Many Taiwanese envy South Korea's economic achievements, watch its soap operas, dance to PSY's "Gangnam Style," and enjoy South Korean kimchi, which is why a recent article in a National Taiwan University publication, NTU Consciousness, on the dark side of South Korea has triggered widespread debate.
The article, called "Kimchi and Sweet Potatoes, Life Is Good?" is an interview with Seoul National University exchange student Kim Jun Sik, who offered his observations on his home country and Taiwan.
Kim, who has been in Taiwan for six months and is studying Chinese literature at NTU, said Taiwan's media often heaps praise on South Korea but fails to report on the dark side behind the glittering façade.
The following are excerpts from coverage of the article in major local newspapers:
The article in NTU Consciousness said Taiwan and South Korea love to compare themselves to each other without knowing each other well.
We might have heard of Gangnam Style, but we don't know the media ecology of South Korea. We might use Samsung cell phones, but we don't know what Koreans have lost after becoming highly competitive.
Kim said South Korea is competitive globally, but its people are not happy and society is highly regimented.
In comparison, almost all personal views, identities and forms of dress can be accepted in Taiwan, and Kim said he envied such freedoms even if the Taiwanese themselves do not appreciate their blessings.
Kim noted that Taiwanese media outlets generally ignore the negative when reporting on South Korea, saying they rarely think about the costs of its growth, and he lamented Taiwan's lack of real experts on South Korea.
Although Taiwan faces the unification versus independence question, at least people here have their own view of what a country is, which he said was enviable.
"Everything in Taiwan can be questioned, but not so in South Korea," Kim said.
In that country's highly oppressive society, every person has to play his or her role well. Nobody admits to being gay or lesbian, and everyone thinks, dresses and looks the same, Kim said.
That's why he wore a suit on the first day he attended class at NTU, only for other students in the class to think he was the professor.
He lauded an independent publication such as NTU Consciousness, saying that dissident student groups in Seoul National University either close down or are forced to go underground.
South Koreans must spend all of their time doing things that can help them find jobs. Students generally busy themselves by studying the same books and preparing for civil servant exams.
The country's general mindset, Kim said, is that "people exist for their country," with the people often sacrificing themselves for their country but also being exploited by it.
Education Minister Chiang Wei-ling, who met South Korean educational figures during an APEC Education Ministerial Meeting in South Korea in May, said that South Koreans tend to stretch themselves to the limit and end up getting results in the short term, but over the long haul, the process may lead to fatigue and a loss of competitiveness.
He said that if South Koreans don't enter the top five enterprises by the age of 40, they are doomed for life. But in Taiwan, as long as one makes an effort, one can excel regardless of age.
Lin Wen-tong, director of the MOE's International Cultural and Educational Relations, said that "South Koreans invoke love and hate sentiment" and that they are tough and hard-working.
But he said that when South Korean students say Taiwan is good, he feels they are speaking from the bottom of their heart, because South Koreans face great pressures while Taiwanese people are more free and happy. (Dec. 11, 2012)
United Daily News:
Kim said that Taiwan only knows about South Korea's economic development, thinking that everything there is wonderful, but the media fails to report the high suicide rates and long working hours behind the success.
South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates among the OECD countries, with nearly 16,000 people killing themselves each year. A 2010 government report revealed that suicide is the number one cause of death for those under 40 in South Korea.
Kim also said that if a person in South Korea dares to speak against the domination of the country's conglomerates, that person will be blacklisted and shut out forever from the big companies.
In Taiwan, on the other hand, you can oppose all sorts of things, Kim said.
He worried, however, that Taiwan was gradually falling in South Korea's footsteps, "especially the acquisition of media outlets by moneyed interests."
Tsao Pei-ling, an MOE cultural section chief stationed in South Korea, said the fascination with South Korea among some Taiwanese borders on "lunacy."
He said that if you "love South Korea" because of an addiction to its soap operas or "hate South Korea" because of its competitive practices, you cannot know the real South Korea.
Tsao also said that South Korean students suffer more than their Taiwanese counterparts, with students in elementary, junior and senior high schools often studying at cram schools until 1 a.m. Because of that, the South Korean government imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on cram schools in 2010 to prevent students from studying too hard.
A teacher surnamed Lee who has taught Korean for years at a cram school in Taiwan said many TV dramas in South Korea portray its society in a real light, but Taiwan mainly broadcasts less weighty idol drama series because they get higher ratings.
Lee said she knew a lot of South Korean women who think living in Taiwan is easier than living in South Korea, where the values of male chauvinism and respect for seniority are deeply entrenched.
Meanwhile, the article has drawn mixed reactions on university campuses, with some saying that no matter how bad South Korea is, it is still better than Taiwan, because Samsung continues to make huge profits and worker pay is higher than in Taiwan.
One netizen said that it was interesting to see oneself through the eyes of others.
Another netizen said that from an outsider's point of view, Koreans are all the same, do not have any distinctive traits, and are too arrogant. (Dec. 11, 2012)
Kim said he envies Taiwan's diversity of choice and contended that most South Koreans don't understand Taiwan and see it mostly from the perspective of mainland China.
He explained that Taiwan has yet to really understand what a "monopoly" is, and warned that if Taiwan continues to follow the same path as South Korea, it might be too late to reverse course.
Taiwan has only recently paid attention to the issue in the wake of the Want Want China Times Group buying Next Media's Taiwan units, he said.
South Korea has long been monopolized by conglomerates, and its political and economic environment is a triangular relationship among the government, big business and the media, which are wedded to each other.
Although South Korean media is not directly controlled by the government, it compromises with the government in its reports, and no one dares to criticize conglomerates such as Samsung for fear of losing their advertising revenues.
South Korea has been monopolized by conglomerates for as many as four or five decades and has relied on them heavily so that it is too late for the country to turn back in time.
Nuclear power in South Korea accounts for 33 percent of its electricity, and it would be difficult to transform itself now, but in Taiwan, the ratio is about 16 percent, and there is still room to think about energy conservation and alternative energy, Kim said. (Dec. 11, 2012)
(By Lilian Wu)