From Luther’s poster to Twitter

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From Luther’s poster to Twitter

Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation with a poster. Outraged at the corruption he witnessed in the Catholic church, Luther nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg.

The theses were full of scathing criticism. Luther wrote that the pope was a pig; the church was a prostitute; and Johann Tetzel, the papal commissioner of indulgences, was a vampire.

Luther understood the power of this well-placed poster. He wrote his theses in German, instead of the church’s official language of Latin, so that common people could read them. The pope was subsequently so embarrassed by the poster that he summoned Luther to Rome.

In China, “big-character” posters - which are mounted to walls and use large-sized Chinese characters - have been a popular way to express opinions for decades. It is well known that the big-character posters that were posted by the Red Guards on the walls of Peking University in 1966 triggered the Cultural Revolution in China. The posters claimed that the university was still in the hands of reactionaries. Mao utilized wall posters effectively for the purpose of purging his political rivals. He set a precedent of using them for political purposes.

One of the best known modern fiction writers in China has revealed the power of such big-character posters in his novels. Yu Hua, who attended school during the Cultural Revolution, has said that during those days when it was difficult to get a hold of books in China, he satisfied his desire for reading by examining big-character posters.

In his major work, “Chronicle of a Blood Merchant,” Yu mentions a big-character poster. The wife of the main character of the novel is forced to suffer humiliation after a poster falsely accuses her of having worked as a prostitute since she was 15 years old. Because of this false propaganda, she has to stand in the street while someone shaves off one side of her hair.

Yu explained in an interview, “All kinds of things were written on big-character posters. They were the equivalent of blogs today.”

In Korea too, propaganda posters have been replaced by Twitter messages, blog entries and Cyworld updates.

Last week, Kim Mi-wha caused a big stir when she wrote a Twitter message accusing broadcaster KBS of blacklisting actors who are liberal or support opposition parties, including herself.

Because Twitter has a re-posting function, the speed of propagation exceeds our imagination. I think Kim herself never imagined that the message would spread as quickly and as widely as it did, and it has become a point of dispute.

The 386 generation, those who communicated in the 1980s through wall-posters on college campuses, may be amazed at how much things have changed.

The writer is a culture and sports reporter for the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Ki Sun-min
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