Korean Sociological Image #85: What’s that old, fat, bald, white guy doing here?

S Diary Busan Play Audience(Sources, edited: Interpark, Miscellaneous Maddness)

GLASGOW (n.): The feeling of infinite sadness engendered when walking through a place filled with happy people fifteen years younger than yourself.

The Meaning of Liff, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd (1983)

Ever been tempted to watch S Diary, because of its eye-catching posters? Don’t. It’s decidedly less raunchy than it looks, even by 2004 standards, and it’s strangely serious for a romantic comedy. Instead, watch it for what it is: “a simple exploration of a woman’s past romantic relationships and how they influenced her,” and for the insights — and confidence in future relationships — that can be gained from doing so. (Also, for Kim Sun-a‘s suburb acting.)

Customer Demographics BusanAs my first Korean play then, and the first night out my wife and I will have had together since we had kids, we could do much worse. But we noticed something strange when we went to check the dates and times: scroll down the page on the ticketing site, and you’ll notice an age and sex breakdown of those customers who’ve already bought tickets online, as seen on the right.

This one is for the Busan play; interestingly, the sex ratio is reversed for the Seoul one (click here if you are reading this after its run has ended). Also, the data may not be entirely accurate: when my wife does buy two tickets, will those be counted as two 35 year-old women in the data (which would make no sense), or will she be asked to—possibly even required to—provide more information about the other attendee?

We’ll let you know, once my sister-in-law tells us when she’s available to babysit(!). (Update: All booked. My wife wasn’t asked for information about the second ticket holder.) Either way, it turns out that providing these statistics may be standard for online booking sites in Korea, as indicated by a similar breakdown for online tickets to the The Fault in Our Stars movie on the CGV website. It gives the same results regardless of the cinema chosen, so I presume that they’re nationwide figures (again interestingly, the male to female ratio is the exact opposite of what you’d expect for a romance movie):

The Fault in Our Stars -- Customer Demographics(Source: CGV)

I’d appreciate it if readers can send any more examples, and/or let me know if they’re also available when booking tickets online in other countries. If not, and they turn out to be unique to Korea and/or (I suspect) the East Asian region, what significance do you think that has? Does it speak to any wider feature of Korean society or culture?

Of course, Koreans are not alone in tending to avoid events where they’re likely to be significantly older or younger than the majority of other participants or audience members. The main question is, why do Korean companies make this information available to them? Is it simply testament to the importance of age in Korean relationships? Is it because more people would go if they felt the audience matched their own demographic, than be dissuaded because it didn’t? Or it is just useful extra information given on a whim, which shouldn’t be overanalyzed? Please let me know your thoughts.

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here.)

Korean Sociological Image #83: Vintage Contraceptive Pill Commercials

Spending the weekend looking for 8 year-old contraceptive pill commercials, as one does, I ended up finding some adorable 38 year-old ones instead:

Take the title dates with a grain of salt: this brief post says that they actually come from 1982, 1976, and 1976 respectively, and the second at least is corroborated by very similar print advertisements appearing in 1976 newspapers. The writer gains further credibility by noting the names of the actors in the first (An So-yeong/안소영) and third ones (Yeon Gyu-jin/연규진 and Yeom Bok-soon/염복순), and by pointing out that the 1970s ones would have appeared in cinemas rather than on television—although as TV bans on contraceptive commercials weren’t actually lifted until 2006, then presumably the same goes for the 1982 one too.

Here’s what Yeon Gyu-jin (love his expression!) and Yeom Bok-soon ‘say’ in the last one, although I confess I’m a little confused by the end caption that says it’s a “contraceptive pill that you don’t take” (먹지않는 피임야):

M: 이봐, 이봐, 첫 아기는 아들이야. / The first one has to be a son.

W: 어휴, 어휴 아들 좋아하네. 누구맘대로. 딸이 좋단 말이예요. / Tsk. You like boys, but it won’t happen. I like girls.

M: 글쎄 아들이라니까. / Well, I said I like boys.

W: 어휴, 어휴 딸이란 말이예요. / Well, I said I like girls.

M: 당신같은 딸 낳아 누굴 또 속 썩일려구. 어휴…. / If we get a girl like you, she’ll be a handful…

W: 그럼 자기 나 닮은 아들, 딸 어때요? Then, how about a boy and a girl that look like me?

