well as for types of families that remain in the minority, such as singles, homosexuals, and remarried couples.

See also:Asian-American Families; Buddhism; Confucianism; Ethnic Variation/Ethnicity


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views updated May 21 2018


KOREA. Owing to the popularity of Korean barbecue (kalbi and pulgogi ) outside Korea, Korean cuisine is often thought of as meat-based when compared with other Asian cuisines. However, in essence it has for centuries depended largely on vegetables and, to a lesser degree, on seafood. In fact, the consumption of animal products (beef, pork, chicken, eggs, milk, and dairy products) in Korea increased more than twenty times in the last three decades of the twentieth century, mainly due to economic affluence.

Chinese, Japanese, and Western (particularly American and Italian) influences are becoming increasingly visible, especially outside the home. Yogurt and Western-style sweets have become the staples of Korean children, and American fast-food chains (McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut), particularly popular among the youth, are successively enlarging their share of the Korean restaurant market. Koreans of older generations prefer Chinese restaurants, which have been popular for several decades, to the more recent Japanese and Italian establishments. Chinese food is often cooked at home as well.

Yet, despite all these foreign influences, the daily fare of most Koreans, outside or inside the home, still consists of rice, soup, and side dishesa meal structure that has barely changed for centuries.

The Korean Meal

There are few differences among the food Koreans consume at each meal. Supper is usually more elaborate than breakfast and lunch, but generally speaking, every meal is centered on plain boiled rice (pap ), soup (bouillon-like kuk or a more hearty t'ang ), and pickled vegetables (kimchi ). Side dishes (panch'an ) extend this core, and their number depends on the occasion. Three to five side dishes are the norm in contemporary households.

Stews (tchigae, tchim, chŏn'gol ) and soused or sautéed greens (namul, pokkŭm ) constitute the majority of side dishes, complemented by grilled dishes (kui or sanjŏk ) made of seafood, beef, pork, or chicken. Stews tend to acquire the position of a semi-main dish, as does pulgogi, turning into a center of the meal accompanied by a bowl of rice, smaller panch'an, and dipping sauces. Big-bowl dishes such as fried rice (pokkŭmbap ), beef soup with rice (sŏlŏngt'ang ), and mixed rice (pibimbap ) are served in a similar fashion, with small portions of greens and pickles on the side.

Rice boiled or steamed with beans, other grains, or vegetables may be served instead of plain boiled rice. A variety of wheat and buckwheat noodles (kuksu ) also frequently appear on the Korean table. Noodles are usually served in soupy liquids, while stuffed dumplings (mandu ) can be either steamed, panfried, or simmered in soups (manduguk ). Noodles and dumplings are popular lunch dishes. Flavored rice porridges (chuk ) are less commonplace than rice, noodles, and dumplings, but still retain a notable place in Korean cuisine.

Chili pepper, sesame (seed and oil), garlic, and spring onions, along with soy sauce (kanjang ), soybean paste (toenjang ), and red bean paste (koch'ujang ) constitute what might be called a Korean "flavoring principle." The combination of all or a selection of these ingredients gives Korean dishes their characteristic taste. Ginger, semi-sweet rice wine (ch'ŏngju ), and honey or sugar are the other crucial components of the Korean flavor.


Pickled vegetables, generally referred to by the name of kimchi, are the most basic, indispensable element of every Korean meal. Neither a feast nor a most meager fare would be complete without it. For centuries kimchi was the sole side dish to accompany the staple of Korea's poor, whether it was barley, millet, or, for the fortunate few, rice. It was also a fundamental meal component in affluent households. Three kinds of kimchi were always served, regardless of how many side dishes were to appear on the table. To a contemporary Korean, rice and kimchi are the defining elements of a minimal acceptable meal. Yet, it is kimchi, not rice, that is regarded as the symbol of Korean culture.

There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi. Every region, village, and even family used to cherish its own special recipe, applying slightly different preparation methods and using slightly different ingredients. Napa cabbage (Brassica chinensis or Brassica pekinensis ) made into paech'u kimchi is the most common type, followed by radishes (Raphanus sativus ) made into kkaktugi kimchi. Basically, vegetables are placed for several hours in brine, washed with fresh water, and drained. Then, flavorings such as ginger, chili pepper, spring onions, garlic, and raw or fermented seafood are added, and the mixture is packed into pickling crocks and allowed to age.

Since the 1960s, when factory-made kimchi appeared on the market for the first time, the number of urban families who continue to make their own kimchi has gradually diminished. With the rising consumption of meat and seafood, and the popularization of Western-style food, the quantity of kimchi consumed by Koreans has declined as well. An average Korean consumes approximately forty pounds of kimchi on a yearly basis.

Yet, kimchi is still considered to be the most important element of the Korean meal and quintessentially Korean by Koreans and foreigners alike. Despite this cultural symbolism, kimchi has evolved relatively recently to the form we know today. The so-called "white kimchi "(paek kimchi ), which is still popular in the early twenty-first century, resembles most closely the original version.

The addition of chili pepper came about in the mid-eighteenth century and gave kimchi its characteristic red color and pungent taste. Fermented seafood (chŏtkal ), which has been included in the pickling from the late nineteenth century onward, not only enriched the taste of kimchi, but also increased its regional diversity. While at the end of the seventeenth century only eleven types of kimchi were classified, the regional variety of chŏtkal (some regions use shellfish, others anchovies or other kinds of fish) contributed to the development of several hundred varieties of kimchi. The type of vegetables that are pickled also changed. Gourd melon, cucumber, and eggplant have been used since ancient times; today napa cabbage and radish are the most common varieties.

The Table Setting

With a few exceptions, all components of the meal are on the table at one time. A set of a spoon and metal chop-sticks is used while eating. Rice, soup, and other liquids are eaten with the former, side dishes with the latter. Soup and rice are served in individual bowls, but side dishes are often shared by more than one diner. Nowadays, bowls are usually made of stoneware, steel, or plastic, but for special occasions white porcelain tableware is used. In the past, the upper classes dined from brass bowls in the winter and porcelain ones during the hot summer months. A silver set of chopsticks and a spoon was considered most elegant. Less affluent sections of the population generally dined from earthenware, using wooden chopsticks and spoons. According to Korean etiquette, it is considered inelegant to lift bowls from the table. They stay on the table during the entire meal, unlike in the rest of East Asia, where it is customary to lift bowls up to the mouth while eating.

The majority of restaurants in Korea have two dining areas: one with Western-style tables and chairs, and one with an elevated floor where customers seated on cushions dine at low tables. Similarly, most Korean households use Western-style tables with chairs on a daily basis (the table is usually placed in the kitchen), but share meals at a low table with short legs, seated on cushions laid on the floor, when guests are entertained.

The most traditional dining setting is a small table designed for one or two persons. In upper-class households, there was no common dining room and such tables were laid in the kitchen and carried out to different parts of the house, where family members dined, divided according to age, gender, and position. Such dining arrangements reflected the hierarchical ideology of premodern Korea. The shared dining table with short legs became popular in the early decades of the twentieth century and by the 1960s spread all over the country, widely replacing the ubiquitous individual table. This transition was followed by the diffusion of Western-style table and chairs in the 1980s. Yet, even today, traditional tables designed for one are still used in some restaurants, student apartments, and average Korean households.

Food and Drink for Special Occasions

From the fifteenth century onward, Confucianism began to replace Buddhism as the strongest cultural influence in Korea. Various festivals and their celebration in Korea are closely related either to Buddhism or to Confucianism. These events are always marked by special food, with noodles, red beans, and many kinds of rice cakes playing a prominent role in festive meals and snacks. Because Korean meals traditionally did not include desserts, festivals were among the few occasions when sweet snacks were served, except in upper-class families, where sweet afternoon snacks were regularly prepared.

Throughout the ages, each festival food has acquired a symbolic meaning or a function that justifies its use at a specific occasion. Noodles, for example, are appropriate for birthdays because they symbolize long life. Red-bean porridge (p'atchuk ) with sweet rice balls (kyŏngdan ) eaten on the day of the winter solstice is said to prevent colds and drive away ghosts. Colorful rice cake (mujigae ttŏk ) is prepared for a child's first birthday in the hope that the child will enjoy a wide range of accomplishments.

Certain occasions are inseparable from the food that is served during their celebration. The Harvest Moon Festival (Ch'usŏk ), for example, is unimaginable without pine needlescented rice cakes (songp'yŏn ), and lunar New Year's Day celebrations (Sŏllal ) would not be complete without rice cake soup (ttŏkkuk ). "How many bowls of rice cake soup have you eaten?" is a polite way of asking about someone's age, as if failing to eat a bowl of rice cake soup would deprive a person from a complete New Year's experience.

Garnishing (komyŏng ) is taken very seriously in traditional Korean cooking and becomes especially pronounced in festival food. Three-color garnish is made with egg yolk (yellow), egg white (white), and Korean watercress (green). Five-color garnish includes these with the addition of chili pepper threads (red) and stone-ear mushrooms (black).

Drinks are another medium used to celebrate special occasions. Porich'a, scorched-rice tea made by boiling water over the rice that sticks to the bottom of the cooking pot, used to be the most important daily beverage in Korea. Today, along with water, it remains an important drink to accompany meals. For celebrations, most Koreans drink either soju or beer. Soju is a kind of distilled liquor made of grain or sweet potatoes, with an alcohol content of up to 45 percent. Although it is often claimed to have been introduced to Korea in the thirteenth century through trade with the Mongols and Chinese, it is not clear whether the contemporary version has any connection with its ancestor apart from the name. Beer was introduced by the Japanese in the late nineteenth century and began to be produced on a large scale in the early 1930s.

