Nonsense, horsefeathers, and idle musings from a decade in South Korea (2002-2012).

26 April, 2008

Child is the Father of the Man

By Aaron
26 April, 2008

Both the business and the family will do well if the family serves the business. Neither will do well if the business is run to serve the family. The controlling word in "family-managed business" is not "family." It has to be "business."

Peter Drucker2

Peter Drucker may have died in 2005 but one can almost see him shaking his head in disbelief at the ongoing soap opera over at Samsung. Before we get too much into that Samsung melodrama, however, it's worth looking back at what Drucker had to say about the DuPont chemical company, which survived and prospered as a family business for as long as it did because it faced up to the problem of employing members of the family by introducing something of a genetic meritocracy.

All male DuPonts were entitled to an entrance job in the company. Five or six years after a DuPont had started, his performance would be carefully reviewed by four or five family seniors. And if this review concluded that the young family member was not likely to be top management material ten years later, he was eased out.

This past week, of course, brought the resignation of Samsung's chairman Lee Kun-Hee after a series of scandals involving slush funds, bribery and sneaky attempts to slide his son, Lee Jae-Yong, into the driver's seat of Korea's most powerful conglomerate.3 If he were alive today, Drucker would rightly be asking what Samsung could learn from DuPont. How would Lee Jae-Yong stand up under similar scrutiny? Not very well it seems, according to this article in the Korea Times:

In 2000, Jae-yong led 14 Internet venture companies, including e-Samsung as the largest shareholder, but the companies became insolvent after just one year, with e-Samsung suffering 20 billion won in losses. Nine other Samsung affiliates purchased stocks in 2001 to make up for the loss and Samsung's crown prince did not suffer any financial damage.

If, as the Chinese proverb has it, failure is the mother of success, then Lee Jae-Yong stands to succeed mightily in the coming years, but in a company like Samsung - with the cream of Korea's executive crop - it's a mystery to me why he, of all the capable candidates, deserves to sit at the controls.

But, of course, to quote Snoop from The Wire, "deserve got nuthin' to do with it."

This sort of torch-passing may have made sense in Old Korea, where a son - usually, but not always, the first - was expected to carry on the family name and protect the family jewels, as it were. Lee Kun Hee (the third son, incidentally) took over the company upon the passing of his father, Lee Byung-Chul, in 1987 and deserves credit for salvaging the Samsung brand. Still, what's the likelihood of Lee Kun-Hee being as lucky with his son as a businessman as Lee Byung-Chul was with his? It's a question investors are asking.

The "Korea Discount" - the amount by which investors undervalue Korean stocks - has become primarily a product of poor corporate governance, which has come to overshadow the country's militant labor unions, antsy regulators, and the threat from North Korea. For its part, says Tariq Hussain, Samsung is currently accepting a 10-20% discount of its own as a price for keeping management in family hands, which Samsung does not do simply for a lack of better options.

Samsung has built a solid bench of highly qualified leaders - clearly the strongest in Korea. Yet none of them will take over the leadership of the group. That position will be reserved for chairman Lee's son, Jae-Yong. Chairman Lee has made sure that his son receives more rigorous training than the average chaebol "prince." Lee Jae-Yong is described as a talented and open individual. Yet whatever his skills, he has not truly proven himself as a business leader. And given Samsung Electronics' global reach and significance, investors can only doubt whether he is the right person to take over the group. When Lee Jae-Yong ascends to power, some shareholders and NGOs will howl and scream. The only way to justify his appointment would be to truly drive change from within: by cleaning up Samsung's portfolio, transforming its command and control culture, and establishing a world-class corporate governance system.4

There's the rub: "change from within." This much-needed transformation of Samsung is not something that government regulators ought to be pushing (nor should bribed government officials be helping to forestall the change). Rather, if and when Samsung decides that it's ready to join the ranks of the world's best companies, it will make the changes of its own accord. And as Don Boudreaux points out, self-interest - and the consternation of shareholders - will ultimately drive Samsung in the right direction.

In private markets, Smith spends only Smith’s money. Smith profits or loses depending on the prudence of his choices. This tight connection between each person’s actions and the consequences that he or she bears provides remarkably effective carrots and sticks encouraging private persons to behave responsibly.

The question, however still remains: with Lee Kun-Hee out of the chairman's seat, will Samsung continue in a business model that relies on bribing government officials, rather than competing solely on the merits of its products and services? And who will be steering the company through this transition?

"We shall see," said the blind man, "what we shall see."



