Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is Western Influence on Korea Ending?

In the study of Korean, as with any foreign language, there are many surprises. The similarities to our mother tongue are welcomed, not expected, puzzling on the first encounter, but this is after all the Orient.

When hearing the Korean words for the planets they were just that, Korean words for the five major planets: the words that appeared on the calendar from Tuesday to Saturday. Why they were there I didn't know, but was shortly to learn. They were the same as the Latin names of the week. How did this come about? Who borrowed from whom? They dispute the way it came into the country but the 5 elements which are important in Korean thinking: fire, water, wood,metal and earth were the names given to the major planets: Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn and these in turn became the days of the week.

The ancients had the idea of the seven luminaries: the sun, moon and the 5 major planets that can be seen by naked eye. The Korean word for Sunday as in the West, is taken from the word sun, Monday from moon, Tues. from Mars, Wed. from Mercury, Thurs. from Jupiter, Fri. from Venus and Sat. from Saturn.

The 5 elements that Chinese society considered important are from Taoist thought, they have a prominent place in Chinese medicine, divination and other areas of life. In Chinese Metaphysics these 5 elements make up the matter of the universe, and with the yin yang form an important part of Chinese and Korean thought.

Korea did not accept the 7 day week until the last part of the 19th century. They had a ten day week and the change probably came through the introduction of western science by the Jesuit presence in China and the influence they had at that time. How it all came about is disputed but it was not coincidence.

It is difficult to judge how much the East has taken from the West. The Internet and globalization will continue to increase the interchange. These days it is common to see English words in the papers without any explanations of their meaning. Yes, the influence of the West on Korea is great, but China will probably surpass this shortly and we will be advancing to the days of old. Korean students studying in America exceed the numbers in China; now that China has become a super power this will very likely change as will the relationship of Korea to China.

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