A large variety of homemade wines (which are strictly speaking ales) flavored with ginseng, pine needles, chrysanthemum, cherry, plum, or apricot blossoms, herbs, and fruits were popular before the turn of the twentieth century. The ban on homemade wines during the Japanese colonial period (19101945) had a devastating effect on this part of the Korean tradition. The use of rice for wine making continued to be prohibited after the liberation, due to the shortage of rice. The ban on rice wine was lifted in 1971, and various efforts have been undertaken since to revive local wine making in Korea. In 1985, for example, the government designated many traditional wines as cultural assets. Makkŏlli, a milky rice wine with an alcohol content of 6 to 8 percent, also known under the name "farmer's wine" (nongju ), is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in contemporary Korea.

Alcohol is never drunk in Korea without elaborate snacking. Practically all side dishes can be served for this purpose and are called anju at such occasions. Anju can be small like French hors d'oeuvres or Spanish tapas but are not always small. Stews and large savory pancakes (chŏn ), including vegetables, meat, and seafood, are typical snacks to accompany drinking.

The Historical Overview

The foundation of Korean cuisine was formed between the seventh and thirteenth centuries, with important modifications taking place in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries. As was the case with other aspects of Korean culture, Korean cuisine developed under the strong influence of its powerful neighborChina. As in adjoining regions of East Asia, rice and fermented soybean products (soy sauce, soybean paste, and soybean curd) occupy a prominent place in the diet of the Korean people. The "ricesoupside dishes" structure of the meal and the use of chopsticks to consume it are other indicators of the impact that Chinese civilization exerted on Korean food-ways. The emphasis on five elements in Korean cuisine, for example, five flavors (salty, sweet, sour, hot, and bitter) and five colors of garnish, has Chinese origins as well. It should be emphasized, however, that despite this heritage, Korean cuisine has developed into a distinctive entity of its own, with more differences from Chinese cuisine than similarities to it.

The technology of rice cultivation was brought to the northern parts of the Korean peninsula from China, probably late in the second millennium b.c.e., but rice became a staple of the Korean diet only in the Silla period (668935 c.e.). In fact, before the second half of the twentieth century, rice was not a staple for everyone, but was rather a symbol of wealth. The old phrase "white rice with meat soup," for example, connotes the good life, while tacitly acknowledging that not everyone could afford either rice or meat. Millet, barley, and buckwheat accompanied by kimchi and vegetable soup were the daily fare of the majority of the Korean population.

Vegetarian Buddhist influences in Korea did not, apart from the clergy, have much impact on food habits. Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and various types of game were regularly consumed by the Korean upper classes. Still, before the economic growth of the 1970s, the eating of meat was a luxury for the common people in Korea. Farmers, who formed the majority of the Korean population, rarely ate meat except for three days in summer when dog stew was served and a special day in winter when sparrow, wild boar, or wild rabbit was prepared. In both cases, the eating of meat was intended to strengthen physical resistance to extreme weather conditions (Walraven, 2002).

The techniques for making wine and chang (a semi-liquid predecessor of soy sauce and soybean paste) were also introduced from China, and by the seventh century were already highly advanced. This was also the time when fermented seafood (chŏtkal ) developed, along with vegetables preserved in salt. The latter eventually evolved into kimchi pickles.

Chili pepper was brought to Korea at the end of the sixteenth century, most probably via Japan. It became widely cultivated a century later and by the twentieth century was an integral part of Korean cuisine. As well as being an indispensable component in kimchi making, chili pepper contributes to the flavoring of the majority of Korean dishes through chili pepper powder (koch'u karu ) and red bean paste (koch'ujang ). Both are not only used extensively in the kitchen but often appear on the table as a relish.

It should be mentioned that the extensive use of chili pepper, and consequently the pungent taste of Korean cooking, was not originally characteristic of all Korea, but rather a feature of the Kyŏngsang province occupying the southeastern part of the peninsula. The diet of the southwestern provinces and the territory covering contemporary North Korea used to feature less spicy dishes than was the case in Kyŏngsang. Urbanization and the development of modern transport and communication networks led to the gradual decline of regional differences in the Korean diet. These differences, however, have by no means completely disappeared. Ch'ŏrwŏn, for example, is famous for makkŏ lli wine, Ch'unch'ŏn for its chicken barbecue (talkkalbi ), and Hamhung province for its cold noodles (naengmyŏn ). The cooking of the southwestern provinces tends to be generally less spicy than the rest of the country. Chŏlla province, in particular, tenaciously retains its culinary distinctiveness.

Along with a gradual decline in regional differences and the democratization of the Korean foodways, the twentieth century marked the time of the modernization of production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food in Korea. This started during the Japanese occupation and continued in South Korea after the Korean War (19501953).

The Japanese introduced modern farming techniques and Western-style food processing. The railway system and the highway network erected by the colonizer led to the centralization of markets and modernization of retailing. Japanese and Korean physicians created the foundation of Korean dietetics, and affluent Korean women got acquainted with the Western science of nutrition through Western-inspired Japanese home economics education.

After the Korean War, South Korea continued to modernize under the strong influence of the United States. American dietary influences have become particularly visible since the 1980s but have not been widely welcome. While foreign products are desirable for the status and novelty they impart, the Korean people generally disapprove of the country's growing reliance on food imports (Pemberton, 2002; Bak, 1997). The increasing consumption of meat, for example, led to a rise in the number of livestock in Korea, making this mountainous country with almost no pasture largely dependent on imported feedstuffs. This and similar issues play an important role in the dietary consciousness of the Korean population today.

See also China; Condiments; Fermented Beverages Other than Wine or Beer; Places of Consumption; Rice; Soup; Southeast Asia; Soy; Wine, Nongrape .


Bak, Sangmee. "McDonald's in Seoul: Food Choices, Identity, and Nationalism." In Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia, edited by James L. Watson. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997.

Chu, Young-ha. "Origin and Change in Kimch'i Culture." Korea Journal (Summer 1995): 1829.

Kim, Joungwon, ed. Korean Cultural Heritage. Vol. 4, Traditional Lifestyles. Seoul: Korea Foundation, 1994.

Kim, Kwang-ok. "Contested Terrain of Imagination: Chinese Food in Korea." In Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, edited by David Y. H. Wu and Tan Chee-beng. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2001.

Pemberton, Robert W. "Wild-gathered Foods as Countercurrents to Dietary Globalisation in South Korea." In Asian Food: The Global and the Local, edited by Katarzyna Cwiertka with Boudewijn Walraven. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001.

Walraven, Boudewijn C. A. "Bardot Soup and Confucians' Meat: Food and Korean Identity in Global Context." In Asian Food: The Global and the Local, edited by Katarzyna Cwiertka with Boudewijn Walraven. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001.

Katarzyna J. Cwiertka


views updated May 17 2018



Soo Chunkwa (Ginger Drink) ...................................... 18
Kamja Guk (Potato Soup)............................................ 20
Kimchi ....................................................................... 20
Hin Pap (White Rice) ................................................... 21
Toasted Sesame Seeds................................................. 21
Chap Ch'ae (Vegetables with Cellophane Noodles)..... 22
Mandu (Korean Dumplings)........................................ 23
Pulgogi (Korean Beef) ................................................. 24
Ch'o Kanjang (Vinegar Soy Sauce) .............................. 24
Shigumch'i Namul (Korean Spinach............................ 25


The Korean Peninsula is a large finger of land that extends south from the northeastern border of China into the ocean parallel to Japan. It is surrounded by the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. Until World War II (19391945), Korea was a single country. After World War II, Korea was divided in half to form the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (known as North Korea) with a communist form of government, and the Republic of Korea (known as South Korea) with a democratic form of government.

Both North Korea and South Korea have problems with air and water pollution, and both governments have passed laws to control pollution. Higher elevations are found in North Korea, while South Korea has fertile plains suitable for agriculture in its southern region. The climate supports agriculture, and South Korea grows enough rice to support its population. The main rivers, the Han and the Kum, help to provide adequate water supply for the agricultural lands.


Since the country was divided into North Korea and South Korea, the government of North Korea has not welcomed outsiders. Because of this, information about its food and the cooking style of its people is not readily available. Most of the descriptions and recipes included here come from South Korea, although the same foods are probably enjoyed by North Koreans and people of Korean descent living anywhere in the world.

The seas surrounding the Korean peninsulathe Yellow and East China seas, and the Sea of Japanprovide not only many types of seafood, like tuna, king crab and squid, but moisture for the fertile soil needed to grow rice and grains.

For centuries, the Koreans have eaten the products of the land and sea. They began growing grains thousands of years ago, and rice cultivation was introduced to some parts of the country around 2000 b.c. During this time they also grew millet (a type of grass grown for its edible seed), soybeans, red beans, and other grains. They cured and pickled fish, were skilled in making wine and bean paste, and often used honey and oil in cooking.

Chinese and Japanese invasions during the fourteenth through twentieth centuries gave rise to a culinary influence on Korea that remains today. Like the Chinese and Japanese, Koreans eat rice with almost every meal and use chopsticks. Eating with chopsticks means the food is usually cut up into little pieces that are easy to pick up. Food cut this size cooks fast, which cuts down on the use of fuel.

Unlike China and Japan, however, Korea was never a tea-drinking nation. Historically, China and Japan had to boil their water for it to be fit to drink. Korea's water was pure, which led them to discover other beverages, such as ginseng and ginger drinks (made from herbs of the same name), wines, and spirits. Soo Chunkwa (ginger drink) is often served on joyous occasions during the winter, and especially at New Year's.

Soo Chunkwa (Ginger Drink)


  • ½ pound ginger (the actual root, not powdered)
  • 10 cups cold water
  • ¾ pound dried jujubes (red dates used in sweet dishes), or substitute brown dates
  • 1 jar (16-ounce) of honey
  • Pine nuts (can be found at the local supermarket)
  • Cinnamon

To prepare jujubes

Note: This step applies only if jujubes are being used. Skip this step if using dates.

