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A South Korean MP Is Pushing To Scrap The Country's 'Confusing' Ageing System

A centuries-old age system in South Korea is being questioned, but traditionalists argue there is a place for traditional and 'Western' culture to coexist.

According to South Korean age conventions, a baby turns one-year-old on the day it is born, and turns two on the first day of the New Year.

However, for babies born on New Year's Eve, this means just a day after they are born, they are already considered to be two years old.

Photo: Getty

It also means South Koreans have two ages -- the one they use in their daily lives in South Korea and the one they use internationally and on official documents -- and typically will give both when asked how old they are.

The origins of the ageing calculations are not clear. Some say it is to recognise time spent in the womb, while others attribute it to an ancient Asian numerical system that did not have a concept of 'zero'.

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But tradition is being questioned, with Hwang Ju-hong, a South Korean member of parliament, introducing a bill to scrap the Korean age citing "confusion and inconvenience" as his reasoning.

“The biggest problem is that the legal age and the age used in everyday lives are different,” Hwang said.

The international age is used in courts, hospitals and public offices, while the Korean age is used in peoples’ daily lives.

"The different calculation method causes a lot of confusion and inconvenience.”

Some claim the ageing tradition is to acknowledge the time spent in the womb. Photo: Getty

China abolished its traditional ageing conventions during the Cultural Revolution half a century ago, Japan converted to international ageing customs in the early 1900s and even North Korea began using international ages in 1985.

But the change in South Korea is being met with resistance from sections of the public who don't believe in conforming to 'Western' practices.

Photo: Getty

“Unifying the age calculation so it falls in line with the international age system would mean breaking with traditional ideas of time based on the lunar calendar,” Jang Yoo-seung, a senior researcher at Dankook University’s Oriental Studies Research Centre, told The Guardian.

“Why can’t the Korean age and the international age system coexist, in the same way that the traditional lunar new year holiday and Christmas coexist?”

Contact the author: jdunne@networkten.com.au