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Chinese vs Korean Philosophy

To explore Korean philosophy, we need to understand the Chinese influences on Korean thought.
Chinese influesnces on Korean Culture
The Korean language has many Sino-Korean words: some are adopted from Chinese words, while some are constructed from Chinese characters (Hanja). Accordingly, some people misunderstand that Korean and Chinese share the same origin, or even that Korean comes from Chinese. Of course, if you have studied Korean just for a day, you will find that this is entirely false; they do not even share the same grammar. Then, why are there so many Korean words related to Chinese in etymology? It is because Chinese characters and Chinese culture continued to influence the Korean Peninsula until modern times. In addition to Sino-Korean vocabulary, pre-modern intellectuals adopted Hanmun, classical written Chinese, to write their own thought.
Don’t be misled; they spoke vernacular Korean but wrote in classical Chinese. This can be compared to the role of Latin in pre-modern or early Europe. The same way English has many words originating from Latin, Korean also has many words originating from Chinese. Thus, Korean philosophy can be said to be closely related to Chinese philosophy. Since the era of Three Kingdoms, Koreans not only accepted Hanja, Chinese characters, but also imported various texts and ideologies from China and innovated to create their own. In the course of this accommodation, Korean intellectuals produced much literature written in Hanja, which is accessible to anyone who knows classical Chinese without any knowledge of Korean.
A Turning Point: Korean Alphabet System, “Hangeul” The creation of the Korean alphabet system, Hangeul, (1443) was a turning point. Since then, the ideas that Koreans developed in their daily lives as well as the ideas that they developed as members of the East Asian cultural sphere could be recorded in their own written language, Hangeul. Even before Hangeul, Koreans had writing systems apart from Hanmun. However, the creation of Hangeul gave Koreans powerful tools to express their own thoughts and feelings more vividly. Historically influenced by Chinese culture, including literary and religious traditions, Korean philosophy came to draw many of its components from Chinese philosophy. However, though they may look similar, they work in very different ways.
This difference arose from the way Korean culture processed these foreign concepts to make them their own. This unique mechanism of Korean culture and language, which I call the “Korean matrix”, allowed Koreans to produce distinctive ideas and themes, and to develop a unique way of thinking which deserves to be called “Korean.” As a result, despite the large Chinese influence, Korean culture emerged as something unique from Chinese culture.

Now, we are ready to explore Korean philosophy.

For this, it is necessary to examine Chinese influences on Korean culture first. Pre-modern Koreans adopted many cultural influences from Chinese culture and then innovated on them in their own way. In this unique mechanism, Koreans produced distinctive ideas and themes, and developed a unique way of thinking, which I call the “Korean Matrix”.

Of course, cultural influences are found all over the world, from the ancient times till today. Can you identify cultural influences in your own culture? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Introduction to Korean Philosophy

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