  1. Wash the jujubes under cold running water.
  2. Place them in 4 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Cook for 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature.


  1. Wash, but do not peel the ginger.
  2. Slice it paper-thin.
  3. Place the ginger in a large pot and add 10 cups cold water.
  4. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for 2½ hours.
  5. Scoop out all of the ginger with a slotted spoon and throw it away.
  6. Heat the ginger water to boiling again, and add the honey.
  7. Boil on high heat for 5 to 10 minutes or until the honey has been completely dissolved.
  8. Let the ginger water cool to drinking temperature (just warm).
  9. Place a jujube (or date) at the bottom of each glass.
  10. Add the ginger water; top each glass with 2 pine nuts and sprinkle with a dash of powdered cinnamon.

Makes about 10 servings. Soo Chunkwa will keep, refrigerated, for a few days.


Korea shares many similarities with other Asian cuisines such as the importance of rice and vegetables and cooking methods such as stir-frying, steaming, and braising (food first browned in oil, then cooked slowly in a liquid). As is true of the rest of Asia, Koreans eat far less meat than people in the Western world. Red meat is scarce and very expensive, so it is usually saved for special occasions. Chicken or seafood is more commonly eaten.

Korean food is often very spicy. Red pepper paste, green onion, soy sauce, bean paste, garlic, and ginger are just some of the many seasonings Koreans use to flavor their dishes. The food is served with a bland grain such as rice to cool the heat of the spices.

The Korean way of preparing and eating their dishes makes for healthy eating. Generally speaking, Koreans are thin people. Being overweight is considered a sign of wealth and dignity and seen particularly among the rich, and high officials.

A meal served for a group of people often includes several large dishes and as many as twenty side dishes. Unlike other Asian cuisines, Korean cuisine includes many uncooked vegetables served in the form of salads and pickles. Traditional Korean meals include soup, served hot or cold depending on the season, like kamja guk (kahm-jah gook; potato soup), and hin pap (heen pop; white rice).

Kamja Guk (Potato Soup)


  • 2 cans beef or chicken broth
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • ½ cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • Pinch black pepper


  1. In a large saucepan, combine broth, potatoes, and carrots.
  2. Bring to a boil over high heat, and cover.
  3. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
  4. Add mushrooms, green onions, and black pepper.
  5. Stir well and cook for 2 minutes more.
  6. Serve hot.

Kimchi (pronounced kim chee), a common spicy Korean side dish, is considered a national dish. Kimchi comes in a variety of flavors depending on family tradition. The main ingredients are cabbage and radish, which are fermented with red chilies, salt, and other vegetables. Kimjang is the traditional Korean custom of making kimchi in the early winter to prepare for the cold months.



  • 1 cup medium cabbage, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cauliflower, separated into small pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons salt
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly chopped, or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated, or ½ teaspoon ground ginger


  1. Combine cabbage, carrots, and cauliflower in strainer and sprinkle with salt.
  2. Toss lightly and set in sink for about one hour and allow to drain.
  3. Rinse with cold water, drain well and place in a medium-size bowl.
  4. Add onions, garlic, red pepper and ginger.
  5. Mix thoroughly.
  6. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 days, stirring frequently to mix flavors.
  7. Allow kimchi to sit for 1 or 2 days to ferment. The longer it sits, the spicier it will become.

Hin pap (heen pop; white rice) remains the main staple and is the biggest crop produced in South Korea. It can be eaten in many different ways. There are ogokbap (boiled rice mixed with four grains), yakbap (a sweet rice dish), and over fifty varieties of rice cakes.

Hin Pap (White Rice)


  • 2 cups short-grain white rice (not instant)
  • 2 cups water


  1. Pour the rice and water into a deep saucepan, and stir to combine.
  2. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  3. Boil, uncovered, for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir.
  4. Cover pan, reduce heat to low, and simmer rice 20 to 25 minutes, or until all water is absorbed.
  5. Remove pan from heat.
  6. Keep covered for 10 minutes.
  7. Fluff with a fork and serve hot.

Serves 6 to 8.

Other common dishes include kalbi (marinated beef short ribs) and sinsollo (a meal of meat, fish, vegetables, eggs, nuts, and bean curd cooked together in broth).


Traditional Korean holidays have developed under the influence of the seasons, rural agricultural life, and the religions of Buddhism and Confucianism. As of the twenty-first century, traditional holidays still held significant meaning in the daily lives of the Korean people.

Toasted Sesame Seeds

Toasted sesame seeds are an ingredient in many Korean recipes, such as Chap Ch'ae, Ch'o Kanjang, and Shigumch'i Namul.


  • 4 teaspoons sesame seeds


  1. Measure sesame seeds into a small frying pan (do not add oil).
  2. Cook, stirring constantly over medium heat 2 to 4 minutes or until the seeds are golden brown (be careful not to burn).
  3. Remove the seeds from heat and pour into a large bowl. Crush with the back of a wooden spoon.

The Lunar New Year, or Sol, is the first day of the new year. Koreans traditionally hold a memorial service for their ancestors, after which they perform sebae, a formal bow of respect, to their elders as a New Year's greeting. The day is always celebrated with a bowl of ttokkuk, or rice cake soup. Other popular foods eaten on Lunar New Year are chapch'ae (noodles with meat and vegetables), pindaettok (mung bean pancakes), and sujonggwa (cinnamon flavored persimmon punch). At weddings, yakshik, a sticky rice ball loaded with chestnuts, jujubes, raisins, and pine nuts to symbolize children, is served.

Chap Ch'ae (Mixed Vegetables with Cellophane Noodles)


  • 5 dried black mushrooms (button mushrooms, or one small can of mushrooms may be substituted)
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 4 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 teaspoons toasted, crushed sesame seeds (see above on how to make)
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 package cellophane noodles (can be found in the supermarket)
  • 6 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into medium strips
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • ½ cup fresh spinach, chopped
  • 5 teaspoons sesame oil


  1. If using dried black mushrooms, put them into a small bowl and pour hot water over them. Soak for 20 minutes or until soft.
  2. Marinate chicken: In a medium bowl, combine 2 Tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, garlic, 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, and chicken. Set aside.
  3. Prepare noodles: Heat 3 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the cellophane noodles and return to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat to medium to high and cook uncovered, for 5 to 7 minutes or until soft. Drain the noodles and rinse briefly in cold water. Place in large mixing bowl and set aside.
  5. Prepare chicken and vegetables: In a large frying pan or wok, heat 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil over high heat for 1 minute.
  6. Add chicken mixture and fry, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes or until chicken is white and tender. Remove pan from heat and add chicken to noodles.
  7. When pan has cooled, wash and dry it completely.
  8. Heat 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil over high heat for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute or until soft.
  9. Repeat with remaining vegetables, cooking each one separately. (It is not necessary to wash and dry the pan between vegetables.)
  10. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 teaspoons sesame seeds and 5 teaspoons sesame oil to noodle mixture and mix well. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 2.

Honoring a family's ancestors is an important part of Korea's heritage. Four generations of ancestors are honored on the day before the anniversary of a person's death. Food is served in dishes with special stands to prevent the plates from touching the table. Food is arranged and combined according to strict ancient customs. For example, at least three different colors of fruits and vegetables are set on the table: red fruits and fish to the east, and white fruits and meat to the west. A special dish that may be served is kujolpan, which is served in a nine-compartment dish. These compartments are filled with nine different kinds of brightly colored meats and vegetables. These foods are wrapped in thin pancakes and eaten at the table.

Another traditional holiday in South Korea is called Yadu Nal, or Shampoo Day, on June 15. Friends and family gather at a stream or waterfall to bathe in the clear water, a ceremony they believe will ward off fevers for the rest of the year. A picnic meal is packed and may include mandu (mahndoo; dumplings), sweet rice cakes, grilled fish or meat, and watermelon.

Mandu (Korean Dumplings)


  • ¼ pound ground beef
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ small onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • ¾ cup cabbage, shredded
  • ½ cup bean sprouts
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • 1½ teaspoons black pepper
  • Salt, dash
  • 25 wonton wrappers (can be found at a supermarket)
  • 1 egg


  1. In a large frying pan or wok, cook meat until brown, mashing with a fork to break into small pieces. Remove meat, using a slotted spoon to drain off fat, and set meat aside in a bowl.
  2. Once cool, wash frying pan or wok and dry thoroughly.
  3. Heat 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil over high heat for 1 minute.
  4. Add onions and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until crisp and tender.
  5. Add cabbage and continue to cook, stirring frequently until cabbage is crisp and tender.
  6. Add bean sprouts and green onion, mix well, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more.
  7. Remove pan from the heat and drain vegetable mixture.
  8. In a large bowl, combine meat, vegetables, salt and black pepper and mix well to make the filling.
  9. Place 1 wonton wrapper on a flat surface and cover remaining wrappers with a damp paper paper towel (not dish towel) so they won't dry out.
  10. Beat the egg in a small bowl. Brush all 4 edges of the wonton wrapper with the beaten egg.
  11. Place about 1 Tablespoon of the filling mixture just above the center of the wonton wrapper.
  12. Fold wrapper in half over filling and press the edges together to seal, forming a dumpling.
  13. In a large frying pan or wok, heat 1 cup vegetable oil over medium heat for 1 minute.
  14. Carefully place 6 dumplings into oil with tongs and fry 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown.
  15. Turn and fry the other side, 2 to 3 minutes.


There is little difference in what Koreans eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Breakfast, the biggest meal of the day, may include a cold soup, such as oi naeng guk (oh-ee nayng good; cucumber soup), steamed peppers, and saeng son jon (fish patties). Pulgogi (pool-goh-gee; grilled beef) is one of Korea's best-known meat dishes.

