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February 06, 2007


Won Joon Choe

I agree with you for most part, Abiola. In fact, on the very entry in Joshua's Blog that you linked (where he offers a culturalist explanation), I offer a similar "realist" explanation. The difference is that you frame the argument more elegantly and eloquently.

Given that I generally eschew monocausal explanations, however, I do think cultural and historical explanations cannot be dismissed altogether. In this connection, I do think that South Korea is more resigned when it comes to a Chinese hegemony as opposed to a Japanese or American one for cultural and historical reasons. At least since the Mongol invasions, Korea has been a full-fledged vassal state of a power that occupied China. So Koreans have been accustomed to deferring to China. In contrast, Koreans see Japan as a receptacle of Korean culture and therefore inferior. The Americans too are deemed inferior in the context of the Korean racial and cultural cosmos (though there is a countervailing Western-philia and "Oriental" inferiority complex at play as well).

In contrast, to address your counter-example, Japan exhibits the opposite behavior of Korea vis-a-vis China and Japan (less conciliatory toward China and more conciliatory toward the U.S.), because Japan was never really a subject of China, protected by its oceanic moat.


It is true enough that Japan never had the same relationship with China as Korea did, but that still isn't to say that the Japanese didn't also used to have a similar Sinocentric worldview, which they did. Up until the period when "Dutch learning" began to seep into Japan during the isolationist shogunate, China was seen as the source of all higher civilization, and even then it took the Meiji restoration - and in particular, the Western humiliations of the Qing - for Chinese prestige to be truly erased in Japanese eyes, but erased it was: the Japanese still revere traditional Chinese civilization, but the attitude towards current China seems to be to see it as a degenerated/corrupted form of a once-great nation.

The point I'm getting at is that the modern Japanese attitude towards China vs. the West is a relatively new one, showing that nations can change in the face of changing facts, and if South Koreans are still so comfortable towards the idea of "Big Brother China" (though grumblings about Mt. Baekdu suggest to me that they aren't really), one must look for a deeper cause than mere historical inertia: it isn't as if traditional Korean respect for all things Chinese prevents today's South Koreans from looking down on the Chinese they meet as impoverished bumpkins.


" the Japanese still revere traditional Chinese civilization, but the attitude towards current China seems to be to see it as a degenerated/corrupted form of a once-great nation."

I'm sure this must have been helped by the fact that they defeated China outright in one war (1894-5) and conquered its most important bits in another war (WWII). If I recall correctly, Japanese propaganda imagery during the 1894-5 war heavily featured images of Westernized, virile Japanese soldiers wearing modern uniforms striking down weak, degenerate, tradition-bound Chinese soldiers still wearing the queue.

gene berman

Down through the ages, they've hewed to two Shakespearean ideas: that "the play's the thing" and "all the world's a stage and each of us but an over-actor."

My summation is that they're just like all the rest of us..only more so.



The wars may have had something to do with it, but the Japanese attitude towards China was already changing well before them, as is clear from reading Fukuzawa Yukichi's 1885 essay "An Argument for leaving Asia"「脱亜論」.

(I'll have to get around to translating the original essay one day, as I can't find an English translation anywhere.)

In any case, it's clear to me from both first-hand evidence and reading what third parties have to say that Koreans have needed no victories against China to come around to much the same attitude.

Won Joon Choe

Thread necromancy per the events in Korea--which is perhaps the worst case of the anti-American mass hysteria I've seen in Korea since at least 2002.

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