In the sixth straight weekend of rallies in South Korea, a record number of protesters gathered in Seoul and across the nation Saturday, calling for the ouster of president Park Geun-hye. According to the progressive newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun, it marked the republic’s largest rally in history with an estimated 1.7 million protesters in Seoul and up to 2.32 million in total across the nation.
Protesters made it up to 100 meters from the presidential office and residence, the Blue House, and also rallied in Yeouido, where the National Assembly is located, to put pressure on lawmakers to vote for Park’s impeachment this week.
After following the protests these past six weeks, editors at Korea Exposé have put together their top five picks of sightings, marked by ingenuity, spirit and diverse participation.
1. Lights out
Protestors at the rally and in homes and offices put out their lights for a full minute at 7 pm on Saturday, in reference to the seven hours that president Park was unaccounted for on April 16, 2014, the day of the Sewol ferry disaster. On-going investigations allude to the possibility she was getting cosmetic work done that day while the Sewol ferry sank and killed 304 victims, many of them teenagers on a school trip.
The lights-out gesture was also said to signify that “darkness cannot conquer light” and that it can be “darkest before the light.”
2. But not going out in the wind
Kim Jin-tae, a lawmaker from the ruling Saenuri party – to which the president belongs — angered citizens last month when he scoffed at the candlelight protests: “Candles are just candles. If wind blows, they’ll all go out.” People started pointing out that electric candles and smartphone candle apps were also in use, and snapped pictures of actual torches in front of Gwanghwamun gate in downtown Seoul this Saturday.
시민촬영이라고 하는데….와 진짜 동학혁명같은 비주얼이다 pic.twitter.com/HjnnhRZyJv
— 가만히 (@divetothebelow) December 3, 2016
This Saturday also took the demonstrations to Yeouido, where protesters brought a copy of the Saenuri party’s flag to the party’s HQ and tore it apart.
— 오마이뉴스 사진부 (@OhmyNews_PHOTO) December 3, 2016
3. Diverse participation and humor
Although the rallies are primarily organized by the People’s Action for Immediate Resignation of President Park Geun-hye, and the country is used to seeing activist groups such as the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions attend protests, what has stood out here is the numerous families with small children, middle and high school students marching after exams, and casual groups and clubs with humorous flags such as can be seen below in a screen capture of a JTBC report.
Although KÉ was unable to confirm all the groups’ official English titles, we are translating (from left to right) flags proclaiming:
– the Zebra Research Society
– Jeon-gyeonnyeon – a play on the acronym Jeon-gyeongnyeon (the Federation of Korean Industries), which would translate to the Federation of Korean Dogs (or Dog Owners)
– Pan-Meowies Solidarity (whose official title was confirmed with the group through @hayaakor)
– Minjumyochong – a play on the acronym Minjunochong (the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions), standing for the Korean Confederation of Cats (or Cat Owners).
Another favorite, the ‘Rhinoceros Beetle Research Society’ was trending on Korean Twitter after their flag was spotted at the Nov 12 rally – @junmiguel_lee tweeting, “Can you hear the fury of the rhinoceros beetle” here:
장수풍뎅이의 분노가 들리는가 pic.twitter.com/dORLjJwMV3
— Jun Miguel (@junmiguel_lee) November 12, 2016
And the “Eungam-dong pork spine potato stew gathering”:
응암동 감자탕 동호회 pic.twitter.com/O7j9tq9QLu
— 파티51 (@party51docu) December 3, 2016
It’s apparently a club dedicated to enjoying the spicy specialty for which the Eungam neighborhood is known.
4. Creative expression
In a country where freedom of expression has been increasingly repressed to the point where the government was reported to have created a blacklist of dissident artists, it has been surprising to see what protesters have brought out to the rallies.
The symbolism is pretty clear pic.twitter.com/N4LQeBrGcN
— Daniel Tudor 다니엘 튜더 (@danielrtudor) November 12, 2016
According to Kyunghyang, the guillotine in the picture above was created by a group of artists with a neighborhood woodworking shop – twice. The police took down the first one they put up on Oct. 29 within a matter of minutes, so they made another which was seen here Nov. 12.
President Park has been known to use the word “guillotine” in her speeches – as when she spoke at the G20 summit in Australia in Nov. 2014, referring to regulation reforms and again at her cabinet meeting the same month calling for “cancer-like” regulations to be “put on the guillotine” and done away with.
At the time, people noted that the term seemed a bit extreme for the leader of a nation to use and of course, after the revelations that her friend Choi Soon-sil had been doctoring her speeches, we’ve been set to wondering where the choice of wording came from.
KÉ sister medium .Face produced this video report above about an Augmented Reality (AR) whale, carrying the children from the Sewol ferry on its back with the yellow Sewol memorial ribbon on its tail, to be seen floating over Gwanghwamun.
Producer Gunsup Lee, who says he created the AR whale in lieu of picketing, did so in the hopes that the Sewol children “might look down upon the people who had come out into the square, feel happy and be comforted.” (Lee has made an emoticon of the whale available to be added to profile pictures on messaging app KakaoTalk as part of memorial and fundraising efforts.)
Protesters also put up a sign in the Gwanghwamun subway station saying “Park Geun-hye Resignation Station.”
박근혜 퇴진역으로 바뀐 곳이랍니다. pic.twitter.com/tNnwcDjMH6
— 전국촛불(공식) (@kimsd534) December 3, 2016
Protesters have been picking up trash to clean up after rallies, with JTBC noting around 1 am on Nov. 12 before they released this video that the streets were so clean it looked ‘like nothing had happened.’
Although a lot of South Koreans have said they’ve felt embarrassed by their president and her corruption scandal, the level of civic mindedness seen at these protests should make them proud.
Cover Image: The Sewol student victims ride on a whale and fly over the field of candlelights in Gwanghwamun. Visual artist Seok Jeong-hyun made this illustration for the second anniversary of the Sewol sinking, and the drawing, known as the “Sewol Whale,” has gone viral.