Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Protests, public space in Seoul, and cyberspace - Part 2

Part 1: From the Joseon Dynasty to the 5th Republic
Part 2: Sports nationalism in 2002: Through a video screen darkly
Part 3: Funeral processions from the Joseon Dynasty to the present
Part 4: The 2002 candlelight protests: A new form of demonstration
Part 5: Anti-communist exhibitions
Part 2: Sports nationalism in 2002: Through a video screen darkly

One of the more iconic images of the 2002 World Cup was this image of Ahn Jung-hwan pretending to speed skate after scoring the tying goal against the US team on June 10. There's actually much more to this image than meets the eye, and to understand it we have to go back to the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and the 1500 meter short track speed skating final on February 20, 2002 (Feb. 21 in Korea). (A poor quality video is here; the moment pictured below is at 2:30)

Korean skater Kim Dong-sung won the race but was then disqualified for "Cross Track", which this Donga Ilbo article describes as "a kind of course interference that crosses the track intentionally in order to prevent the other athletes from overtaking."

CNN Sports Illustrated described the measured South Korean reaction:
The South Koreans [protested to the International Skating Union,] appealed to International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, hired a Salt Lake City law firm and said they might boycott the closing night of the Salt Lake City Games.

"We will use all measures necessary to rectify the misjudgment," said Park Sung-in, leader of the country's Olympic team. Before learning of the ISU decision, the South Koreans said they also would go to the IOC and Court of Arbitration for Sport. In addition, they plan to sue chief referee James Hewish.[...]

The disqualification of Kim drew angry reactions in South Korea. "Kim Dong-sung was robbed of his gold," said the headline of Dong-A Ilbo newspaper. "Olympic spirit is dead," was the headline in the Hankook Ilbo newspaper.
[...]16,000 e-mails regarding Ohno, mostly from South Korea, crashed the US Olympic Committee's Internet server early Thursday, spokesman Mike Moran said. It took more than nine hours to restore service.
The other response of Korea's netizens was to lampoon Ohno on the internet using photoshop, by placing his head on a dog, making him a prisoner of Osama Bin Laden, or months later, adding Ahn Jung-hwan into the picture (quite clever, that one). Of course, Jay Leno showed how clever he could be when he "said that Kim Dong-sung, who was disqualified after finishing first in Olympic 1,500-meter speed skating, must have kicked a dog in frustration, then eaten it," which pissed off Kim Jong-pil (and numerous, vocal others) to no end. Something the Korean media did not focus on was the fact that it was Korean skater Ahn Hyun-soo who caused the four-skater wipeout that cost Ohno a gold medal in the 1000 m race three days earlier.

One of the interesting things to note is that president Bush's inclusion of North Korea in an "Axis of Evil" in his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, which angered numerous civic groups, preceded the medal furor by just three weeks. Also worth noting, perhaps, is that president Bush was in South Korea when that speed skating race occurred, something I didn't realize until his most recent visit here.

A March 4 Joongang Ilbo article talked about the backlash the 'Ohno incident' had led to:
The controversial call that made Kim Dong-sung give up his gold medal in the men's 1500-meter short track speed skating final has prompted demands for a boycott of American products. Letters calling for such a ban, with an attached list of American companies in Seoul have spread through Korean Web sites, including the Blue House's.

On the widely used Daum community Web site, more than 40 communities that oppose purchasing U.S. products were set up with more than 32,000 registered members. One online community formed to plan street rallies calling for boycotts.
Another response was the classic song, "Fucking USA", which was influenced by both the speed skating medal loss and president Bush's inclusion of North Korea in the "Axis of Evil."

Did you see the short-track skating race?
A vulgar country, Fucking USA
Are you so happy over a gold medal?
A nasty country, Fucking USA
Such as you are, can you claim that the USA is a nation of justice?
Why the hell can't we say what we have to?
Are we slaves of a colonial nation?
Now shout it out: "No to the USA"
A wretched thief that stole our Olympic gold medal, Fucking USA
A wicked robber that tries to rob everything by force, Fucking USA

If you're wondering whether the Korean media has gotten over Ohno, they haven't.

