Comparing Life in Different Locations in East Asia

Comparing Life in Different Locations in East Asia
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  • 0:00 The Cultures of East Asia
  • 1:10 Life in Japan
  • 2:40 Life in China
  • 4:30 Life in North Korea
  • 6:10 Life in South Korea
  • 6:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to describe life in various parts of East Asia, including China, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea. A short quiz will follow.

The Cultures of East Asia

East Asian cultures do have influence on each other. Their languages and alphabets have great similarities and similar roots, for example. But it would be ridiculous to suggest that the cultures of East Asia are the same; on the contrary, they're very different.

East Asia is an area usually considered to include China, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea. These countries have overlapping ethnic heritages if you go back far enough, but their countries are drastically different. One look at their political and economic systems tells you that: Japan is a capitalist democracy, very much modeled on Western democracies, like the United States. China is a communist dictatorship; yet, it has city areas where free market ideals have been adopted. South Korea has, since the Korean War, thrived as another Western-style democracy and economy, yet remains much poorer than Japan, and North Korea is probably the most extreme communist regime in the world, with no capitalist structures and closed doors to the world.

While, culturally, they may have some things in common, life in these countries is drastically different from one another. Today, we'll go over each and talk a little about what life there is like.

Life in Japan

Life in Japan has the most in common with the Western world. They operate a capitalist economy that is highly successful - they have the third largest GDP (gross domestic product) in the world, and they are a democratic country that ranks highly in political freedoms. But culturally, there are some differences.

Japanese culture is very much focused on outward appearances and social mores. There are specific ways to behave in public with formal situations that are quite different from private, informal settings. Breaking from the norms in these public situations is not generally accepted, particularly in business. Everything, from who shakes whose hand to the position and posture in which you stand, is important. There's a reason that Japanese business suits have become a stereotype. A lot of this comes from their ritualistic history.

Social station is a big part of how Japanese life is organized. The Japanese are acutely aware of the ages of those around them - age determines who sits where in a classroom, in what order people are served, and the appropriate way to address people (different for those older and younger than you). Every relationship has to establish an inferior and superior partner, and the inferior must put aside their own needs and opinions; otherwise, it denotes a great disrespect towards the superior. There is also a lot of focus on the needs of the group and the needs of society - it's a much less individualistic culture than many more Western countries.

Life in China

China is a proud country with a 5,000-year-old history. In recent times, it has become the fastest-growing economy in the world thanks to its acceptance of capitalist structures in city life. These benefits are starting to spread to other parts of the country, but the process is slow. Life in China still varies a lot depending on where you live. There is rich, westernized life in the large cities and pockets of abject poverty in more rural, farming-oriented areas.

Having the largest population in the world, China is densely populated and heavily congested in places. Living in a city means getting used to less personal space. Driving is highly dangerous in major cities and the leading cause of death for everyone younger than 50. The primary religious beliefs are Taoism and Confucianism, and these philosophies have large impacts on the wider Chinese culture. For example, education is highly valued, reflecting Confucianism, and heavy investments have been made into education in recent years. Buddhism is also significant and is reflected in a lot of Chinese art.

Like Japan, the group and society as a whole is considered more important than the individual. This group mindset also explains why they live relatively comfortably in crowded conditions, sharing their homes with others. Family is also extremely important in China. Historically, parents chose the husbands and wives for their children, though this is starting to change.

There are few freedoms provided by the government: free speech and political freedom are extremely limited, families are only allowed one child to control the population, and non-Chinese websites are blocked. The amount of control the government has over the life of everyday people might seem extreme, but it's nothing compared to North Korea.

Life in North Korea

North Korea is a Communist dictatorship, like China. But unlike China, it hasn't in any way embraced capitalist systems. The people of North Korea have little freedoms of any kind: little free speech, no freedom of the press or freedom of religion. It's one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. In order to make their system work, they have to isolate themselves from the capitalist world. Because of this, our information about North Korea is limited. We do know that the people of North Korea have often suffered from malnutrition and poor living conditions, and they have been receiving international aid since 1995.

Education takes students to a high level, but also indoctrinates children to revere their 'Great Leader'. People are controlled to the point that only certain clothes can be worn in public - fashion is limited to citizens' private lives. The government keeps strict control in city areas in particular, and people can get away with more in rural North Korea. And there are plenty of rules that are broken so often that nobody bothers to enforce them. When rules are enforced, officials can be placated with a well-placed bribe. Despite the militaristic image, the North Korean military is mostly used for building works in cities.

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