1 Lee Kun Hee photo courtesy of Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images.

2 All Peter Drucker quotes are from "Managing the Family Business," an essay from Managing in a Time of Great Change.

3 As Martin Fackler notes in the IHT, however, Lee Kun Hee won't lose actual control of the Samsung Group, as he and his family remain, in serpentine fashion, the dominant shareholders:
Lee's family controlled the group by holding a big stake in its amusement-park operator, Everland, which holds a stake in Samsung's life insurance company, which owns shares of Samsung Electronics, which in turn has a stake in the credit card company. The credit company owns a stake in Everland.
4 Tariq Hussain, Diamond Dilemma. Page 97.

25 April, 2008

Vox Populi

By Aaron
25 April, 2008

An American friend of mine - a registered Republican who supported Mike Huckabee in the presidential primaries - emailed me a few weeks back to express his hopes that, by the love of God, the United States might eventually get the Huckabee administration it so needs.

"A Huckabee administration," he wrote, "would give the GOP a populist flavor that it's been needing for a while."

This fellow - this friend o' mine - has a tendency to rankle me by throwing out empty political catchphrases that lack the ballast of any concrete meaning, let alone a basis in fact. A line like that quoted, then, shouldn't have twisted my knickers as it did, but twisted they were because I've been trying to figure out for some time now what the hell people and, especially, the media mean when they use the word "populist" to describe a politician.

"Maybe it'd help if I told you I'm a Bryan Republican," this friend replied - referring to William Jennings Bryan - when I pressed him for his definition of populism.

That, needless to say, wasn't much help at all, though I suppose he was simply implying that he, like Bryan, favors prohibition, bimetallism, and women's suffrage. Still, oblique references to a long-dead politician hardly help me understand from whence a person derives their philosophical principles.

I suppose the best definition of populism would be that offered by Albertazzi and McDonnell: "a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity and voice."1

My grump with populism - as I define it - is that it must, of necessity, be a philosophy of pandering to whatever group happens to be in front the candidate at any given moment,2 if only because any modern electorate will be filled with competing interests. It is difficult to be truly populist - at least by the above definition - and intellectually consistent when the citizenry which one claims to defend is composed of many small, often conflicting, minorities rather than one large "virtuous and homogenous" group. Using the word "populist" in anything but a pejorative sense is therefore a tough undertaking.

As an example (applicable, let's say, to no candidate in particular but several in general): Populist Candidate X goes into a steel mill town and promises to help protect jobs, usually through tariffs or subsidies (or both), which thus raise prices for the people in his next campaign stop where the citizens produce machinery, but Candidate X promises to help them, too. He then traipses on down the road to an auto industry town, where the price of the necessary steel and machinery is now higher, and promises to protect them as well.

Then there are the consumers, who benefit greatly from open trade, and to whom Candidate X must somehow defend his/her previously-stated policies of protectionism, never acknowledging that most shifts in employment result from gains in productivity, not trade. But the candidate, of course, wraps all of this talk in references to "Fair Trade," a phrase loaded with emotion (after all, who's in favor of "unfair" trade?) but largely empty of any meaning. Labeling as "unfair" any trade that a certain group of constituents dislikes, however, is a surefire way to win a few votes in today's political climate and, it bears noting, a very populist use of language.

What this leads to is a candidate like Huckabee (or, even more recently, Obama and Clinton) who, as George Will points out, tells "heavily subsidized Iowa -- [where] Washington's ethanol enthusiasm has farm values and incomes soaring -- that Americans striving to rise are 'pushed down every time they try by their own government.'" Populist ideology, of course, extends beyond issues of economics, but it is on these matters of economics where the rhetoric is often least-informed and thus the most dangerous.

George Will, in the same column, goes on to point out what should be, but unfortunately isn't to many, terribly obvious: specifically, that populism is an inherently contradictory philosophy.
The way to achieve...Huckabee's populist goal of reducing the role of "special interests," meaning money, in government is to reduce the role of government in distributing money. But populists want to sharply increase that role by expanding the regulatory state's reach and enlarging its agenda of determining the distribution of wealth. Populists, who are slow learners, cannot comprehend this iron law: Concentrate power in Washington and you increase the power of interests whose representatives are concentrated there.
Unfortunately, ridding ourselves of Mike Huckabee - at least for the time being - did not completely rinse the presidential primaries of their populist stain. It would seem that, like being sprayed by a skunk, removing the smell of populism requires more than one bath of tomato juice.

