Sometimes Korea is a little strange.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I don’t have any excuse, except that not much has happened.  Teaching is pretty much the same, the economy still sucks, life marches on.

Last week, however, the Korea Herald reported on two Constitutional Court cases that were too interesting to pass up.  A little background might be helpful.

The Constitutional Court is a specialized court that deals primarily with constitutional review.  It also handles impeachments, party dissolution and some other odds and ends.  Like the US Supreme Court, its decisions cannot be appealed.  Judges are appointed differently, however.  Three are appointed directly by the President, three are selected from candidates that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court nominates, and three are appointed by the National Assembly (the legislature).  It’s an interesting system.

Case 1:  A victory for blind masseurs!

In Korea, only the blind can become certified massage therapists.  You read that correctly.  An entire profession is reserved for the blind.  This is Korean law.

This is a fairly contentious issue among the parties involved.  In the past, this was a government directive, rather than a law.  In 2003, the Constitutional Court upheld the restriction, but a 2006 court declared the directive discriminatory.  This upset the blind massage therapists, who protested until the National Assembly passed a law restricting certification to the blind.

In September 2008, a group of sighted therapists appealed this law to the Constitutional Court.  The Court upheld the law, and issued the following statement:

It is true that the corresponding clauses restrict the freedom of choosing a career for the non-blind. [...] This restriction, however, is an inevitable one, necessary to secure a minimum level of social support for the blind who have few other career options than massage therapist. It, therefore, does not violate the petitioners’ constitutional freedom on careers and equality.

An interesting footnote to this story is the method of protest that both sides have used.  They gather on bridges, and threaten to jump off.  Sadly, some of them have followed through.  I don’t know why they jump off bridges.  It seems like there would be a dozen other ways to protest, but bridge-jumping seems to be the chosen form of civil disobedience.

The New York Times published a good story on this back in September (here’s the link).  I can’t link directly to the current Korea Herald story, because of their crummy web page.

I don’t even know what to say about this one.  It just seems weird to me.  The original policy goes back to the years of Japanese colonization, but I don’t know the reasoning behind it.  If it’s a modesty thing, it seems archaic.  As a social welfare system, it just seems odd.  I guess it guarantees at least one career for the blind, but there there are hundreds of thousands of illegal sighted therapists because of it.  I welcome your comments on this one.

Case 2:  A setback for adulterers.

Adultery is a criminal offense in Korea, punishable by up to two years in prison.  This actually isn’t that uncommon; adultery is still illegal in many US states.  Hell, in Michigan, it could get you life in prison.  I don’t think these laws generally get prosecuted, however.  In Korea, they aren’t often prosecuted, but it still happens.  The Korea Herald reported that 47 cases were prosecuted in 2007, down from 103 in 2005.

The Constitutional Court upheld this law, as it has done on three other occasions (1990, 1993, and 2001).  Interestingly, 5 of the 9 judges ruled that it was unconstitutional, but it requires six votes to overturn a law.

In its ruling, the Court stated that “[t]he law is intended to safeguard marriage, which is the bedrock of family life.  Adultery, thus, cannot be a purely ethical or moral issue which the law cannot meddle in.”

Socially, Korea is pretty conservative, so this isn’t really a surprise.  In my opinion, no matter what the Court said, this is clearly an ethical/moral issue.  Laws governing such things always disappoint me.  I suppose my title is incorrect, as this really isn’t strange.  Especially after three more US states passed constitutional bans on same-sex marriages.  In Korea and the US, social conservatives continue to fight for a government small enough to fit in your bedroom.


6 Responses to “Sometimes Korea is a little strange.”

  1. Bob on November 5th, 2008 10:02 pm

    hehe, I like that phrase, “government small enough to fit in your bedroom.” I might’ve voted for Palin if I could’ve gotten her in my bedroom ;)

    The whole jumping off a bridge protest isn’t fair either! I mean the blind guys won’t get scared when they “look” down! I think you should protest the bridge jumping protest practice as unfair to sighted people (use a braile sign though)!


    mike.sapak Reply:

    yeah, that’s a catchy one, isn’t it? Can’t take credit for it myself, it’s been floating around for a while.


  2. Clay on November 5th, 2008 11:11 pm

    Yeah, the blind one is definitely a little odd. It’s like extreme affirmative action. I’d really like to know why massage therapist was chosen as the official blind profession.

    As for adultery, yeah, that’s bullshit. I like the bedroom line too. I’ve always thought morals should be enforced by, I dunno, parents?


  3. mattsadd on November 7th, 2008 12:50 am

    …that’s weird. What about deaf people? Or the mute? *Can only the mute be stenographers?*

    There a few nice things to be said about social conservatism; for example, the Thai exchange student in my band class bows to me whenever he says thank you. I’ll admit, it’s flattering and it makes me want to help him more, something a lot of American kids could stand to learn how to do. We’re all human.

    But it does get out of hand rather quickly. Definitely less of it here in OR than in MI. You would enjoy it here, I posit. Also, the beer is freakin’ sweet!


  4. Evan Lowe on November 18th, 2008 11:47 pm

    The adultery law isn’t so weird to me. It’s actually seemed sort of sad to me lately how easy American divorce laws have become. Really, all that is required to get divorced is that you don’t want to do be married anymore. While it’s not frequently the case, this could even result in re-marrying the same person later on (see Elizabeth Taylor). Certainly Ms. Taylor is picking the polemic, but I can’t see that it’s such a bad thing to make people think for awhile to be sure they’re certain.

    But, the blind law was really interesting to me. I asked a Korean friend, who also happens to be a massage fiend, what the case is that makes the blind specially suited to be masseurs. Response: They’re better with their hands, just like with other senses, because they can’t see. Perhaps that’s a response to Clay’s point. Now… why ONLY blind people can be licensed is an interesting form of social protection. Thanks for pointing it out. I always love hearing about weird laws.


    mike.sapak Reply:

    I’m not necessarily in favor of simplifying divorce, but criminal punishment for violating an ethical standard rankles me a bit. I get what you’re saying though.

    Thanks for the info from your Korean friend. I’ve heard the same justification for blind masseurs in other countries, so that’s kind of what I was thinking.


Leave a Reply