The Confucianism Theory, Making the Innocent Victims a Scapegoat

I got to know that there are some people, especially in the West, who are saying that the Confucianistic attitude of the students in Sewol worsen the tragedy and, in the attitude, they victimized themselves. The first word I have to say to these people who do not know what is going on there really and what they are saying in their writings is this: “Do not blame the innocent victims.” Blaming someone else than oneself could be a way to escape the busy corner in such situations like the Sewol tragedy. I do not know if this is a way typical only to the West; I have seen many cases in South Korea that the rulers and powers did the same to avoid their responsibility and not to lose their votes. It is the scapegoat play: They find a scapegoat, project all blames over it, and kill or hide it.

In Korea Hyun-hee Kim was such a lucky scapegoat who is still alive(!) hidden somewhere, even though she was affirmed to have exploded a Korean Air Line passenger plane to kill all of the passengers and the crew of over 400 people in 1987 ( What then made many people, who could think with their brain, very suspicious was that it happened only less than a month before the presidential election, which was the first—all through the Korean history—people’s direct vote to elect their president. And guess what? After it happened, the floating votes went to the candidate of the party over which the former military dictator had been the chief. Actually, the candidate, Roh Tae-woo (, himself was a high military official who participated the military coup led by the former dictator, Doo-hwan Jeon, as he stole the presidential office in 1980.

As Sewol sank, the governmental authority, the chief of which is the president, Geun-Hye Park, lost the control and did not know what to do. The greatest mistake that the authorities made regarding the accident is that they announced that “all” people had been rescued. Because of the false announcement, people, even the parents, did not try to rescue the people in the sinking Sewol. I believe that God gave us that day for them to be rescued. A professional rescuer said 100 percent of people could have been rescued if the authorities had not made the false official announcement. Even 80 percent must have been much better than the current real numbers of the dead and the lost. Now, nobody is responsible for the biggest mistake. The president herself must be, as she is the highest authority, who is supposed to be responsible for any kind of official rescuing activities in such a huge accident.

Pictures of the 8th class taken at 9:40am. They were acting like men even at this situation. It was not from the Confucianism but from their righteousness, the “Daeu.” They are really acting as mature men. We are so proud of their behavior.

However, as you may have noticed by now, the media are not talking about it, while they are tracing back to the cause of the tragedy. Instead, they are blaming the captain and the screw who had escaped from the ship at earliest chances. Yes, they did wrong for they did not do their duties properly. However, what we have not to forget is that, even without them, the authorities could have saved all the people if they had begun the rescuing activity the first day, April 16. Actually, the authorities did not make a big problem about the escape of the screw for a while after their escape. It was only after they had lost the best chances to save the people in the Sewol which almost disappeared from the sight.

This may mean the captain is just the scapegoat that the authorities want to play with. So, the authorities of South Korea and the media of the whole world, as if they had made an agreement, began blaming the captain. They projected almost all the guilt over to the one man and, as the usual scapegoat play does, hid him from people and media. The channel to get information from him is monopolized by the governmental authorities, who are supposed to be responsible for the biggest mistake that actually brought about the tragedy. Now, it is in a power game between the governmental authority and the scapegoat, in which the scapegoat has no chance to win. The Korean authorities have found a few more scapegoats and are doing the scapegoat play. One of them is the owner of the ship, Byung-un Yu. To the fortune of the scapegoat players, he is a pastor in a Christian denomination which was announced as a ‘heathen’ by a major denomination in Korea.

Their scapegoat play seemed persuasive. However, by some curious dogged people for the truth, a question arose: Why the students obeyed the order of the captain? The answer had to be given to the the questioners for them not to make more skeptical questions in pursue of the true cause of the tragedy, the biggest mistake of the first day, the false announcement that actually caused the loss of the chance for saving “all.” Now some writers brought up the Confucianistic attitude of the young students as a sounding-reasonalble answer to the question, especially to Western ears, who are mostly ignorant of Korean culture. Who of them will dig deep enough to find the truth?

Let’s call it “the theory” that the the Confucianistic attitude of the students made the tragedy worse and by the attitude they victimized themselves. The theory blames the innocent victims as if the proponents of the theory take advantage of the fact that a dead is silent. It appears searching a deeper reason for the cause of the tragedy; however, it is not. It is an attempt to cover up the truth, the biggest mistake of the first day that made the chance to save all just pass. As the theory is assuming, if the captain should be all responsible for the tragedy, it had to have been completed by the time he escaped from the ship. However, even after the captain had escaped from the ship, the passengers were waiting for the rescuing hands thinking that, without doubt, the government authorities would rescue them. They must have judged so for themselves and they stayed calm, even without the captain in the ship.

However, the authorities did not go there. According to the interview of a mother of a lost student (; English subtitled by me), when some parents went to Sewol in a fishing boat, there was no rescuing ship sent from the authorities right around Sewol so that the fishing boat was not checked at all in its approach to Sewol. The passengers, including the teachers and the students, did never make a mistake by obeying the order of the captain. For at that time when they were listening to the orders of the captain, they must have thought they would be rescued without any loss, as they really could have been. You know, the captain ‘walked’ out of the ship. He did not have to hang on the rope lowered from a helicopter or to swim to stay on the surface of the water. He even did not wet his shirts. He just wet some of his bills so he was drying them in the emergency room of the hospital.

