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Confucianism and Its Effect on Social Life in China and Korea

Free «Confucianism and Its Effect on Social Life in China and Korea» Essay Sample

Countries that are located in the same region often follow identical patterns in developing the structure of their social and political life. For instance, such states as China and Korea might seem similar to the people of the Western world, who do not study the traditions and culture of these states very closely. Additionally, certain countries situated in a particular geographical region may have the same customs and religion, which factor in determining the state order. A close analysis of the social and political structures of Korea and China leads the idea that neighboring states located in the same region tend to borrow concepts of social structure. Korea, influenced by the Confucian principles of the world order developed in China, established a society and education system, which generally resemble those of its powerful and politically relevant neighbor.

China was and continues to be a patriarchal state, mainly due to the pervasiveness of Confucian principles of world and social order. Therefore, education is this country was oriented towards males who could start families and perpetuate traditional household structure. However, women, especially those who belonged to the imperial family and ruling elite, played a different, but equally significant role in managing their homes and maintaining domestic life in proper condition (De Bary 410). Females had to undergo a complex training to perform their domestic responsibilities in the best way possible. Moreover, women participated in the early education of children, both male and female (De Bary 410). Thereby, it was important for mothers, grandmothers, older sisters, or aunts to know all the necessary classical texts and teach the young boys before they turned old enough to attend schools. Additionally, women were often responsible for the perpetuation of familial traditions when there was no male who could do it instead.


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The development of printing, schooling, and literacy during the Ming period led to the spread Confucian principles and the establishment of a new world order. However, it not only contributed to the enhancement of the level of knowledge among males, but to the evolution of women’s education. In addition to the Four Books created by Zhu Xi, which presented a simplified version of classic Confucian canon, there also existed Four Books for Women that were created by female authors and included advice for women on how to live the Confucian way. The books described the roles of females and their position in the cosmic and human orders (De Bary 411). The books stated that women should be like earth that holds the inferior position – subservient, yielding, and passive. According to this teaching, women’s sphere was her family and the family of her husband. Therefore, a female’s primary duties were to serve, obey, and care for the husband’s family, to keep the family’s bloodline, and to assist her spouse.

These four works elaborated upon the different aspects of a female’s role in society. For example, Admonitions for Women written by Ban Zhao stressed that a woman should learn the three most significant features of female lifestyle (De Bary 412). First, she should modestly yield to others – respect other people, always put them first and herself last, and endure even if others speak or do something bad to her. Second, a woman must go to bed late and get up early in the morning to perform all her duties systematically. Regardless of whether it is easy or difficult, she must never refuse to perform any domestic work. Finally, a good wife must always be obedient and in service of her husband. Furthermore, this book distinguished specific elements of womanly behavior, which included womanly work, appearance, speech, and virtue.

Another book Analects for Women claimed that every woman must know how to establish herself as a person, understand the details of women’s domestic work, and know the rules of all rituals and etiquette (De Bary 419). Empress Xu’s Instructions for the Inner Quarters stressed that such qualities as modesty, sincerity, honesty, and dignity constitute the moral nature of a female (De Bary 425). Ina similar fashion, tt emphasizes that hard work and diligence were beneficial for the woman’s self, while the greatest faults included laziness, licentiousness, and jealousy. Additionally, this work stated that females of all social classes should value frugality (De Bary 425). Thereby, a Chinese woman should be humble, obedient, and wise to organize her household well.

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Brought from China, Confucianism affected the social structure and determined the place of a woman in the Korean society, making the social order of this state similar to the Chinese one. Since Korean society was patrilineal, only one woman could become the mother of the male’s lineal heir (De Bary 585). Thereby, even if a man had any other women, they were perceived as less important, making the division between main official wives and concubines very sharp. In adherence to the Confucian concepts of state and social order, the union between a man and a woman was believed to represent the foundation of human morality and the basis of the socialization process that started from the relation between fathers and sons and extended to the relations between a state ruler and his subjects (De Bary 585). Similarly to Chinese communities, in Korea a female was in charge of domestic life. Since peace and stability of one family were the signs of stability and prosperity of the state, women were responsible for providing their country with capable and loyal men.

