The Korean Peninsula along the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan has remained over the centuries a homogeneous culture. Very few other ethnic groups have populated the regions for any length of time. Politically, the peninsula is divided into two nations, North and South Korea, but the ethnic make-up of its people is the same.
Koreans are of the Altaic language people originally from south-central Siberia on the Asian mainland. Korea is considered one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world.
One language, Korean, is spoken by the 75 million people of the Korean Peninsula. There is an additional about 5 million Koreans living in other parts of the world, like the United States, China, Japan and Russia. Much of the Korean vocabulary was originally Chinese. Within the Korean language there are some special dialects, but they are similar enough not to cause a problem.
Examining Korean genealogy, a family follows the Confucian tradition; the Korean father is the head of the family and it is his responsibility to provide food, clothing and shelter, and to approve the marriages of family members. His eldest son has special duties: first to his parents, then to his brothers from older to younger, then to his sons, then to his wife, and lastly to his daughters. In the Confucian beliefs it is duty, loyalty, honor, filial piety, respect for age and seniority and sincerity that are most significant.
Koreans believe that the family welfare is much more necessary than the needs of the individual. By staying as an ethnic group on the peninsula for centuries, family lineage can trace a family’s history, through male ancestors, for over 500 years, an essential factor in doing Korean genealogy. They are very strong on the belief of ancestor worship marked with special ceremonies. A special feature with the Koreans are that individuals are regarded as one-year-old when they are born, figuring the pregnancy period as one year of life for infants, and age increments increase on New Year’s Day.
Korean interpersonal relationships operate on the principle of harmony. A culture where social harmony is crucial, being able to judge another person’s state of mind is critical to maintain the person’s kibun or pride. By displaying respect, harmony is maintained. A person of lower status bows to the person of higher status – that is balance for a Korean.
The people have immerse respect toward family, education, history and their culture. In respecting the elderly, seniority in work is highly valued.
Korean food is very spicy. The basic seasonings of red pepper, green onion, soy sauce, bean paste, garlic, ginger, sesame, mustard, vinegar, wine are combined in various ways to enhance Korean foods. Korean traditionally eat more vegetables with rice in the main meal than meats.
After respect for people is the esteem held for nature. In Korean art there is the quiet and subdued colors of nature evident in Korean paintings and ceramics. Quiet harmony is also characteristic of Korean art. In building a house or choosing a place for burial, Koreans have always considered the natural surroundings, such as the course of a river or shape of a mountain as important.
Korea, referred to as “Eastern Land of Courtesy,” with its long history, seldom cultivated overseas colonies, never invaded its neighbors, nor sought development outside given peninsula. With their beliefs associated with Buddhism and Confucianism, plus the reverence for heaven and all the spirits that inhabit nature, Koreans have shaped their unique philosophy.