S. Korean conservative party's primary devolves into row over shamanistic beliefs

Posted on : 2021-10-04 17:29 KST Modified on : 2021-10-04 17:47 KST
After Yoon Seok-youl was seen with the symbol for “king” written on his hand during a televised debate, in-fighting among the People Power Party candidates has focused on shamanic talismans and name-changes
Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl's palm can be seen here with the Chinese letter denoting
Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl's palm can be seen here with the Chinese letter denoting "king" written on it during a primary debate televised on MBN on Friday. (screen capture from the MBN YouTube channel)

Prospective presidential candidates in the People Power Party (PPP) have been taking shots at one another after leading presidential candidate and former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl was seen in a TV debate sporting the Chinese character meaning “king” (王) written on his palm.

The online controversy has devolved unexpectedly into a back-and-forth exchange over local shamanistic beliefs.

The opening salvo came courtesy of fellow presidential hopeful and National Assembly member Hong Joon-pyo. In a Facebook post on Sunday, he wrote, “Seeing on the news about how [Yoon] is always consorting with shamanists, I had to wonder whether he’s trying to become a ‘shaman president.’”

“I could only think about how absurd it is for him to been seen going around with ‘magic symbols’ on his palm,” he continued, calling on Yoon to give up on the “magic charm” election.

Hong continued his attack while attending an election committee conferment ceremony that day at the PPP’s local office in Busan’s Suyeong District.

“The presidential election has turned into an election to choose a ‘shaman president.’ I’ve never seen any presidential election like it,” he said.

“It’s just childish and comical to see the way [shamanists] are actually taking part in this race and drawing symbols on the candidates,” he added.

Fellow lawmaker and prospective candidate Yoo Seong-min shared similar remarks that day while visiting Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang Province.

“I can’t explain someone appearing on a televised debate with a ‘king’ symbol on his palm as anything but superstition,” he said.

“Should we really have a candidate — or a president — who’s the kind of person who believes in superstition during the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?” he asked.

In response, Yoon repudiated the claims that the “king” symbol on his palm was there as a “magic symbol” for superstitious purposes.

Meeting with reporters that day after a ceremony to launch his election camp’s youth committee at an independent bookstore in Seoul, he explained, “A supporter drew that as a message of support, encouraging me to be confident like a ‘king’ during the debate.”

“People have been going about ‘spells.’ Has anyone ever heard of people drawing magic symbols in marker on someone’s palm?” he asked rhetorically.

“I appreciate the support, but it did occur to me when I went in that I should have taken more care to wash it off. I wasn’t thinking carefully,” he added.

Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, a People Power Party contender for president, takes part in a conferment ceremony for his campaign camp in Busan on Sunday. (Yonhap News)
Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, a People Power Party contender for president, takes part in a conferment ceremony for his campaign camp in Busan on Sunday. (Yonhap News)

Yoon also rejected Hong’s claims that he had historically been close with fortune-tellers and diviners.

“There are rumors that certain people go around in red underwear [for good luck],” he said. “It isn’t right for politicians who know better to say such things, as it really debases South Korean politics.”

His remarks were seen as taking aim at Hong, who has traditionally favored the color red in his fashion choices.

Members of Yoon’s election camp joined in by noting the consultation of a diviner when Hong changed his name. During his time as a prosecutor, Hong was known as Hong Pan-pyo; he has since changed his name to Hong Joon-pyo.

In a comment Sunday, Kim Gi-hong, senior deputy spokesperson for Yoon’s camp, asked, “Has he forgotten that he used to be ‘Hong Pan-pyo,’ and that his current name was given to him by a diviner?”

“I’m curious how he intends to answer accusations that his own name change was for ‘shamanic’ purposes,” he added.

In response, Hong went after Yoon’s wife for changing her name.

Yeo Myeong, a spokesperson for Hong’s camp, issued a statement noting, “The person who advised replacing the ‘Pan’ part of Rep. Hong’s name with ‘Joon’ — which means the same thing but has a different pronunciation — was Ryu Hwa-su, a naming philosopher who was a member of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office youth leadership committee.”

“That’s incomparable with the ‘king’ character on [Yoon’s] palm, which expresses a particular wish,” she insisted.

She went on to say that Yoon’s wife Kim Kun-hee “is known to have changed her name from ‘Kim Myeong-sin’ just before their marriage.”

“Why don’t they try explaining the history behind Kim Kun-hee’s name change?” she asked.

By Kim Mi-na, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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