M: 에이,,에이.. 그게 당신맘대로 할 수 있어? Is that something you can happen just because you want it to?

W: 그건 저한테 맡겨 주세요. 제가 자신있으니까요.  You leave that up to me. I’m confident!

Korea Contraceptive PillCelebrating 50 years of the pill in — where else? — a nightclub :) Source.

However charming the commercials may appear now though, any nostalgia for simpler times would be misplaced, as in reality Korea’s population polices were every bit as systematic and draconian as China’s back then. What’s more, the state tended to view the pill as a temporary or supplemental contraceptive at best, much preferring one-shot and permanent methods. In the 1960s, that would be the “patriotic” and “ideal” IUD; by the 1980s, sterilization.

In light of that, these pill commercials become all the more exceptional(?) and intriguing. I’d appreciate any additional information readers can provide about them.

Likewise, it’ll be interesting to see what contraceptive commercials appear — or rather don’t appear — on Korean screens in the future as the Park Geun-hye administration grapples with Korea’s ironic world-low birthrate. Because on the one hand, it is regrettable that the former Lee Myung-bak administration saw no need to defend women’s access to the pill, and it is preposterous that his (re)criminalization of abortion — which simply puts women’s lives at risk — is likewise viewed by his successor as a viable method of baby-making. But on the other, because of course Korea is now a democracy, and finally aired its first condom commercials on television in July last year, and with a firm sex-is-fun message at that (in contrast to the PSAs that were briefly allowed in October 2004). Here’s hoping there’ll be a lot more coming this year too! ;D

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Korean Sociological Image #82: Pink it and shrink it!

Song Hye-Gyo Pink Icis 8.0(Source)

Hello everyone, I’m James. I’m 37, male, and heterosexual. And I love pink.

It started innocently enough. As “The Korean Gender Guy” (TM), some splashes of it seemed appropriate here and there. Hence the pink hyperlinks and image borders on the blog in recent months (update: and, in November, a change to an all-pink theme).

Bart in Heels

Then, as a father of two young daughters, I realized I needed to embrace it for their sakes. On the one hand, to demonstrate that it’s not just a girls’ color, so they in turn would be more open to the blue side of the toy aisle. On the other, to make it so uncool, unfeminine, and/or ugly in their eyes that they’d be put off it for the remainder of their childhoods and adolescence, with all the gender socialization that comes with it.

Mostly this meant things like fighting over rare pink game tokens, and drawing a lot of pink planets and rockets for “Extra Burn!” (TM) our own hand-made, much improved version of snakes and ladders. Later, whenever it was an option, pink would also become the default choice for things we bought when out shopping together, like a kitchen tray, or Xylitol gum that came in a pink shiny bag.

Still, there was nothing that couldn’t be forgiven for a guy living with three females. But done so often, it soon became automatic, even for things just for myself. Before I knew it, I’d be leaving for work with my cute pink umbrella, pink socks under my black work pants, pink-tinted sunglasses still in my bag (bought in New Zealand, but which I’d been assured were “just too dam gay” to wear there); pink folders for my class plans; phone with pink Haters to the Leftcover, and neon-pink headphones for my MP3 player. On the subway, I’d take advantage of the wifi to check on the delivery progress of a pink suitcase I’d just bought online, rationalizing that the color would make it easier to spot at airports.

So, when the inevitable confrontation came, from a visibly uncomfortable male friend, I admit I shared his double-take. In my case though, I realized I looked…well, just fabulous actually, and wondered what else I could add.

Something drastic had to happen soon. Otherwise, who knows what depths of depravity I would have sunk to?

Fortunately, a reality check was recently provided by Lotte Chilsung through Song Hye-Gyo, who reminded me that I was the wrong sex to enjoy “Icis 8.0,” their latest bottled water…

(“Healthy under-eye areas? Pink! Healthy cheeks? Pink! Healthy fingertips? Pink! Healthy lips? Pink! So…how about healthy water? Invigorating pink energy! Icis 8.0!”)

