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First Contact

Doing Business in South Korea

CULTURE and RELIGION Of paramount importance in learning to do business with Koreans are the following characteristics which prevail in societal and business practices:
Justice is defined by a standard of what’s good for the whole Korean society.
Korean culture is based more on emotions or sentiments than reason.
Korean culture reflects a hierarchical family system, not a horizontal one.
Korean culture incorporates an element of suffering and humility.
Korean culture is rapidly changing from its traditional ways to modern ones.
Korean culture is uniquely linked with Confucianism in two ways:
Ethical social relationships
Three qualities
The first of the links with Confucianism provide the ethical social code for Korean behavior in relationships while the three qualities dictate love of humanity, sensitivity for feelings, and justice for society. Confucius identified five types of relationships with their corresponding duties:
Children practice dutiful regard toward their parents.
People must be loyal to and obey their rulers or kings.
Wives respect their husbands through obedience and faithfulness.
Students esteem teachers.
Only among friends are relationships equal.

It should be stressed that the philosophy of Confucius, as outlined above, is the most influential in Korea. It serves as a social code for behavior rather than a religion. Additionally, it is believed that Korea is more imbued with Confucianism than any other country including where it originated, China. Indeed, it is commonly said that to be Korean is to be Confucian.

Effects of Confucianism The main effect of Confucianism on Korean business has been the stringently hierarchical working conditions in which workers are dedicated and industrious. As testament to their energy and drive, Koreans work six days a week for a total of 56 hours on an average. Indeed, productivity is high and labor relations are harmonious.

On the other hand, Korean society and business is rigid. Due to conformity with the status quo, creativeness is sometimes stifled and prohibits innovation. The strength of these positive and negative traits is reinforced from generation to generation and is validated in traditions.





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