Cultural Wednesday: When Saving Face Goes too Far

I have written about saving face before on my old travel blog, Novice Wanderer, but something happened this week. I read an article from the Korea Herald, the premiere English news source in Korea. What I read had the effect of those little biscuits in Alice in Wonderland. They transformed me into a raging bronco, bucking out at anything and everything, and generally fucking pissed.

This post will feature a lot of ranting and raving. It will feature cuss words. You’ve been warned.

Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week. I have no classes, and so I spend my day at work writing and lesson planning. I hop-skip-jumped into work on a Wednesday morning a couple weeks ago, logged onto my computer and then Facebook, and then THE WORLD STOPPED AND THE ANGER RAGED AND I PUNCHED MANY THINGS, including myself.

Here is the original article.

Quick summary: A police department in Seoul, South Korea, posted a response on Facebook to a rape victim’s “lies” on a GoFundMe page in order to “straighten the facts.” The post detailed facts about an ongoing investigation as well as gave the victim’s personal information. The rape victim, a traveler from Australia, did not find out about the post until she saw it on social media.


Let’s start with the culture of saving face. In Asia, not just Korea, it is more important to appear perfect than to, say, tell the truth or be productive or offend someone. It is so important, that laws exist to punish people for marring reputation. Say you go to a restaurant and their service is atrocious, you vomit your guts out from food poisoning, and you saw some shady health practices. In Korea, it is illegal to post a bad review on social media, review sites, or to print an article in a magazine or newspaper that says as much.

This is real life, guize. They can deport people over this shit. Send ’em to jail. Fine them.

The illogical logic behind this is that a bad review mars a business’ reputation. It is more important to maintain reputation than to tell the truth.

And this is reflected in EVERY. ASPECT. OF. SOCIETY.

It is important to appear busy, whether at work, or school, or home. Koreans put in more hours and drink more alcohol than most anywhere else in the world. Yet, their rates of productivity are lower than most anywhere else in the world. The logic is everywhere, guize.

High work hours and low productivity equals a bunch of Koreans perfecting the art of looking busy rather than actually being busy. And I am required to perfect this balancing act on a weekly basis. Like I said before, on Wednesdays I don’t have class, but I am still required to come into work. During summer and winter vacation, it’s the same story. My contract requires me to come into work for forty hours each week even though there are no students to teach, no other teachers in the school, and no work to be done. I must appear busy, even though there’s no logical reason I should be.

Saving face is the end-all-be-all principle of business and life. It is more important to appear perfect than anything else. And people will save face at the expense of anything or anyone.

And the Yongsan Police Dept. did exactly that.

The police chief and his department disregarded legal protocol, investigation protocol, and the simple fact that this rape victim is a human being and they are in charge of finding her justice. They disregarded all that and more in order to save face.

The Korea Herald learned that comments written by 12 different people had disappeared from the page. Police admitted to “hiding” the messages.

“The comments focused on how police were wrong about posting an open letter, but what we wanted to say to the public was that her claims were different from the truth,” another police officer, in charge of the Facebook page, told The Korea Herald. “We hid some of the messages from being shown, because we were worried that they were missing the point.”

The police censored their social media post on Facebook because the “comments focused on how police were wrong” rather than how the police were right; rather than validating their action to post details of an ongoing investigation to Facebook; rather than agreeing that the rape victim was wrong in assuming the police hadn’t made effort in their investigation.


Not everyone in Korea agrees, as you can see in the comments. Many are in Hangul, of course, but there are plenty from native Koreans in English, too. Even better, there are organizations in place to help rape victims, to try to change the idea regarding rape and women, and to advocate for victims and women.

Choi Hee-jin, head of the counseling center for Korea Women’s Hot Line, took issue with low awareness on how to deal with victims of sexual crimes in society.

“In Korea, there have been many victims suffering from insensitivity among investigators. The investigators, who do not specialize in sex crimes, tend to suspect the validity of victims’ testimonies and require them to prove their suffering during the investigation process,” she told The Korea Herald. “But such actions can further traumatize the victims.”

WELL SHIT, VICTIM BLAMING EXISTS EVERYWHERE. And saving face exacerbates it. If it’s illegal to speak ill of a person or a company, if it’s so important that everyone appear perfect, then how can victims of sexual assault or any kind of assault or abuse ever believe it is okay to report their attackers? They’d be marring that person’s reputation, their image.

Korea, your need to save face has gone too far. I know you’re not all the same. I know there are many Koreans who know and believe the actions of the Yongsan Police Dept to be not only wrong, but disgusting. Please speak up. Please take action. Please go forth and spread knowledge and combat ignorance.


Feel free to rage in the comments. Trolls will be censored.


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