Pulgogi (Korean Beef)

In Korea, Pulgogi is prepared on a small grill at the table.


  • 2 pounds beef sirloin
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame seed
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • 3 Tablespoons brown sugar or honey (white sugar may be substituted)


  1. Before beginning, place meat in the freezer for 10 minutes to make it easier to slice. Slice beef as thinly as possible.
  2. Cut meat slices into bite-sized squares. Lightly score the surface of each square to prevent the meat from curling when cooked.
  3. Put the meat pieces into a large mixing bowl. Add all the other ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon to mix everything together.
  4. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for several hours (at least one hour) to allow the meat to absorb the flavors of the marinade.
  5. Transfer everything to a large saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until the mixture begins to simmer. Cover and cook about 30 minutes, until the meat has been thoroughly cooked. Stir every 5 minutes to prevent meat from sticking.
  6. Serve with rice and kimchi.

Serves 8 to 10.

Ch'o Kanjang (Vinegar Soy Sauce)


  • 4 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (see recipe)


  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve sugar.
  2. Vinegar soy sauce will keep up to a week, covered, in the refrigerator.

Lunch could be kamja guk (kahm-jah gook; potato soup) and mixed vegetables with chap ch'ae (chop-chay; cellophane noodles made from mung bean flour). For dinner, perhaps kalbi guk (kahl-bee gook; beef short rib soup), shigumch'i namul (shee-guhm-chee nah-mool; spinach salad), pulgogi (pool-goh-gee; Korean beef), and steamed chicken is eaten. Of course, all three meals would be served with white rice and kimchi. A good Korean cook will try to include five colors at every meal: red, green, yellow, white, and black. Koreans seldom serve dessert, but often eat fresh fruit instead.

Shigumch'i Namul (Korean Spinach)


  • ½ cup water
  • 1 pound fresh spinach, rinsed with water
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (see recipe)


  1. In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil.
  2. Add spinach, cover, and reduce heat to medium to high. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until bright green.
  3. Pour into a strainer. Cool.
  4. Gently squeeze out excess water with your hands.
  5. Chop spinach and place in a large bowl.
  6. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
  7. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 6 to 8.

Meals are considered an important event in the day to Koreans and much time is spent in its preparation. In fact, Koreans find eating so important they want to concentrate all of their attention on it, and consider it impolite to talk while eating. They avoid conversation until the end of the meal. At mealtime, the dishes of food are placed in the middle of the table and individual bowls of rice are set in front of each person.

The Korean table setting is much different than the table setting used in the United States. The tables, finished with shiny red or black lacquer, are only 10 inches high. Diners are seated on cushions placed on the floor around the table. Beautiful patterns in mother-of-pearl decorate the tables. When the table is not being used, it is hung on the wall like a picture.

Students carry lunch boxes to school that are quite unlike those of U.S. students. They are little tin boxes with several compartments built into them for chopsticks, rice, dried fish, and other foods. Small children have small chopsticks, and as they grow bigger, they use bigger chopsticks.

For snacks at home, Korean students like to eat fruit, either fresh or dried, and sometimes little cakes made from sugar, honey, dried fruit, and rice flour. They are much less sweet tasting than the cookies and cakes made in the United States. The popular kimchi is always in the kitchen and easy to eat as a snack.


Almost all Koreans receive adequate nutrition in their diets, with the World Bank reporting that less than 1 percent of the population is malnourished and nearly all have access to adequate sanitation and safe drinking water. Korean farmers grow enough rice to meet the country's needs, and fruit growers produce abundant crops of apples, pears, persimmons, and melons. The main vegetable crops are white radish, known as mu, and cabbage. Both are used in kimchi, the national dish.



Cho, Joong Ok. Homestyle Korean Cooking in Pictures. Tokyo: Japan Publications; New York: Kodansha International/USA through Harper & Row [distributor], 1981.

Duvall, Jill. Chef Ki is Serving Dinner! Danbury, CT: Children's Press, 1997.

Hyun, Judy. The Korean Cookbook. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym International Corp., 1983.

Loewen, Nancy. Food in Korea. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Publications, 1991.

Marks, Copeland. The Korean Kitchen: Classic Recipes from the Land of the Morning Calm. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993.

No, Chin-hwa. Traditional Korean Cooking: Snacks & Basic Side Dishes. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym International Corp., 1985.

Okwha Chung and Judy Monroe. Cooking the Korean Way. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1988.

Web Sites

KidSight. [Online] Available (accessed March 14, 2001).

Korea Insights. [Online] Available http://korea.insights.co.kr/food/index.html (accessed March 14, 2001).

Life in Korea. [Online] Available http://www.lifeinkorea.com (accessed March 14, 2001).

Working Holiday Association. [Online] Available http://www.workingholiday.com/english/index.html (accessed March 14, 2001).


views updated May 14 2018


Korean Buddhism must be considered within the larger context of the East Asian MahĀyĀna tradition. Broadly speaking, the creative period of Chinese Buddhism was over by the end of the twelfth century, after which Chinese Buddhism ceased to have a significant impact on Korean Buddhism. Furthermore, no indigenous developments within Korean Buddhism radically altered its character after the twelfth century; by and large, the basic identity of Korean Buddhism was formed by this time, in clear contrast with Japanese Buddhism, which began to develop its highly idiosyncratic forms after the thirteenth century. This does not mean that Korean Buddhism ceased to develop, but that its fundamental character was established long ago.

After the thirteenth century, denominational differences within Korean Buddhism became less significant until the entire Korean saṄgha eventually became a single order. This process, which took more than six hundred years, culminated in the establishment of the Chogyejong (Chogye school or order) in 1941. The Chogye order, which practically represents the entirety of modern Korean Buddhism, considers itself a scion of the Chan school (Korean, SŎn; Japanese, Zen), but it actually embraces many of the diverse forms of East Asian Buddhist thought and practice that had flowed into Korea beginning in the fourth century c.e. This feature of Korean Buddhism has led scholars to characterize it as t'ongbulgyo, a "holistic Buddhism" that is free from sectarian differences and doctrinal conflicts.

Introduction of Buddhism into the Three Kingdoms

When Buddhism came to Korea in the latter half of the fourth century, the peninsula was divided into three kingdoms, each ruled by an ancient tribal confederation trying to expand its territory at the expense of the others. The religious beliefs and practices of the people were predominantly animistic; they believed in deities that resided in nature, and they worshipped the ancestral spirits of tribal leaders. With the establishment of monarchies, however, Korean society moved beyond its tribal stage and was ready to entertain a new religion with a universalistic ethos.

Among the three kingdoms, Koguryŏ (37 b.c.e.–618 c.e.) in the north was the earliest to form a centralized state and was by far the most powerful. Although some evidence suggests that Buddhism had been known earlier, it was in 372 c.e., during the reign of King Sosurim (r. 371–384), that Buddhism was officially introduced into Koguryŏ. Sosurim maintained a tributary relationship with the Former Qin (351–394) in northern China, and its king, Fujian (r. 357–385), an ardent supporter of Buddhism, sent a monk-envoy named Sundo (d.u.), with Buddhist images and scriptures, to Koguryŏ. Significantly, in that same year Sosurim also established the T'aehak, an academy for Confucian learning. The following year he promulgated legal codes, laying the foundation for a centralized bureaucratic state.

Around the time Buddhism came to Koguryŏ, the Paekche kingdom (18 b.c.e.–660 c.e.), which occupied the southwestern part of the peninsula, was introduced to Buddhism by the Eastern Jin in southern China, with which Paekche had a close diplomatic relationship. As with Koguryŏ, the new religion came to Paekche at the time the kingdom, in particular King Ku˘n Ch'ogo (346–375), was consolidating royal control over tribal powers.

The kingdom of Silla (57 b.c.e.–935 c.e.), which held the southeastern corner of the peninsula, was the last of three kingdoms to be introduced to Buddhism. When Buddhism first came to Silla during the reign of King Nulchi (417–447), it met strong resistance from ruling aristocratic families that were deeply rooted in tribal religious practices. The martyrdom of Ich'adon, a loyal minister, provoked King Pŏphŭng (r. 514–540) to finally recognize the new religion in 527 c.e. Pŏphŭng had promulgated legal codes for the kingdom in 520, and he prohibited killing throughout the land two years after recognizing Buddhism.

Buddhism introduced a number of new religious practices and ideas to Korea: Buddhist monks were clearly set apart from the rest of the society; images of buddhas and bodhisattvas offered a clear focus for devotion; and Buddhist scriptures contained soaring philosophical ideas with an expansive cosmology and advanced moral teaching. In addition, a host of new cultural phenomena accompanied Buddhism, including architecture, craftsmanship, a writing system, calendrics, and medicine. Buddhist monks were not simply religious figures, they were magicians, doctors, writers, calligraphers, architects, painters, and even diplomats and political advisers. Although many years passed before Korean Buddhists had a solid understanding of the philosophical subtleties of Buddhist teachings, its material culture alone was sufficient to win the hearts of the kings and nobles, as well as the common people.

Expansion of Buddhist influence

It was Silla, the least developed of the three kingdoms, that benefited most from Buddhism after Silla leaders turned Buddhism into a powerful ideology of the state. As a source of religious patriotism, Buddhism played an important role in Silla's unification of the divided peninsula. King Chinhŭng (r. 540–576), the successor of Pŏphŭng, was the first Silla monarch who allowed his subjects to become monks. Pŏphŭng himself became a monk at the end of his life, taking the Buddhist name Pŏbun (Dharma Cloud), an act that demonstrated the unity of the state and the saṅgha. Beginning of Pŏphŭng, many Silla rulers adopted Buddhist names, including Śuddhodana, Māyā, and Śrīmālā, for themselves and their families. Buddhism had clearly become a force for legitimizing royal authority.

