Instead of violent protest, a “masked ball” breaks out in the heart of Seoul

Posted on : 2015-12-07 17:35 KST Modified on : 2015-12-07 17:35 KST
Protesters find clever ways to poke fun at ruling party’s mention of terrorism and push to ban face coverings
At the Dec. 5 protest in Seoul
At the Dec. 5 protest in Seoul

A national rally held on Dec. 5 for the recovery of injured farmer Baek Nam-gi and the “restoration of democracy and welfare” saw citizens flooding the streets in masks of various shapes and colors.

The marchers prepared their own masks as a response to efforts by the administration and ruling Saenuri Party (NFP) to pass legislation banning face coverings. The event ended up a “masked ball” of sorts in downtown Seoul, as the masked participants marched to the sounds of singing and folk music played by farmers.

 demonstrators wear skin care masks and hold a placard reading
demonstrators wear skin care masks and hold a placard reading

Rather than being threatening, they chose clever and humorous masks to reflect their concerns. Some marchers wore skin care packs and carried signs reading “It’s not a mask, I’m making myself beautiful” as a cheeky jab against the attempts to push legislation against the use of masks by demonstrators.

“I wore my mask as a gesture of disobedience after the government announced that they were going to treat citizens in masks like terrorists,” said Hwang Hyeon-jin, a 29-year-old environmental activist who arrived in a pink dolphin mask. For Hwang, who works to protect dolphins on Jeju Island, the mask had a dual meaning: protesting the mask law and protecting the threatened species.

In addition to expressing resistance to a law banning face coverings, the unique masks and outfits also served to send messages to the administration.

 “It’s not a mask
“It’s not a mask

With so many gathered together under the “pan-national banner” - fifty thousand by the organizers’ estimates, fourteen thousand by those of police - the messages from participants ranged from calls to abandon labor market reforms to opposition to state-issued history textbooks and wishes for the recovery of Baek, a farmer left in critical condition after being struck by the blast from a water cannon at the Nov. 14 rally.

“It took me an hour to cut felt into a flower mask to wish for Baek Nam-gi‘s recovery,” said Bae Yeong-ran, 41, who came wearing a yellow flower mask.

 I’m making myself beautiful” as a cheeky jab against the attempts to push legislation against the use of masks by demonstrators. (by Kim Myoung-jin
I’m making myself beautiful” as a cheeky jab against the attempts to push legislation against the use of masks by demonstrators. (by Kim Myoung-jin

“It’s a difficult situation, but I wanted a mask that would have a bright feeling to it because I’m wishing for a farmer’s health,” Bae explained.

Han Min-su, a 28-year-old opponent of the construction of electricity transmission towers in Sampyeong Village and Miryang, North Gyeongsang Province, arrived in a mask depicting elderly female protesters from those communities, while holding a paper rendering of a hollyhock - a particularly common species of flower in Sampyeong.

An 18-year-old high school student surnamed Kim came with his body encased in a police summons with letters the size of batteries.

“We‘re the ones being taught, so it’s only right that we should be speaking out against state textbook issuance, yet we’ve had police actually coming to our schools and homes and accusing us of violating the Assembly and Demonstration Act,” Kim explained. “That’s why I decided to come dressed as a police summons.”

 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

Farmers came dressed in rice sacks bearing their own messages, including their opposition to rice imports and denunciation of extreme police suppression tactics. They also put on traditional Hahoe and doll masks and sounded drums and gongs.

Booths were available alongside the marchers to help participants make signs with personalized messages. Participants who hadn‘t prepared their own signs visited to write unique messages, including "I’m returning my Level 1 Korean history certificate,” and “Answer before 2016.”

By Bang Jun-ho, Kwon Seung-rok, Hyun Soe-eun and Hwang Keum-bi, staff reporters