[KS] Koreans' reading habits

Vladimir Tikhonov vladimir.tikhonov at ikos.uio.no
Tue Jan 23 11:25:41 EST 2007

Yes, once in June 2005, Kyonghyang Sinmun reported that the average time 
an adult Korean uses for reading books/magazines/newspapers per week is 
only 3,1 hours - almost 2 times less than the world average 
Sounds bad, of course, but that has nothing to do with the essentialized 
"Korean-ness", I guess - as we have among the longest working hours 
among the OECD countries (overtime, paid and unpaid, included), it is 
nothing surprising that the "chikchangin", coming home around 23-24.00 
in the state appropriately described by the Korean expression 
"p'akimch'i" ("stone-leek pickles" - dead tired, that is), are in no 
mood to enjoy Plato, Tasan, or even Hangyoreh. But those lucky enough 
still to be outside of the formal production-consumption cycle, that is 
students, do seem to read as much - or even more - than their peers 
elsewhere. If you are again to believe the statistics, 9% of them read 
more than 31 books annually, 9% - between 20 and 30 books, and majority 
(65%) reads around 10 books or less (Munhwa Ilbo, 2006-04-22). Again, 
not very good - the amount of time spent for "arubeito", and the 
preparations for all sorts of further employment-related tests may be 
partly to blame - but still better than, for example, in today's Russia, 
once the country of the most avid readers in the world, where around one 
third of the population stopped to read altogether after being "blessed" 
by the "market reforms". Then, what is amusing is that lots of 
popularized books on Korea's traditional past are avidly consumed, 
especially by the students. For example, Prof. Cheong Min's (Hanyang 
Un-ty) excellent book on the excentricity as a part of the 
intellectuals' lifeworlds in the 18th C. Korea, <Mich'yeoya mich'inda> 
("To get crazy in order to achieve": 
http://www.aladdin.co.kr/shop/wproduct.aspx?ISBN=8987787842). It used to 
be on the bestsellers' list for the last two years, and it stays there. 
So, we are still living in a happy place in Korea - re-imagining of the 
(quite distant) past is continuously woven into the fabric of the 
discourse about the present. I do not think such a country can be 
described as "non-reading". Of course, if Pres. No Muhyon and his 
successors will succeed in their ambition to "flexibilize" the 80-90% of 
Korea's workforce and put everybody into permanent state of angst about 
being kicked to the "outer hell" of society's economic margins - then, 
Koreans' reading habits will possibly suffer a new blow. But I hope that 
some disasters are preventable.


On 23.01.2007 5:15, Sperwer wrote:
> I concur with Burgeson and Scofield with taking Meijer to task for his
> factual inaccuracies and the pathetic attempt to dodge that criticism by
> hiding behind the supposed subjectivity of social criticism.  If social
> criticism is to warrant the sobriquet of being "critical", surely it must
> get the facts right.  This Meijer frequently doesn't do.  The divorce
> statistics to which Scofield refers are but one telling example of Meijer's
> almost willful blindenss to Korean realities past and present.  So is
> Burgeson's initial correction of Meijer's unfounded characterization of
> Taekwondo as a 2000 9why not 5000?) year old Korean martial art.  Meijer
> tries to dodge Burgeson by observing that his remarks on TKD were included
> in his chapter on the "art of living", and based on his appreciation of TKD
> an "art" rather than an "incorporation" [sic], as if either of these
> justified an "interpretation" that could simply ignore the facts.  The only
> thing interesting about what Meijer calls the "roots" of TKD that he
> imagines in Korea's distant past is the way in which they were grafted unto
> TKD after its creation from very different stock in the service of the
> broader project of (re-)creating Korean national identity.  From an
> historical point of view, the only thing that is interesting about TKD is
> this inescapably political dimension. 

Vladimir Tikhonov,
Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages,
Faculty of Humanities,
University of Oslo,
P.b. 1010, Blindern, 0315, Oslo, Norway.
Fax: 47-22854828; Tel: 47-22857118
Personal web page: http://folk.uio.no/vladimit/
Electronic classrooms: East Asian/Korean Society and Politics:
                        East Asian/Korean Religion and Philosophy:

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