Eminent monks, such as Wŏn'gwang (d. 630) and Chajang (ca. seventh century), became spiritual leaders of both the saṅgha and the state. Wŏn'gwang is best known for his sesok ogye (five precepts for laypeople), which he presented at the request of two patriotic youths. The precepts stipulated that one must serve the sovereign with loyalty, serve parents with filial piety, treat friends with sincerity, never retreat from the battlefield, and not kill living beings indiscriminately. Instead of offering the traditional five precepts, Wŏn'gwang adapted Buddhist ethics to the pressing needs of the Silla kingdom during a crucial period of its history.

Chajang, a Silla nobleman, traveled to Tang China in 636 and spent seven years studying Buddhism. Upon his return, he was given the title of taegukt'ong (Grand National Overseer), one who supervises the entire saṅgha. Chajang established the ordination platform for monks at T'ongdo Monastery and strictly enforced the Buddhist vinaya throughout the saṅgha. He is also credited with building a magnificent nine-story pagoda in the compound of Hwangnyong Monastery, the national shrine of Silla.

Although the rulers and aristocratic families were attracted to Buddhism mainly for its material benefits, such as the protection of the state and the welfare of the family, many monks avidly studied and lectured on important Chinese Buddhist texts. Almost all the major Mahāyāna texts, which had played an important role in the formative period of Chinese Buddhism, were introduced into Korea. Buddhist monks from Koguryŏ and especially Paekche subsequently played seminal roles in the transmission of Buddhism and Sinitic culture to Japan.

Buddhist thought flourished in Korea once the Silla rulers unified the three kingdoms in 680. The contributions of the eminent monks Ŭisang (625–702) and WŎnhyo (617–686) were particularly important. Ŭisang had traveled to China and studied under Zhiyan (602–668), the second patriarch of the Huayan school. Upon his return to Silla, he became the founder of the Korean Hwaŏm (Huayan) school, the most influential doctrinal school in Korean Buddhism. The founding of many famous monasteries in Korea, such as Hwaŏmsa, Pusŏksa, and Pŏmŏsa, are attributed to Ŭisang, and his Hwaŏm ilsŭng pŏpgye to (Chart of the One-Vehicle Dharma-Realm of Huayan) sets forth the gist of Hwaŏm philosophy in the form of 210 Chinese characters arranged in a square diagram.

Wŏnhyo, commonly regarded as the greatest thinker in Korean Buddhism, was a prolific writer who produced no less than eighty-six works, of which twenty-three are extant either completely or partially. By his time, most of the important sūtras and treatises had flowed into Korea from China, and they were causing a great deal of confusion for Silla Buddhists, as they had for the Chinese. It was Wŏnhyo's genius to interpret all of the texts known to him in a way that would reveal their underlying unity of truth without sacrificing the distinctive message of each text. He found his hermeneutical key in the famous Mahāyāna text, the Awakening of Faith (Dasheng qixin lun). Wŏnhyo's commentaries on this text influenced Fazang (643–712), the great systematizer of Huayan thought.

But Wŏnhyo was more than a scholar-monk. He tried to embody in his own life the ideal of a bodhisattva who works for the well-being of all sentient beings. Transcending the distinction of the sacred and the secular, he married a widowed princess, visited villages and towns, and taught people with songs and dances. Silla Buddhism fully matured during Wŏnhyo's time, not only in terms of its doctrinal depth but also its ability to engage the common people.

Beginning in the late eighth century, the unified Silla dynasty began to show signs of disintegration due to conflicts within the ruling class and the rise of local warlords. During this period of political turmoil the Sŏn or Chan school of Buddhism was introduced into Korea from Tang China. Numerous Sŏn centers were soon established, mostly in provinces far away from the Silla capital of Kyŏngju and under the patronage of local warlords and magnates. Most of the founders of the Nine Mountains school of SŎn (Kusan Sŏnmun) received transmission in China from members of the dharma-lineage of the famous Mazu Daoyi (709–788). Their new approach to Buddhism soon created conflict with the older schools of doctrinal Buddhism (Kyo), bifurcating the Korean saṅgha.

Buddhism in the Koryŏ dynasty

The long political turmoil of the late Silla period ended with the redivision of the Korean peninsula into three kingdoms and the rise of Wang Kŏn (r. 918–943), a local warlord who founded a new dynasty, the Koryŏ (918–1392). Although the political climate had changed, the intimate relationship between Buddhism and the state did not. Buddhism became even more firmly established as the state religion. Wang Kŏn was a pious Buddhist and attributed his political success to the protective power of the buddhas. He was also a firm believer in geomancy, and he constructed numerous Buddhist monasteries according to geomantic principles with a view to curbing evil forces emanating from unfavorable places. Following his example, the succeeding Koryŏ monarchs became ardent supporters of Buddhism. During the reign of King Kwangjong (949–975), the state established a monks' examination system that was modeled on the civil service examination. Titles were conferred upon the monks who passed the examination, according to their ranks. The highest honor belonged to the royal preceptor (wangsa) and the posthumous national preceptor (kuksa). In short, the Buddhist san˙gha became part and parcel of the state bureaucracy, and the idea of hoguk pulgyo (state-protection Buddhism) became firmly entrenched during the Koryŏ dynasty.

In the latter half of the eleventh century, a new school arose and changed the denominational dynamics of the Koryŏ saṅgha. Ŭich'Ŏn (1055–1101), the fourth son of King Munjong, became a Hwaŏm monk at the age of eleven. At thirty-one he traveled to Song China, where he met many illustrious Chinese masters, who inspired him to establish a new order, the Ch'ŏnt'aejong (TIANTAIschool) in Koryŏ, a decision rooted in his determination to resolve the severe conflict between Sŏn and Kyo (doctrinal Buddhism) in the Koryŏ saṅgha. Ŭich'ŏn was critical of Sŏn's iconoclastic rhetoric, which he believed ignored scriptural learning. He wanted his new school to balance doctrinal study (kyo) and meditation (kwan). Ŭich'ŏn's leadership and royal background soon made Ch'ŏnt'ae a flourishing order, but the conflict continued to intensify. Not long after Ŭich'ŏn, the Nine Mountains school of Sŏn began to consolidate under a new name, the Chogyejong.

A century later, a Sŏn monk named CHINUL (1158–1210) led a quiet monastic reform movement in order to purify the Koryŏ saṅgha, which he believed was in a state of serious moral and spiritual decay. Convinced through his encounter with the writings of the Hwaŏm exegete Li Tongxuan (635–730) that Sŏn's "sudden enlightenment" (tono) approach could also be found in Hwaŏm teaching, Chinul concluded that there was no discrepancy between Sŏn and Kyo. Chinul established a comprehensive approach to Sŏn that balanced "sudden enlightenment" with "gradual cultivation," and he permitted both a Hwaŏm method of "sudden enlightenment" and the "extraordinary" (kyŏgoe) method of hwadu (kŌan) meditation. Chinul's Sŏn teaching, set forth in many of his writings, became the foundation for the thought and practice of Korean Sŏn Buddhism to the present day.

Koryŏ Buddhism is also noted for its monumental woodblock editions of the Chinese Buddhist canon, the first of which is said to have been commissioned by King Hyŏnjong (1009–1031) in the hope of protecting the country from invading Liao forces. This edition was burned by Mongols in 1232. King Kojong (1213–1259) commissioned another edition of the canon on Kanghwa Island, where he had fled after the Mongol invasion. This edition, which consisted of more than eighty thousand woodblocks, took sixteen years to complete (1236–1251); it is still preserved in the Tripiṭaka Hall of Haein Monastery near Taegu.

Buddhism during the Chosŏn dynasty

Supported by the court and the nobles, the Koryŏ saṅgha enjoyed considerable economic prosperity. Large monasteries became major landowners after the donation of land and serfs by the kings and influential families, and many monasteries developed into financial powers by pursuing various commercial enterprises. The saṅgha's economic power became so immense that it generated much complaint and criticism toward the end of the dynasty. Lesser bureaucrats were especially strong critics, influenced by neo-Confucianism, a new ideology introduced from Song China in the late thirteenth century.

With the collapse of the Koryŏ regime, Buddhism came under further attack. The new Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910), which was built upon neo-Confucian ideology, severed its official relationship with Buddhism. Land holdings were confiscated and hundreds of monasteries were disbanded. As anti-Buddhist measures grew more severe, people were prohibited from ordaining, monks were not allowed to enter the capital city, the monks' examination system was abolished, and the various Buddhist denominations were forced to consolidate. Only two denominations, Sŏnjong and Kyojong, were left, all others being absorbed into them. In short, Buddhism was forced out of mainstream society, and monks were downgraded to the lowest social stratum.

It was during this period of persecution that the denominational identities of the traditional Buddhist schools disappeared and the ascendancy of Sŏn began. Less dependent, perhaps, upon institutional and doctrinal structures, Sŏn withstood the persecution better than Kyo and managed to maintain its tradition deep in the mountain areas.

Buddhism experienced a short revival during the sixteenth century when HyujŎng (1520–1604) became the most important leader of the Choso˘n saṅgha, both Sŏn and Kyo. Although a Sŏn master, Hyujŏng demonstrated an accommodating attitude toward doctrinal studies. He argued that Kyo is the word of the Buddha, whereas Sŏn is his mind. Although he believed in their essential unity, Hyujŏng taught that a monk's training should begin with Kyo, but eventually the trainee must move on to Sŏn in order to attain perfection. Hyujŏng thus established the principle of "relinquishing Kyo So and entering into Sŏn" (sagyo ipsŏn), which is still followed among Korean monks today.

