The Culture Of South Korea

Women in traditional South Korean dresses.
Women in traditional South Korean dresses.

South Korean culture developed from the traditional Korean culture that traces its roots in the early nomadic tribes of the Korean Peninsula. Chinese culture has also significantly influenced the culture of the country. Today, the modernization of South Korea has changed the ways of life of its people. Many aspects of Korean culture have also reached other parts of the globe and become popular therein.

Ethnicity, Language, And Religion

South Korea is home to a population of 51,418,097 individuals. The population is nearly homogeneous comprising of ethnic Koreans. Korean and English are the country’s most spoken languages. Protestant Christians, Buddhists, and Catholic Christians account for 19.7%, 15.5%, and 7.9% of South Korea’s population respectively.


The cuisine of South Korea has undergone centuries of political and social change with its roots in the ancient nomadic and agricultural traditions of the Korean Peninsula. Rice is a staple of the diet. A wide variety of meats and vegetables are also eaten. Almost every meal features rice and kimchi. The latter is a side dish made of salted and fermented vegetables. Kimchi has hundreds of varieties differing by the combination of vegetables and seasonings used to prepare them. Napa cabbages and Korean radishes are most commonly used. Beef, pork, chicken, fish, and seafood are widely consumed. Beef is the most prized meat of all. Dog meat was historically consumed but the younger generation Koreans generally abstain from such consumption as they regard dogs as pets. A variety of soups are consumed. Unlike most other cuisines, soups are served as part of the main-course meal rather than as a starter. Various types of herbal teas are enjoyed by South Koreans. A fruit punch called hwachae, a persimmon punch called sujeonggwa, and a sweet rice drink called sikhye are traditional non-alcoholic beverages of the country. Soju is the most popular alcoholic liquor in the country. A variety of beer, fruit and rice wines are also consumed.

Literature And The Arts

Classical Chinese literature and Chinese calligraphy shaped Korean literature prior to the 20th century. It was only when the Hangul was revived in the 19th century that literature in the Korean language flourished. Hangul refers to the Korean official writing system using the Korean alphabets. For several centuries, the elite classes prevented the spread of the Hangul and instead wrote using Chinese alphabets. The lower classes of society were thus left largely illiterate. However, with the spread of Hangul, all classes of the Korean society had the opportunity of receiving an education. Literature in the Korean language now emerged. Prose and poetry in hangul were produced.

The art of South Korea reflects significant influences of Confucianism and Buddhism. Korean pottery and porcelain are globally famous. Many paintings, ceramics, and sculptures produced in the country are themed on religion. In the mid-20th century, South Korean art further diversified to feature intangible subjects, geometrical forms, and social issues.

Performance Arts

The dance and music scene of South Korea evolved over 3,000 years and was significantly influenced by the ceremonies of Shamanism and Buddhism. South Korea has a unique style of storytelling where a single vocalist tells a story in the form of a song with the accompaniment of a traditional drum called changgo. This style is called P’ansori. One of the most notable P’ansori works is the love story called Tale of Ch’unhyang that takes over eight hours to perform. Gongs, barrel drums, and double-headed hourglass are some of the instruments used to play South Korean instrumental music called samul nori. Court dances and folk dances are the two main forms of traditional South Korean dance. Several rural festivals celebrating the harvest and other events combine singing and dancing with entertainment and ritual. Mask dances of rural South Korea are quite famous.


The country is often referred to as a powerhouse of e-sports. Video games are very popular in South Korea. However, since the high-end pieces of equipment necessary to play such games are not always accessible to all classes of South Koreans, the PC Bangs culture has developed in the nation. PC Bangs are public cafes where customers can play video games using sophisticated instruments by paying charges on a per hour basis. Unfortunately, the desire to play video games among South Korean youth have reached addiction levels. Outdoor activities necessary for physical fitness are often ignored in order to find more time to play video games. South Korea also has a culture of playing drinking games.

Life In South Korean Society

The traditional Korean society was based on the ideology of male superiority. However, the laws of the country today provide equal rights and freedoms to both men and women. The society is thus in a state of transformation from a male-dominated one to that based on gender equality. Many South Korean women work outside of their homes but their numbers are way lower than that of men. The average earnings of men are higher than that of women in the same jobs. Female representation in politics and religious posts are also way lower than that of women. Whether holding jobs or not, most women are also expected to maintain the household and rear children, unlike men who are still regarded as the breadwinners in the family. Working women thus face the double burden of work. Women in South Korea are today actively fighting for their rights and have managed to secure several of these rights. However, they still have a long way to go before true gender equality is established in the country.

Both love and arranged marriages are common in South Korea. In the latter case, meetings are usually arranged between prospective bride and groom and their families following which the man and the woman are allowed to decide whether to proceed with the relationship or not. Divorce and remarriage rates have steadily increased in the past few decades. Most households in South Korea are of nuclear nature.

Education is highly valued in Korean society and parents strive hard to provide the best possible education to their children.

The values of cooperation, respect for elders, and obedience are highly valued by the Koreans. These people are also very conscious about their social status which reflects in their mannerisms and behavior. Koreans are also very friendly and outgoing people when with friends and acquaintance. They also behave in a courteous manner with others.


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