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Exploring Public Realm in Modern South Korea: A Study on Rising One-man Protests

Posted By admin On May 31, 2013 @ 9:22 am In Abstracts for 2013, History, Philosophy and Religion, Social Sciences | Comments Disabled

Honglei Cao, Ph.D Candidate

Sungkyunkwan University

South Korea


The rising of one-man protest is one of the remarkable developments in recent years in South Korea. Unlike the collective protest (or massive social movement) that already has its long history in South Korea, one-man protest is still very much young. In December 2000, Jonghun Yoon, a member of the largest civil organization named as “People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy”, staged the first one-man protest against Samsung Group and the National Tax Agency. Yoon held a picket in front of the National Tax Agency against Samsung Group’s illegal succession of wealth and claimed that the National Tax Agency should immediately act a special investigation on Samsung’s business tax.

The appearance of one-man protest was not at random. It firstly was used as a convenient method for avoiding the hard-to-get approval permit from the police. The Assembly and Demonstration Act in South Korea defines the term “demonstration” as an assembly of a group of persons associated under a common objective parading along in some public places available for free movement.  In other words, any protest activity by only one single person doesn’t require any reporting to the police and is not controlled by the Act in location. Therefore, many South Koreans then walked out to the streets and expressed their concerns and interests in various social and political issues, ranging from people evicted from their apartments to teenagers asked for political rights to vote as adults. One-man protest has already become one of the most commonly used means to express their personal appeals in South Korea.

That such protest would rise in South Korea is not a surprise to all; it reflects the dynamic interactions between the individual and the state as well as the resurrections of “individuality” and public realm after the third wave demonstration in 1980s. Why one-man protest rose so fast in short ten years? What people appeal? What kind of influence does it have on South Korean society? In answering these questions, this paper will utilize Hannah Arendt’s preeminent explanations on public realm (public sphere) to analyze the emergence of the one-man protest as well as its influence during the last fourteen years. Of structure and methodology, this paper will firstly examine the development of one-man protests by using some historical data; secondly analyze its reasons of popularity as well as its impact on South Korean society. Finally, this paper concludes that the rising of one-man protest provides us a grand new perspective to inspect the rise of public sphere in modern South Korea.


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