|—Brian Reynolds Myers|
South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (Hangul: 대한민국; Hanja: 大韓民國; Daehan Minguk), or Hell Joseon by its people for the widespread economic inequality, is a country in East Asia, surprisingly enough located on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea suffered under a series of military dictatorships for decades — the United States wanted a strongman in place to counter communism — until successive protests eventually forced democratization of the government. Starting in the 1970s, South Korea underwent a period of heavy industrialization, and today is a highly industrial nation like its neighbor Japan. This period occured under the authoritarian rule of Park Chung-hee, whose propaganda dehumanized the enemy in the North and any citizen suspected of being a leftist. Park was assassinated in 1979, after which the military ruled the country with more dictators: Chun Doo-hwan (1979-'88) and Roh Tae-woo (1988-'93).
During Chun's rule, dissidents were falsely accused of being pro-North Korean Communists or spies and were imprisoned and tortured at various "re-education camps". In May 1980, Chun ordered his army, led by Roh, to kill hundreds of citizens of Gwangju who were protesting against his rule. Only in 1987, after a decade of peaceful protests organized by students, intellectuals, and unions, was the first free presidential election held. A split among the democratic opposition ensured that the Roh Tae-woo won the election with a plurality. It would not be until the election of Kim Dae-jung in 1997 that the opposition would win its first election.
South Korea has one of the largest standing armies in the world (except in rare special cases, every male citizen is subject to conscription). This measure is deemed necessary given relations with its northern neighbor (the two countries are still officially at war). Officially, the country maintains friendly ties with the United States from the Cold War. They frequently exchange slaps to the face with North Korea and vice-versa.
South Korea sees the North’s perpetually "eventual" collapse with some trepidation. Sure they would like to become a unified nation again; however, they’ll be stuck with the bill and humanitarian crisis. East Germany at least had infrastructure, wasn't starving, was Eastern Europe's second-largest economy, and that was expensive enough for West Germany. This is not even mentioning the task of deprogramming 25 million people who have now lived almost a century under the rule of the Kim family.
South Korea is a presidential country similar to the U.S. The president's single term only lasts for five years. Party systems are classified into multi-party systems; however, there are two main parties in South Korean politics: the Minjoo Party of Korea[note 2][note 3], a liberal party (by South Korean political standards), and the United Future Party, an ultra-conservative party. Other minor parties exist in its National Assembly, including the Justice Party (moderate social democrats), the Basic Income Party, and the Transition Korea (centrist).
All political parties in South Korea support nationalism, but each camp has a different direction. South Korean nationalism is divided mainly into "conservative nationalism" and "resistance nationalism", which is common among South Korean liberals and leftists. South Korea has historically suffered from imperialism in China and Japan and has been divided by the United States and Russia. South Korea's right-wing conservative vested interests have accepted hierarchical relations by complying with the powers, but they support discriminatory and racist views on minorities rather than South Korean liberals. Cultural nationalism mainly appears in South Korean right-wing conservatives, and diplomatic nationalism mainly appears in South Korean progressives and leftists.
After the 2020 South Korean legislative election, the Democratic Party (Minjoo Party) won an election landslide (180 seats out of 300), the largest majority for any party since democracy was restored in 1987, while the conservatives suffered their worst defeat since 1960. This victory can largely be attributed to the government's successful handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, as political opinion polls were quite unfavorable of the Democratic Party until then due to a weak economy and some political scandals.
The 2022 South Korean presidential election saw the right-wing Yoon Suk-yeol narrowly winning the presidency with 48.56% of the votes against Lee Jae-myung with 47.83%. Yoon has pledged that as president, he will abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. He has explicitly publicly stated that he is an anti-feminist, receiving a lot of support among the Idaenam (이대남), which can be described as South Korea's 20's men. Yoon has also advocated for the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea and a possible pre-emptive strike against North Korea, a view criticized by China and the United States. Some experts have identified Yoon's movement as akin to Trumpism.
