Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Korean (South) – Chungguk pusang | Chungguk p’aegwon | Chungguk sǒngjang

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Korean (South), Rise of China

중국부상 (中國浮上)

Chungguk pusang

중국패권 (中國覇權)

Chungguk p’aegwon

중국성장 (中國成長)

Chungguk sǒngjang


Relates to the ‘rise of China’

Generally, it would be an overstatement to say that the “rise of China” is ignored by the Korean media, but a certain lack of concern over this issue is obvious. In South Korea, the “China question” is to some extent a part of the domestic politics, since the Korean Right, traditionally pro-American, sometimes cites the “China threat” as a reason to uphold Korean endangered military alliance with the US, while the Korean Left, anti-American and nationalist, rejects such statement as unfounded and often paint rosy pictures of Korea’s prosperous coexistence with mighty China. At the same time, the Korean public opinion is still fixed on Japan, even though in the current situation it hardly constitutes any real threat to Korea.

Still, it would be an oversimplification to say that the Chinese challenge is ignored completely. For example, in March 2006 a public opinion poll indicated that 37.7% of the Koreans considered that China will be the major threat for the Korean security in ten years time. In the poll they used the terms wihyǒp (위협 / 威脅) which is a pretty standard translation of the English “threat” and anbo (안보 / 安保) which implies, above all strategic security in a military sense (Kukmin ilbo, 19 March 2006).

The cliché expression “rise of China:” does not have seem to have an established standard translation in Korean. In some cases, the expression is translated indirectly, through explanatory remarks (like “China which is becoming a superpower”). Currently there are three expressions which are used to translate the term, each with different connotations.

1.       Chungguk pusang (중국부상 / 中國浮上). This particular combination was used by the mainstream Korean media 27 times since 2001 (of course, there were cases when the two words were positioned not together, but in different parts of the same sentence, and still described the same notion of “rising China”). The word pusang (부상 / 浮上,) means “emerging”, “getting out from the depth” and is often used figuratively, with generally positive connotations. For example, it is used in such expressions as 여성정치인의 부상 “the emergence of the female politicians”. Thus, the combination chungguk pusang might be translated as “emergence of China”, or “Chinese move to prominence”.

2.      Chungguk p’aegwon (중국패권 / 中國覇權). This combination was used by the mainstream Korean media 21 times since 2001.  This one has very different connotation. The central character is p’ae (패/覇) which was used in Ancient China to describe a “hegemon”, a kingdom which dominated the highly competitive system of the international relations of East Asia in the 1st millennium BC. before the rise of centralized empires. The word p’ae (패/覇) has negative connotations in all languages of the region. In modern times, it was used to create such words as 패권주의 (覇權主意) – hegemonism, a tendency to dominate and subdue, often by force and especially in the international relations. Thus in this case “the rise of China” can be translated as “[Chinese] hegemony”, with some negative connotations, since the p’ae (패/覇) implies the existence of the losers, those who are subjugated.

3.      Chungguk sǒngjang (중국성장 / 中國成長). This combination was used by the mainstream Korean media 19 times since 2001. This is a neutral term, since sǒngjang (성장 / 成長) means “growth” in general and might have some positive implications. The term is used to describe successful economic developments, among other things.


There is one interesting peculiarity, however: the Korean press very seldom uses the pair of the Chinese characters which are an official Beijing description of China’s political and social growth, ‘中國 崛起’ (their Korean pronunciations should be chungguk kulki 중국굴기). If the pair appears at all, it happens only in the translations of the Chinese texts. This is very unusual, since Koreans have always made great use of the Chinese loanwords, which were borrowed wholesale (it is easy since all Chinese characters have Korean pronunciation). After all, all other Korean words and expressions used to describe the “rise of China” are also of Chinese origin, but they are different from the words which are used in China itself. Perhaps, one of the reasons might be the fact that kul (崛/굴), the first character in the “authentic” Chinese 崛起 “rise”, is very rarely used in Korean, so even in some quotations from the Chinese documents it is replaced by a similarly looking character 掘 (pronounced similarly, as  kul). Still, the reluctance to accept the Chinese term is somewhat unusual, if not exceptional for the Korean language usage.





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