A Korean Professor Speaks Out: “The Whole World Except for South Korea Disregards China, But China Has Already Overlooked South Korea”


In the eyes of many Chinese people, South Korea is perceived as a somewhat peculiar country, with the peculiarity stemming from the apparent disregard South Koreans seem to have for Chinese people.

In 2015, a South Korean program called “Insight into Miles” featured Professor Kim Do-nan, who made a notable statement.

He pointed out that, currently, South Korea is the only country in the world that looks down on China. However, to the Chinese, particularly the younger generation, South Koreans have become almost invisible.

Seeing the puzzled expressions of the audience, Kim Do-nan elaborated, noting that the United States now finds North Korea to be the world’s most ludicrous country, while China holds a similar view towards South Korea.

So, from where did Professor Kim Do-nan draw his conclusions? And what do South Korean youths think about this?

South Korean Arrogance and Prejudice

It’s well known among those familiar with history that, until the 19th century, Korea was a tributary state to China and was significantly influenced by Chinese culture and technology for a long period.

This influence included various aspects of Chinese culture and technology, such as traditional Chinese medicine and the Dragon Boat Festival, which indeed had a positive impact on Korea.

Later, as China adopted a policy of isolation influenced by its imperial system, it fell prey to foreign powers.

It was during this time that the people of the Korean Peninsula realized that China, their “big brother,” could be so vulnerable. After the First Sino-Japanese War, Korea was completely freed from Chinese control and fell under Japanese influence.

Subsequently, the familiar story unfolded: the Korean Peninsula was divided into North and South Korea. North Korea adopted communism under Soviet influence, while South Korea embraced capitalism with American support. It’s undeniable that South Korea, following the capitalist path, experienced significant development opportunities in the 1970s and 1980s.

Particularly for the United States, controlling South Korea not only provided a buffer zone in Asia but also a potent ally. Consequently, the US provided considerable economic and technical assistance to South Korea, which gradually aligned more closely with American culture and economy.

The deployment of US military bases and the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea is a testament to this alignment, enhancing the multi-layered ballistic missile defense capabilities of US forces stationed there.

With the protection of US forces, South Koreans have grown more assertive, distancing themselves from their former humility towards China.

Some South Korean media, aiming to instill an image of China as backward and impoverished, have selectively reported negative aspects, leading to a skewed perception of China among South Koreans, especially the youth.

The Chinese View through South Korean Youth’s Eyes

From Professor Kim Do-nan’s remarks, it’s evident that despite China’s status as the world’s second-largest economy, many countries’ perceptions of China remain outdated.

These outdated views recall a time when China’s economy was far less developed, making life more challenging for its citizens.

It’s a common anecdote among Taiwanese that mainland China once struggled to afford even tea eggs, reflecting the perceived poverty.

However, modern China has undergone a transformation, with many Chinese now enjoying a comfortable lifestyle. Yet, in the eyes of South Korean youth, China is still seen as backward and impoverished.

Some South Korean students in China have expressed surprise at the disparity between their perceptions and reality, sharing their observations with friends and family upon returning home, who are equally astonished.

Technological advances like QR code payments, express delivery, and online food delivery in China are particularly surprising to them, challenging their preconceived notions and sparking curiosity about visiting China themselves.

Professor Kim Do-nan’s visit to China, prompted by such curiosity, led to profound revelations.

A Shocking Journey to China

The program “Insight into Miles” offered to assist Professor Kim Do-nan, a sociology and economics professor at Seoul National University who had previously studied the economic and social differences between China and South Korea, in his journey to China.

He explored the “Sandwich Theory,” which describes the economic relationships between China, Japan, and South Korea. According to this theory, Japan’s rapid economic development was followed by South Korea’s growth, with China initially lagging due to its vast territory and large population. However, by 2022, China’s economy had reached $18 trillion, second only to the United States, despite a lower GDP per capita due to its large population.

China’s complex national conditions necessitate comprehensive development across various sectors, contrasting with Japan and South Korea’s reliance on a few industries for economic growth.

South Korea’s economic success led its chaebols to invest in China, taking advantage of lower labor costs. However, the rise of Chinese enterprises and technological advancements have gradually diminished South Korea’s competitive edge.

During his visit, Professor Kim was struck by China’s advancements in technology and luxury, which surpassed those in Seoul, challenging South Korea’s pride in its brands like Samsung, which now faces stiff competition from Chinese companies like Gree, Midea, Hisense, Haier, Huawei, and Xiaomi.

China in the Eyes of Its Youth: South Korea No Longer in Sight

Professor Kim Do-nan’s concern grew as he realized that many South Koreans’ understanding of China was outdated. He warned that unless South Korea updated its perceptions, China’s economy would inevitably surpass South Korea’s.

Moreover, Chinese youth no longer regard South Korea as a competitor, focusing instead on surpassing the United States and its brands. This shift reflects China’s rapid development and the ambition of its younger generation.

Interestingly, Chinese youths are more entrepreneurial than their South Korean counterparts, who face a vast wealth gap and often aspire only to secure positions in established companies, unlike their Chinese peers who see entrepreneurship as a viable path to success.

While South Korea remains unclear about China, the United States has already recognized China as a formidable competitor. China does not seek conflict but will respond appropriately to challenges when necessary.