Under the influence of Confucian culture, South Korea has a conservative culture and society. Although much remains desired, women's rights have steadily improved since democratization. Still, the improvement of human rights for sexual minorities, the disabled, and ethnic/racial and cultural minorities is far from being seen. Human rights violations against mentally disabled people are often severe, likely because violence against mentally disabled people is often not punished significantly in a legal context, unlike other violence.
One defining characteristic of South Korean culture is seniority. Younger people are expected to refer to older people respectfully, especially if the age difference is significant. Older women are referred to as "Nuna" by men and "Unni" by females. For males, older males are called "Hyeong", and for females, "Oppa". People considered too old to use mutual honorifics are often referred to by nonmutual honorifics - the older person gets to use normal modes of speech. It is considered unacceptable for the youngster to reciprocate. There are reports of murder incidents taking place because of age differences. There is also Gapjil (갑질), referring to the arrogant and authoritarian attitude or actions of South Koreans who have positions of power over others. Some notable incidents associated with Gapjil include the Korean Air Flight 086 Nut rage incident involving the airline's vice president Heather Cho and K-pop singer Irene with her fashion editors.
Many people in South Korea are positive toward its own branch of Traditional Chinese medicine, which is called 한의학 (Haneuihak) in Korean. It's also home to some of the best online gamers in the world, particularly competitive StarCraft players.
Views and traditions
Traditional family values are intense in South Korea. For example, corporal punishment in the home used to be common in Korea. Younger couples tend to be opposed to corporal punishment. However, because the legal ramifications for physically abusing a child are still startlingly low, incidents of spates of physical violence lashed out against a child still sporadically pop up across the social strata.
South Korea's culture heavily values sociability concerning sudden changes in behavior. In South Korea, many people with Asperger's and other forms of autism suffer from severe discrimination and prejudice. Unlike others, they are often exposed to abuse, harassment, and sexual violence. Neurodiversity and the Autism rights movement have not even been discussed in South Korea, and autism is often referred to as a treatment target. No criticism of Applied behavior analysis is raised. Furthermore, in South Korea, people with disabilities cannot file a lawsuit alone without a guardian.
Social and institutional discrimination against LGBT in South Korea is severe. The "ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map" evaluates that the human rights level of LGBT in South Korea is lower than that of Russia (Russia is infamous for gay "propaganda" laws). In fact, many sexual minorities in South Korea are openly exposed to much hate and violence and suffer considerable disadvantages in socioeconomic activities.
South Korea's entertainment industry (i.e., K-pop and K-dramas) has developed greatly over the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Its pop culture has been exported worldwide, heavily backed by government funding to improve the country's image. This is a part of a phenomenon known as the Korean wave, with such content being the object of either much love or loathing by non-South Koreans, in particular drawing the ire of Chinese and Japanese nationalists, eventually culminating in the de facto ban of Korean cultural products by China in 2016 and the creation of Manga Kenkanryu (literally "Hating the Korean Wave" or "Hating the Korean Boom") in Japan.
However, the Korean wave has also been criticized for its racism and sexism and the exploitation and treatment of artists and musicians within the Korean entertainment industry. Such pressures have led to high-profile suicides such as Song Yoo-jung, Choi Jin-sil, Kim Jong-hyun, Goo Hara, Cha In-ha, Sulli, and Oh In-hye, among others. In 2019, the Burning Sun scandal highlighted the widespread sex trafficking involving Korean celebrities and idols that had been going on for years and the resulting cover-up attempts. Various Korean dramas have also been accused of their its attempts to take advantage of the Korean wave to distort, rewrite or whitewash Korea's history, especially during South Korea's dictatorship era or the nation's historical periods.
Poor welfare and labor rights
Labor rights remain at horrendous levels. While a recent law forbidding more than 52 hours of labor per week has been passed by the Moon administration, many small companies outside the sphere of public monitoring engage in working practices that haven't been seen in the West since the industrial revolution. Forstalling of wages, refusing to transfer payment for extra hours worked, forced participation in "Hwaesik" (회식), a company meeting after work that almost always entails involuntary consumption of large quantities of alcohol, verbal and physical abuse, sexual harassment, and absence of welfare plagues South Korea's industrial landscape.
