Effects of the social hierarchy in Korean society today
Published on: 2016/08/29 - by Kwon, Sehyun
The social hierarchy in Korea is very strict. It is based on the Confucianism, which spread to Korea hundreds of years ago from China. It determines the behaviour in society and in your private life. Age is a very important factor when you live together with Koreans, and the extraordinarily strict hierarchy causes a lot of problems. In the following, I will present examples from everyday life in Korea and will examine their effects on today’s Korean society.
When you meet someone for the first time, the relationship to that person is totally subject to the age difference. Even a small age gap, like one year, can let the older to expect the younger to follow what they say. This is also applicable to teenagers in school. Senior students must be formally addressed by younger ones unless they allow them to be less formal.
Furthermore, in Korea, age is calculated differently than in western countries. Everyone gets one year older not on their birthday, but when a new calendar year begins. People of the same age get one year older at the same time. However, this can cause conflicts. One born in December and the other born in January of the following year would have age gap of one year. This can cause some conflict when the “one-year-older” person gets a higher position in the hierarchy and takes advantage of being slightly older.
You can also witness the Korean social hierarchy in public transportation, like in the subway. Passenger cars have seats, partly of which are only to be used by the elderly. Nobody else shall use these seats, even if there is no elderly person needing them, or if there are not enough seats for everyone in rush-hour. Taking a seat there is not prohibited by law, but it is an unspoken rule to keep them free for the elderly in Korea. Many elderly people consider it as very impolite and disrespectful to break that rule.
Going out with colleges and bosses after work is part of the Korean workers’ everyday life. Employees are expected to drink alcohol with their bosses after work. It is considered to be very impolite to reject an invitation for drinking from a person with higher position. When you refuse the invitation repeatedly, it can have a bad influence on your relationship with the boss and eventually on your career. Therefore, younger employees are almost forced to drink alcohol after work, and they have difficulties caring for their own health and families.
Finally, I think that the social hierarchy in Korea is too strict. Some people’s mindset, who profit from the hierarchical order, is outdated. In a globalised world, in which South Korea is playing a more and more important role, we as society must reconsider, whether it is sufficient to value persons only by their age. At least the heated debate in social media shows that this topic is already in the minds of the people.
About the author
English name: Sehyun Kwon
Korean: native language
High school student with experience in Austria and South Korea.
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Author of articles.
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Translation of this article (English)
English name: Matthias Schoepe
German: native language
Master Student of Computer Science
Founder of Computer-Masters.net, Computer-Masters.de and Covot. Self employed since the age of 16.
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Founder of Covot. Programming the Covot webpage. Responsible for German, English and Korean contents.
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