Organizer and Chair: Linda Lewis, Wittenberg University
Discussants: Choong Soon Kim, University of Tennessee, Martin; David I. Steinberg, The Asia Society
The year 1997 marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of Paul Crane's Korean Patterns; it is also the first year it will be out of print. Korean Patterns, a short guide to Korean culture and behavior, was written by an American medical missionary explicitly for foreigners working in Korea, as an explanation of "what makes Koreans tick" (p.133). Enormously popular with Western expatriates, but scorned by serious scholars of Korea, the book was a somewhat embarrassing best-seller for its publisher, the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. The decision not to publish a fifth edition was a source of controversy within the RAS, and the discussions surrounding the book's demise illuminated not only the tensions between academic and more popular approaches to area knowledge, but also the need for both.
In this panel, three papers by anthropologists reconsider specific aspects of Korean Patterns, in an attempt not just to critique Crane's Orientalist introduction to Korean culture and behavior, but also to suggest how such a text for the "uninitiated" might be written. In the process, the panelists hope to shed light on why Korean Patterns was so well-received within the expatriate community, and to help bridge the gap between lay and scholarly understandings of Korean society.
One discussant, anthropologist Choong Soon Kim, has written about his experiences as a foreigner working in the American South. The other, David Steinberg, was a member of the RAS Council when Korean Patterns first appeared.
Contextualizing Hierarchy in South Korean Society
Roger L. Janelli, Indiana University; Dawnhee Yim, Dongguk University
Status hierarchy in South Korean society is a recurrent theme in Paul Crane's book, Korean Patterns. In general, Crane portrays such hierarchy as both pervasive and rigid, thereby fostering the impression of an orientation toward social relations that is fundamentally different from that found in western societies. This allegedly pervasive and rigid hierarchy is ultimately attributed to personality traits that are either unexplained or implicitly reproduced through child-rearing practices.
The authors of the present paper do not deny that status and power inequalities exist in South Korean society, but challenge their representation as either pervasive or rigid. Basically egalitarian relationships can be found in many domains of South Korean life; and apparent status and power hierarchies are often challenged and negotiated through a variety of strategies, some well-established and others invented on the spot. Viewing hierarchy in South Korea in terms of its appropriate contexts evaporates the appearance of a greater inclination toward inequality in that society.
Begging Indulgence: Public Etiquette and the Manipulation of Social Position in
Linda Lewis, Wittenberg University
Paul Crane describes Koreans as "among the most naturally polite people one will meet." "The exquisite niceties of a cultured Korean," he says, "make even an American 'Southern Gentleman' seem crude and barbaric" (p. 50). The clichéd image of Korea as a "country of propriety" stands in contrast to the remarkable lack of civility (by Western standards) that foreigners encounter in contemporary Korea in everyday public life. Western expatriates complain about being pushed and shoved in the supermarket, cut in front of in line, and run down in pedestrian crosswalks, and they seek an answer to that most vexing of cultural conundrums: if Koreans are supposed to be so polite, then why do they behave so rudely in public?
This paper will focus on popular foreign understandings of public etiquette in Korea. In particular, it will examine the explanation offered by Crane (and others) of the "unperson"/stranger, with whom one does not have a relationship and, therefore, toward whom normal rules of polite behavior do not apply. Alternative approaches will be considered.
Kibun and Korean Selfhood: In Hot Pursuit of a Red Herring
Frederick F. Carriere, The Korea Society
The extraordinary success of Korean Patterns suggests the perennial relevance of the question which the book purports to answer: What makes Koreans tick? Scholars usually either prefer to take a more oblique approach in examining the workings of the Korean mind or choose simply to avoid the topic, but Crane is right in saying that this question has intrigued Westerners since their first contacts with Koreans. Crane calls the reader's attention to the Korean term kibun and suggests that it is an essential key to understanding Korean selfhood; however, Crane attempts to ring more meaning out of the term kibun than it can render by giving it an unwarranted technical gloss that frequently obscures rather than clarifies the nature of Korean selfhood.
This paper will suggest guidelines for a more systematic elucidation of Korean selfhood by drawing on more current anthropological approaches to Crane's problematic, which call attention to the relational definition of self and what has been termed the sliding scale of self and others. It will also attempt to contextualize Korean selfhood by showing how the matrices of power in Korean society influence the development of Korean self-awareness and how they also impinge on social interactions between Koreans and Westerners. In the end, by demystifying the Self/Society binary, this paper will suggest that Crane's understanding of kibun is ultimately a red herring, which throws him off the track in his search for an answer to the question "what makes Koreans tick?"