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Korea: The Impossible Country by Daniel Tudor Book Review

Korea: The Impossible Country by Daniel Tudor is the study of South Korea’s rise from a poor and non-industrialized country to its present state of a developed and civilized progressive country. The author discusses various political, social, economic, cultural, and even religious issues that played a crucial role in the development of the country. South Korea is justly defined as one of the greatest successes of the postwar period. Non-democratic state that has long been overshadowed by Japan and China has gradually risen to the level of is rivals. Moreover, South Korea was able to restore its economy that was nearly ruined and partitioned by the war.

The book provides a comprehensive research that touches upon almost all aspects of Korean history. The book is indispensable for those who do not know much about South Korea. The author describes most of the things that are important for a foreigner, but a special emphasis is put on the quick economic rise of the country. South Korea is called the impossible country, because it managed to revive its economy and save its national identity after many years of suppression by Japan and China. Considering the strong western tendency towards homogeneity and cultural integration, South Korea can be called truly unique, since it has developed a distinct national identity and successfully opposes globalization.

The author unmasks various myths about doing business in South Korea. He refutes the concept of Korean anti-American and anti-Western attitude. It is a common western stereotype. The author states that it is ungrounded. Korea has anti-American fractions that consider the USA responsible for the division of the country. However, it does not have much impact on trade and business relationships.

In business, trade, and social sphere, South Korea maintains a mainstream approach and at the same time strives for keeping its unique culture. This allows the country to achieve great success in business. Korean income puts particular emphasis on human capital that leads to considerable economic growth. Since 1953, Korean GDP per capita has grown from $100 to $30 000. Korean business does not refuse fashionable innovations that originated in the West. For example, the number of coffee shops and gay clubs has soared in recent years, proving that the country’s success is greatly dependent on keeping up with global business trends.

However, the author admits that doing business in Korea is rather challenging for a foreigner because of specific business culture. He attempts to discuss differences in business ethics and policies that can become obstacles for mutual intelligibility of Korean and foreign partners. The researcher remarks that business hierarchy is rather important in South Korea, and the relations in the majority of successful corporations are strictly regimented (Tudor, 2012). However, despite being strictly regulated, Korean business seems rather informal. Contracts are normally a starting point of a bargain rather than its result (Tudor, 2012). They are used to create a framework in which further business relationship will develop. Most questions are discussed at informal social meetings, since they are thought to be more appropriate for establishing positive interpersonal relationships between companies. In Korean business, awareness of the partner’s position is more important than signing papers. Legal side of the bargain is secondary compared to the personal agreement. Due to the hierarchal organization of companies, the role of intermediaries becomes rather important (Tudor, 2012). Business partners are usually introduced to each other by a third party. High rank of the intermediary gives more chances for successful end of the bargain, since both parties seem more authoritative and can more easily establish contacts with other companies. Since the book is obviously intended for foreigners doing business in Korea, the author expands on business culture and etiquette practices. He also describes the principles of Korean negotiations. The researcher is rather positive about doing business in Korea, since local businessmen are usually good negotiators. They are patient, attentive, and firm. When dealing with Koreans, it is vital to imitate their attitude to business, since they disapprove of pressure and haste. However, they enjoy persistence, reasonable resourcefulness, and healthy competition (Tudor, 2012). This is why “price wars” are an inseparable part of Korean business.

In his judgment of Korean business practices, the author attempts to be maximally objective. He discusses business culture in order to facilitate business relationships with foreigners. This is why this section of the book is rather informative and can be used as a practical guide or advice by foreign businessmen in Korea. The author remarks that sustainable success of Korean business can serve as a model for other countries. However, he admits that there is no guarantee that Korea will be able to maintain its achievements on the same high level in the future, since such commercial success is often tough to repeat and sustain.

The author also discusses trading success of South Korea. Currently the main exports of the country are high-tech products, such as various electronic equipment, wireless communication devices, ships, cars, LCD, and semiconductors. Korea imports mainly oil and natural gas. The major trading partners of South Korea are China, the United States, and the European Union. The author analyzes the statistics in order to identify the principal sources of Korean trade and describe their interaction with the country. He states that China is the country’s most important trading partner. The trade with China includes 25 % of total exports and 16 % of total imports (Tudor, 2012). The USA trade amounts to 10 % of exports and 8 % of imports. The European Union trade constitutes 9 % of import and export (Tudor, 2012). Other important trading partners of Korea are Japan and ASEAN. Korean trade has been growing rapidly since 2009 (Tudor, 2012). Export has grown significantly as well. This resulted in recording of surpluses. However, the author remarks that economic situation was quickly stabilized. Korean investments in the EU trade have been growing since 2010 (Tudor, 2012). In 2012, they constituted 18.5 billion EUR (Tudor, 2012). Korean products are rather popular on the European market (Tudor, 2012). This led to the establishing of strategic partnership between the European Union and Korea that was signed in 2010 (Tudor, 2012). The author claims that such a fast trade rise is miraculous for a country that was impoverished a very short time ago. He cites statistical data and reports of other researchers in order to prove his opinion that South Korea has indeed made a great progressive step. The author provides sufficient evidence of Korean success and is rather persuasive in his opinion that Korea is a unique example of such rapid positive changes.

However, the book has certain disadvantages. For example, the writing style of the author sometimes becomes rather boring. The text seems lackluster, especially in the sections dedicated to religion, food, and culture. The author often repeats himself and uses the same vocabulary and syntactic structures. For example, in the section about religion, the phrase “Confucian traditions” is used rather often and sounds refraining. Excessive repetitions distract the reader from the main idea of the book. The focus of attention is suddenly shifted to a different idea or fact that most likely has no particular importance. This can easily lead to misinterpreting or misunderstanding of the book.

On the contrary, some sections of the book seem to be excessively dynamic and brief. For example, the sections about Korean cinema and Kpop seem to be rushed through. The author is rather laconic. The initial pace of the book is suddenly lost, and the narrative becomes quick and less detailed. Another disadvantage of the book that should be pointed out is that it is excessively foreigner-friendly. This is a positive feature in sections that are intended to provide advice concerning dealing with Koreans, such as business and trade sections. However, in other chapters of the book, foreigner-friendliness results in the lack of information. The author does not expand on specific cultural and national issues and tries to make his work fully understandable for foreigners who do not have much background knowledge about South Korea. However, such attitude results in insufficient coverage of some important questions. Perhaps, the book would be more scientifically accurate if it was intended for readers who have already learnt something about the country.

In general, the text is rather simple and comprehensible. However, sometimes the research seems to be superficial due to the author’s unwillingness to make it difficult for foreign readers. He rarely uses specific terminology and does not describe definite Korean concepts with much detail. Jeju Island, Itaewon, and Honfdae are the only issues that are profoundly studied in the book. These places are the most popular tourist areas. This why the author considers it relevant to provide more information about them.

Taking into consideration the above-mentioned facts, it can be concluded that Korea: The Impossible Country by Daniel Tudor is a comprehensive and ambitious research that attempts to discuss South Korea from various points of view. The author touches upon most aspects of life and activity. He tries to trace Korea’s way from the state of misery and poverty to its present success. However, the researcher encounters limitations that prevent him from expanding on all topics in due detail. The sections that concern trade and business are principal in the book. They are informative and skillfully written. However, minor sections often seem superficial, and topics discussed in them certainly require further research.