The arrival of Buddhism in Korea led to the fundamental transformation of local society and a blossoming of Korean civilization. Situated at the end of a long trade route spanning the Eurasian continent, the three Korean kingdoms of Koguryo (37 BCE-668), Paekche (18 BCE-663), and Silla (57 BCE-935) not only benefited from the intellectual sophistication of the Buddhist thought system, but also absorbed the numerous continental cultural products and ideas carried by Buddhist monks. It was the beginning of a golden age on the peninsula.
Although Koreans in Japan prior to World War II suffered racial discrimination and economic exploitation, the Japanese authorities nonetheless counted ethnic Koreans as Japanese nationals and sought to fully assimilate Koreans into Japanese society through Japanese education and the promotion of intermarriage. Following the war, however, the Japanese government defined ethnic Koreans as foreigners, no longer recognizing them as Japanese nationals. The use of the term Zainichi, or “residing in Japan” reflected the overall expectation that Koreans were living in Japan on a temporary basis and would soon return to Korea.
The year 2010 marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, which began on June 25, 1950. Following the three years of intensely brutal fighting and subsequent devastation, an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. The signing of the agreement stopped the fighting and put the war on hold without a clear trajectory of future plans. To this day, the legacies of the Korean War continue to remain as a source of tension for the divided Korea as well as the regional and international community.
For the past year, there has been intense interest and speculation regarding the rise of Kim Jong-un, youngest son of North Korea’s current leader Kim Jong-il, as successor to his father. A handover of power to the younger Kim would constitute a successive third generation of rule by the same political family. Therefore, the issue of succession raises important questions about the nature of the North Korean political system, the future of the country, and the impact that any leadership change will have on North Korea’s relations with South Korea and the rest of the world.
The earliest Western visitors to Korea at the turn of the last century routinely pointed out that Koreans were a people who often called on supernatural powers and carried out rituals for otherworldly reasons. Historians tell us that Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shamanism have all been prominent in Korea since early history, informing people's view of life both here and in the afterworld. It is thus little surprising that even contemporary observers remark that modernization has not affected the demand for religions in this country, a land dotted with countless crosses standing for churches in the cities, while countryside teems with Buddhist temples of every type.
This article explores the economic cost of reunification in the context of growing ambivalence in South Korea toward the idea of unity and shifting South Korean policies toward its northern neighbor. Whether or not one agrees with President Lee’s reunification tax proposal, it is a reminder to Koreans on both sides to think more specifically about reunification and how to prepare for it.