1 Albertazzi and McDonnell, Twenty-First Century Populism. I have to admit, though, that I found their defintion of populism here.
2 More than your average politician, that is.

20 April, 2008

Kim Dae-Jung in the City of Roses

By Aaron
20 April, 2008

I received an email yesterday from my stepmom in which she mentioned that she'd attended a lecture by Kim Dae-Jung at the University of Portland, where the former South Korean president was picking up an honorary doctorate. Kim's lecture, she said, "was a personal one, focusing on events in his life, the challenges and how God intervened at miraculous times." He also, however, defended his policy on North Korea, saying:

"The world is supporting my Sunshine Policy, which suggests problem settlement through peaceful means like dialogue," Kim said. "Tensions on the Korean peninsula have dramatically eased, and economic, cultural and tourism exchanges are progressing. These developments are playing a significant role in promoting inter-Korean peace and ending the Cold War." 1

The story of Kim Dae-Jung in Korea is, of course, nothing short of a rollercoaster. Born in Korea's poorest province, here's a man that made his name opposing the military dictatorship of Park Chung-Hee in the 1970s, and who, by all odds, shouldn't even be alive now. His 1973 kidnapping at the hands of the Korean CIA is the stuff of legend and, as Carol Clark of CNN writes, he "endured a run-in with a 14-ton truck, a kidnapping, repeated arrests, beatings, exile and a death sentence during his decades-long struggle as an opposition leader." Most Korea watchers would agree that Kim long ago burned through his nine lives and has multiple mortgages on any future reincarnation that may await him.

The complexity of Kim's legacy, however, and its interplay with Korean history, may exceed even the implausibility of his own survival. The Park regime, against which Kim fought with such devotion, guided South Korea through some turbulent times and helped produce an economic miracle of sorts. It's worth asking, then, whether, if Kim Dae-Jung had achieved his desired ends in the 1970s, Korea would have grown to be as prosperous as it is today? A dictatorship - particularly one that kidnaps, imprisons and tortures its citizens - is hard to defend, but then, so is poverty.

Anecdotally speaking (because I couldn't track down any stats), I'd say that about 65% of Koreans have a positive memory or image of Park Chung-Hee, giving him much of the credit for what Korea has become. I suspect that, in part, this is because Korean citizens don't feel responsible for the darker side of the Park era.

"After all," they can rightly say, "we didn't vote for him."

Kim Dae-Jung, in contrast, came to power democratically in a more transparent age, and his foibles thus demand a more critical view. Indeed (and again, I'm speaking anecdotally here), adoration of Park seems to have intensified in the years of and following Kim's presidency. South Koreans, feeling perhaps that scores had been settled and due reparations paid, felt comfortable in nostalgically simplifying the Park era, a period of great moral ambiguity.

But Kim's presidential legacy is one of, shall we say, ethical nuances, as well. While he deserves credit for steering the South Korean economy through the wake of the Asian financial crisis and pushing forth an economic policy of privatization and liberalization, Kim is also fair game for charges that he - who fought so fervently for human rights in his younger years - coddled North Korea, a state with arguably the worst human rights record since Stalinist Russia. On the matter of corruption, too, Kim's record is spotty at best: his sons have spent time in prison on corruption charges, and his much-ballyhooed summit with North Korean strongman Kim Jong-il turned out to be as much a product of corporate bribery as of diplomatic acumen, a fact which only served to taint his Nobel Peace Prize.

Jared Diamond, in a comment that has had and will continue to have much political relevance, wrote in his book Collapse:

We subconsciously expect people to be homogeneously "good" or "bad," as if there were a single quality of virtue that should shine through every aspect of a person's behavior. If we find people virtuous in one respect, it troubles us to find them not so in another respect. It is difficult for us to acknowledge that people are not consistent, but are instead mosaics of traits formed by different sets of experiences that often do not correlate with each other.

Ultimately, of course, what we have in both Kim Dae-Jung and Park Chung-Hee are humans, complex patchworks of parts both noble and opprobrious, though not necessarily in equal proportion.

"I'm glad," wrote my stepmom, "that I had the opportunity to go see such a great man."

If by "great" she means one of the towering symbols of modern Korea's complexity, I'd be hard-pressed to argue with her.


1 As a brief aside, it was interesting to note that Korea's current president, Lee Myung-bak, was also in the United States this week, chilling with George W. Bush at Camp David, dropping in on Nancy Pelosi to push for the KORUS FTA, and having a look around the New York Stock Exchange. Needless to say, Lee doesn't share Kim's sentiments on the Sunshine Policy, believing that the North ought to be held to a higher standard of behavior - particularly in the area of denuclearization and human rights - if it wishes to receive the South's aid.