What's more horrific is that many of the malpractices above are frequently observed in other industry segments. The situation is even worse for foreign workers from developing countries as judicial protection for these people is absent. This is by large due to the compressed modernity experienced by South Korea during its rapid development under military dictatorships. Combined with Confucianist Korean hierarchical worldviews, it led to the general acceptance of abuse as a sort of rite of passage into true adulthood. The generation who considered this rite 'normal' hadn't relinquished such beliefs even when Korean society started to more strongly desire improved standards in labor. Many in their 40~60s do not even understand why such human rights violations should be taken seriously. That is a mindset shared even by the policymakers of modern-day South Korea.
Unlike the United States, South Korea has pursued economic interventionism regardless of left and right, but apart from that, social welfare is known to be very weak. According to OECD's "Social Spending" statistics in 2016 and 2019, the OECD average is 20.0, slightly lower is 18.7 in the U.S., but 12.2 in South Korea, much lower than in the U.S. In South Korea, all social welfare systems are worse than in the United States, except for the health insurance system.
Economic right-wing media, such as the Wall Street Journal, see the Moon Jae-in administration's aggressive market intervention policy and misunderstand it as a radical left. Moon Jae-in's government's economic intervention is to support large companies. Almost all regimes in South Korea have never shown much interest in the problem of poverty.
In addition, the 2020 Global workers’ rights Index released by the ITUC shows that the reality of South Korea is very disastrous. Statistics show that labor rights in South Korea are much worse than in the United States. In other words, the United States is more progressive than South Korea regarding socio-cultural, welfare, and labor rights.
South Korea's medical system is more conservative than the United States. Their system lacks various levels of healthcare professionals such as Physician Assistants, leading to more burdens on nurses, several specialist doctors, and guardians. It leads to longer working hours for doctors, about 13 hours per day in the case of cardiac surgeons, often being an excuse for medical accidents. Of course, the healthcare system is more progressive in South Korea than in the United States, for the majority of the cost is covered by the National Health Insurance (국민건강보험). However, in the United States, the proportion of public hospitals is 22% of all hospitals, but in South Korea, the proportion of South Korea is only 5.6%. According to the OECD national average, the proportion of public hospitals in all hospitals is as high as 70%. Regardless of the foundation of the healthcare institution, the majority of the cost, which is already controlled by the Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service (건강보험심사평가원), is covered by the National Health Insurance. Still, the low proportion of public hospitals caused issues during the pandemic, for most private hospitals lacked infrastructures for COVID patient care.
Human rights situation
For much of its history, South Korea has had quite an abysmal situation with human rights that was swept under the carpet due to the Cold War and its proximity to the North. From its founding as a state shortly after the end of World War II until the June Struggle, South Korea was highly autocratic and high amounts of political and civil rights repression existed under a military dictatorship. South Koreans for decades have lived under successive authoritarian military regimes, under the leadership of Syngman Rhee, Park Chung-hee, Chun Doo-hwan, and Roh Tae-woo. Civil liberties, especially freedoms of expression and association, were severely curtailed, and opponents of the regime risked torture, imprisonment, and summary executions.
Uprisings such as the Jeju uprising were violently crushed, wiping out more than 10% of the island's population, and massacres orchestrated by the regime such as the Mungyeong massacre and Bodo League massacre resulted in up to 200,000 citizens being killed in total. In 1980, demonstrations against martial law and authoritarianism in general by the citizens in the city of Gwangju, as part of the wider Minjung movement, were fired upon, killed, raped, and beaten by government troops, now known as the Gwangju Uprising.
Today, significant limitations still remain to outright discrimination and slavery against certain groups and individuals, as well as for those with different political ideologies. Groups that have been certified as at-risk comprise women, LGBT, racial and ethnic minorities such as from Jeju, refugees, migrants including former North Korean citizens, young K-pop idols and trainees, the homeless, people with disabilities, as well as those who publicly espouse leftist ideals, where they can be prosecuted under the controversial National Security Act, the same law that was previously used to imprison and execute political prisoners.
