Aristotle once said that “proverbs were portions of man’s early philosophy which had survived because of brevity and cleverness”. Contemporary definitions of proverbs try and recapitulate this notion of pithy erudition, defining proverbs as “a short, popular, common saying or witty remark used figuratively with an edifying intent.” The proverb’s ability to convey morality and life lessons has maintained its importance throughout history among each individual culture. Through the process of oral tradition, proverbs often traverse from one culture into another during periods of assimilation. Within the last millennia, Korea has been the geopolitical focus of three different powers which have all shaped Korean culture. How has the contemporary history of South Korean proverbs shifted during this period due to the various foreign influences?
In order to answer this question, one must understand the historic background leading up to the Korean War and its influence on Korean proverbs. Prior to the twentieth century, Korea was under the dynastical rule of the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392 AD) and Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910 AD). Korea closely reached its current geographical boundaries during the Koryo Dynasty, from which the name “Korea” is derived. The subsequent Joseon Dynasty continued to establish Korea’s national boundaries and distinctive cultural practices. During this dynasty, Korea was a member of the Chinese tribute system, giving regular gifts to the Chinese royal court and conceding the titular authority of the Chinese emperor over the Korean King. In return, Korea could depend on China for military protection and political legitimization. As a result of the...
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... Japanese influences exist.
Due to the Chinese, Japanese, and American influences on Korean culture following the Joseon Dynasty, Korean proverbs transitioned to reflect the customs of the various reigning nations. However, the proverbs that survived from this transformative period tended to be those influenced by Western ideology. While the American presence in Korea currently continues, the relinquishment of U.S. operational control of South Korean forces by December 1, 2015 will reduce the number of U.S. troops stationed in Korea. It will be interesting to see how decreased American occupation in Korea will affect the proverbs of future generations. Maybe the proverbs in use today will, as Aristotle said, “survive because of brevity and cleverness,” or perhaps another period of assimilation is on the horizon, bringing with it new influences to Korean proverbs.
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