Squarely aimed at women in their 20s and 30s, alas, I’ve been unable to find a source explaining the rationale behind its pink-centered marketing campaign, and am especially confused about how a pH of 8.0 would be pink exactly (my understanding is that it would actually be blue?). However, I did find the following article on very similar examples of gendered marketing, which I think provides some insights. That is to say, it’s clearly an advertorial on the one hand, but on the other I think no exaggeration or misrepresentation of their marketers’ rationales either, the sheer bullshit required to sell something like water to just one sex being nothing short of astounding. Yet, in hindsight, utterly predictable too.

“여자들만 드세요” 여성전용 식음료 제품들 ‘눈길’ “Women Only”: Eye-catching food and drink products exclusively for women

Betanews, 14/09/2009, 이직 기자 (leejik@betanews.net)

여자의 손길을 얼만큼 많이 받느냐에 따라 생사여부가 결정되는 곳이 식음료 시장이다. 관련 기업들은 여성의 감성을 자극하기 위하여 장동건, 정우성, 알렉스 등 한 시대를 풍미하고 있는 ‘훈남’들을 광고 모델로 내세운다. 하지만 정작 여자의 마음은 남자보다 여자가 더 잘 아는 법이다. 이를 반영하듯이 최근 ‘I’m Woman!’을 선언한 여성전용 컨셉 제품들이 잇따라 출시되고 있어 눈길을 끌고 있다.

The food and drink marketplace is where products with a woman’s touch will succeed or fail. Some companies have used currently popular handsome men like Jang Dong-gun, Jung Woo-Sung, and Alex Chu to appeal to women. However, in real life, women know women’s hearts and minds much better than men. With this in mind, several companies have launched products following an “I’m a Woman!” concept.

Panablu Sure(Source; sources far above — unknown)

파나블루 ‘슈어’ – 피부에 좋은 미네랄 성분, 여자 손에 맞는 용기 디자인, Pink & Purple 컬러.

Panablu’s “Sure” — [A water drink] with mineral components good for the skin, and in a pink and purple container that fits perfectly into women’s hands.

국내1호 해양심층수 기업 파나블루(http://www.panablu.co.kr / 대표 설동환)는 올 여름 여성을 위한 뷰티(Beauty)워터 ‘슈어(SURE)’를 출시했다. 슈어는 물의 성분부터 용기 디자인까지 철저하게 여성을 형상화 한 제품이다.

Panablu is the first domestic company to sell mineral water sourced from the ocean depths, with company representative Sol Dong-Hwan explaining that Sure was launched this summer for women’s beauty. From the mineral components to the container design, it is a product thoroughly designed for women.

[James: Panablu wasn't the first -- Lotte Chilsung was using Olympic swimmer Park Tae-Hwan to sell "Bluemarine" at least a year before the first news reports about "Sure" I can find.]

슈어는 세계 최고 깊이인 수심 1500m의 해양심층수로 여자 피부에 좋은 미네랄이 일반 먹는샘물 제품 보다 10배 이상 함유되어 있는 ‘여자의 물’이다. 용기 디자인도 여성의 S 라인과 바다의 물결을 형상화 한 아름다운 곡선이 물병 전체를 감싸고 있다. 하지만 이 곡선은 단지 미(美)를 표현한 것만은 아니다. 신비스러운 여자의 신체 비밀도 담겨 있다. 이 물결 무늬는 20~30대 여성 300명을 대상으로 실시 한 ‘보틀 핸드프린팅 테스트(bottle hand printing test)’의 결과로 여자 손에 가장 편안한 그립감을 안겨줄 수 있게끔 디자인 된 것이다.

Sure water is taken from a depth of 1500m under the sea, the greatest depth of any mineral water source, and this “women’s water” contains 10 times more minerals that are good for women’s skin than regular bottled waters. Also, the curve of the bottle beautifully captures both the swell of sea waves and women’s S-lines. However, it doesn’t just visually capture their beauty — it also holds the secrets to their mysterious bodies [James: *Cough*, *Splutter*]. It was tested on 300 women in their 20s and 30s in a “bottle hand printing test,” and they selected it as the most convenient and comfortable to grip and hold.

