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THE CHANGING MORALS OF KOREAN STUDENTS by: Kim T’ae-gil

It is well known that Kores’s traditional morality has been strongly influenced by Confucianism centered around the family. On the other hand, today’s Korean student has the preconceived notion that Confucian moral philosophy is “obsolete” and that the family trend should also be drastically revised. However, our survey on the student’s moral view unexpectedly shows that he is conservative and that he is actually not so far away from the traditional moral views of Confucianism as he thinks he is. The Korean student agrees in principle that he should uphold filial duties and he does not dare deny parental merits or his duty to support his parents in their old age. . . . It is difficult, based on a man’s behavior, to conclude that he takes more care of his parents than he does of his wife and children. Thirty years ago the young Korean man not only thought he did but he actually did care of his parents more than for his wife and children. But the actual behavior of today’s young man shows he is not so strictly bound by his moral obligations even though he continues to think he is. The Korean college student agrees in principle with filial duty on the one hand but, on the other hand, he is not blindly devoted to his parents as Confucian morals would dictate. Instead, he believes that impractical elements should be eliminated from the traditional notion of “filial duty.” For instance, the average Korean does not think it right to sacrifice the freedom of his children for the sake filial duty, or to abandon an oppurtunity to study abroad in order to be with and care for his parents, and he does not agree with the unscientific notion that failure to produce male children is contrary to filial

today’s Korean youth trespasses the final decision concerning marriage should be made by the couple involve. . and undr such a system of social hierarchy woman could not but be socially inferior to man. . and particularly. as is well known. This idea of man’s predominance over woman was clearly reflected in family morality. few atudents call for the total abrogation of such ritual but many favor shortening the traditional “three-year period of mourning” and abandoning the custom that prescribed “circumspection in penance for sins”(the death of parents was traditionally attributed to the sins of sons and daughters). This is interpreted as meaning that students reflect common sense that ritual should always befit the social. For instance. . the status of wife and daughters was inferior to that of father and sons. However. . In matter of marriage. in principle. . However.duty. The feudal society under Confucianism prescribed human relations in the order of superiors and inferiors. many believe that linguistic differences when a man addresses his wife and when his wife addresses him must be done away with. However. discrimination between sexes has. benn nullified in modern society and woman’s social status is being greatly enhanced. Funeral and memorial services for one’s parents and grandparents are extensions of the Confucian concept of filial duty. Korean college students welcome this development and most of them want equality of the sexes to be promoted even more. the economic realities of society. . and that chastity in a man is demanded just as much as honor is in a woman. . it is found that few college students have completely abandoned the traditional idea that there are professional barriers between man and woman.

For instance. and Korean college students seem to have inherited this intact. .Another characteristic peculiar to Korea’s traditional moral values conditioned by Confucianism and Buddhism is the predominance of spiritual values over material or physical values. . . replete with knowledge and the virtues than to become a technician skilled in one particular field only. . Most of them believe that is better to become a man of character. It is probably in sex that Korean students have managed to free themselves completely from the traditional moral code. Some thirty years ago it was commonly considered “bad” for a student to befriend a girl. Although the opinions on sexual morals are said to be quite freed from tradtion they are still conservative in comparison to their Western counterparts. they will become just and honest men that at the same time they treasure such spiritual values as the arts and friendship more than mere material values. Confucianists were most strict concerning sexual morals. but few retain such an attitude nowadays . . and that amassing a fortune or succeeding in life justifies the means. . As the old saying “Boys and girls cannot sit in the same place after they turn seven” indicates. Such a conservative opinion has been maintained according to the letter but it has undergone such drastic changes that in actual practice few take feudalistic sexual morals without question. . Their ideal is the person who lives in poverty but who has knowledge and integrity and not the man who enjoys wealth and power but lacks knowledge and character . ven if they live on the verge of starvation. . They also believe that. Korean students do not think it is good to have premarital sexual relations . . .

We can draw the coclusion that today’s Korean college student does not desire to adhere blindly to the Confucian tradition concerning morals nor does he want to abandon tradition entirely . . . Of course. more often than not. no student believes that it will ever be possible be to realize the “rule by virtue” envisaged by Confucius and Mencius. it is something different from modern democratic ideals. Korean students appear to have inherited. the Confucian ideal of rule by virtue and favor. Korean students appear very critical on this point. . Due to the fact that Confucian political ideology is founded upon feudal society. that they believe man’s inherent noble spirit is in conformity to rule by virtue and democracy. and few find the ancient democracy of Mencius satisfactory in comparison to modern democracy. If there is any way that guarantees both stability in material life and spiritual freedom. Such a keen sensitivity with respect to social justice makes them consider it a matter of course that they actively criticize the government and this at the same time gives rise to positive social participation. at least partially. it will be welcomed. this may be considered to indicate that their desire for democracy has become so much more urgent. for it allowed good-intentioned dictatorship. a form of democracy based on the teachings of Mencius. they are very skeptical about formal democracy which brings only hardship. . As for political matters. The sensitivity to social justice among Koreaan college students of today appears keener than that of the old Confucianist. It is thought that the reason why students still pay respect to the political ideas of Confucius and Mencius is.

It is thought that the younger generation in Korea today thinks it better to realize spiritual values on the foundation of more stable material life.The traditional virtue of the Orient which treasures spiritual vaalues far more than material or physical values is still held by a great number of Korean students. Knowing the importance of the material life. indeed. one of the most important tasks people in a new age face to endeavor to narrow the gap between ideas and actions. that individualism gradually holds sway over them. . It is. However. Herein lies the urgent need to establish a new morality with which our actions can be in accord. the tendency to slight material values is gradually fading among the younger generation while they tend to stress the importance of material living. in some cases the idea must be changed and in others the action must be geared in another direction. . they reject individualism at least in their concious view of values and morals. there is confusion between the ideas that are still bound to family traditions and behavior that inclines ever more to the new current of individualism. but such a gap appears to be unusually wide in the Korea of today. Korean college students long for rational consumption and because of this they reject empty formalities and extravagance . . It may be common to all peoples of all ages that there is a gap between what one thinks and what he actually does. . In other words. Because Korean students still live under the strong influences of traditional moral views concerning the family they are not yet fully prepared to embrace Western individualism in its entirety. But it is difficult to deny from their actual behavior.