Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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South Korean – Sadae(juui)

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Followership, Korean (South)

사대(주의)   事大(主義)


Relates to followership, flunkeyism

It is an emotionally charged term in the Korean political vocabulary, but it initially had no negative meaning whatsoever. It originated in Ancient China, when Mencius stated that for a small state the most rational policy choice would be ‘to serve the large’ (Chin.: shida, Kor.: sadae, 事大) – in other words, to maintain good if unequal relations with a powerful neighbour. For centuries, the term ‘sadae’ was used by the Koreans to describe their policy of unequal alliance with China.

From around 1900 the term acquired a negative meaning and became almost a term of political abuse. The Korean reformers (and also pro-Japanese activists) blamed the unconditional reliance on the ‘reactionary’ and hyper-conservative China for the manifold problems of Korea. Nowadays, the term continues to have strong negative connotations, implying the slavish imitation of foreign patterns and voluntary self-subjugation to foreign pressures. The word sadaejuŭi is very popular in the nationalist discourse. However, it has tended to lose its old reference to China, and is far more frequently used to describe (in unfavourable terms) Korea’s relations with the US. It is used especially by the habitually nationalist Korean Left.

For instance, a left-nationalist magazine ran an article ‘How did we become pro-American sadae supporters? (Sahoe pyŏngnon kil, 1997 #6), and a newspaper lampooned the Seoul press for paying too much attention to the U.S. President’s inauguration by publishing a piece ‘The sadaejuŭi of the Korean media’ (Segye Ilbo, 24 january 2005). It is used in more academic (or quasi-academic) discourse as well. For example, a search through DBpia, a major database of academic articles in Korean, reveals 11 articles with titles including sadaejuŭi. In eight of these cases, the authors fume against the supposed U.S. domination over Korea. In two cases the authors are engaged in (very anachronistic) discussion over whether some Korean thinkers and writers of the 13-14th century hold a worldview, which, was patriotic enough. This discussion, in spite of being obviously ahistorical and anachronistic, reveals a negative perception of Imperial China. Finally, one article gives an historical review of how the term sadaejuŭi has been used in Korea over centuries (but, even in this case, the deliberate manipulation of history is clearly present.




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