At any rate, this was the atmosphere, three months after the Olympics, that the World Cup started in, though this was not mentioned in the English language press at the time. A May 31 Korea Times article, "Nation Shifts to World Cup Mode," gives us some feel-good details about the mood in Korea on the eve of the World Cup:
Already, the nation is busily preparing to wholeheartedly cheer the team during qualifying games against Poland (June 4), the U.S. (June 10) and Portugal (June 14). [Some will gather] at pubs and restaurants to view the events with their friends and colleagues in a more festive and fun-filled atmosphere.

Some public office workers are getting into the spirit by wearing red shirts _ color of the Red Devil, the Korean cheering squad _ to work instead of their regular attire. Many local companies have decided to view the games in groups, while others will cut regular work hours by an hour or so on the days of the matches. "As the employees’ overall concentration is expected to falter during the World Cup, watching the games together will help promote unity and relieve stress,’’ a Seoul-based company official said. Amid the tournament atmosphere, restaurants, pubs and cafes are rushing to equip their stores with mega TV screens to attract football fans on match days.
A Donga Ilbo article from June 4 describes the plans the Red Devils, the Korean team's official cheering squad, were making to watch the games in several outdoor spots. A June 6 Korea Times article, "Korean Fans Praised for Good Behavior" described the night of Korea's first World Cup victory ever:
On Tuesday night ... an estimated 510,000 people witnessed their country’s first World Cup victory via 52 giant outdoor screens across the nation. In Seoul, more than 340,000 football lovers gathered at a total of 12 downtown areas for "street cheering,’’ including 50,000 in Kwanghwamun, 40,000 at World Cup Park in Sangam-dong and 35,000 in Chamsil Baseball Stadium. Orchestrated by members of "Red Devil,’’ the national team’s official support group, almost all of the fans, who were wearing red T-shirts, formed a tidal wave of raucous cheering.
There's a longer list of the different places they were cheering here. Notice though that the list above mentions Gwanghwamun, but one other well-known location is missing. Here's a typical photo of the 2002 World Cup street rallies:

By the time the 2006 World Cup came along, the street cheering of 2002 had been mythologized as being centered at City Hall. As the article above points out, the first rally did not take place at City Hall at all. The map below helps explain why:

Marked above are the large outdoor screens on the sides of buildings that existed at the time of the 2006 world cup. I can't be so sure about the which ones were there in 2002, though I know the ones by the Gwanghwamun Post Office, on the Koreana Hotel, and by the press center were there at the time. Also worth remembering is that both the Gwanghwamun Intersection and the area in front of City Hall were busy thoroughfares at the time. Of the two, it's obvious which one was more conducive to hosting large crowds to watch the game - Gwanghwamun, because it had several large screens on nearby buildings. So why was City Hall chosen as the main venue?

A Korea Times article on June 7 tells us that
President Kim Dae-jung has decided not to attend the Korea-U.S. World Cup match to be held in Taegu, Monday, due to security reasons, Chong Wa Dae officials said yesterday. "It is a precautionary measure to have President Kim stay away from the stadium, considering the emotional nature of the match,’’ a presidential aide said. [...] Chong Wa Dae officials said that the World Cup fever, being whipped up by Korea’s first-ever World Cup finals victory on Tuesday, might lead to eruptions of anti-American sentiment, particularly in case the home team loses.

Some 80,000 people gathered in Kwanghwamun and neighboring areas to support their team against Poland, some of them near the U.S. Embassy, which is located in Kwanghwamun. Emotions are running high in South Korea against the United States following a series of "mishaps.’’ [Emphasis added]
This article continues:
Seoul's soccer emotion will be channeled from the Gwanghwamun area to City Hall. After 150,000 people -- three times more than expected -- poured into the streets around Gwanghwamun to watch Tuesday's Korea-Poland match on giant screens, police stopped to think about the possibility of violence Monday if the United States should defeat Korea. The American Embassy is in Gwanghwamun.