파나블루 마케팅팀 이만 팀장은 “먹는샘물 시장 조사 결과 휴대용 물을 구입하는 소비자 가운데 80% 이상이 여성이었다”면서 “이에 맞춰 슈어는 여성 몸에 꼭 맞는 물의 성분과 그립감 뿐만 아니라 기본 색상도 그동안 생수 제품에 많이 사용되어 왔던 블루(Blue)계열 대신 핑크앤퍼블(Pink & Purple)톤을 채택하게 되었다”고 말했다.

Panablu marketing team manager Lee Man said, “The results of a survey of the bottled water market showed that over 80% of consumers were women,” and that “Sure is not just a product with a grip and components perfectly designed for women’s bodies, but so too were the colors pink and purple chosen rather than the blue which most bottled waters have.”

[James: Strangely, hourglass-shaped bottles have also been claimed to be the perfect shape for women's hands, and indeed Icis 8.0's ribbed bottle too.]

S Beer Korea S-line(Sources: left, right)

하이트맥주 ‘S’ – 여자를 위한 저(低)도수, 저칼로리, 식이섬유 첨가로 장 운동 촉진까지

Hite “S Beer” for Women — Low alcohol level, low calories, added fiber, designed to aid bowel movements

하이트맥주는 올 여름 여대생 홍보대사를 대대적으로 모집하는 등 ‘여성’과 ‘S라인’에 컨셉을 맞춘 여성전용 맥주 ‘S맥주’의 마케팅 활동을 대폭 강화했다. S맥주는 식이섬유 첨가, 저 칼로리, 저 도수, 매혹적인 에메랄드 빛깔 용기, S라인 모양의 전용 잔 등 여러모로 여성을 닮은 맥주다.

This summer, Hite Beer recruited female university students on a grand scale to market “S Beer,” a beer designed for women combining the concepts of “woman” and “S-line.” S Beer as added fiber, low calories, low alcohol content, a seductive emerald bottle, with glasses in S-line shapes that resemble women’s bodies in many ways.

[James: These are the glasses referred to (has anyone seen one in real life?). In contrast to those claims about them, much of the early marketing for the product -- when this article was written -- seemed to center on how much women's bodies could resemble the bottles rather than vice-versa, such as on the left above.]

S맥주에는 여성에게 꼭 필요한 식이섬유가 다량으로 함유되어 장 운동을 촉진시키고 체형관리에 도움을 준다. 칼로리도 100ml당 40~50kcal인 다른 맥주와 달리 30kcal로 낮춰 다이어트 하는 여성도 부담 없이 마실 수 있도록 했다. 평소 술을 잘 못하는 여성을 고려해 알코올 도수도 4.0%로 낮췄다.

S Beer has a large amount of the fiber absolutely essential for women, and through aiding bowel movements helps them to maintain their figures. Whereas most beers have 40-50 kcal per 100ml, this has been reduced to 30 kcal in S Beer, allowing even women on diets to drink it freely. Also, the alcohol content has been reduced to 4.0%, making it suitable for women who can’t usually drink.

이 외에도 국내에서는 처음으로 용기 전체에 매혹적인 에메랄드 컬러를 적용해 세련된 느낌을 표현했다. 가장 눈에 띄는 것은 S맥주의 전용 잔으로 ‘S라인’으로 날씬하게 굴곡진 여체를 형상화 한 점이 특징이다.

In addition, S Beer is the first domestic beer to have a seductive, emerald-colored bottle, giving off a sophisticated feeling. But the most notable thing are the exclusive glasses, slender and curved in the shape of a woman’s S-line.

Paris Baguette Royal Pudding(Source)

파리바게뜨 ‘로얄푸딩’ – 작고 투명한 유리병이 핸드백에 쏙… 휴대성 높이고, 칼로리 낮추고

Paris Baguette’s “Royal Pudding” — With a small, clear glass container, just drop it in your handbag…high portability, low calories

파리바게뜨는 2030 여성들을 위한 유럽식 프리미엄 디저트 ‘로얄푸딩’을 출시했다. ‘로얄푸딩’은 신선한 우유와 달걀, 카라멜 시럽이 독특한 맛의 조화를 이루는 제품이다. 입안에 넣는 순간 여느 푸딩에서 맛 볼 수 없는 부드러움과 달콤함을 느낄 수 있다. 하지만, ‘로얄푸딩’은 달콤한 맛에 비해 칼로리는 낮다. 80g 제품 한 개 당 칼로리는 140kcal로 일반 테이크 아웃 카페라떼의 칼로리(300kcal) 보다 저 열량을 자랑한다.

