Korean young people are infantilized throughout most of their lives. My younger students, in their first and second years of university, behave like 14 year-olds might in Canada. It is endearing, certainly, but a little sad too. The Moment of Truth arrives, for the young men, when they go off to do compulsory military service : 26 months, or 28, or 30 depending on whether they are inducted into the Army, Navy or Air Force. Their lot is, according to friends of mine, random beating and dehumanizing abuse at the hands of their ‘seniors’ – for a new inductee, basically everyone. For young women, it arrives a few years later, when they are expected to marry, and bear a child as soon as is possible, preferably between the ages of 25 and 29, and devote the rest of their lives to their children. Woe to the young mother who is not able to bear at least one male child. Young women have a brief flare of opportunity to express themselves, post high-school, during university. Once they have born a male child, they are referred to in public as ‘Male-Child-Name”s Mother. Around their 30th birthday, if they have a career, they find that any opportunities that previously seemed to have existed are suddenly gone, and if they are just working a job for wages, they are generally made to feel that their welcome has worn out.
There’s a very tight schedule for men and women both, and deviating from it by more than a year or two is actively frowned upon.
This is changing, rapidly, and a number of Korean editorialists lately have noted that, not unlike the situation 33 years or so ago in the West, there is no longer any common ground for young people and the older generation to find. The rift is a different one, though, as all but the most radical of young Koreans still bow respectfully to their elders, and still of necessity use the built-into-the-language forms of address, that, true to Confucianism, show respect to elders. Older people, comfortable that these outward signs are enough, continue in their assumption that the norms that lend structure to their understanding of how society should work, not realizing how far the Korean youth of today have strayed from any real respect for the moral bankruptcy that traditional Confucian culture has degenerated into.
The War that is coming in Korea will not be between the North and the South. It’ll be between the young and the old.
But then again, I may just drunk and rambling. I have a tendency to do that.