Posted by: rbbadger | June 3, 2010

More calligraphy in the subway

The elderly gentleman who sells his calligraphy in the subway was back in Yaksu Station this past weekend.  I should buy something from him, I think.  Calligraphy is one of the traditions of Korea which is increasingly under threat, given that there is sometimes outright hostility towards the Chinese characters on the part of some, not to mention the fact that the young can no longer handle them that well.



  1. You should buy some! Those look neat.

  2. It’s tragic that people are hostile to it these days. They say it’s a reminder of Korea “being a colony of China.” I retort jokingly, “Aren’t we a colony of the American Empire? You use English mixed with Korean”

  3. Perhaps if the Koreans had used the characters as the Japanese do, namely for both Sino-Japanese and native Japanese words, there would be less hostility. After all, the Japanese are pretty nationalistic, too. Yet there is not the hostility to the characters that one often sees here. If anything, all sorts of obscure characters have been revived, thanks to Japanese word processing making the need for furigana (the small kana that appears next to the kanji to give the pronunciation) more apparent.

    I really bemoan how English has come into the Korean language. Often, the meanings are totally twisted to something other than what it is means in English. Sometimes, because of certain phonemes which Korean lacks, the results can be unintentionally funny, such as 패션 (paesheon) for fashion. Needless to say, I don’t think that Venus should be used a name for anything in Korea!

    It is rare to see a Korean write anything in hanja these days. My boss is an exception. Perhaps the fact that he is originally from Andong might have something to do with it. Sometimes, when he makes notes, a lot of Chinese characters are in evidence. But then, his father is highly skilled as a calligrapher, well-versed in Korea’s hanmun traditions, and pretty much ensured that his son would be, too.

    By cutting themselves off from the Chinese characters, Koreans are ensuring that they will be unable to read anything older than 20 years old. How is this preserving the culture?

  4. I like the Chinese passages in the picture. They are so valuable words of wisdom.

    無汗不成(무한불성), “No sweat, no accomplishment.”

    積善之家必有餘慶(적선지가필유여경), “A family doing good will necessarily have a lot of happy occasions.

    德不孤必有隣(덕불고필유인), “Virtue [virtuous person] is not lonely, he necessarily has a neighbor [friend].”

    見義不爲不勇也(견의불위불용야), “Seeing righteousness without practicing it is not courage.”

    I have a bit of different thought. The loss of popularity of Chinese characters in Korea might be related to the bitter lessons Koreans had to learn during the modernization of Korea. No other dynasties in Korea were more dedicated to Confucian philosophies than Chosun dynasty. The sino-centric view of the world, however, had brought the loss of decline of the country. Confucian China was also defeated by the Western powers. Only Japan in Asia was quick enough to fully accept and implement the Anglo-European civilization into their society. It must be a great shock to Koreans who trusted China as a cultural and political standards.

    And Hangul contributed a lot for the success of Christian missionaries in Korea. Women and children could easily read and understand Korean-translated Bible due to Hangul, while the high illiteracy rate and the difficulty of Chinese characters became one of the factors that hinder the wide spread of Christianity in China.

    I do not have ultimate hope in either Sino-centric nor Anglocentric perspectives of the world. I believe only Christocentric views can lead us to a right path and everlasting life.

  5. Sorry for the typo. It should be “The sino-centric view of the world, however, had brought the decline of the country.”

  6. I actually think in some ways South Korea is the last reservoir (quickly drying however) of Confucian East Asia. The Chinese and Taiwanese long abandoned Confucianism during the early 20th century, since they viewed it as a burden that made them be backwards. This is evidenced in their lack of bowing to one another, as Koreans (and Japanese) do. South Korea on the other hand had a slow transition into a Post-Confucian country.

    We need to be able to manipulate Korean nationalism into pride in Korean tradition and Confucianism, thereby ultimately use of Hanmun. The type of nationalism I would like to see was previously seen in how Koreans reacted to the fall of the Ming: they thought that they were 中國, while China had capitulated to the barbarian Manchus.

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