South korea

The march of South Korea’s anti-feminists

The two leading candidates for South Korea’s presidential election in March, Lee Jae-myung of the incumbent Democratic party and Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power party, have both made men’s rights central to their campaigns. They hope to appeal to the growing constituency of outraged men’s groups who vent their frustration at feminist overreach on internet message boards and sometimes even protest on the streets. And this is no fringe community: in a poll in May, more than three-quarters of South Korean men in their twenties claimed they had suffered gender discrimination. The ostensible provocation for this anger is the outgoing president Moon Jae-in’s self-declared ‘feminist’ administration. The initiatives

Lurking beneath the gore are moments of wit and sensitivity: Squid Game reviewed

Should we be worried that Squid Game is the most popular show in Netflix’s history? If it’s a case of art imitating life, then the prognosis for our civilisation is not good: most of us will die, horribly, sooner rather than later, but for the very few who survive there will be untold riches to enjoy in the company of the cruel and capricious controlling super-elite. Squid Game is a Korean update of the Japanese cult classic Battle Royale (2000) which spawned — or revived; let’s not forget Rollerball (1975) — the genre known as ‘death games’. These films take place in a dystopian future where ordinary, desperate folk compete

China’s war on effeminate men

A rectification notice from China’s state censor earlier this month included a peculiar admonition to ‘resolutely oppose’ effeminate men on television. The note stood out in the otherwise dry document. Its other targets — people with ‘poor morals’ or ‘lacking solidarity with the party and nation’ — make sense within Beijing’s authoritarian logic. But it’s hard to conceive of pretty boys in eyeliner joining the party’s long lists of revolutionary enemies. The term used for effeminate men in the notice — niangpao — is vague, but the National Radio and Television Administration is counting on its broadcast partners to know what it means. An example of the sort of effeminate

The increasing cruelty of the North Korean regime

On a humid summer’s day in Singapore three years ago today, Donald Trump became the first incumbent US president to meet with his North Korean counterpart. For all of the summit’s theatre, Kim Jong-un’s pledge to ‘work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula’ seems unlikely to be realised. Three years on, and the country shows little intention of either abandoning its nuclear ambitions or reforming Pyongyang. Instead, the regime has tightened its control over society, not least ideologically, after the failure of the Supreme Leader’s five-year economic plan. In 2018, the leadership assured North Koreans that the country had achieved its primary geopolitical aim of becoming a ‘fully-fledged nuclear

Biden must learn from Trump’s mistakes on North Korea

Anniversaries are usually celebratory occasions, but not this one. It’s now been two years since the infamous Hanoi summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, and there is precious little to show other than an important lesson in how negotiations with North Korea can sour.  Joe Biden is now nearing his first one-hundred days in office. Little has been said about dealing with the North Korea problem. But one thing is for sure: a US-North Korea summit is far from imminent. Following their first encounter in Singapore in June 2018, it suited Trump and Kim to meet again. For both leaders, the theatre and optics of their gathering was too good to resist a second

Philip Patrick

Will Japan ban its ‘offensive’ Rising Sun flag at the Tokyo Olympics?

Ant and Dec have done most things in their long careers in light entertainment. But the versatile duo broke new ground last week when they infringed on international diplomacy by wearing Japanese Rising Sun flags on their headbands in a skit with singer Anne-Marie. The use of allegedly offensive WW2 era imagery forced programme makers to edit the sequence for future broadcast. ITV and Anne-Marie were obliged to make hasty apologies. But is the Rising Sun really offensive? And is anyone really offended? The flag is of ancient origin, but it has been associated with the Japanese military since 1870, it is still the emblem of the Self Defense Force

Britain must learn from Asia’s pandemic response

Across Europe, more and more states are imposing stricter and stricter restrictions to try and slow coronavirus’s spread. The Irish, despite having initially rejected the advice of their scientists to move to the highest level of restrictions, have now done so. Emmanuel Macron set himself against another national lockdown, but then announced one on Wednesday night, albeit with schools staying open. But, as I say in the Times this morning, life in Asia continues to return to normal. Case numbers are pancake-like in Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore, while Taiwan has gone 200 days without a locally transmitted case. There are, rightly, limits to what the UK

The secret behind South Korea’s Covid success

At the start of the pandemic, the situation in care homes looked particularly grim. One report on 19 March said: ‘Experts warn that hundreds of substandard long-term care facilities could serve as hotbeds for the contagious coronavirus.’ The alert came not from Wiltshire or Manchester, but from Park Chan-kyong, Seoul correspondent of the South China Morning Post. There was real fear that the residents of the city’s care homes would become victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet three months on, South Korea as a whole — let alone its care homes — has suffered fewer than 300 deaths nationwide. The world is asking: how? Things have looked slightly worse recently

We know everything – and nothing – about Covid

We know everything about Sars-CoV-2 and nothing about it. We can read every one of the (on average) 29,903 letters in its genome and know exactly how its 15 genes are transcribed into instructions to make which proteins. But we cannot figure out how it is spreading in enough detail to tell which parts of the lockdown of society are necessary and which are futile. Several months into the crisis we are still groping through a fog of ignorance and making mistakes. There is no such thing as ‘the science’. This is not surprising or shameful; ignorance is the natural state of things. Every new disease is different and its

Boris Johnson’s cautious path out of lockdown

Ever since Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital on 5 April, the government has been in a holding pattern. No big decision could be taken without the Prime Minister, but he was in no position to make one. He is now back at work, though, and has a plan for what to do next. Put simply, it is to drive the coronavirus transmission rate — the reproduction number, or ‘R’, which shows the expected number of infections directly generated by one case — down as low as possible and then stay on top of it through a ‘track, trace and test’ approach. In other words, the government is going to

