Kelly Sans Culotte


Life and Death in Queer Korea
Intro: Appetite for Conformity
Isolated South Korea fears and rejects difference.

By Huso Yi

Life and Death in Queer Korea
Introduction: Appetite for Conformity
Part 1: A Queer Exorcism

Complete Coverage
Gay Mundo

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MARCH 7, 2003. South Korea's geographic and ethnic seclusion has shaped a society that fears and rejects difference.

With a total land mass of only 38,023 square miles, slighter larger than the state of Indiana, the Republic of Korea, as it is known officially, occupies the southern half of the Korean Peninsula in northeast Asia. The other half is occupied by North Korea. Japan flanks it to the east. China looms south and west.

South Korea is one of the world's most ethnically homogeneous countries. Most of the population can trace their ancestry back thousands of years. About 60 percent are connected to one of the main three surname groups: Lee, Kim, or Park. Most South Koreans live and die without ever coming into close contact with people from other ethnic groups.

South Korea's convulsed 20th century history and religious fundamentalism have exacerbated the culture's appetite for conformity.

A convulsed history
The century began with thirty years of bitterly resented Japanese colonization (1910-45), whose aim was to eradicate Korean culture and thoroughly incorporate the country into the Japanese empire. After Japan surrendered to the Allies, the country was arbitrarily split into north (Soviet Union) and south (U.S.) occupation zones. In 1948, separate independent republics were proclaimed in North and South Korea. The Korean War (1950-1953) sealed the division of the peninsula.

After so much suffering, the new South Korean government pushed rapid industrialization, which inevitably provoked population shifts. At the same time, any real or perceived disturbance against the goal of nation-building had to be eliminated. Uniformity prevailed. Protecting Korean national identity became an obsession. To this day, children of interracial married couples are still not allowed to hold government jobs.

Between 1961 and 1992, South Korea was ruled by military regimes. The transformation of what had been an agrarian nation into a modern, urban, industrialized economy was completed. All that was missing was real democracy, with respect for the rule of law, and for human and civil rights. South Koreans demanded all of the above over the years in large, often violent, demonstrations.

Since 1992, South Korea has had two democratically-elected civilian presidents. Although the civil and human rights situation has improved, institutional violations persist.

North and South Korea have held sporadic high-level talks about reconciliation and future reunification since 1990. So far, there has been no dramatic breakthrough.

Religious fundamentalism
About 49 percent of South Koreans are Christians, 47 percent are Buddhists, and only 3 percent believe in Confucianism.

South Korean Christianity is strongly fundamentalist. All three religions hold extremely conservative views on sexuality, particularly homosexuality.

Confucianism remains the basis for the fundamental principles governing daily life, and even criminal law. The criminal code, especially the family and kinship-related laws, is inspired by the Confucian view of sexual morality. Less institutionalized than Confucianism, Buddhism has not influenced the South Korean governmental system as much.

During the Japanese occupation in the early twentieth century, the Protestant churches and schools became a secret stronghold for the independence movement. Many of Korea's prominent leaders in this era were Protestants. Both Catholic and Protestant South Koreans are prominently represented today in professional fields such as medicine and education, as well as in various social movements.

This national drama of seclusion and embattlement, conformity and religious fundamentalism plays a huge role in shaping the lives and deaths of queer South Koreans.

From the Web

BBC News | South Korea: A political history
History of Christianity in Korea: From Troubled Beginning to Contemporary Success

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