Covid infections are on the rise and hospitals are filling up, but Seoul’s speech all last week was not the coronavirus, but a mother of two.
Cho Dong-youn, a 39-year-old former army major, was appointed as the presidential campaign co-chair of the center-left Minjoo party on Tuesday, before stepping down three days later. Her political future collapsed under accusations of having a son with another man in 2011 when she was married to her first husband, to whom she did not tell the child was not hers (she is now in her second marriage).
Kang Yong-seok, Well-Known Right-Wing YouTuber and Former Conservative First Lawmaker made the allegation the day Cho made his political debut. When the Minjoo threatened to sue him for defamation, the conservative daily Chosun Ilbo entered the fray, editing what he called proof that Cho’s first husband ordered a DNA test to determine the child’s paternity. According to the newspaper, he also obtained a court ruling in 2014 that he is not the father.
A married woman having a child out of wedlock and lying to her husband that it is her own. If that’s true, it sounds like the plot of a daytime soap opera, but is it worth talking about for the whole nation?
Yes, it’s in Korea, and the discovery sparked a thousand thoughts and comments on social media, not to mention posts on countless online discussion forums. Infidelity is clearly not a private matter for many Koreans.
Consider that in June a story went around that a male manager and a junior employee at Kookmin Bank, one of Korea’s four largest banks, were having an affair. The woman apparently had a fiancÃ©, who found out about her infidelity and sent the proof to all of their friends and acquaintances.
The same month, another scandal was sparked after a single photo of two women and a man broadcast online. It was alleged that two Samsung Electronics employees (a man and a woman) were committing adultery and that his wife confronted them in the lobby of the company building.
This second incident turned out to be wrong, but it was yet another sign that this country is obsessed with the privacy of others. Just think of the incredible hubbub that erupted in 2017 when famous director Hong Sang-soo and actress Kim Min-hee declared their love for each other. Hong was (and still is) a married man, and the backlash against the couple was swift. Since then, Kim has not appeared in any mainstream film or television drama production.
When all of these details big and small are splashed across countless blogs and even news websites, it’s hard not to learn a few things about all kinds of unfaithful Koreans, famous and otherwise, even if the ‘we have no interest.
The case against Cho is more complex, however. The Minjoo recruited her as part of a political coup. Korean parties often offer top jobs to political novices with impressive resumes to project an image that they care about talent. Cho, a Harvard-trained female army officer, was perfect for reviving Minjoo’s lackluster fortunes as the presidential election nears next spring.
(Party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung is neck and neck with his conservative counterpart Yoon Seok-youl in the Latest Gallup Korea Poll.)
Kang sought to harm Cho and by extension the Minjoo Party, and he was successful, but people are asking if it’s fair ensure that the privacy of politicians suffers from public debate.
Famous progressive lawyer Kwon Gyeong-ae lamented on Facebook: “The constitution guarantees freedom of privacy. Even public figures have no obligation to stand a public trial where their privacy unrelated to public affairs is exposed to the last thread. Even politicians have the right not to have their privacy violated. “
The right Joongang ilbo naturally has a different approach. He published an opinion by his own columnist that “the co-chair of the ruling party’s election campaign is a politically important post, and it is not appropriate for an unethical criminal to occupy him”.
Writer O Byeong-sang continued, âHaving a child out of wedlock happened before 2015, when the the charge of adultery was declared unconstitutional. It means that when it happened, what Cho did was criminal. ”
Criminal or not, Cho’s story and the Minjoo’s apparent ignorance before appointing her to a prominent position have come under heavy criticism across the country. On a largely pro-Minjoo site favored by married women, a popular article said: “This heralds the end of the Minjoo.”
Another forum known for its masculinist sympathies is dominated by the view that Cho willfully cheated on her husband into financially supporting her and her child begotten by another man.
(One piece of proof is an alleged screenshot of the first husband’s bank statement, which appears to show Cho was withdrawing large sums from her account even after filing for a divorce – don’t ask me how this information is circulating in the public domain.)
To be sure, there is something hypocritical and perhaps even sexist about the attacks on Cho. Himself married, YouTuber Kang Yong-seok has been involved in a adultery scandal with a popular blogger six years ago. He clearly doesn’t see anything wrong with what he has done if he calls other people out to infidelity. Talk about a pot calling a black kettle.
On the flip side, Minjoo supporters smeared the wife of opposition Conservative candidate Yoon with the allegation that she could have worked as a bar hostess in the past (one went so far as have it painted on a fresco in front of his shop as an insult). Now they’re rushing to defend Cho, but it’s less about believing the allegations against her to be false and more about protecting the party.
In fact, there is something to be said about keeping Cho out of politics given The low level of Korean confidence in politics and politicians. If she could lie about something as big as the father of her own child, then what else could she lie about if she had the power? Is it really just a private matter, or is it an indication of his personal character and lack of integrity?
For many Koreans, the latter is more plausible.
Last year a Korean friend of mine found out that her Turkish boyfriend, a Samsung manager, was cheating on her. She wondered if she should let the company know.
My friend, like many Koreans, believed that her boyfriend’s private indiscretion should be taken into account by her bosses when assessing her fitness as an employee. There is a Chinese saying, which is widely quoted even in Korea: susin jega chiguk pyeongcheonha . Cultivate your body, put your house in order, run a country, and only then can the world be pacified.
Personal conduct is a reflection of a person’s ability to do bigger things in life, so is the conventional Korean way of thinking. Cho clearly did not have her house in order and is therefore unfit to become a politician.
But the twists and turns continue, much like in any K drama. Sunday’s Advocate Cho announcement that she had lied about her son’s paternity to her then-husband because the child was conceived as a result of rape:
“In August 2010, the former president [of the Minjoo election campaign] Cho Dong-youn experienced an unwanted pregnancy due to a terrible sexual assault by a third party. […] At the time, Cho’s marriage was already pretty much over, but she gave birth to the religious belief that she couldn’t extinguish a life within herself and decided to take sole responsibility for raising the child. “
I will of course continue to follow the evolution of this story.
Cover: Cho Dong-youn, former co-chair of the Minjoo election campaign who resigned after being accused of having a child out of wedlock (source: namu.wiki)