17 April, 2008

The Show Must Go On

By Aaron
17 April, 2008

Here we go again.

I hope everyone's ready for another go-round of the Corporate Governance Charade because, with yesterday's indictment of Samsung chairman Lee Kun Hee on charges of tax evasion, we're about to get our annual fix. In fact, a year without legal troubles for a local tycoon has become unimaginable. And so, in illustration, I offer this brief trip back through the past five years:

SK chairman Chey Tae Won gets done for stock manipulation. Additionally, Chung Mong-hun, chairman of Hyundai Asan and brother of Chung Mong-koo, commits suicide while facing trial for bribing the North Koreans.

Korean Air CEO Cho Yang-ho and Hyundai Motors Vice chairman Kim Dong-Jin are given suspended prison sentences for raising slush funds and bribing politicians.

Former Daewoo chairman Kim Woo-Choong returns to Korea to face numerous charges of book-cooking.

Hyundai Motors chairman Chung Mong-Koo is convicted of embezzlement.

Hanwha chairman Kim Seung Youn stands trial for and is convicted of assault.

You didn't actually think that 2008 might pass without the prosecution of a Korean conglomerate chairman, did you? And I don't know about you, but I was just starting to get the DTs for a good corporate corruption trial. Well, heaven forbid then that Samsung, with its focus on customer satisfaction and meeting the market, would let us down. No, indeed, Chairman Lee has seen to it that we'll get exactly what we've come to expect from our local conglomerate heads.

Lee's trial will, in fact, be doubly familiar, in that it won't be the first time he has seen the inside of a courtroom:

Lee's family has long been admired among South Koreans for building the conglomerate into the country's best-known global brand but also reviled because of recurring corruption scandals.

Lee is accused of hiding 4.5 trillion won, or $4.54 billion, in stock accounts held by Samsung executives and evading at least 112.8 billion won in taxes on the profits from those accounts.

He also faces criminal charges of breach of trust that stemmed from something he has denied for years: involvement in arranging for Samsung subsidiaries to sell stock to his son, Jae Yong, at a discount price so that the son could take over management control of the business empire.

If convicted, Lee could face up to life in prison. But few in South Korea predict that even if convicted, Lee would spend much time in prison, because of the practice among South Korean judges to punish corporate criminals lightly, especially when they are owners of big companies. Although he was convicted of bribery in 1995, Lee never spent a day in prison and continued to run his company. [IHT]

Those of you who read this piece - my comments on the "Korea Discount" and Tariq Hussain's Diamond Dilemma - will already know my prediction of what's going to happen with Lee's case. But the likely outcome shouldn't really surprise anyone because, as above, we've all seen this show before.

12 April, 2008

One of These Chinese Days...

By Aaron
12 April, 2008

The single most important test of the connection between capitalism and democracy will take place in China over the next few decades. The images of China's rulers that are sometimes presented in the media are grim. Some politicians and commentators use phrases like "the butchers of Beijing" to describe them. There is obviously some reality behind them; Tiananmen Square was a brutal massacre. But a more accurate way to think of China's ruling elite is as nervous apparatchiks, gingerly watching as they try to reform the world's most populous country while holding on to power. If things go well, they will be respected as builders of an industrialized world power. If their experiment goes awry, they will be dead or exiled to Outer Mongolia.

- Fareed Zakaria
The Future of Freedom (81)

I have an American friend here in Korea - let's call him Adam - who goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid buying goods made in China. This he does because, in his words, he doesn't trust them Chinese folks.

"Just a gut feeling," he says, "but I can tell they're up to no good and I won't bankroll their mischief."

You can imagine, I'm sure, that this obstinance makes any trip to Wal-Mart in the United States a waking nightmare for Adam, what with all the Chinese-made US flags for sale.

A couple years ago, needing new dress shoes and apparently unable to find a pair of Kenneth Coles or Rockports not hecho en Chine, Adam resorted to paying $400 for a pair of custom-made treads from the United States - out of a $2,300/month salary. Assuaging one's conscience, as Adam has learned, is not merely some cheap stunt. In fact, it's one helluva goddamned expensive stunt.

Sometime later, as we sat in a Seoul Starbucks sipping coffee imported only from open, liberal democracies like Vietnam and Kenya, Adam suddenly noticed that his jacket had been made in China. How he'd failed to see this when buying the jacket I don't know, but his explanation was that the Chinese had duped him.

