Taboos in Korea


“Sujeong, this is my adopted sister, Allison”. When my American friend Morgan introduced her sister to me and told me about her adoption so naturally, I was quite shocked; because, in Korea, adoptees are very reluctant to let people know about their adoptions. Likewise, there are some kinds of different taboos in every country, and Korea is no exception. Mostly, those taboos are generated by cultural, historical, or traditional factors; and Korea’s divided situation and Confucian society engendered several taboos in Korea.

Firstly, as mentioned above, Koreans try not to talk about one’s adoption. Several months ago, there was even a soap drama featuring a famous announcer who chose to commit suicide when the media discovered the fact that she was adopted. In Korea, once the fact that you’re adopted is known, people regard that your biological parents were lacking the financial or psychological ability to raise you. Also, people regard the adoptee pathetically, hypothesizing that the adoptee was ‘abandoned’ by the parents and must have been hurt. Thus, most adoptees, who don’t want people to be prejudice about their biological parents and don’t like people to have sympathetic views of them, avoid mentioning that they are adopted.

Secondly, Koreans avoid explicit criticism of North Korea. This is very contrast to 1970s and 1980s when military government put people in jail if they showed sympathy for North Korea. Starting with President Kim Dae Joong’s Sunshine Policy in 1990s, it is currently a widespread view in Korea that North Korea is not an enemy anymore, but our brother whom we have to care for and embrace. Though there are some criticizing editorials whenever North Korea acts aggressively, those articles are usually more like advising rather than explicit condemning. There are very few people who would criticize North Korea explicitly under the danger of being stigmatized as a lack of patriotism or as a super-pro-American.

Thirdly, Korean women tend to not to talk about their own plastic surgery experiences, although plastic surgery is quite popular in Korea, and many Korean women undergo surgery. Because of the Korea’s Confucian ideas that natural beauty is better than artificial beauty, many women would like to hide the fact that their beauties are artificial. Indeed, there are many pictures of embarrassed actresses in newspapers whenever the media finds out that they have had plastic surgery.

In addition to these, Koreans try to keep away from criticizing one’s own parents, making jokes about sex, or arguing about certain religions. It can also result in embarrassment if you ask how much a worker makes a year or how good a student does in school upon first meeting them. As many other countries, Korea also has some implied, social rules and etiquettes in its society.

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3 thoughts on “Taboos in Korea”

  1. Hi,
    I am an american who adopted a baby boy from S. Korea this year. It is helpful to understand the Korean taboo about adoptions. thank you!


  2. Actually, there are thousands of Korean adoptees who openly discuss their adoption through literature, blogging, public forum, and policy debate. In fact, look at what is happening in Korea with the hopeful changes to adoption policy, social welfare for women, and international adoptee rights to records. All this because of the open dialogue Korean adoptees are creating in Korea and in their adoptive countries.

  3. hi, when you talk about korean taboos… i have another question.
    i study medicine (in switzerland) and our teacher (a family physician) told us that patients from korea tend not to talk about headache because it’s not decent for koreans to do so. i’m curious if that’s true and i’d like to hear (read) that from an insider, naturally…

    thanx for your response,
    best regards from switzerland,


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