[VIEWPOINT]China really consists of united statesIn general, Koreans in China have two types of understandings. The first impression Koreans have of the Chinese is “manmandi,” the typical relaxed and easy-going attitude of the Chinese people. The second is their historically-based inferiority complex to a big power, as Korean ancient kingdoms used to pay a tribute to the dynasties that unified mainland China.
Most Koreans I met in Beijing, while working as a correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo for the past five years, had one of those two views about China. If we reflect on history and consider some historical anecdotes, the two types of understandings of China are not far off base.
“Manmandi” describes the slow and relaxed manner of the Chinese people. From the Chinese attitude of going slow and taking it easy, however, the Korean people have inferred various wrong ideas about the Chinese. The image that the Chinese are wise and take a broad view of things derives from this stereotype.
Some Koreans who met high-ranking Chinese officials at the Great Hall of the People or the Zhongnanhai complex, where top Chinese leadership figures often meet international dignitaries, confessed that they had very complex feelings. That’s because they remembered the historical descriptions of Joseon Dynasty envoys who could not even dare look at the face of the Chinese emperor when they were given a royal audience at the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City.
To be more exact, however, the Chinese are not slow and easy-going at all. And the Chinese tend to use discretion when they establish relations with others. The impression in the eyes of Koreans that the Chinese are slow and easy-going is only the result of excessive simplification, based on a few experiences the Koreans had with the Chinese in the past.
And having an inferiority complex due to historical experiences comes only from the underestimation of our own country.
It is important that Koreans get rid of these two misconceptions of China. But there is still a tendency among Koreans to excessively overblow or simplify their impressions of China and the Chinese. I presume that the main reason comes from complacency, a feeling that “I know China more than enough,” or familiarity, because Korea also belongs to the cultural sphere that uses Chinese characters.
The Korean concepts of the Chinese nation and people are very different from what the Chinese understand. About 60 years before the birth of the People’s Republic of China of today, the Chinese mainland was ruled by the Manchus. And before the Ming Dynasty, the Mongolian empire (the Yuan Dynasty) ruled China. Compared to Korea’s history, in which Korean people have ruled with few interruptions, the history of the Chinese empires is completely different.
The composition of the Han Chinese, which makes up more than 90 percent of China’s population of 1.3 billion, is also different from that of the Korean people, which is homogeneous.
The Han Chinese that represent China now include many different races other than the Han, which dominated mainland China. It is a mixture of such remote tribes as the Wu and Shu, which belonged to totally different tribes than the mainstream Huaxia tribes of Han.
Each province of China has its own ethnic language and unique history. And during China’s history, the standards that the political leadership tried to unilaterally impose were rejected many times by the local provinces. The old saying, “If the center establishes a policy, the provinces prepare countermeasures,” works even nowadays. The provinces are different kinds of fruit in a basket called the big country of China. In conclusion, China is a diverse and complicated “cultural complex.” It is a group of united states with the name “China.” In order to cope with China more effectively in the future, it will be better for South Korea to train specialists on each Chinese province that understand their unique culture and study more about the historical background of each region.
*The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yoo Kwang-jong