Plans to set up huge displays at the Sejong Center, across the street from the embassy, were changed. The displays will be moved to the Hotel President and Seoul Plaza Hotel.
As this article notes,
The widespread soccer fever has promoted the police to beef up security around the U.S.Embassy and the stadium in Daegu. Police said they feared that a Korean loss could result in violence against U.S. facilities and businesses in Korea.
An article on June 10 noted that
Over 6,000 policemen have been mobilized while emergency medical and firefighting vehicles have been put on stand-by, officials said. They were concerned about possible eruption of violent rallies, as today marks the 15th anniversary of the "June 10 People's Struggle."
The game was tied 1-1, with the tying goal resulting in this scene:

The goal scorer, Ahn Jung-hwan, pretended to speed skate down the pitch, followed by his teammates, in a not-so-subtle dig at the US and the 'Ohno medal controversy' (which likely confused the rest of the world) - the same controversy which helped set off the anti-Americanism that existed in Korea prior to the World Cup, and which was cited as a reason to put screens up in front of City Hall to try to draw people away from Gwanghwamun and the nearby US Embassy. The measure obviously didn't draw many people people from Gwanghwamun, as the space in front of City Hall seemed to absorb the thousands more who came to the area to join in the street rallies (the participants in which paid no attention to the 15th anniversary of the 1987 June 10 struggle). As a Korea Times article that day said,
About one million people massed around a total of 81 giant outdoor screens installed across the nation. Despite rainy conditions, roughly 150,000 supporters, mostly in their teens and 20s, crammed into the Kwanghwamun area, and another 100,000 gathered in front of City Hall.
From this point on, the focal point of the cheering - at least when it was presented in the media, would be in front of City Hall. Or if you want to put it another way, in front of Daehanmun, the front gate of Deoksugung.

Of course, as I pointed out before, gathering in front of Deoksugung - and later City Hall - is a tradition dating back to the days of the Independence Club in the late 1890s, followed by the 1919 Samil protests, the 1960 Student Uprising, and the protests calling for democracy in 1980 (which failed) and in 1987 (which succeeded).

March, 1919

July, 1987

June, 2002

This was, however, the first time people were gathering there to watch a(n international) sports event. While all of the other mass gatherings in the past had been of a political nature, Seoul during the 2002 World Cup was not entirely devoid of politics. Before Korea's third game, against Portugal, was played on June 14, two other events unrelated to the World Cup would take place. The first was the municipal election, in which Seoul was to choose a new mayor.
The major candidates for mayor of Seoul shifted their campaign strategies from attracting votes to simply attracting voters. Lee Myung-bak, the Grand National Party's mayoral candidate, unveiled a new slogan Tuesday: "Voting is patriotism." Mr. Lee's camp urged the government to lift the special traffic controls in place during the World Cup finals on Thursday to make it easier for elderly voters to get to polling stations. A majority of those voting for Mr. Lee are expected to be over 50. His rival, Kim Min-seok of the Millennium Democratic Party, also has a new campaign slogan: "Let's watch soccer after voting." Mr. Kim is targeting younger voters by sponsoring events like body painting to bring the World Cup fever to the mayoral race.
Lee Myung-bak would go on to win the June 13 election and become the new mayor of Seoul, the stepping stone to an even more powerful office. This Joongang Ilbo article looked at Lee's campaign promises in the wake of his victory, especially his plans for Cheonggyecheon.
Even if the project proceeds, the losing mayoral candidate Kim Min-seok says it is almost impossible to complete the restoration within Mr. Lee's five-year term of office. After all, the original construction took a good 20 years.
I'm sure he pretends not to remember ever saying this. Another incident occurred on June 13, the day of the election. North of Seoul, two middle school girls, Sim Mi-seon and Sin Hyo-sun, were killed when they were run over by an American military vehicle (more information can be found here). It was not noticed at the time, as the few news stories that mentioned it were drowned out by the media coverage of the Korean team's success in the World Cup.

