Found an interesting article this morning, well two, about South Korea’s current society. The first was a diplomat article that delves into the effect that a growing multiculturalism can have on an initial unification attempt and the second looked at the growing numbers of South Koreans that are dying alone, with no family that is reachable for a multitude of reasons.
First, the Diplomat article:
South Korea has a growing presence of foreign residents, some ethnic Korean, others none Korean. Such a wide trend has lead to many estimates stating that by 2030, foreign residents in South Korea will be around 10% of the population, thus rendering the society no longer homogenous. Now, you may ask, what effect would such a trend have in the event of unification? The answer lies within the current structure of North Korean society. In North Korea, which is still a very homogeneous nation, foreigners are ridiculed and, in the case of Americans, vilified to push the position that the party has taken. This has lead to a serious divide in Korean society, one that will come to more light as unification happens and the homogeneous North Korean population has to learn to integrate with a ever mixing South Korean population. Where I disagree with this article, however, is the extent that such a divide will hinder unification. This argument is based on the fact that many North Koreans will flee to the southern part of a unified Korea, which is highly likely since they will most likely see the south as more prosperous section of Korea, but the extent of this migration will be smaller than most people think, since the newly formed Korea will want to have citizens in the northern areas to foster growth and maintain the area. Therefore, post unification, there will be a disproportionate set of populations that will resemble what is currently on the Korean peninsula, leading to a gradual move of a mixed bag of nationalities up north and gradual assimilation of the North Korean people. Therefore, this divide will have an effect on the outcome of unification, but not as drastic as the article sounds.
Now, the New York Times article:
This article was interesting and more so considering the current tide in the South Korean population. Such a trend is also seen in Japan, where the population is rapidly ageing, with fewer and fewer children being born into these nations. However, this article does not deal with this situation, it discusses what happens when people die and there is not a single person to claim them, for a variety of reasons. The most common reason being the lack of money that is in the family. The reason that monetary issues arise in this situation are due to the lavishness of funerals n South Korea – though I have personally never been inside of a South Korean funeral, I have seen them from the outside as I walked past Yonsei Funeral Home and can attest to the vast amount of people that attend them and can only start to guess the cost that goes into holding a funeral. The article describes the position and actions of activist Park Jin-ok, who tries to care for such people, by holding simple funerals for those that find themselves without anyone to provide such a luxury.
The rapid rise of dying alone in South Korea attests to two major issues within the South Korean populace at the time, which are the lack to provide a sensible end to those that need it, based off societal norms that pressure people to hold lavish funerals, as well as showcasing a shift in the family structure that has been a huge part of South Korean society for centuries. This trend can be fixed through providing cheaper and more affordable ways to say goodbye to those that have moved on, or by simply granting some ease when it comes to this process. In the words of Park Jin-ok, “a society that lets its poor and abandoned die alone and leave without a funeral is itself dying at its heart,” (quoted in the article.) Though this may not have a simple fix, I do agree with Park that societies are only as strong as the poor and the right to a proper funeral is something that should be bestowed onto the entire population, not just those that can afford them. I wish that Mr. Park and his organization, Nanum and Nanum the best at rising awareness at such an issue, as well as providing for those that do have the money or family to provide even a simple funeral for themselves.