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Thursday, May 20, 2004

ROK army as a force of modernization

Yi Sun-ja and Chun Doo-hwan voting in the April 15 elections. Linked from Hankyoreh 21Many memories from the 1980s must have been evoked by the recent reappearance of Chun Doo-hwan's wife Yi Sun-ja (Lee Soon-ja) in connection with the recent developments in tracing the former president Chun's hidden money. The novelist Yi Sang-nak has a column in Hankyoreh 21 weekly about the feelings of seeing "that woman" again after a long time: the lavishness of her clothes, stories of her enormous collection of shoes, corruption around her and so on. Also the numerous jokes: a woman so greedy that she goes around all the time with a rice scoop chugôk. (That's of course a reference to her jutting chin, on which she is since then supposed to have had plastic surgery, says my family informant). Her supposedly huge influence over her husband was expressed in remaking the Chinese character phrase isim chônsim (以心傳心, "communion of minds") to 李心全心, "Yi's mind is Chun's mind".

What I was going to say was what I talked with my wife as we saw the above column, as she has lived through the Chun era. She noticed that the appearance of Yi Sun-ja was actually a sort of a historical point; before that the wives of politicians and high officials had not appeared in public with their husbands but kept in private more in line with the traditional Korean separation of the man's and woman's spheres. But soldiers, generals were different; they had been in contact with Americans, from whom they no doubt had gotten a lot of influence, and they came to public with their wives.
I have a feeling that this part of the military's influence on the modern Korea has not been looked into enough, but perhaps it's not surprising, as it cannot be a very popular topic.

Wonder if this kind of "transgression" of the traditional woman's role had partly contributed to her unfavorable image, besides the fact that her husband had become a president by a coup and was highly unpopular, bloodshed in Kwangju, huge corruption around her, and her shameless lavishness.
Now I remember also one of my shopkeeper acquaintances saying at the time of the '99 "clothing lobby scandal" hearings that one reason why the women were being targeted so much criticism was that they had stepped over the limits of women's sphere. (One the one hand, the kind of a behind-the-scenes handling of men's affairs by women could be said to very much belong to women's domestic sphere.)

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