Speaking of which, on June 13 it was reported that
Seoul City will set up outdoor screens again, as they did for Monday's Korea-Poland match, near City Hall today, when the Korea-Portugal match is held in Inchon.
A report the next day said that
An estimated 1.6 million of red-clad fans, mostly in their teens or twenties, clustered around 226 places equipped with giant outdoor screens nationwide to watch the all-important match. In Seoul, roughly 200,000 people packed in front of City Hall, and another 150,000 massed around Kwanghwamun, turning the downtown areas into a swath of red.
You may have noticed the wildly varying figures for the number of street cheerers by now. This June 14 KT article looks at how the counting was done:
On Friday night 2.78 million people took on the streets across the peninsula to support the Korean soccer team. But how was that number calculated so quickly? The Korean police arrived at the number of people by multiplying the size of the area with its density. For example, if a crowd is sitting down but crammed together, they estimate it contains 2.7 people per 3.3 square meters. If the crowd is standing closely packed, then 4.5 people per 3.3 square meters is used. The Seoul City Hall area takes up about 26,400 square meters. Because the crowd was jammed in tight on Friday night, the police multiplied by 4.5 to get 120,000 people.

The National Police Agency in Seoul said on Friday there were 1.4 million people gathered on the streets in Seoul, 170,000 in Busan 100,000 in Incheon. An official at the police agency said the crowd was the largest ever in Korea, beating the peace rally of June 1987 that drew 1.4 million people in 33 cities.
Note that the numbers in the streets were growing with each game:
South Korean soccer fans formed waves of red Friday [June 14] to cheer the Korean team in its match against Portugal. Police estimated that some 2.8 million people gathered outdoors at 260 places -- well over twice the crowd that assembled for Monday's Korea-U.S. meeting. City Hall plaza was Cheers Central, drawing the largest congregation, 200,000.

On June 19, after Korea's victory over Italy, the Joongang Ilbo reported that
Police estimated that some 3.5 million persons -- 700,000 more than the congregation for Friday's match against Portugal -- gathered at 311 outdoor plazas nationwide. Except for the police, just about all of them wore red, the team's color.

Plazas at City Hall and Gwanghwamun, the hub of Seoul's rooting centers, drew about 1 million people. Police stationed 25,000 officers to deter violence as some fans occupied roads, damaged vehicles and climbed onto the roofs of buses.
The numbers got bigger when people gathered to watch Korea play Spain on June 22:
Never in history had more than 4 million people gathered on the streets to support the Korean team, as happened on Tuesday night (18) and Saturday afternoon (22). The enthusiastic cheers from the women were loud and long. Long before the game started, at the plaza in front of Seoul's City Hall, where some 550,000 people had assembled, women cried out with all their might, "Dae-han-min-guk" -- "Republic of Korea" -- urged on by the leader of the Red Devils.

Here are images taken from a youtube video of the people watching the game against Spain on June 22. The first image shows the Gwanghwamun intersection. Sejongno and Taepyeongno were left open to traffic.

It's interesting to note that in the photo below, people are gathered at the end of the Cheonggyero - the street that stood where Cheonggye Plaza - a gathering place for many protests - now stands, due to the uncovering of Cheonggyecheon by the man who had been elected nine days earlier.

The area where people gathered is marked below:

A June 12 article noted that red coloured shirts were flying off shelves as people sought to become a properly-coloured pixel in the overhead shots seen above. They would sell out again in June of 2006 (during the next world cup), while the big seller for June of 2008 was, of course, candles.

As to why the crowds got so big, three academics got together to chat about the street cheering, and their conversation can be found here. Sociology professor Kim Jong-yup's observations are interesting:
I think too that the media served to mobilize the general public. This is clear from a comparison with Japan, where only one television station broadcast each game just once. In our case, all television stations broadcast the games. The Japanese must have been reticent because of a certain fear of hooligans, in terms of public security. A leader in information technology (IT) just like us, Japan has many electric signboards in the streets. Nonetheless, the authorities are said to have forbidden the broadcasting of the World Cup on the electric signboards of Tokyo. Compared to that, we really incited mass mobilization. Electric signboards are just like televisions. So you have televisions in homes and streets, the crowds who watch them, and the images of wildly cheering crowds on those televisions transmitted again as a spectacle―it's probably through this cycle that we ended up with the unbelievable number of crowds in the streets.
Or to put it another way, as I did two years ago, the people gather to watch the game on large outdoor screens and on those screens they (and the rest of the nation) get to partake of the spectacle of themselves gathered in front of the screens.

"Is there anything else on?" A 2006 LG ad.

