[KS] Koreanstudies Digest, Vol 34, Issue 33

c. kenneth quinones ckquinones at aiu.ac.jp
Sun Apr 30 21:04:34 EDT 2006

The discussion about the concept of "racism" in Korea is 
quite interesting, but thus far it has ignored the 
traditional Korean and Chinese concern for ancestry, a 
concern originally rooted in paying respect to ones 
ancesters.  Koreans, as with so many things of Chinese 
origin, gave this concern their own accent.  To 
preserve "social harmony," the primary objective of 
Confucianism, Koreans sought to maintain social stability 
through pedigree: yangban, commer and slave.  

This required the maintenance of genealogies to be consulted 
prior to an arranged marriage to ensure the matching of 
appropriate pedigree.  Consequently, once Korea became an 
increassingly "open" society after the advent of Western 
imperialism in East Asia, marriage between a Korean and 
an "outsider" persisted as a taboo until very recently in 
South Korea. North Korea, having been more reluctant to 
admit "outsiders," preserves many traditional Yi Chosun 
patterns, including preference for marriage to "insiders" 
rather than to "outsiders."  

The Independence Club reflected 19th century Western 
(including Russia) racist attitudes and the Japanese 
eventually adapted the concept of Social Darwinism to their 
Pan-Asian thought.  But in Korea, the stage for preserving 
racial purity had been set many centuries earlier.

Recently my daughter gave birth at a US Army hospital (the 
father is reluctantly en route to Iraq for his 2nd tour) to 
our first grandchild, a daugher.  A nurse entered to gather 
information for the Washington State birth certificate and 
asked, "How can I describe your child's race?"  My daughter 
answered honesty, "Well my mother is Korean, my father half 
Irish and half Hispanic, and the baby's father is of Dutch 
ancestry.  Can you say, "Other?"  The nurse responded, "Oh 
my - we should have the category 'other' but we don't.  I'll 
just record 'caucasian.'"  In short, the importance of race 
persists in the USA, as in many other places including North 

C. Kenneth Quinones
Professor, Korean Studies
Akita International University 

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