[VIEWPOINT]Justice reigns (if you're a ghost)

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[VIEWPOINT]Justice reigns (if you're a ghost)

Some say that Korean culture is that of soil, Chinese culture is that of stone and Japanese culture is that of wood. How about making a comparison of the ghosts of the three neighboring countries in a similar way?

Korean ghosts are mostly depicted as young females in white mourning clothes with long, shaggy hair and hands hanging at their sides. Chinese ghosts, according to Hong Kong horror movies that once were very popular in Korea, hold their arms outstretched in front of them and hop around to find someone from whom to suck blood. In contrast to the Korean and Chinese ghosts, Japanese ghosts look vindictive, with hands outstretched at chest level, claws at the ready to strike anyone as they search for their enemies.

When these ghosts wander around on dark nights, chasing the foes that shortened their lives, the frightened-to-death culprits would run away, often drowning in water or falling off a cliff. Revenge is sweet -- at least for Chinese and Japanese ghosts.

Surprisingly, Korean ghosts do not look for their enemies themselves, but seek out the help of a satto, the royal governor of a province or town.

They have reason and respect for the law at an almost incomprehensible level. They do not undo their enemies with their own hands, although they have a chance at revenge.

In many old Korean folk tales, ghosts visit sattos at night and seek vengeance for their unfair deaths through positive law. Let us look at Janghwa Hongryeonjeon, one of the oldest Korean folk tales. Two sisters who were killed by their stepmother visit the town's satto in the middle of the night in white mourning clothes, long black hair hanging loose. They asked the satto to examine their unjust death. There are many such ghosts who try to resolve their grudges through real-life laws in Korean fables.

The climax of these stories is reached when the governor faints. Sattos who do not have the necessary courage or commitment to their profession faint to death at the appearance of the ghosts even before they open their mouths. Story after story has a similar theme: after a number of sattos die from shock, a determined satto with integrity finally is dispatched to the town; he solves everything and they all live (or not live) happily ever after.

Korean ghost stories culminate in magical realism. The stories are sad but beautiful. Ghosts who had their grudges resolved would often visit the satto again; the satto, who now understood why they appeared, would greet the ghost and they would part in tears. How should we modern Koreans comprehend that respect for the rule of law by ghosts?

Ironically, the setting of such stories is based on the premise that most sattos would not exercise their authority fairly to help the victims while they are still living. Only after you kill yourself or are killed and become a ghost, and only after an ordinary satto is in turn killed by the terror of meeting a ghost and is replaced by a courageous one -- only then can ghosts appeal their cases and get a fair hearing.

I suspect that this is the prototype that is in Korean people's minds that makes them want an independent counsel, not ordinary prosecutors, when political scandals erupt.

There once was such a thing as "law-abiding protest." When bus drivers in Seoul drove by following all the traffic rules, it became a protest. Making laws that are impossible to abide by and cracking down on those who violate them happens too often in Korea. So it is no surprise that modern-day Koreans wait for a courageous satto to give them justice.

A few days ago, truck drivers held a "law-abiding protest." Large cargo trucks have no rest stops on the highway, the drivers complain. Freeway rest areas bar large trucks from entry, and road shoulders that can serve as temporary rest stops are blocked with concrete barriers. Deprived of rest, truck drivers complain of fatigue and blurred vision after long hours on the road.

What did they do? They drove at the minimum legal speed, becoming ghosts who looked for a courageous satto.

Illegal is legal, and people look for a knight in shining armor to resolve their problems. Until when must Korea keep dwelling on ancient fables for comfort? Are there no more just sattos?


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The writer is a novelist.

by Han Soo-san

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