"I'm telling you, that tag used to say 'Made in Bangladesh,'" he said.

I agreed that sneaking into consumers' homes while they slept and switching the tags on their jackets sounded like something the Chinese would do. After all, no country assembles a $10.2 trillion economy simply by building a better mousetrap.

"Better keep an eye on those shoes," I warned.

* * *

Unlike Adam, then, I'm a great fan of China's rapid development and integration into the global economy. While problems of pollution, corruption and human rights remain salient, I find it hard to argue with economic growth that has lifted hundreds of millions out of grinding poverty. Further, a China interwoven into the fabric of global trade stands to be more benign than the China with which our parents and grandparents came of age - that of Mao Zedong, the Korean War, and the Cultural Revolution. So I'm cheering for China and wishing its people all the success in the world.

As Fareed Zakaria notes, Singapore is the only country with a per capita GDP over $10,000 (other than the oil-rich Gulf States) that is not a democracy. Indeed, the role model of China's reforming bureaucrats is former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, who achieved the dream of every strongman: to modernize the economy, even the society, but not the politics.

"All liberalizing autocrats have believed that they can, like Lee, achieve modernity but delay democracy," writes Zakaria. "But they can't."

It's a delicate balancing act that the Chinese government has undertaken for itself. As long as the economy does well and the middle class continues to grow, the policymakers will probably have their jobs, and their heads. Should a large-scale economic crisis come tumbling down the pipe, however, that educated middle class might well do more than simply wrinkle their eyebrows. Even in the absence of calamity, the Chinese government may run into the Sam Cooke Law of Modernization: a change is gonna come.

"The role of the modernizing autocrat is biblical," says Zakaria, "like Moses, he can lead his country forward, but he rarely makes it to the promised land himself." 1

Which means that, if we're interested in promoting pluralism and human liberty in China, one of the last things we should do is boycott its products or isolate the government. As economist Christopher Coyne points out in this excellent EconTalk podcast with Russ Roberts, the only benefit of isolation is the warm political glow of self-righteousness that comes from playing tough with what we deem to be nasty regimes. Indeed, free trade has historically shown itself to be a very valuable mechanism of political change, perhaps even the best. In its drive to modernize and compete in the global marketplace, China is already finding it hard to import the ideas it wants while keeping out the ideas it doesn't want, and over time, these ideas have a way of chipping away at political barriers.

All that said, however, I've been greatly heartened by the protests that have greeted the Olympic torch on its round-the-world zigzag toward Beijing for the Olympic games in August. China's success has been stunning, to be sure, but the government still has plenty for which to answer where its record on human rights, or the lack thereof, is concerned and with any luck the 2008 games will thrust some of these issues into the spotlight where they belong.

While much attention has been focused on the recent struggles in Tibet and the Chinese government's support of Sudan, less international ink has been devoted recently to China's treatment of North Korean refugees as they try to escape the horrors of their homeland under the regime of Kim Jong-il. As Kay Seok pointed out in a recent editorial in the IHT, China's actions on this front have hit women and children particularly hard:

China continues to arrest and repatriate North Korean women, although they could face mistreatment, imprisonment, torture and even execution because, under North Korea's penal code, leaving the country without state permission can be considered an act of treason.

This strong risk of persecution upon return means that, under international law, many North Koreans in China are considered to be refugees. As a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Chinese government has an obligation not to repatriate them, an obligation that Beijing ignores.

One of the biggest questions about a rising China is how it will balance its newfound economic and military might with necessary democratic reforms, both within its own borders and along its periphery in countries like North Korea, Burma, and Vietnam. China has never been too keen on having democracies along its border, but at this point, just getting China to follow international accords - such as that 1951 Refugee Convention, or fully implementing its agreements with the WTO - could bring about monumental changes in both the country and the region as a whole.

Despite its recent economic and technological advances, the Chinese government remains able to filter and manipulate much of the information received within its borders, such that a CNN broadcast in Qingdao, according to my friend Ken, goes something like this:

Anchor: And now, turning to Tibet.

[Screen goes black for two minutes.]

Anchor: Thanks, Steve. Alright, let's have a look at the weekend weather forecast.

How long China can maintain such a stranglehold on the media is anyone's guess, but fortunately for all of us - and especially for North Koreans, Tibetans, Uigars, and Chinese dissidents - international protesters do have access to this information and can say what needs to be said about the actions of the Chinese government. And we should all continue to speak out against human rights abuses, not only by the Chinese government, but wherever we happen to encounter them.

