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“Hell *Joseon*” Mentality

기사승인 2017.08.25  22:34:53

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- The prevalence of youth conforming to the “Hell *Joseon*” frame of mind is disconcerting

 

   
PHOTOGRAPHED BY LEE HA-YUN

THE SOCIAL organization of South Korea is in disarray; the Sewol ferry incident, President’s corruption scandal and subsequent impeachment, and *chae-bol’s** role in the corruption scandal has seriously undermined social justice and principle of noblesse oblige. These social chaos mean “Hell *Joseon*” mentality has gained leverage over many young generations.

   “Hell *Joseon*”. It is a neologism that has spread like wild fire from its first usage in 2009 through internet communities to indicate abhorrence for the motherland. It combines hell and *Joseon*, a Korean Kingdom that existed for approximately five centuries until late 19th century where Confucian ideologies became entrenched in Korean culture. *Joseon* was a fundamentally stratified society. According to Naver Current Events Dictionary, the phrase “Hell *Joseon*” signifies the degeneration of modern South Korea back into a feudal system where individual toil cannot elevate one’s social status. According to a collaborative research by *Kyung-hang* Daily News and social intelligence company Ars Praxia, “Hell *Joseon*” is most frequently used with ‘tal’, meaning escape and ‘uncivilized’. Often “Hell *Joseon*” is used as black humor with *tal-Joseon*, meaning the only way out of “Hell *Joseon*” is to leave the country. “Hell *Joseon*” is a newly coined word that reflects the bleak hope and despair younger generations feel about today’s society.
An overview of South Korea indicates the use of term “Hell *Joseon*” to describe South Korean society is, to an extent, legitimate. Statistically, South Korea does not present the ideal world to live in. According to OECD’s 2016 Employment Outlook, a South Korean worker’s labor hours measured 2,113 (2015 standard) on average, which was second longest after Mexico, working 2,246 hours. A South Korean worker works 2 months more than OECD average. Despite the long working hours, High-Performance Work Practices (HPWP) covered only 17.8% jobs in South Korea compared to OECD average of 25.7%. HPWP is closely related to better skill use and productivity. Ahn Ji-won (Fresh., Dept. of Biochem.) notes, “The oppressive and demanding work environment, company dinners that are obligations outside of office hours, and overtime work culture inherent in Korean corporates are also problematic.”
South Korea’s 2016 unemployment rate was relatively low; recording 3.7%, which was the lowest amongst OECD countries after Iceland and Japan. However, youth unemployment still roams at 11.3%, which is significantly high. Last year’s OECD report analyzed South Korea had double the youth unemployment to Japan, which stood at 5.2%. High youth unemployment is noted by the growing numbers of campus moratorium-jok**. According to the Ministry of Education, the numbers of university students postponing graduation have increased threefold from 8,200 in 2011 to 25,000 in 2014. Lim Da-hye (Jr., UIC, Dept. of Econ.) believes South Korea is virtually “Hell *Joseon*” for the youth. “University students who have been speeding off like race horses are taking summer and supplementary courses, postponing graduation due to the prevalent youth unemployment in our society. Society that cannot embrace and accommodate the needs of prepared youth deserve to be called “Hell *Joseon*”.
   
PHOTOGRAPHED BY LEE HA-YUN
South Korea’s social expenditure makes up only 10.1% of GDP, a sum less than half of OECD average, 22%. According to Statistics Korea, even considering South Korea’s maturity stage, aging population and income levels, South Korea’s social expenditure rate is clearly low. These statistics portray a society hostile to youth, lacking government welfare policies and long working hours without substance.
   Evidently South Korean population has much to lament about. With this basis, it is important to question whether “Hell *Joseon*” mentality, the frame of mind of those who conform to “Hell *Joseon*”, is a healthy social phenomenon. The major social problems associated with “Hell *Joseon*” syndrome – youth unemployment, long working hours and insufficient social safety network – are long-term problems that call for long-term solutions. These long-term problems that contribute to “Hell *Joseon*” mentality are being addressed by the new government. The newly elected President has pledged to reduce actual labor hours through job sharing, with the aim of reducing South Korean’s annual average working hour to 1,800 hours by 2020 and enforce official work hours, giving workers free evenings. President Moon also vouched to expand youth employment quota*** from government offices to all corporates of substantial size to ease high youth unemployment. The incoming President will have to cooperate with the National Assembly and the succeeding head-of-states to solve these fundamentally structural problems. 
 

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   “Hell *Joseon*” mentality is not the general public opinion/atmosphere that can foster social progress. It is at its core passive. Lee Hyun-jong (Jr., Dept. of Business Admin.) notes, “Most people use the “Hell *Joseon*” cynically and sarcastically. As I take it the term’s use is not always earnest. Also I do not like “Hell *Joseon*” discussions because it always concludes *tal-Joseon* is the solution. The discourse itself is deconstructive and void of purpose.” “Hell *Joseon*” is a cynical concept that does not take the second step to actually inquire into the causes of these social problems. “Hell *Joseon*” mentality needs to become constructive opposition to implement actual social development and improvement.
 
**Chae-bol*: South Korean family controlled conglomerates
**Campus moratorium-jok: individual/group of people who postpone graduation to maintain student status until employment
***Youth employment quota: South Korean government policy requiring 3% youth (under 34-years-old) employment quota imposed on public institutions and offices

Lee Ha-yun stockett@yonsei.ac.kr

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