Korea and us

Current – http://blogs.inquirer.net/current/2007/06/24/korea-and-us/
By Manuel L. Quezon III on June 24, 2007 3:54 PM


YOU may have noticed that the Inquirer’s embarked on a series of articles about a growing number of people in our midst: Koreans. For an older generation of Filipinos, of course, Korea and the Philippines was about a shared defiance of communist aggression during the Korean War. For another generation of Filipinos, Korean-Philippine relations revolved around a shared commitment to democracy and People Power: Kim Dae Jung admired Ninoy Aquino and he  and Cory Aquino were -are- friends. Recently I’ve been reading a very entertaining book, “Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles” (Simon Winchester) and there’s a passage that struck me that I’d like to share with you. In his book, Winchester wrote,

If you see a Korean on a golf course, do not approach him, no matter how dreadful his play might be, and advise him on how he might improve matters; he would be deeply offended, and you would be deeply wrong. “To lose face is bad,” Confucius is supposed to have said. “To make someone lose face is unforgivable.” The Confucian deal, in a society like Korea’s where Confucianism is still widely followed, is a simple one: if people will agree to forget their individuality and concentrate on their duties, then they can be guaranteed that they will be treated with respect and kindness by all. Self-abnegation is bargained, in other words, for universal respect. Happiness is to be gained through human things, coming to terms with oneself, one’s family, one’s community. The modern world, which has Korea firmly in its grasp, offers a very different deal. Self-abnegation has been replaced by self-assertion. Human relationships, respect for elders, certainty of place in society -all these things are being overlooked today, and Koreans, like the rest of us, search for happiness through the purchase of goods and services, the quest for material pleasure and success. The two systems, the material and the Confucian, sit uneasily together. the assaults on Confucian values result in many more frequent tribulations among those who still cling to traditional ways- and deep within themselves most Koreans do, for a myriad of reasons -because of their upbringing, their fondness for the country, and for reasons of sentiment and faith. “He made me lose my face” is heard more often these days because of the disharmonies between the two systems. We hear of cases… of what is called maum sang hada: a state of mental anguish over the loss of face that can make its victim want to give up, to throw in the towel, to retreat from society and hide in shame. You hear tales of people wasting away and dying, so sever is their shame. Which, then, is the better of the two systems? Is a life of self-abnegation, respect for others, a sense of duty, and correct behavior more worthy than a life of self-assertion, of total freedom, of “looking out for Number One”? Or… do we have a more fulfilled society when all is carefully structured social harmony, where the jen and the yi, the yin and the yang, are in near-perfect equilibrium, where no one raises his voice, and every parent is revered by every child, where the elders are cared for, children are adored, imagination and innovation and invention are feared rather than favored, and the individual is forgotten?

I thought of this passage, or rather, this passage made me think, of other entries I’ve made here, on We Filipinos, and Randy David’s belief that what our country faces today, is a crisis caused by the dying of the old Philippines and our being in a kind of limbo, as we await the birth of a new Philippines.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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