Paris Baguette has launched its premium, European-style desert “Royal Pudding,” aimed at 20 and 30-something women. Royal Pudding is a product with a taste that has achieved a unique harmony of fresh milk, eggs, and caramel syrup. Unlike most puddings, you can taste the softness and sweetness as soon as you put in your mouth. Yet despite that sweetness, it is low in calories. It boasts only 140kcal per 80g, whereas a takeout cafe latte has 300kcal [James: Granted. But how big would that latte be?].

‘로얄푸딩’의 용기는 작고 귀여운 숙녀를 닮았다. 그래서 여성들의 큰 호응을 얻고 있다. 한 손에 잡히는 투명하고도 깜찍한 용기는 시각적 만족감과 함께 핸드백 속에도 부담 없이 들어가 휴대의 편리함을 높였다.

The Royal Pudding container resembles a small, cute lady, so it has a wide appeal to women. Conveniently fitting in one hand, the small, cute container is highly portable. It can be simply dropped in a handbag and carried without a thought.

Dr. Chlorella S(Source)

대상웰라이프 ‘닥터클로렐라S’ – 여성전용 클로렐라 제품, 복용 간편하고 변비와 피부미용에 효과

Daesang WellLife “Dr. Chlorella S” — A chlorella product for women, an easy, effective medicine for constipation and skin beauty

대상웰라이프의 ‘닥터클로렐라S’는 외부 이동이 많고 바쁜 커리어 우먼을 위한 여성전용 클로렐라 제품으로 성분부터 형태까지 여성을 중심에 두고 만든 건강기능식품이다. 닥터클로렐라S에는 ‘락츄로스’가 첨가되어 직장인 여성에게 많이 나타나는 스트레스로 인한 만성 소화불량과 변비를 해소하는데 도움을 준다. 또한 각종 식물성 영양성분을 비롯한 식이섬유질이 들어있어 업무에 지친 직장인 여성들의 피부 건강을 회복하는데도 효과적이다.

From its mineral components to its shape, Daesang WellLife’s Dr. Chlorella S is a chlorella product with many health functions centered on career women who are often on their feet. Dr. Chlorella S contains added lactulose, which helps relieve the stress and chronic digestion problems and constipation which many career women suffer from. It also has many vegetable nutrients and added fiber which is effective for recovering the health of tired women workers’ skin.

닥터클로렐라S의 포장은 개별 낱개 형식으로 가볍고 부피가 작아 여성들이 시간과 장소에 구애 받지 않고 복용할 수 있도록 구성되어 있다. 또한 제품의 형태도 목 넘김과 소화 시킬 때 부담이 적고 장에서의 흡수가 빨라 여성들이 선호하는 과립형으로 만들었다.

Dr. Chorella S consists of small, light pills that are easy to take wherever and whatever you’re doing [James -- It also came in powdered form]. The shape makes them easy to swallow, with the granules inside, which are quickly absorbed in the intestines, making them women’s preferred choice.

[James -- Judging by the lack of news articles and blog posts after 2009, Dr. Chlorella S was a failure. I'm guessing, because it wasn't pink? ㅋㅋㅋ]

파나블루 마케팅팀 이만 팀장은 “전통적으로 여성 소비자들에게 성공한 브랜드는 향후 브랜드 확장을 할 때 비교적 쉽게 안착할 수 있었다”면서 “식음료 시장에서 브랜드 확장이 활발하게 이뤄지고 있다는 점을 감안한다면 여성전용 식음료 제품은 앞으로도 꾸준히 출시 될 것”이라고 말했다.

Lee Man, the Panablu marketing team manager, said “Brands that were traditionally successful with female consumers could relatively easily reach them when they wanted to expand,” and that “In the food and drink product, many brands are actively considering women-targeted products. Expect to see many more of them in the future.” (End)

IU SHINee Pink is for girls(Sources: left, right)

Before I forget, sorry again for the slow posting everyone, but I was very busy at work, and caught a frustrating, lingering cold. Meanwhile, have any readers encountered similar gendered campaigns for unisex products, in Korea or overseas? Also, how do any parents among you deal with your children’s attitudes to pink and blue? Please let me know!

p.s. I wasn’t joking about my own, “pink strategy” in the introduction, or about any of my purchases. I really do think I look fabulous with them! :D

Update: I forgot to mention these his and her “V-line” face-shapers, the ads for which can be seen almost on every other website at the moment (if you live in Korea).

