Fletcher in the News

South Koreans Blame Ferry Tragedy on National Character Flaws: Prof. Lee Weighs In

Sung-Yoon Lee is the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor in Korean Studies and Assistant Professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

Wednesday's ferry sinking off Korea’s west coast is being called one of the country’s worst peacetime disasters in modern times. Although 14 are confirmed dead, close to 300 are still missing in the frigid waters. Hopes are dwindling of finding more survivors…

…But unlike in other nations beset by tragedy, for many South Koreans the sunk ship is more than merely a disaster triggered by incompetence or gross negligence. For them, it reflects on what they claim are flaws in the national character ―shortcomings that Koreans say they have long struggled with but have yet to overcome…

…"South Korea is obsessed with … how the Korean people and nation are viewed by the outside world," explained Sung-yoon Lee, a Korea expert at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Lee cited other examples of how disasters afflicted the South Korean psyche. In 1995, the upscale Soompi department store in Seoul collapsed, killing 500 people. "This incident triggered much soul-searching and collective shame," he said. "Was the South Korean nation guilty in its lunge toward industrialization and the accretion of wealth? Had it cheated, tolerated corruption, and rashly cut corners in its obsession with rapid growth?”

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