South Korea is much more socially conservative than the United States, and politics, similar to the United States, has some negative aspects. However, South Korea is much more advanced regarding public perception of education. Due to the influence of traditional Confucian culture, the enthusiasm for education is very high. It has the second-highest university enrollment rate in the OECD due to the high educational line. That's why, unlike the United States, liberals criticize South Korea for its excessive enthusiasm for education (at this level of education, non-scientific nonsense such as vaccine conspiracy theory does not spread as popular as in the United States). However, there are criticisms that South Korea's education system is uniform and lacks respect for minority groups.
South Korea's educational environment and institutions are not similar to those of Northern Europe and are based on Confucian conservatism, so they cannot be considered progressive. South Korea is known for having a highly competitive educational environment, which is often credited as the reason suicide is the leading cause of death for young people in the country. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment, students in South Korea are among the most unhappy of all students around the globe.
A majority of South Koreans have no official religion (56.1%). The largest religion in South Korea is Christianity, with around 27.6% of the population adhering to Christianity. The second largest religion is Buddhism, with about 23% of South Koreans being Buddhists in 2005 and 15.5% in 2015. Less than 20% of the population adheres to Protestantism, but the religion is heavily politicized and controversial in the country.
Roughly 10% of the population is Catholic.
Famous South Koreans
- It is the adoptive country of the Reverend Moon (he was born in the North)
- Footballer Ahn Jung-Hwan (안정환) scored the winning goal against Italy in the 2002 World Cup. Unfortunately, he was signed to an Italian club at the time — they fired him.
- Kim Yu-Na (김연아), a famous female ice skater.
- John Cho, a Korean-American actor. You may know him as Harold from Harold and Kumar or as Hikaru Sulu from the 2009 Star Trek reboot.
- Rain (비), a singer, dancer, actor (in both South Korea and the US), and a well-known humanitarian. Had a dance-off with Stephen Colbert.
- BoA (권보아), a Korean singer
- Kendrick Kang-Joh "Ken" Jeong" (정강조), a Korean-American physician, comedian, and actor. He is known for his role as Ben Chang in the comedy series Community and for his other movie roles such as Leslie Chow in The Hangover, Dr. Kuni in Knocked Up, and Ken in The Pineapple Express.
- Park Chan-wook (박찬욱) directed the 2003 film Oldboy.
- PSY, the guy with billions of YouTube hits.
- Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations (2007-2016).
- BTS, an internationally famous Korean band.
- Bong Joon-ho, director of Snowpiercer and Parasite.
- I mean. Why not, when the country right next to you is derailing more and more by the day.
- However, unlike the Democratic Party of the United States, which encompasses progressives, democratic socialists, and social democrats within the party, the Minjoo Party in South Korea is in a more conservative political position.
- Namuwiki, the most popular wiki in South Korea, mentions (socially) conservative politicians in Democratic Party of Korea articles, but the U.S. Democratic Party article does not recognize 'conservative wing' as conservative, it is described as a historical faction (역사적 계파). Moreover, even the most leftist Justice Party in South Korea is distancing itself from socialism (사회주의), unlike the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the United States. In the Korean Wikipedia, the U.S. Democratic Party is categorized as a "progressive political party" (진보주의 정당), but Democratic Party of Korea is not.
- South Koreans win mass campaign for democracy, 1986-87, Swarthmore College
- Flashback: The Kwangju massacre, BBC
- Information on South Korean Military Service, UC San Diego
- At this point it's basically primed to, simply a matter of when.
- Although this is increasingly seen as an unwanted outcome, especially among younger Koreans, for the reasons detailed above
- If this is the situation after two decades, just imagine a reunified Korea.
- 차, 은지 (January 8, 2022). "'여성가족부 폐지' 일곱 글자 남긴 윤석열…이대남 '폭발적 반응'" (in ko). Kyunghyang Shinmun.
- 유, 정인; 유, 선희; 문, 광호 (January 7, 2022). "'여성가족부 폐지' 일곱 글자 남긴 윤석열…이대남 '폭발적 반응'" (in ko). Kyunghyang Shinmun.
- McCurry, Justin (March 11, 2022). "‘Devastated’: gender equality hopes on hold as ‘anti-feminist’ voted South Korea’s president". The Guardian.
