How do Koreans feel about the Chinese?

Dear Korean,

How do Koreans feel about Chinese people?


Wow, a question about how 50 million people feel about 1.5 billion people? Can it get any easier than this? Writing this blog is such a walk in the park.

All kidding aside, experience has taught the Korean that he should first go over the basics of what this post is, and what this post is not. What this post will do is to provide a general overview of various attitudes that toward the Chinese that can be found in various pockets of Korea. What this post will not do is to give a prediction on how you, a Chinese person, will fare in your trip to Korea, in applying to a Korean college, in a job interview with a Korean company, or in finding a Korean guy who will like you.

(Seriously, can people just STOP with that last question? Please. The Korean begs of you. He is on his knees and rubbing his hands and everything.) 

Having said that, let's jump into this ridiculously broad question, which can only be answered in a very broad manner. Suppose we have a spectrum of attitudes, going from "extremely favorable" to "extremely negative." If one surveys all the attitudes about China and the Chinese people that exist in Korea and put them on a spectrum, the attitudes would be spread from "somewhat favorable" to "pretty negative."

(More after the jump)

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Having said that, let us walk along the spectrum, starting with the "somewhat favorable" end. A lot of Koreans see many qualities to admire in the Chinese. Having spent its entire existence next to China, it is not lost upon Koreans that China has been the world's greatest civilization for several thousand years until the recent detour of a couple of centuries. Koreans are generally familiar with and favorable toward the Chinese classics (such as the Analects or the Romance of Three Kingdoms,) and share many of the traditional Chinese values such as Confucianism. (In fact, because the communist China has done much to distance itself from its traditions, one can make a solid case that traditional Chinese values are best preserved in Korea.) 

Along the same lines, many Koreans refer to China as "the Chinese continent," recognizing its vastness and the power derived from the vastness. Koreans who admire China and the Chinese people speak of their large-scale thinking that leads to bold, daring decisions, and the patience to implement very long term national projects, which led to China's being the leading civilization of the world for several millennia. For those Koreans, China's current success is no more than the manifestation of the world-beating potential that China has always had. 

Going down the spectrum, however, there also exists among Koreans a gut-level, mild annoyance with the Chinese. In fact, if this type of attitude is likely to be the most prevalent among rank-and-file Koreans. Despite its recent success, individual Chinese are still poorer relative to individual Koreans, and Koreans often have the vague condescension of the kind that the rich feels over the poor toward the Chinese. Even the richer Chinese people -- many of whom visit Korea for business, study and tourism -- often come across to Koreans as nouveau riche louts, loud and ill-mannered. Of course, many Koreans also sensibly remind their society that Koreans had the exact same image just 20 years ago or so. But aesthetics is not something that reason can easily persuade. So at a gut-level, many Koreans harbor a sense of mild disapproval toward the Chinese.

Then there are those who passionately dislike the Chinese. This attitude mostly stems from many Chinese actions that tend grate on Koreans' nationalistic sensibilities. One constant source of tension is the persistent scuffles involving the Chinese fishermen on the Yellow Sea. In the sea between China and Korea, Chinese fishing boats -- persistently and illegally -- cross the maritime border to fish in Korean waters. When Korean police attempts to arrest the fishing boats, the Chinese fishermen often resist wielding shovels and pickaxes to the police. Since 2007, the Chinese fishermen collectively killed two Korean police and injured more than sixty. (But it must be noted that, in October 2012, Korean police killed a Chinese fishing boat captain, who was shot at the heart by a rubber bullet.)

Another source of tension is the immigration from China. As is the case with most immigrants, immigrants from China tend to be the less sophisticated lot who works in menial jobs. Accordingly, Koreans direct all the typical complaints against immigrants toward the immigrants from China -- that they are strange, dirty, crime-prone group that threatens Korea's social order. The occasional, sensational crimes that do involve immigrants from China do not help the case. For example, last year, a Korean-Chinese immigrant Wu Yuanchun was arrested in Incheon on murder charges. Investigation revealed that Wu kidnapped a 28-year-old woman, murdered her and dismembered her body into hundreds of pieces. Koreans widely believed that Wu committed the murder for the purpose of cannibalism, in accordance with the negative stereotypes regarding the Chinese. (Korean court did not find any evidence of attempted cannibalism, and eventually sentenced Wu to life in prison.) Certainly, this does not help the image of the Chinese in the eyes of Korean people.

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