Hyujŏng and his followers, especially YujŎng (1544–1610) and Yŏnggwan (1485–1571), also played an important role in mobilizing the monks' militia against Japanese forces during the Hideyoshi invasion (1592–1599). Although Buddhist monks were held in contempt in the strongly anti-Buddhist Confucian society, they were ironically the salvation of the state during this national crisis. Many monks were subsequently given high honorific military titles, and their improved status continued for a while after the war.

On the whole, during the Choso˘n period, Buddhism fell from the place of high respect and honor that it had enjoyed during the Silla and Koryo˘ periods, and it remained largely confined to the countryside, isolated from mainstream intellectual and cultural life. Nevertheless, monks of high learning and character continued to flow into the san˙gha, providing leadership during a difficult period.

Modern period

During the Japanese colonization of Korea (1910–1945), Korean Buddhism faced new challenges. The Japanese policy toward Buddhism was inconsistent. Although the Japanese government lifted the ban on monks' entry into metropolitan areas and allowed most religious activities, the government-general also tried to control the Korean saṅgha and to force its merger with one or another Japanese sect of Buddhism. The sach'allyŏng (Monastery Act) placed the Korean saṅgha under political surveillance by imposing a hierarchical organization on the monasteries and by requiring state approval for the appointment of the abbots. An important development in Korean Buddhism under colonial rule was the emergence of married priests (taech'ŏsῠng), an influence of Japanese Buddhism, which eventually became a major source of conflict in the san˙gha after Korean independence.

Government persecution during the Chosŏn period had forced the amalgamation of schools and sects, and the denominational identities of Korean Buddhism were essentially obliterated, with the exception of the distinction between Sŏn and Kyo, although even this distinction became practically meaningless after the ascendance of Sŏn. Efforts were made during the Japanese colonial period to define the character of Korean Buddhism by giving it a denominational name. In view of its predominantly Sŏn character, it adopted in 1941 the name Chogyejong, after the old Koryŏ Sŏn order.

After independence, a struggle broke out between celibate monks (pigusῠng) and married clergy over control of the monasteries, resulting in the schism of the saṅgha in 1962 into two denominations: the celibate Chogye order and the much smaller T'aego order for married priests. Although new sects such as Ch'ŏnt'aejong and Chin'gakchong arose during the 1960s, the Chogye order represents virtually all of Korean Buddhism today. It is administered by its national office (ch'ongmuwŏn) based at the Chogye monastery in Seoul. A comprehensive program of ordination and training of monks is provided by four main Chogye monasteries: Haeinsa, Songgwangsa, T'ongdosa, and Sudŏksa. Having separate quarters and facilities for Sŏn meditation, doctrinal studies, vinaya studies, and Pure Land recitation, these comprehensive monasteries are called ch'ongnim ("grove of trees," referring to the large body of monks residing there), and they are distinguished from other large and small monasteries.

In modern times, the Chogye order is organized on the basis of three important levels of distinction. These distinctions are by no means rigid, but they reveal the nature and spirit of contemporary Korean Buddhism.

First, monastic communities of celibate monks and nuns are distinguished from lay Buddhists, a distinction familiar throughout the Buddhist world. In Korea, a further distinction exists between the monks who are engaged in chŏngjin (meditation practice) or kongbu (doctrinal study) and those who provide woeho (external support) for them. The first group is devoted to some form of spiritual cultivation, while the other is responsible for the maintenance of the monastery, food preparation, financial management, construction and repair of buildings, ritual services for lay Buddhists, and other works. This distinction, which dates back to the Chosŏn period when Buddhism was persecuted by the state, is more than a division of labor; it constitutes a nearly polar division within the Korean san˙gha, especially in large well-established monasteries.

Monks devoted to study are further distinguished in that some practice Sŏn in the meditation hall under the guidance of Sŏn masters, while others study scriptures and doctrines in the lecture hall. These two groups do not have equal status because scriptural study, which is expected of every monk, is regarded as a preparatory step toward meditation, and the authority of the Sŏn master is incomparably higher than that of the lecturer. This distinction reflects the primarily Sŏn orientation of Korean Buddhism, with doctrinal or scriptural study occupying a subordinate or subsidiary position.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is estimated that more than ten million Buddhists live in Korea, mainly in the South. (Although some Buddhist monasteries exist in North Korea, the number of practicing Buddhists is negligible, if they do indeed exist.) Buddhism strengthened its urban presence considerably during the 1980s and 1990s in response to increased activity by Christian churches in South Korea. Many urban centers of Buddhism were established by the traditional influential monasteries, and some independent Buddhist centers have arisen, drawing large numbers of middle- and upper-class Koreans. Meanwhile, many monks with keen social consciences are leading movements dedicated to various social, political, and environmental causes, including the reconciliation of North and South Korea.

Buddhism has left an indelible mark upon the Korean people and their culture. The vast majority of Korean cultural monuments and treasures derive from Buddhism, and many names of towns and mountains are of Buddhist origin. Stories and legends with Buddhist motifs abound, as do novels and films based on Buddhist themes. For centuries Buddhism has provided Koreans with a way to cope with major misfortunes or crises in life. The belief in the law of karma and the cycle of birth-and-death has become a part of the Korean psyche, and the Buddhist teaching that life is impermanent and full of suffering has been fundamental to the Korean worldview ever since the arrival of Buddhism in the fourth century.

See also:Korea, Buddhist Art in; Korean, Buddhist Influences on Vernacular Literature in; Printing Technologies


Buswell, Robert E., Jr., trans. The Korean Approach to Zen: The Collected Works of Chinul. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983.

Buswell, Robert E., Jr. The Formation of Ch'an Ideology in China and Korea: The Vajrasamadhi-Sutra, A Buddhist Apocryphon. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Buswell, Robert E., Jr. Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991.

Buswell, Robert E., Jr. The Zen Monastic Experience: Buddhist Practice in Contemporary Korea. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Buswell, Robert E., Jr., ed. Currents and Countercurrents: Korean Influences on the Buddhist Traditions of East Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

Keel, Hee-Sung. Chinul: The Founder of the Korean Sŏn Tradition. Berkeley, CA: Institute of South and Southeast Asian Studies, 1984.

Keel, Hee-Sung. "Word and Wordlessness: The Spirit of Korean Buddhism." In The Buddhist Heritage, ed. Tadeusz Skorupski. Tring, UK: Institute of Buddhist Studies, 1989.

Lancaster, Lewis R., ed. Religion and Society in Contemporary Korea. Berkeley, CA: Institute for East Asian Studies, 1992.

Lancaster, Lewis R., and Yu, Chai-shin, eds. Introduction of Buddhism to Korea: New Cultural Patterns. Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1989.

Lee, Peter H., trans. Lives of Eminent Korean Monks: The Haedong Kos࿠ng Chŏn. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969.

Lee, Peter H., ed. Sourcebook of Korean Civilization, 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993/1996.

Lee, Young Ho, trans. "The Ideal Mirror of the Three Religions (Samga Kwigam) of Ch'ŏnghŏ Hyujŏng." Buddhist-Christian Studies 15 (1995): 139–187.

Muller, A. Charles, trans. The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment: Korean Buddhism's Guide to Meditation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.

Park, Sung Bae. Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.

Hee-Sung Keel


views updated May 17 2018



The South Korean film industry—producing anywhere between fifty and two hundred feature-length films annually—has been historically one of the world's most active national cinemas. The annual ticket sales figure in 2002 was $105 million (US), $50 million of which were for admissions to domestic Korean films. Between 2003 and 2005 in South Korea, attendance at domestic Korean films exceeded attendance at Hollywood imports, a rarity in a movie-going culture dominated by multiplex theaters. The cinema in Korea has strong roots as a privileged cultural form that has attracted the interests of diverse talents, including novelists, performers, musicians, artists, and intellectuals.

As an economic, political, and military ally of the United States throughout the post–World War II period and during the Korean War (1950–1953), South Korea was exposed to American popular culture through the US military forces and American clubs. Despite import and screen quotas that held foreign films in check, American films could always rely on strong audience identification. Running up against the impressive Hollywood scale of production, Korean films were forced to compete at the box office through low-budget genres like comedies, melodramas, and horror films. Surprisingly, interest in these domestic popular films was quite strong during the postwar years. The only anomalous period was from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, when the film industry—like other cultural sectors—was placed under vigilant censorship by the military government. A strong strand of auteur-driven films with historically sensitive themes emerged in the 1990s. Most art films are now funded by the Korean Film Commission, which was established by the liberal government of President Kim Dae-jung (1998–2002).

After decades of volatility, the distribution system stabilized in the early years of the twenty-first century. A local conglomerate, Samsung, is one of the largest investors in the Korean film industry. Its subsidiary company, CJ Entertainment, makes direct investment, produces films, distributes local and imported films, operates the CGV multiplex theater chain, and sells the distribution and broadcasting rights of its products on the foreign market. Another film company that has demonstrated impressive growth is Showbox, a financing and distribution firm of entertainment contents, that also operates the Megabox theater chain. These two companies share about 50 percent of the total box office revenue in Korea. Though the passage of a new Motion Picture Law in 1986 has allowed Hollywood companies to distribute their films directly in Korea, the business performances of American companies like Columbia, Twentieth Century Fox, and Warner Brothers in Korea lag far behind CJ Entertainment and Showbox.