- 미묘한 호칭 갈등
- Sang-Hun, Choe (2018-04-13). "Sister of Korean ‘Nut Rage’ Heiress Accused of Throwing Her Own Tantrum" (in en-US). The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
- Even the Hankyoreh, a leading progressive journalist in South Korea, publishes an article advocating ABA, or follows the view of American social conservatives that the autism rights movement is only for high-functional autistic people.
- The Kyunghyang Shinmun, a liberal journalist, also said BULLSHIT that autism can be treated with "Haneuihak". #, # Of course, not to mention the right-wing conservative media's inappropriate perception of autism. The human rights issue of autistic people in South Korea has not been properly discussed.
- 한국 LGBTI 인권현황 2019 (Korea LGBTI Human Rights Status)
- China Backs Off From Fight With K-Pop Fans, Foreign Policy
- Descendants of the Sun smash hit prompts Beijing to warn on South Korean dramas, CNBC
- Korean boy band BTS faces uproar in China over war comments, AP
- 'Holy War' seeks revenge on SJ fans, Global Times
- China's ban on hallyu, The Korea Times
- The surprising reason why China is blocking South Korean music videos and TV, Vox
- Stiles, Matt (19 December 2017). "Death of K-pop star shines a spotlight on South Korea's suicide problem".
- Williamson, Lucy (14 June 2011). "The dark side of South Korean pop music".
- Dae-o, Kim (4 January 2020). "I have reported on 30 Korean celebrity suicides. The blame game never changes" (in en).
- Tai, Crystal (29 March 2020). "Exploding the myths behind K-pop" (in en).
- L, Sophia (17 February 2021). "Underneath the Glamour of K-Pop Idols: A Tale of Abuse and Exploitation".
- Campbell, Matthew; Kim, Sohee (6 November 2019). "The Dark Side of K-Pop: Assault, Prostitution, Suicide, and Spycams".
- Wilder, Gabriel (7 June 2019). "The Burning Sun scandal that torched South Korea’s elites" (in en).
- Brown, August (5 April 2019). "K-pop’s innocent image is shattered by the ‘Burning Sun’ scandal".
- Smail, Gretchen. "This K-Drama Is One Of The Most Controversial Shows On Disney+" (in en).
- Jeong, Sho (21 December 2021). "4 Korean Dramas Fiercely Criticized For Distorting History".
- Koo, Se-Woong (9 January 2022). "History Becomes Unmentionable in Historical K-Dramas" (in en).
- Bird, Mike (February 20, 2019) "Asia's Most Radical Left-Wing Economic Program Faces a Harsh Reality". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
- 박정도 (October 23, 2019) 문재인 정부 친기업 행보, ‘경제 올인’ 드라이브 거나 (Moon Jae-in government pro-business move, Is to all focus on economic issues.) 인포스탁. Retrieved June 17, 2021
- 곽정수 (July 27, 2018) 문재인 정부의 규제개혁은 이명박·박근혜와 달라야 한다. (Moon Jae-in the government's regulatory reform must differ from Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye.) The Hankyoreh Retrieved June 17, 2021
- Park, Chong-Min (1 August 1991). "Authoritarian Rule in South Korea: Political Support and Governmental Performance". Asian Survey 31 (8): 743–761. doi:10.2307/2645227. Retrieved 20 October 2021.
- Charles J. Hanley & Hyung-Jin Kim (10 July 2010). "Korea bloodbath probe ends; US escapes much blame". Associated Press. San Diego Union Tribune.
- "Gwangju apology: South Korea sorry for 'rape and torture' by troops" (in en). South China Morning Post.
- Sallie Yea, "Rewriting Rebellion and Mapping Memory in South Korea: The (Re)presentation of the 1980 Kwangju Uprising through Mangwol-dong Cemetery," Urban Studies, Vol. 39, no. 9, (2002): 1556–1557
- "World Report 2020: Rights Trends in South Korea" (in en). 2020-01-15.
- 국가보안법, Korea Ministry of Government Legislation Accessed 6 Oct, 2014.
- Official stats from Statistics Korea, 2015.