V-line Face Shaper Women 2V-line Face Shaper MenAlso, management company E-tribe contracted their girl-group Dal Shabet to endorse the product. Such endorsements by Korean Wave stars likely play a strong role in the propagation of Korean beauty ideals overseas:

V-line Face Shaper WomenRelated Posts:

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Korean Sociological Image #81: Cultural Appropriation

Lee Som -- Oh Boy! Magazine Vol.40 -- Native American Headdress Cultural Appropriation(Source)

Model and actress Esom (이솜; a.k.a. Lee Som), wearing a Native American(?) headdress in one photo from her recent shoot for OhBoy! magazine.

While it’s not directly related, ignorant and/or insensitive cultural appropriation is a big problem in K-pop especially. For an excellent primer on that, with many links and discussions of previous posts and articles, I recommend “Of Misconceptions About Cultural Appropriation in K-pop” by Assoc. Prof. Crystal Anderson of Elon University, at her blog High Yellow. Also, for something more recent, check out “The trouble with kpop” at Radio Palava, or the following video by Youtube user “Itsbrittany lajoyce“:

Meanwhile, nothing against Esom of course, who was likely given little choice in the outfits she would wear. See here for many more photoshoots of hers.

Update: I forgot about another recent example with Lee Hyori, in a photoshoot for the August 2013 edition of Dazed and Confused (Korea) magazine. See Audrey Magazine or Omona They Didn’t! for the details (Update 2: More pictures available here).

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Korean Sociological Image #80: Fashion’s Complete Body!

Sometimes, I wonder if I exaggerate Korea’s alphabetization craze. Then I come across advertisements like this one:

Korean Body LinesThe advertisement on the left reads:

Tight chestline, Sleek braline; Slender waistline, No-cellulite bellyline; and Attractive y-line, Smooth legline. Fashion’s Complete Body! Summer Event. 10% Event Discount.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Please see here and here if this is the first you’ve heard of “alphabetization” though, with the latter link focusing on Western historical parallels and the Y-line specifically. Alternatively, see here for more on the physically impossible X-line!

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Korean Sociological Image #79: The Anti-Communist Hyundai Car

Anti-Communist Hyundai(Source: Moreska. Reproduced with permission.)

As described by the photographer Moreska:

“This bizarre prize giveway ad, with a Hyundai car and hidden-treasure puzzle, circa 1985, features an ‘anti-communism’ prize – first prize, Hyundai car; second prize, set of steak knives; third prize is your fired….oops wrong contest – the first prize is a “anti-communist” Hyundai vehicle and the second prize is a “unification” prize….down the list there’s a Mount Paekdu prize and Mt. Kumgang prize. A really weird one.”

This reminded me of the “Consumption is Virtuous” (소비가 미덕이다) slogan I once read in a Korean newspaper from the late-1970s, back when economic development was explicitly conflated with national security. Previously, I’ve overemphasized how much that sentiment still applies today, not realizing that government and the media actually began to criticize (alleged) overconsumption by the 1990s, in what were really just thinly disguised attacks on women’s new economic rights and freedoms (and important precursors to the “beanpaste girl” {된장녀} stereotypes of the 2000s). This ad though, demonstrates how things were indeed very different just a few years earlier.

Or does it? Moreska, whose Flickr feed is a treasure-trove of retro Koreana, points out how strange it is — so it may have been the exception rather than the rule, even before Korea democratized in 1987. Can any Korean history buffs help out?

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Korean Sociological Image #78: Multicultural Families in Korean Textbooks

Korean Mulitcultural Family Korean Ethics Textbook

Over at Korean Circle and Squares, Emanuel Pastreich has scanned some pages of the Korean ethics textbook currently used in Korean elementary schools. He comments that the very existence of such an old-fashioned class is remarkable (as part of the daily program no less), and was especially struck by the efforts to address multicultural issues and the children of “multicultural families.” For example, the page above-right:

…relates a diary entry by Jeonghyeon, an elementary school student whose mother is Vietnamese. Jeonghyeon says she has no memories of her Vietnamese grandmother and grandfather and seems not to actually live in that complex multicultural family. Nevertheless, it is a tremendous improvement to create this space in which multicultural kids can exist within the official textbooks.

