Key Cooperative Research Institute for Policy Studies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the P.R.C (2022-2024)

Xing Liju,“The humanistic link between China and Korea:Confucian culture”(CNTV)


People to people exchanges between China and South Korea have reached an unprecedented level of frequency alongside the positive development of Sino-Korean relations. After President Park Geun-hye assumed office in 2013, the South Korean government put forward the idea of the humanistic link for cultural exchanges between China and South Korea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, while meeting his South Korean counterpart in Beijing in April 2013, pointed out that both countries should discuss the establishment of a humanistic community. With strong support from both governments, the Sino-South Korean Commission for Humanistic Exchanges was established in Seoul in November of 2013. The Joint Statement, signed by top leaders, also stressed that both countries should enhance the emotional bonds between the two peoples and build mutual trust through reciprocated humanistic exchanges.

Experts from China, Japan, and South Korea met in Yangzhou last October and announced jointly the cultural significance of the 808 Chinese characters, which have been frequently used in China, Japan, and South Korea, in order to strengthen and enlarge the cultural connections among these three Asian countries.

South Korea’s leading daily newspaper, Joong-Ang Ilbo, reported that many publications about these 808 Chinese characters have emerged in the country, and a domestic museum also held an exhibition of the “808 Chinese Characters” written in calligraphy by 808 South Korean calligraphers at the beginning of 2014.

In light of historical developments and the mutual exchanges conducted between China and South Korea in the past, the cultures of both countries appear to be deeply connected. In particular, Confucianism, a fundamental pillar of the Chinese traditional culture, has also had great impact on the culture of South Korea.

The influence of Confucian culture can be seen all throughout South Korea. During the early Han Dynasty, the culture of Confucianism, the Confucian classics, and the Chinese characters used to write these classics spread to the Korean Peninsula. Since then, Confucian culture has influenced the country’s social development through legislation and education. At the end of Koryo period, Zhu Xi Science was introduced to the country and became greatly lauded by Korean intellectuals at the time. After the establishment of the Chosun Dynasty, Confucianism represented by Zhu Xi Science was designated as the official school of thought and maintained that status for over 500 years. To this day, South Korea continues to preserve Confucian culture, and most of its citizens still approve of Confucian ethics and morality in daily life.

Both China and South Korea are guided by Confucianism, and Chinese characters are an important product of Confucian culture. Prior to creating their own characters, the people of what is now South Korea mainly depended on ancient Chinese characters in sorting out documents and recording their history. It was not until 1443, when Joseon Sejong created Hangul, that South Korea began using its own language and character system. Even so, ancient Chinese characters were still used by nobles and in formal books during the Chosun Dynasty. Furthermore, in the modern Korean language, over one third of its characters are Chinese characters. Present day South Koreans even have the habit of adopting names in Chinese characters and many of them are proud of being able to read and write Chinese characters.

Han Fei-tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher once pointed out: “Amity between peoples holds the key to sound relations between states.” China and South Korea are quite close to each other in terms of geography, people-to-people exchanges, and cultural exchanges. Therefore, it is necessary for us to attach great importance to the Confucian culture represented by Chinese characters, so as to make effective communication the main imperative to help facilitate friendly exchanges between the two countries.

The PRC and South Korea have always maintained friendly relations with one another, and now the two sides continue to enrich the strategic partnership of cooperation between them. Both governments have reached a series of important agreements. The establishment of the Sino-Korean Commission for Humanistic Exchanges further proves the feasibility of setting up a humanistic community between the two states.

Of course, it is unavoidable that cultural dominance will appear in the humanistic exchanges. But the four-word diplomatic slogan of China, namely, intimacy, sincerity, benefit, and tolerance, will guide it in handling any issues. The slogan reflects the ethics derived from traditional Chinese culture: that everyone in the world depends on one another and needs to demonstrate their value and purpose in correlation with others.

Thus, China and South Korea should establish a harmonious coexistence and peaceful development between peoples and countries alike. We can expect that, on the basis of the humanistic link created by historical continuity and common cultural genetics, both China and South Korea can achieve the vision of a humanistic community in future. It will just take time and cooperation.