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South Korea's National Identity Sensitivity: Evolution, Manifestations, Prospects
Region: Asia
Theme: Domestic
Location: Korea, South
Published March 17, 2009
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National identity in South Korea is steeped in historical regret laced with wishful pursuit of idealistic absolution. Intemperate bouts of seeking immediate satisfaction draw support from the right or the left, leaders above or the public below. This is a situation in clear contrast to the postwar pattern in Japan of a persistent buildup by forces of the far right to shift the national identity equilibrium, and in China of two sustained drumbeats orchestrated by the left from the top down. In those two states the objective has been to restore a full measure of pride after a historical interlude regarded as abnormal by political elites. In contrast, South Koreans seek to discover a suitable source of pride in a history that provides few heroes amid continuing confusion over what might be considered normal. Three lengthy experiences of kowtowing sadae, the two shocks of decapitation by the Japanese and dismemberment at the hands of the Soviet Union and the United States, and repeated frustrations of overreaching and being taught the lessons of helplessness remain fi xated in the national mentality. Pride in an exceptional record of postwar achievement is clouded by a dearth of self-confi dence under the weight of such nationalistic emotions.

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