Due to such a worldview, the line between main wives and concubines was very strict. King T’aejo established special laws according to which land and ranks could be assigned only to main wives (De Bary 585). Additionally, this distinction was deemed necessary to guard human morality. Previously, members of the government and other influential officials used to follow their own desires and frequently took a second wife even if they already had one or made their concubines their main wives. To stop this chaos in social relations and to put an end to the great amount of disputes between concubines and wives, it was decided to punish anyone who made his concubine his main wife while the latter was still alive (De Bary 585). Additionally, the man who took a second wife was likewise punished.

Since the Chinese society, which was based on Confucian concepts, functioned through a specific system of rules and rites, similar specific house rules developed in Korea to create and maintain positive and beneficial relationships with relatives and to spread the civilizing influence to all spheres of domestic life. The “House Rules”, developed in 1468 by Sin Sukchu, represented an idealized code of conduct, which was based on the idea that people require permanent encouragement to live a moral life. Moreover, since all members of the family had to follow the rules of proper conduct, domestic servants and slaves were also encouraged to live morally. The “House Rules” contained the essence of moral Confucian society (De Bary 587). Thus, if families properly followed them, they brought harmony to domestic sphere, which simultaneously caused the peace and stability of the public realm.

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There were six important principles that constituted Korean “House Rules”. The first rule emphasized the significance of a trained mind. The mind controls the entire body and all organs function and depend on its work, so in order to improve the work of the body the person must straighten their mind (De Bary 588). The second rule stressed that in order to maintain respectful relations among relatives, an individual must act faultlessly. The third rule underlined that reading and self-education are very important, because a person who does not to study is equal to an individual facing a wall (De Bary 588). Moreover, simply reading was not sufficient. In addition, the person had to vigorously practice the wisdom they found in the books.

The fourth rule discussed how the household should be managed. Frugality and accumulation of goods were the primary principles that allowed both establishing households and aiding those in need. The fifth rule emphasized that an official must rely on his subordinates and never doubt them, because a person who is doubted will never do his best, and if the administrator is doubtful he cannot hold his position and perform his duties properly. The final rule explains the role of women in a household, stressing that females can operate exclusively in the domestic realm (De Bary 589). The wives were expected to be respectful, sincere, pure, self-controlled, and obedient. Otherwise, they could not win the hearts of others and establish proper relations with their husbands.


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Just as in China, Confucianism not only affected and structured social and family life in Korea, but led to the development of education in the state. People believed that the ideals of Confucianism could be realized exclusively through proper education of the citizens (De Bary 576). Thus, a well-developed nation-wide system of schools was established. There were four district schools in the state capital Seoul. Every state county had its own local school. Additionally, there was a Royal Academy in the capital, which offered higher education. the purpose of all these establishments was to train future officials and government leaders. Moreover, in the middle of the 16th century local scholars organized private academies that offered Confucian scholarship.

There were three types of examination, civil, military, and technical, that students had to pass to be recruited for governing positions. The civil examination was the most important; it consisted of a lower civil examination after passing which the graduate received either a degree for classics or a degree for literary writings and a higher civil examination which allowed the graduate to serve in government. Thus, it was a great honor to pass the higher civil examination and many ambitious students devoted their time to prepare for it. This simultaneously stimulated book printing. Korea improved the Chinese technique, which utilized woodblocks, by creating a movable metallic type of printing press (De Bary 560). Additionally, book printing was important because it helped spread knowledge made the realization of Confucian ideals of good state management possible (De Bary 560). State officials thought that only those who read could govern well.

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In conclusion, the geographic location of the two Asian countries, China and Korea, played a significant role in defining the structure of social and educational systems of these states. It is evident that since Korea is close to the politically strong and influential China, it was strongly affected by the Chinese worldview and religion, especially the ideas and principles of Confucianism. Korea used Chinese framework of beliefs and customs to develop its own social and educational structures, which were naturally similar to those of its powerful neighbor. Thereby, one may conclude that the politically weaker countries tend to borrow elements of the state organization of their influential neighbors to improve the life of their citizens.


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