A woman’s lot is not a happy one in Kim Jiyoung’s Born 1982

‘Buy pink baby clothes,’ Kim Jiyoung, the protagonist of this bestselling South Korean novel is told at the obstetrician’s surgery. Jiyoung’s mother responds: ‘It’s okay, the next one will be a boy.’ There are multiple births in this book. Births of girls are always met with disappointment, while those of sons are celebrated. When Jiyoung is born in 1982, ‘abortion for medical problems had been legal for ten years … aborting females was common practice as if “daughter” was a medical problem’. Her younger sister is ‘erased’, and erasure is a thread that runs through this novel: the aborting of female foetuses, the silencing of female voices, society’s lack of

Beasts from the East

One area of life in which globalism certainly rules is that of contemporary art. Installation, performance, the doctrine of Marcel Duchamp, conceptualism — nowadays these flourish throughout the world and nowhere more so than in the Far East. Plenty of evidence for this is on view in an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery by the South Korean artist Lee Bul. But though the idioms are familiar, the works themselves can seem outlandish to an occidental eye. Just inside the door you are confronted by a sculpture entitled ‘Monster: Pink’ (2011). It looks like one of those oddly shaped vegetables that are sometimes displayed at village fêtes — but running riot

A Korean thaw is fake news

Fake news of the week, I suggest, was the sudden warming of relations on the Korean peninsula following the visit to the Winter Olympics of cute little Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korea’s nuke-waving Kim Jong-un — not only attracting positive coverage for the games but driving a splinter between South Korea and the US and nudging Vice President Mike Pence towards a tentative offer of direct talks with the North. But is the thaw for real? As a long-time student of prospects for Korean unification, I suspect not. The world’s media seem to have forgotten the last such rapprochement, in 2000, when the then northern leader Kim Jong-il (father

Barometer | 20 April 2017

Back to the Foot year This year’s election has been likened to that of 1983 when, under Michael Foot’s leadership, Labour scored its worst result since 1918. What happened? — Labour’s vote share fell 36.9% to 27.6% and their seats from 261 to 209. — The Conservatives also lost vote share, down 1.5% to 42.4%. But their seats increased from 359 to 397, giving them a majority of 140, against just 43 in 1979. — This was the first of two elections fought by the Liberal/SDP Alliance. They gained an impressive 25.4% of the vote, up 11.6% on the Liberal performance in 1979. But this translated into just 11 seats.

Korean notebook

When I arrived in Seoul, I joked to my editor that I hoped this was not going to be like Ukraine. I went there for three days and ended up staying for five weeks because a war broke out. This time the threat of war is implied, rather than real, although a Korean conflict would be far more lethal and terrifying. Soon after arriving, I met Hwee-Rhak Park, a former army colonel who teaches strategy to young officers. We talked in his university office, high in suburban hills overlooking the smog and skyscrapers. He calmly told me how he had tried to persuade his children to leave and fully expects

Seeing everything in black and white

Two divergent approaches to printmaking are on view in an exhibition of graphic work by Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud at Marlborough Fine Art, Albemarle Street. For the former, media that depend on line, such as etching, were of little interest, since — as his friend Freud would point out — Francis couldn’t draw very well. But, Freud would add, Bacon’s painting was so brilliant that he made you forget that limitation. Bacon’s prints were essentially reproductions of his oils, signed and numbered by the artist. The etchings Freud made in the last three decades of his life were not like that at all. Though the models for the etchings

Barometer | 15 September 2016

French intelligence Some interesting facts about the French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, for the benefit of shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry. Ayrault was elected mayor of Saint-Herblain, a suburb of Nantes, in 1977 aged just 27. He went on to become mayor of the entire city. In 2012 he was appointed prime minister by incoming president François Hollande. His appointment caused a crisis in Arabic newsrooms because when pronounced properly his name sounds like Lebanese slang for penis. Ayrault resigned as prime minister in 2014 after disappointing local election results for the Socialists, but made a comeback as foreign minister in February. No visa necessary The EU threatened to force British travellers to

Why shouldn’t the South Koreans eat dog?

We are, of course, a nation committed to celebrating cultural diversity.    Except, that is, when a foreigner sits down to tuck into a plate of dog meat.   Then, we start to behave like the Taliban, believing that we have the right to dictate standards to the entire world. On Monday, MPs staged a bizarre debate in Westminster Hall on the subject of what should and what should not be served in restaurants in South Korea. While the government could not technically avoid the debate – it was in response to a petition which had gained 102,000 signatures, enough automatically to trigger a parliamentary discussion under the rules of e-petitions –

Portrait of the week | 13 August 2015

Home The Metropolitan Police encouraged people to celebrate VJ Day despite reports in the Mail on Sunday (picked up from an investigation by Sky News) of plans by Islamic State commanders to blow up the Queen. The RMT union announced two more strikes on the London Underground for the last week in August. Network Rail was fined £2 million by the rail regulator for delays in 2014-15, many of them at London Bridge. A tanker carrying propane gas caught fire on the M56 motorway near Chester. England won the Ashes series after beating Australia by an innings and 78 runs at Trent Bridge; Australia had been bowled out for 60

The Dear Leader’s passion for films — and the real-life horror movie it led to

Ahead of last year’s release of The Interview, the Seth Rogen film about two journalists instructed to assassinate Kim Jong-un, North Korea interpreted the film as ‘an act of war’. Sony Pictures were hacked by a group linked to North Korea and hundreds of humiliating titbits about spats between celebrities and Sony execs made public, most memorably the description of Angelina Jolie as ‘a minimally talented spoilt brat’. The film was first cancelled and then given a limited release. Kim Jong-un had the last laugh when the reviews came out, however. ‘About as funny as a communist food shortage, and just as protracted,’ said Variety. What got lost in the