What is Jeong?

Recently, I learned something new about this word definition – Jeong. I think it’s a cool concept.

The concept of jeong exists in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese cultures, and the same Chinese character is used in these countries. However, it is very interesting for us to see that the meaning of the same character is subtly different for each of these countries. The Chinese emphasize the aspects of loyalty and reciprocity in relationships when using their jeong character. The Japanese equivalent, pronounced “jyo,” means sentimental feelings with the addition of another word, “nin jyo.” Jeong in Korean culture has much broader meanings and ambiguous nuances in the expression of emotions, and encompasses the Chinese and Japanese concepts.

The manifestation of jeong in a social structure and in social values is primarily through loyalty and commitment without validation, logic, or reason. This can be compared to the concept of amae in Japanese, which is an expectation of behaviors without validation. It is very interesting to see that interactions in Korean culture, whether formal or private, often carry the assumption of commitment. In Western culture, commitment is often contractual and defined, such as in a marriage, instead of being implicit. When commitments are made based upon contextual significance, for example, because of “jeong-related” affairs rather than logical interpretations of content, individuals easily become members of a cohesive group at home or work, bonded by jeong or perhaps even held in bondage by jeon.

Some of the things I appreciate most about Koreans, such as Korean hospitality, I discovered during my first visit to Seoul in 1987. Others, like “jeong” and “euiri,” I am still learning to fully appreciate and often find difficult to explain to non-Koreans.

One of the qualities that define the Korean people is also one of the most complex: jeong. Of the many definitions in my dictionary, “feeling,” “compassion,” “sentiment,” and “affection” seem to come the closest, but none of them convey the real meaning or importance of the term. I see jeong existing between family members and close friends as an invisible force that binds them together. It is difficult for foreigners to “see” this emotion because it is often not verbalized. Westerners regularly tell their loved ones, “I love you,” but for Koreans, these words are infrequently spoken.

Links: http://www.prcp.org/publications/sig.pdf