Ethnic Nationalism in KoreaClick on the image for more examples. Also remarkable about them is how, just 5 years ago, textbooks stressed how important it was that Korea remain ethnically homogenous instead. As described by Matt of Gusts of Popular Feeling in December 2008:

Korea’s ethics textbooks are to change, however — in part due to Hines Ward’s first visit to Korea after being named MVP in the Superbowl in 2006 — and North Korea, which has taken these ideas to frightening extremes, was not happy:

The words themselves take a knife to the feeling of our people, but even more serious is that this anti-national theory of “multiethnic, multiracial society” has already gone beyond the stage of discussion. Already, they’ve decided that from 2009, content related to “multiracial, multiethnic culture” would be included in elementary, middle and high school textbooks that have until now stressed that Koreans are the “descendents of Dangun,” “of one blood line” and “one race,” and to change the terms “families of international marriage” and “families of foreign laborers” to “multicultural families.” This is an outrage that makes it impossible to repress the rage of the people/race.

More recently, these issues again gained prominence with the election of Ms. Lee (born Jasmine Bacurnay in the Philippines) to South Korea’s National Assembly in April last year, the first naturalized citizen — and the first nonethnic Korean — to do so. As Choe Sang-hun wrote in The New York Times, public opinion is still is still far behind official policy:

And this year, for the first time, South Korea began accepting multiethnic Korean citizens into its armed forces. Before, the military had maintained that a different skin color would make them stand out and hurt unity.

But if government support has improved, Ms. Lee says, popular sentiment seems to have cooled. Korean men who sponsored foreign women as brides, only to find themselves abandoned by women who exploited them to immigrate to and work in South Korea, have organized against the government’s multicultural policy. Meanwhile, low-income Koreans accuse migrant workers of stealing their jobs.

The government itself stands accused of fostering xenophobia by requiring foreigners who come to South Korea to teach English to undergo H.I.V. tests, but not requiring the same of South Koreans in the same jobs. Last year, an Uzbek-born Korean made news when she was denied entry to a public bath whose proprietor cited fear of H.I.V. among foreigners.

Korean Woman's DNA DifferentThe Korean media also has some way to go, Matt noticing (in 2010) the headline “Korean Women’s DNA is Different” for instance:

Well now, I guess that may explain why Roboseyo “personally was told “foreign blood and Korean blood together has problems” [by] one of the nurses at a blood clinic[.]” It all makes sense now – Koreans’ DNA is different. What a simple, obvious explanation.

Actually, while the article tells us that “Questions arise each time Korean female athletes accomplish great things on the world stage,” it (sadly) does not follow up on the promise of the headline, instead dwelling on more mundane cultural and social influences. Mind you, the fact that “Korean women’s DNA is different” was a headline on the front page of a newspaper should go to show that the idea of genes and bloodlines was dominating the writer (or editor)’s thinking, and that they figured others would agree.

Fortunately, my Korean wife and I have met very few Koreans (openly) expressing that idea of pure genes and bloodlines, and fewer still that harassed us for mixing them. Also, as one of those “muliticultural families,” we’ve benefited from our youngest daughter jumping ahead in the waiting list for a place in a state-run kindergarten (albeit something which “ordinary” Korean parents may justifiably resent), and both our daughters receive a great deal of friendly attention when we’re out with them (not so much when they’re just with me — you’d never guess they had a Korean mother). Part of that is likely because half-Korean celebrities were very much in vogue a few years ago, but this popularity may now be waning.

How about any readers in interracial relationships or multicultural families? What positive or negative experiences have you had specifically because of this bloodlines-based view of nationalism, and/or related government policies?

Update: If you’ve come this far, I recommend following-up with The Culture Muncher’sA Multicultural Korea: Inevitable or Impossible?” also.

Update 2: Thanks to @dacfrazer, who passed on the must-read “There is more to my son than the fact he’s a ‘half’” at The Japan Times.

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)