Do Koreans Have No Civic Spirit at All?

  • By Chosun Ilbo columnist Yang Sang-hoon

    July 01, 2016 13:07

    Yang Sang-hoon

    Volkswagen's global sales plummeted after it was caught cheating on emissions with sophisticated software, but for some reason the German automaker's sales in Korea seem unaffected. Is this linked to peculiarities in the Korean psyche?

    Of course the interests of a person and his or her immediate family come first, here as elsewhere, but there are limits to that mentality. In other countries, the automaker's sales dropped to 1/10 of previous levels since the emissions-rigging scandal, but in Korea they surged 65 percent the moment Volkswagen offered small discounts. This suggests a callous disregard for the environment and society when personal gains are at stake.

    Pollution is a massive problem. In the U.S. and Japan, it is widely seen as a concern for everyone, but here the feeling seems to be that someone else should sort it out. If the scandal had involved a car's brakes, which could kill owners immediately, sales in Korea would probably have nosedived.

    During the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, millions of people facing virtually zero risk of infection walked around in surgical masks. But patients with lung diseases, who need to wear surgical masks to prevent spreading their infections, often take their masks off the moment they step out of the hospital.

    In other words, the same people who are hypersensitive about being infected by others are deeply nonchalant about infecting others.

    The same mentality comes into play with the polluting Volkswagens. One of the main causes of ultra-fine dust in the air is diesel buses.

    Hybrid buses are much better for everyone, but they require a lot of recharging stations, and residents in areas where the stations are planned have mounted the barricades for fear of a fall in house prices. Nimbyism is a feature of many societies, but in Korea it is extreme.

    Korea may now be one of the world's top 10 economies, while 80 percent of its people going into further education, but when it comes to putting the public interest above personal gain, nothing seems to have changed.

    There is a saying that Koreans throw garbage out over their fences, while Japanese bring garbage they rind outside home to dispose of properly. When asked about Japanese habits she cannot seem to change, Mika Watanabe, recently named an exemplary immigrant, said something similar.

    Watanabe, who married to a Korean and has been living here for 28 years, said, "I now eat mostly Korean food, but if the one thing I still haven't changed is carrying my trash back home." She added, "My husband hates it."

    Not littering the streets is not a massive challenge. Many countries manage it. But in Korea everyone litters, apparently from a sense that someone else should pick it up, perhaps the state. Korea is full of vocal patriots, but looking at what really lies deep inside their psyche is a terrifying prospect.

    The 66th anniversary of the Korean War just passed a few days ago. Too often in Korea's modern history personal gain took precedence over the public interest. A recent survey by the Ministry of Public Safety and Security showed 45 percent of adults and 65 percent of university students said their personal interests are more important than the nation. Most said they would not volunteer for service in case of a war.

    How would this play out if there is another war? Our nation appears to be standing on extremely wobbly pillars.

    • Copyright © Chosunilbo &
    Previous Next
    All Headlines Back to Top