What we should not do is isolate China, cut ourselves off from dealings with its people, or boycott the Olympics outright, as these actions will help no one. Rather, encouraging a higher Chinese standard of living and further linkage in global trade remains the best way to bring about greater liberty both in China and in the region as a whole.

Provided, of course, that China leaves the tags on our clothes alone.


1 All Zakaria quotes from The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.

04 April, 2008

The Lady's Not for Serving

By Aaron
04 April, 2008

Read the introduction to this piece here.

Conscription and the Korean Female

Korean society pivots on group connections, with a person's friends from high school and university, in particular, forming a powerful fulcrum later in life when professional relationships are in question. In the military, the Korean Marines are particularly well-known for the lasting bond formed by its service members.1 In the spirit of making lemonade from the lemons at hand, then, Korean men have, in their military service, the opportunity to form lasting ties that can be exploited later in life in the name of a job, a business contract, or a dowry for one's daughter.

Females, however, who naturally considers themselves blessed by their exemption from conscription, find themselves in an odd predicament: unlike their male counterparts, the women don't lose two years of their young working lives to the military, and yet because they will almost certainly lack this network of fellow soldiers, they fall one more step behind their male co-workers where professional opportunities are concerned.

In fairness, most Korean men that I've met have not placed much stock in the relationships formed during their military service. Michael Breen has written that "those exempted are not missing out on anything too important. Shared military experience for non-professional soldiers does not create the same type of bonds as family, hometown and school." 2

But while the post-service benefits of male-only conscription may be debatable, its effects on gender relations in Korea have been more visible. Conscription of Korean males, writes scholar Vladimir Tikhonov, serves to advance what he calls "militarized masculinity," which involves

the gendered-view of the world in which the able-bodied man, the "defender of the fatherland," was unconditionally privileged over the women, defined as a sexualized object or as a child-rearing "mother of the nation," and the shared feeling of superiority towards the men unfit for or unwilling to engage in combat (handicapped, conscientious objectors, etc.) 3

A classic defense of conscription is that it serves as an equalizer within society by forcing members of all socioeconomic classes into a common service, never mind the fact that wealthy folks have historically been able to find their way out of serving. In Korea, however, writes Tikhonov, conscription has provided "a thoroughly unequal society with an ideological fiction of equality, the exclusion of females from the conscription system and, consequently, much more manifestly 'hegemonic masculine' character of the army being an important difference."

Tikhonov goes on to say that, as the idea of military service became more entrenched in Korean society, it began to be praised as the way to make a "real male," a "normal" male, and draft-dodgers were "made into national scapegoats, accused of being both unpatriotic and unmanly, as manliness was now firmly identified with willing service in the army."

To say that women in Korea occupy the same lowly position as cripples and sissies - as weaklings who are valued as little more than burdensome babymakers - may be excessive, but it's no stretch to suggest that the current system of mandatory military service does little to help women in their battle for equality. Combined with a traditional Confucianism that sees "men as the sky, women as the ground," conscription of males in Korea perpetuates the national sense of female weakness and a tendency toward males-only networks.

The next great leap in opportunity for Korean women may, in fact, come when women are either compelled to give two years of their own life for the country, or when the system of mandatory service is scrapped altogether. Perhaps Korea should consider a system of national service that includes females, similar to that of Israel or to the program proposed by President of Chirac of France in the wake of week-long street riots in November, 2005. I doubt women would be placed in combat roles, but a period of national service would, if nothing else, give them a chance to build personal networks of their own as well as a stake in the defense of the fatherland.

Ideally, of course, Korea could be entirely equitable and simply eliminate conscription - a solution that would initially and most obviously please young men even more than their female counterparts. Until this happens, though, I fear that women won't get their entire due in Korean society.


1 According to Koreans, the following three groups have the strongest life-long bonds: Korea University alumni, natives of the Jeolla provinces on Southwest Korea, and veterans of the Marines.

2 Michael Breen, The Koreans, p 71.

3 All quotes by Dr. Vladimir Tikhonov are from "Militarism and Anti-Militarism in Contemporary South Korea." (Apologies: I've yet to find an online version of this article. My source is a hard copy of the article that I received from Dr. Tikhonov at a meeting of the Korean Royal Asiatic Society. No doubt he'd be able to provide you with a copy, too, if you were to contact him directly.).