The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies

A veteran British journalist examines the history, culture, and economy of North and (principally) South Korea, where he lives for half of each year. Realizing that most readers know Korea only because of the war (1950-53) or because of the communist North’s nuclear potential and noisy aggressiveness, Breen limns with patience and perspicuity an engaging portrait of this least-known of the major Asian economic powers. He describes, for example, the ’’fierce sense of identity’’ among Koreans and concludes that in Korean society ’’you are your DNA. He examines Korean religions and educational systems, observing that the peninsula’s undergraduate programs are inferior because students experience ’’no pressure to perform as undergraduates. In a rapid summary of Korean history, Breen notes that the Koreans ’’have remained a distinct people’’ for centuries, despite domination by China, Japan, and others. He has a powerful command of anecdote and detail, illustrated for example in his description of community-wide rock fights in the 19th century to settle public disputes and in the horrible image of the 100,000 pickled Korean noses the 16th-century Japanese warriors took to their country to certify their body counts. Breen credits the late South Korean president Park Chung-hee for providing the leadership that propelled his nation into the front ranks of economic powers, but he also presents a devastating analysis of the pervasive bribery and corruption in the Korean business, education, medical, and legal systems. In a clever though questionable analogy, Breen attempts to infer broad cultural truths from the ’’lawless, selfish and rude’’ behavior of South Korean drivers, asserting that ’’traffic behaviour illustrates how society regulates itself. In general, a splendid work of explication and analysis by one who admits to being both charmed and angered by his subjects. — Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. —
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St. Martin’s Press
New York
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