Do you see what I am trying to say? It is not a matter of even talk that the Confucianistic attitude of the young students brought about the tragedy or worsened it. It is totally anachronistic and the proponents are just ignorant of what they are talking about. It is anachronistic in that there was plenty of time after the accident that the tragedy could have been avoided without almost any loss of life but the ship, if the governmental authority had acted rightly as they had to; They are ignorant in that the studetns’ attitude was totally right and reasonable during the time when the captain was on the ship for they must have judged that there remained enough time for them to be rescued. Let me remind you of this regrading the latter. When the voluntary diver, Jong-in Lee went to Sewol, when the third floor windows of the ship were still over the water, there were people waving their hands to the rescuing team through some windows (The interview with him:; English subtitled by me).

The theory sounds evil because, for some, it may justify the attempt to make the innocent victims another scapegoat and, for others, it is an attempt to make the innocent victims aid the scapegoat play. Those, who have functioning brain, may be able to arrange the puzzles of time and to figure it out that blaming the captain and the students’ attitude might have been overly created by the authorities, who may desperately want to project their all guilt of the failure to fulfill their duty to have saved them.

A painting of an civilian army composed of common people. They were fighting against the Japanese imperialists’ and Russians’ political-economical invasion, while the king and high governors were about to sell the country to the Japanese.

For your understanding of the passengers’ obedient attitude that the theory is talking about, let me tell you of a Korean mindset that might have affected their decision in the situation when the captain was in the ship making some orders to the passengers. It may have come from the Confucianism; but it must not all of it—rather just a little bitty of it, if any. What first you should know about current South Korean society is that Confucianism is not a culture that has any considerable influence on the young generations. My generation, about 30 years older than the lost students, had been influenced by it through school education and home education, but time changed so drastically. So, the proponents of the theory are just like assuming 17-year-old teenagers who grew up in the US will act according to the manner of their fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers. In this, too, the theory is just anachronistic. I have said many times to my American friends that young Korean people are more Americanized than Americans; and I think it is true.

There must be a much bigger reason for the attitude of the passengers, that they had obeyed the captain while he was in the ship doing his job even if it was wrong. It is huger than the so-called anachronistic Confuncianism. It is what flows in Korean blood, and in those of many Asian people; I am really proud of it as an Asian. There is no translation of the word in my English vocabulary. So, let me call it in Korean pronunciation and give you the Chinese interpretation. It is “Daeu [대의 (Korean); 大義 (Chinese)]”. It means “The good of the most people” (my translation). Koreans, even nowadays, are being raised in the spirit. Koreans praise those who sacrifice themselves to love others. They do not think true love is possible without sacrifice. For the good of the most people, the country, or the nation, they sacrifice themselves, even their lives. Korea has been invaded by the surrounding countries, such as, Chinese dynasties, Japan, and Mongolians almost 1000 times for the last 5000 years of her history. Through such crises, Koreans had developed the proud national tradition that the common people sacrificed themselves in fighting against the foreign enemies. Even if many times Korea was colonized because of treacheries of mean and betrayal rulers, kings, queens, and presidents, the common people did not surrender easily to the foreign plunderers but rather protected their corrupt rulers. They fought for the “Daeu.” They surrendered themselves and dedicated their lives for it—actually for their people, their country, one-race-nation. In Sewol, too, the “Daeu” must have been active in the spirit of the passengers so they should not have moved on individual judgments, which might have brought up turmoils to make the situation worse. Rather, they must have followed the order of the captain, giving him the authority, as they had judged that there were enough time for rescue. They must have been acting like ‘men’ to make the whole people safe. Some could have made individual judgments and acted on their judgment, but, as we now could affirm, most of the passengers must have acted as a group in the “Daeu.” I am really really proud of them. They must not have been individualistic and selfish in such situation.

Some Westerners even cannot understand this spirit. It may be because their mindset is self-centered and individualistic. Some said that the teenagers who grew up in the US would have acted individually in such situation and it would have lessened the tragedy ( As I have already pointed out, their point is anachronistic and they are ignorant, but even if I hypothetically “assume” what they are saying is true, they are really ignorant of Korean people and the beauty and power of their spirit. Moreover, they are not showing respect to Koreans, at least to

You know what? The parents of the dead are using the cheapest supplies for the funerals, saying, they should not waste money. For the government is paying the funeral cost from the state fund. We are so proud of their righteous behavior. Please do not contempt them out of ignorance.
You know what? The parents of the dead are using the cheapest supplies for the funerals, saying, they should not waste money. For the government is paying the funeral cost from the state fund. We are so proud of their righteous behavior. Please do not contempt them out of ignorance.

the lost by Sewol tragedy. For example, average Koreans never talk about a business to a family, who is mourning for a loss; in most cases, it is an obvious insulting to the family and to the dead as well. Unfortunately, the US President did not cancel the meeting with the Korean President to talk about a business, while Koreans are mourning so sadly. The US President would not be to blame for he must have had no idea of this common, beautiful, but very significant Korean courtesy; but the Korean authority is, for she should have been mourning with the mourning parents for the great loss. What they did was not in the “Daeu,” for the “Daeu” should be righteous. It was not it, even if it might be for benefits of both countries.

I am so sad for the lost; but what makes me also sad is that there are many, who are abandoning their souls into the Hades by doing what they should not as colleague human beings. Disparaging, at any rate, the young students who must have acted in the “Daeu,” regardless of whether in ignorance or evil intention, could be a ‘dance’ to the scapegoat play of the truly guilty people. The ultimate Authority over all is watching over us even in this moment how we are behaving in the generation of darkness. Let’s not forget it.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Stephen says:

    Dear Minku – thanks for the lesson on 대의. This was very informative.
    Blessings, Stephen Paul W.


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