Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jinju Suicide Festival Draws Fire

A regional festival is drawing criticism because of an event where children jump off a cliff with a Japanese-dressed dummy in a reenactment of a historic figure's martyrdom.

With the level of teen and adult suicides in Korea reaching epidemic proportions, bloggers have slammed the event for the inappropriateness of giving children a "suicide experience", but organizers of the Jinju Murder-Suicide Festival say it is instructive to learn about patriotism, because sometimes there's nothing better for Korea than killing yourself, preferably taking some of the hated Japanese with you.

The Festival celebrates Nongae, a gisaeng or 'Korean courtesan'. Historically gisaeng - whose careers peaked around the age of 16 - held the hereditary status in Korea of 'no-good whores' or 'cheonmin' - the lowest rank of society along with butchers and slaves - and they could only be released from their enslavement if a hefty price was paid to the government. Nongae was possibly Korea's first comfort woman to switch from Koreans to Japanese, marking her out as a 'no-good whore who slept with foreigners', a status sometimes still bestowed by ajeossis on women with non-Koreans on the subway. Officially however the Festival's website remembers her as a 'singing and dancing girl' although later it also appears to describe her as a 'wanton prostitute'.

During the Japanese invasion of Joseon in 1593, widely seen as a mistaken retaliation for the earlier combined Mongol-Korean 'peacekeeping operation' which attempted to liberate Japan from its Japanese oppressors, the 'cheonmin' Nongae is said to have lured the Japanese general Keyamura Rokusuke to a cliff before throwing herself into the Nam River below while holding him tight in her arms, causing both of them to drown. The Jinju Charm Nongae Cyber Museum website states that "it is very commendable that a woman among kisaengs had that kind of integrity" unlike most no-good whores, adding "It may be said that 'gwangis'" (a gisaeng enslaved to the government) "are wanton prostitutes who can not have a strong sense of virtue or morality. But one of them was willing to kill herself to keep her chastity." However, having been born into a hereditary life of prostitution, experts are doubtful that Nongae was still a virgin at the relatively old age of 16 in her non-chosen career.

People in the region have nevertheless honored Nongae as a patriotic martyr throughout their history since 2002, a year that coincidentally saw a resurgence of Korean nationalism, a repeated Dokdo territorial claim by the Japanese, and the largest ever anti-American demonstrations in Korea's history.

Responding to domestic critics of the suicide reenactment, one of the organizers said that they were trying to teach children that hating the Japanese can be fun. Another added "We didn't force children to to participate in the event, but parents encouraged them to try", although as most Korean children are aware, that means it wasn't a choice. He also refuted the allegation that it is a "suicide experience", but rather it is a "martyrdom experience". As such, for safety the children of migrant workers were prevented from participating.

Over 600 children participated in the Jinju Murder-Suicide Festival, with many speaking passionately in martyrdom videos recorded beforehand of the need for Japan to apologize for the Joseon invasion of 1593. "Japan should stop brainwashing their children using history education!" they chanted on camera. During their fall, many used their smartphones to post on their Twitter accounts "I'm martyring myself now. Death to the Japanese!" The Japanese government has not yet issued an apology for any of the martyred children.

Following the online criticism, Jinju women's groups have suggested that next year the Festival should instead shift its emphasis towards highlighting the historical persecution and sexual slavery of teenage girls in Korea, alongside the continuing gender discrimination and misogyny still endemic today in Korean society, but the organizers dismissed this "as a stupid idea made by no-good whores".

Related Links
Event to honor Nongae draws fire
Jinju Murder-Suicide Festival
Gusts Of Popular Feeling: Experiencing Nongae’s Sacrifice
Suicide leading cause of youth deaths in Korea
Nationalistic furies ignited anti-Americanism in 2002
Wikipedia: Kisaeng
Wikipedia: Cheonmin
Wikipedia: Non Gae
Wikipedia: Keyamura Rokusuke
Wikipedia: Mongol/Korean Peacekeeping Operations in Japan
Parents Warned "Mixed Race Children" May Be Terrorists

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