It's also interesting if you apply internet concepts to it - in some ways the images of the street cheerers, shown again and again on network television, operated in the way that a popular post or news article becomes more popular and gets more comments as it becomes listed as a 'most popular post' on a website. The more the cheering was shown on TV in 2002, the more people added their physical presence to the throng. Another thing to note, while mentioning the internet, is that the first street cheering was organized on the internet by the Red Devils:
Red Devil is planning to undertake supporting event at [Gwanghwamun and Sejongno area, Yeouido Han-Riverside Park and Daehangno] where the majority of super sized public TV screen is placed in Seoul. Also you will be able to meet Red Devil in front of Kunpo City Hall, National Debt Consolation Park Daegu, Hongsung Technical College Chungnam, Tapdong Square Jeju Island, Cultural Plaza Inchon, Busan Main national train station.
Red Devil Association Personnel have expressed that "Due to the fact that we have not planned to place considerable numbers of RD member's for street parade but I am not worried at all because there will be thousands of people who will join in our street parade"
[One Red Devil member said] "I am spending most of my time nowadays on-line to get up-dated-information [about the] Korean National Football team through [the] home page of Red Devil."
While it's not difficult to understand the urge to take part in the spectacle that both accompanied the Korean team's success and was presented by the media as an integral part of it - Korean 'patriotism made flesh' - the desire to both conform and to take part such a massive group activity factors into this as well, and as it was the Red Devils (the official cheering group of the Korean team) who organized the outdoor cheering for the first game, their methods of cheering and choice of uniform (the red 'Be the Reds' t-shirt) became the model for those who followed.

Of course, the larger-than-life, unreal-ness of it all had to end at some point, and after making it to the semi finals, Korea lost to Germany, and then to Turkey. The dream was over, the streets emptied (though people were given July 1 off as a one-time holiday), and the 'Be the Reds' t-shirts were put away to gather dust for four years.

Half Price! (2006)

Other aspects of the World Cup street cheering - the practice of organizing mass street rallies via the internet, and of participants in such rallies visually conforming to become a properly-coloured pixel in the photos taken of them from far above - would not have to wait so long to reappear, however.

Much was made of the good behavior of the people cheering on the streets and in stadiums, but there were also darker moments brought about by the explosion of patriotic (or would that be 'nationalist'?) feelings. The darker aspects of those feelings would come to the fore when anti-American groups - supported by nationalist (and at times xenophobic) media - began to manipulate public perception of the events of June 13, when two girls were killed in an accident by an American armored vehicle.


Anonymous said...

Is there any video of the race? I looked and looked for it.

matt said...

There's a crappy version of it here. There's not much to see, look at 2:30.

Anonymous said...


Back in 2002, it was not Ahn Hyun Soo who caused the wipeout that cost Ohno the gold. It was actually Ohno himself who lifted Ahn Hyun Soo's skate that caused Ahn to trip over. I don't know whether Ohno did that deliberatly or not as he was feeling the heat of Ahn closing in, but Ohno has a tendency to use his hands which in that case it went against him. I saw the slow motion with extreme closeup produced by someone that clearly showed Ohno reaching back with his hand and made contact with Ahn's shin that eventually lifted his skate and tripping him over. Understandably US media will never reveal such, they'll never show that race with extreme closeups and slow motions. Thus to this day, American media makes Americans believe Ahn Hyun Soo tackled Ohno to prevent him getting a gold. Truly sad.

matt said...

Thus to this day, American media makes Americans believe Ahn Hyun Soo tackled Ohno to prevent him getting a gold.

Feel free to show me repeated examples of the 'American media' talking about Ahn Hyeon-su and how he 'tackled' Ohno. Hell, just find one. The US media did not dwell on that race at all, except in retrospect after he won the gold to mention the fact of Ohno managing to scramble and get silver despite having been cut.

It looked like an accident on Ahn's part to me - Ohno was not yet the great satan, so why would Ahn want to tackle him? Nothing you've said above makes sense at all. Feel free also to provide a link to "the slow motion with extreme closeup produced by someone" while you're at it.

Jettison Washboard said...

Here is the slow-mo of Ohno striking Ahn Hyun Soo's knee, possbily causing the accident.