[suicide protesters]

Topic: Korean Culture

Daniel alerts me to this strange bit of news about why Hong Kong police see the 1,500 South Koreans in town as the major threat to the WTO negotiations there. Most of the piece is about South Korea’s rice subsidies, but it begins with a recap of Korean WTO protests past:

At the 2003 WTO summit in Cancun, Mexico, activist Lee Kyung-hae stabbed himself to death after unfurling a banner that declared “WTO kills farmers.” Early this year, in November, two more farmers committed suicide by drinking insecticide.

What the hell? I mean, this is not India, where farmers have committed suicide rather than face impossible debts. They may have seen suicide as the only way to get the moneylenders to back off, thus saving their families from starvation. Nor are Korean farmers facing anything like the destruction that confronted Quang Duc, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who immolated himself in 1963 to protest the repression of his religion and his country. It’s true that Korean farmers are clinging to a declining way of life, but this has largely to do with South Korea’s shift from agrarian poverty to industrialized wealth. I was startled, too, that South Korean protesters would cut off their fingers to protest Japanese claims to Dokto/Takeshima, a tiny hunk of rock in the East Sea/Sea of Japan.

So what motivates Koreans to mutilate or kill themselves for what seem like mid-level political scuffles? I honestly don’t know.