A film screening held in 1899 at the Kyŏngbok Palace in Seoul, when American cinematographer Burton Holmes visited King Kojong, is widely accepted as the first instance of film exhibition in Korea. Though these early film exhibitions were limited to court circles, they soon aroused general curiosity and became widespread mass-entertainment events. Newspapers, as early as 1903, began to aggressively advertise motion picture screenings, sponsored by Western cigarette companies. These public screenings generated so much excitement that the Seoul Electric Company converted its garage in Dongdaemun into a formal movie theater within months of the initial screenings. Though these exhibition records in Korea are relatively well documented, complications cloud the exact exhibition date of the first Korean film. Japanese colonialism, which began in Korea in 1910, contributed to the loss of records of early Korean films (including the disappearance of all Korean narrative films made before 1943). Many films made in Korea during the colonial period, which lasted thirty-five years, were financed, supervised, and distributed by Japanese entrepreneurs and personnel. Strict film censorship, enacted in 1926, also required every film to obtain approval from the Japanese authorities before it could be screened in Korea. With one notable exception (Tansŏngsa, which still remains in business), all of the successful theaters in Seoul were also owned by the Japanese during the first half of the twentieth century.

Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, efforts were made by Korean businessmen and artists to establish independent film production companies that would free them from Japanese financial and technical dependence. Most of their films struggled to compete against foreign films, but their resilience eventually paved the path for a renaissance of Korean filmmaking. The first filmmaker to achieve true national recognition was Na Woon-gyu (1902–1937), whose film Arirang sparked an intense nationalistic film movement. Released in 1926, Arirang—written and directed by (and starring) Na Un-gyu—was perhaps the most popular film screened in Korea during the colonial period. A simple story that pits a Korean student against a villainous local bureaucrat who collaborates with the colonial government, the film found loopholes in Japanese censorship. Though he was not a particularly attractive man, Na's persona as an enraged common man tapped into the fury and frustration of colonial Korea. He was not only Korea's first legitimate "pop" icon, he was also the first modern celebrity who was not of yangban (aristocratic) origin.

By the time sound technology had arrived in Korea during the mid-1930s, Korean cinema had already suffered a precipitous fall. Once the war escalated in China during the 1930s, Japan abandoned any policies that had allowed expression of Korea's indigenous culture. Less than a handful of films were produced per year during this decade. Na Woon-gyu died in 1937, while only in his thirties; two years later, the Japanese authorities banned the Korean language and Korean names from official use. Though audiences cheered upon hearing dialogue in their native language in the first Korean "talkie," Chunhyang (1935, a film based on a popular folktale), the eventual prohibition of the Korean language virtually robbed Koreans of the opportunity to establish their own national identity during the early sound era. Ironically, this delay of the arrival of sound enabled Korean pyŏnsa s (benshi, live commentators of silent films) to find work even as late as the postwar years. Meanwhile, the Japanese-run Manchurian Film Company, Man-Ei, active during the war years, provided a fertile training ground for many Korean filmmakers who would later become the most important producer-directors of the Korean cinema's Golden Age.


Though several notable films were made during the liberation period (1945–1950), cinema became a mature industry only after the Korean War (1950–1953) had ended. Known as the "Golden Age," cinema was easily the most popular entertainment form during the two decades that followed the Korean War. It had posed some serious competition for Hollywood, not only locally but also in other parts of Asia, including Hong Kong. Throughout the 1960s and the early 1970s, Ch'ungmuro, a district in Seoul, was home to one of the most profitable and active industries in the world, producing at its peak (1968–1971) over two hundred films a year. Nearly half of the 170 million tickets (the entire population was just over 30 million) in 1972, for instance, were sold for the screening of local films.

Among the films that still receive critical attention, most of them were produced around 1960. The creative vacuum that the intellectual community had suffered during the Korean War—through deaths, psychic injuries, and mass defections to the North—had begun to change by the late 1950s and the early 1960s. The trauma of war—along with a rapid pace of modernization, changing roles of gender, and postwar recovery—was a source of dramatic inspiration for many young filmmakers. The films that best represent this unique era, Hanyŏ (The Housemaid, Kim Ki-young, 1960), Sarangbang sonnim kwa ŏmŏni (The Houseguest and My Mother, Shin Sang-ok, 1961), Obalt'an (The Stray Bullet, Yu Hyun-mok, 1961), and Mabu (The Coachman, Kang Tae-jin, 1961) were all released within a two-year period.

Though every genre of films imaginable—horror, comedy, action thrillers, martial arts, and even musicals—were made and viewed during this period, it was melodrama that was by far the most powerful and successful genre. Caught between the modern ideals of freedom and the traditional mores of chastity and virtuous motherhood, women were often the protagonists whose personal dilemmas punctuated the film's central theme. In Shin Sang-ok's (1926–2006) The Houseguest and My Mother, for example, a widow still clothed in traditional hanbok has a love affair with a schoolteacher who is a boarder at her house. The film's narrative naturalizes the modern-day desire that drives the mother and the house-guest together, challenging the orthodox moral codes that require widows to remain in mourning their entire lives. This vibrant cinematic period came to a screeching halt in 1973 when the military government radically restructured and censored the film industry. For the next twenty years, all surviving production companies had to meet strict government guidelines, which required them to devote themselves, at least partially, to the moral revamping of the nation. As it turned out, these requirements forced the film industry to churn out, on one hand, government propaganda films and "quality films" (awards given to the best adaptations of major literary works), which almost always lost money, and on the other, B-grade erotic movies, which served to make up for this loss.


When Park Kwang-su (b. 1955) and Jang Sun-woo (b. 1952), the two key directors of the New Korean Cinema, began their careers in 1988, Ch'ungmuro had already lost its earlier glory. Most Korean moviegoers shunned domestic films in the 1980s. Throughout that decade and most of the 1990s, the percentage of the domestic market share for Korean films fell below 20 percent, while Hollywood films brought in the overwhelming majority of box office receipts. The Korean film industry was forced to reinvent itself, against the background of a restless sociopolitical climate. The spirit of democratization during the 1980s influenced many young filmmakers to seriously challenge the status quo. The activist film movement in turn helped cultivate a generation of cinephiles, who were instrumental in the success of film festivals in Pusan, Puchon, and Jeonju and in the diversification of Korean film. Some of the films that best represent this period include Park Kwang-su's To the Starry Island (Kŭ sŏm e kagosipta, 1993) and A Single Spark (Arŭmdaun ch'ŏngnyŏn Chŏn T'ae-il, 1996), which are realistic films set against grim historical backgrounds. Jang Sun-woo, on the other hand, refused to be tied to realism and has instead explored questions of representation through the issues of sexuality, desire, and power. Both wry and cathartic, his films, such as To You, from Me (Nŏ ege na rŭl ponenda, 1994) and Timeless Bottomless Bad Movie (Nappŭn yŏnghwa, 1997), feature young people in crisis and reveal a strong inclination to debunk cinematic conventions. Both Park and Jang also hold the ignominious record of making two of the most commercially disastrous films in the history of Korean cinema: Park's Uprising (Yi Che-su ŭi nan, 1999) and Jang's The Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (Sŏngnyang p'ari sonyŏ ŭi chaerim, 2002).

Widely regarded by critics as the best contemporary Korean director, along with Im Kwon-Taek (b. 1936) and Park Chan-wook (b. 1963), is Hong Sangsoo (Hong Sang-su, b. 1960), whose work is distinguished by deeply personal dramas. Hong's films also often manipulate the linear flow of time, splitting time into segments and repeating them without disrupting the narrative center. The characters in The Power of Kangwon Province (Kangwondo ŭi him, 1998) and Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (O! Sujŏng, 2000) are unforgettable, as his mise-en-scène masterfully selects the intolerably sublime moments from the insignificant everyday.

b. Chang-sŏng, Korea, 2 November 1934 (lunar calendar; by certificate, 1936)

Having begun his career in 1961, Im Kwon-Taek has, as of 2006, directed ninety-nine films, and he remains one of the rare directors to have achieved success in both the domestic box office and international film festivals.

Success eluded Im Kwon-Taek until he was nearly fifty years old. Though a proficient director of various popular genres during the "Golden Age" of the 1960s and the 1970s, Im was considered merely a B-grade studio director. His maturation as a director of art films had been impeded by several factors: government censorship, his social class, his family's ideological affiliations (as leftists), and his regional background (he was born in Chŏlla province, which has historically suffered political oppression). Im imposed self-censorship throughout the early stage of his career, and he steered away from making personal films until the democratization of the 1980s and the 1990s removed sanctions on sensitive political subjects.

Im Kwon-Taek's career is as paradoxical, dramatic, and tumultuous as the history of modern Korea itself. During the 1960s and early 1970s, Im directed films for small companies, often shooting as many as eight films per year. By 1973, the government had centralized the film industry, and Im began to develop as a director by refining his trade without the pressure of the box office. He became known as the director of "quality film," making numerous adaptations of period novels in such films as Chokpo (The Genealogy, 1978) and Kippal ŏmnŭn kisu (The Hidden Hero, 1979). From 1981, his films began to garner international recognition. During the 1990s, they diverged along two paths: one that would remain close to art film subjects and another that would utilize genre conventions for popular consumption. For instance, Sopyonje (1993) tells the story of an itinerant family of musicians who practice a dying traditional art (p'ansori), and the han (pent-up grief) that underpins both their music and their lives. While aesthetically uncompromising, the film also tapped deep into the melodramatic impulses that had been lurking beneath the tragic history of modern Korea.

Korean audiences were drawn to Sopyonje; it shattered the local box office record, created a national fanfare around p'ansori, and restored—albeit briefly—confidence in the commercial viability of art films. Im returned to his successful roots of p'ansori seven years later with Chunhyang (2000), a musical based on a one-man vocal performance of the famous folktale about a loyal courtesan who remains faithful to her true love. Chunhyang and his subsequent film, Chihwaseon (Strokes of Fire, 2002), a real-life story about a maverick painter of the nineteenth century, garnered commercial successes in the United States and France, and it remains one of the biggest box office successes for Korean films in those two countries.


Chokpo (The Genealogy, 1978), Kippal ŏmnŭn kisu (The Hidden Hero, 1979), Mandala (1981), Gilsottum (1985), Tik'et (Ticket, 1986), Ssibaji (Surrogate Mother, 1986), Sopyonje (1993), Chunhyang (2000), Chihwaseon (2002)


James, David E., and Kyung Hyun Kim, eds. Im Kwon-Taek: The Making of a Korean National Cinema. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2002.

Kyung Hyun Kim

In the early twenty-first century, it became routine in Korean cinema to distribute a single film to more than

500 screens in multiplexes, following aggressive marketing campaigns, to maximize the return of opening weekend box office results. Shiri (1999), a spy thriller about North Korean infiltration in the South, sold over 5.7 million tickets, several million more than the previous record holder. This practice radically restructured the entire film industry; in the early 2000s, it was not unusual for local blockbusters to gross over $20 million. Since 2003, Korean films consistently outdraw their Hollywood competitors, representing one of the highest shares of domestic movie consumption in the world. Lee Chang-dong (Yi Ch'ang-dong), the winner of the director's award at the Venice Film Festival for Oasis (2002), was appointed minister of culture in 2003.

Korean cinema is at a crossroads: in addition to the international blockbusters, such as Shiri and Silmido (Kang U-sŏk, 2003), there are provocative independent films, like Camel(s) (Park Ki-yong, 2002) and Invisible Light (Kŭ jip ap, Kim Gina, 2003), which are not included in the standard distribution circuit. Multiplex theaters have redefined what was once a comprehensive film culture, and the box office is ruled by crass comedies about gangster families and oversexed teenagers, making investors reluctant to finance films that are outside the scope of low-risk genre films. The New Korean Cinema, which has the potential to stimulate audiences intellectually, waned at precisely the moment that the industry became commercially rejuvenated.


Though the severe economic hardship of the 1990s forced the centralized film industry to curtail its productivity, cinema continues to serve an important function in North Korean society. Kim Il-Sung, the former leader, and Kim Jong-Il, his heir, took great interest in movies. Kim Jong-Il began his career in the Department of Culture and Propaganda, writing several guidebooks on filmmaking methods during the 1970s that still remain relevant today. Severe limitations on subject matters are imposed because cinema must serve explicit political purposes and underscore official juch'e ideology. A North Korean averages about ten trips to see movies per year, but most of these screenings are held as an auxiliary part of cultural or sociopolitical events sponsored by the state. Some of the most accomplished films were produced during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sea of Blood (P'ibada, 1968) and The Flower Girl (Kkot p'anŭn ch'ŏnyŏ, 1972), two classic films of the era, both depict the Manchurian armed resistance of the 1930s during which Kim Il-Sung built his reputation as a young leader of the independence movement.

SEE ALSO National Cinema


Kim, Kyung Hyun. The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2004.

Lee, Hyangjin. Contemporary Korean Cinema: Identity, Culture and Politics. New York and Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2000.

McHugh, Kathleen, and Nancy Abelmann. eds. South Korean Golden Age Melodrama: Gender, Genre, and National Cinema. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2005.

Kyung Hyun Kim


views updated May 08 2018


Since Korea was occupied by Japan during the period 1910 to 1945, it has looked to that country for its models of psychiatric thought, which, from that time, have been largely organically based descriptions. The earliest known Korean analyst was Sung Hee Kim, who trained under Kosawa Heisaku in Japan from 1940-45. He returned to Korea to become professor of psychiatry at Chonham University Medical School but did not initiate a local training program. This came later, after the Korean War, which brought American psychiatrists to Korea who taught depth psychology. That, together with the return of a few of the many Korean doctors who had gone to the United States to study psychiatry, led to the introduction of psychoanalysis as a formal system of thought.

However, prevailing systems of thought had already given rise to a set of cultural practices which have their own preventative and curative effects on individuals in times of distress (Chang and Kim, 1973). These included Shamanism and its concomitant belief that man's misfortune results from an improper relation to the spirit world. A qualified mediator or mutang performs the ritual of the goot through which relations are harmonized. Prior suffers become qualified as shamans through their close rapport with spirits and their children are said to inherit these abilities. There is also a long tradition of folk medicine, consisting of herbal remedies, acupuncture, and moxa, all introduced from China and still prevalent today.

In seeking help, Korean patients are like those in other Asian countries in seeking multiple treatments for a single complaint, and they tend to somatize psychological problems (see Psychoanalysis and China, this volume). In attempting to develop a culturally relevant approach to psychotherapy the pioneering analysts devoted a good deal of their time to studying traditional cultural practices (religions, myths, folk dramas, and literature) from the viewpoint of orthodox theory.

One outcome of this endeavour was a revision of Freud's conception of the Oedipus complex, such that its resolution involves sublimation of incestuous wishes to hyoa, the Korean term for filial piety. This is based upon a reciprocity between generations such that respect accorded by the children is balanced bythe understanding and responsibility of the parents (Kim, 1978). Another project has made use of the prevalence of Taoist beliefs about illness being due to an excess of exertion in thought or action. This has led some neo-Freudian analysts to develop a "Taoistic psychotherapy" which emphasizes an acceptance rather than a refusal of one's inner conflicts, and transcends them by training the mind towards a more positive outlook (Kim, 1996).

Not until the 1970s did Korean clinicians seek formal ties with the International Psychoanalytic Association. Cho Doo-Young, trained at Cornell and New York, organized the Korean Psychoanalytic Study Group which has since developed into the Korean Psychoanalytic Study Group. It is orthodox Freudian in orientation and has about 50 members. Two other organizations, the Korean Academy of Psychotherapy (neo-Freudian and Taoist with about 80 members) and the Korean Association of Jungian Psychology (with 30 members), are actively pursuing a culturally relevant psychoanalytic practice.

Since the 1980s, orthodox psychoanalytic interests in Korea have diminished, in line with other parts of the world, in the wake of a rising interest in biologically based explanations of psychological disturbance. A lack of Korean training has meant that those interested in being trained have had to go abroad, where the differences in language and cultural understanding have traditionally (in the West) been viewed as resistance but which might become the wellspring for future developments in cultural psychoanalytic theory (Fisher, 1996).

Geoffrey H. Blowers


Chang, S.C. and Kim. K.I. (1973). Psychiatry in South Korea. American Journal of Psychiatry 130, 6. 667-669.

Fisher, Charles P. (1996). Panel Report: Psychoanalysis in the Pacific Rim. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 77, 373-377.

Kim, K.I. (1978). The Oedipus complex in our changing society; with special reference to Korea. Neuropsychiatry (Seoul) 7 (1), 97-103.

. (1996). Traditional therapeutic issues in psychiatric practice in Korea. Paper read in a Transcultural Psychiatry symposium of the Xth World Congress of Psychiatry, August 23.


views updated May 21 2018

Korea Peninsula in e Asia, separating the Yellow Sea from the Sea of Japan. The rivers Yalu and Tumen form most of its n border with China.

Land and climate

The e seaboard is mountainous, rising in the ne to 2744m (9003ft) at Mount Paektu. The mountains descend in the w to coastal lowlands. The traditional capital, Seoul, lies close to the 38th-parallel border between North Korea and South Korea. The Korean archipelago lies off the s coast and includes the province of Cheju-do. North Korea experiences long and severe winters but warm summers. South Korea has a more tropical climate with occasional typhoons in the rainy months (July–August).


Korea's calendar starts in 2333 bc. China was a dominant influence. The first native Korean state was established in the 1st century ad, and Korea unified under the Silla dynasty in the 7th century. Mongols invaded Korea in 1231, and the country eventually capitulated. The Yi dynasty ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910. Early in the Yi period, Seoul became the new capital and Confucianism became the official religion. In the 17th century, Korea was a semi-independent state, dominated by the Manchu dynasty. A long period of isolationism followed. In the late 19th century, Korea became more active in foreign affairs, due to the growing power of Japan. After the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05), Korea was effectively a Japanese protectorate, and was formally annexed in 1910. Japan's enforced industrialization of Korea caused widespread resentment. Following Japan's defeat in World War II, Korea divided into two zones of occupation: Soviet forces n of the 38th Parallel, and US forces s of the line. Attempts at reunification failed, and in 1948 two separate regimes were established: the Republic of Korea in the s and the Democratic People's Republic in the n. In June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. The ensuing Korean War (1950–53) resulted in millions of deaths and devastated the peninsula. An uneasy truce has prevailed ever since. Attempts at reunification continue.


views updated Jun 11 2018

KOREA. A country of East Asia, currently divided into North Korea and South Korea. The Korean language is agglutinative and usually regarded as a Uro-Altaic language. Ancient Korean was written in a script called idu, in which Chinese characters were used to represent Korean sounds as well as meanings (similar to the present-day Japanese kanji). In the 15c, an alphabet of 11 vowel and 17 consonant symbols (reduced later to 10 and 14) was devised and used for popular literature, while classical Chinese continued in use for official and scholarly purposes. Although banned during the last decade of the Japanese occupation, this system (known as han-gul) was revived and is used on its own or, to a lesser degree, in a mixed script with Chinese characters read as Korean words. English has had a considerable influence on the structure of the modern language. Over the last 40 years, English has generally been assigned as many school hours as Korean for students aged 12–18, and is in the main an analytical grammatical exercise that has affected the study and use of Korean, resulting in adjustments made to some Korean constructions so as to align them more closely with English: for example, greater use of the optional plural particle -tul. Although this is not a strict equivalent of the English plural inflection -s, many think that it is or should be. After the Korean War and partition, the need for English declined in North Korea but increased in the South, where it is the main foreign language. Almost all students have three years of it, and the 80% who attend high school have six years. There are many private English institutes, one for students preparing for college entrance examinations the other for people who want to speak the language. See EAST ASIAN ENGLISH, HAWAIIAN.