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Aryong Choi

Red Devils, as Revolutionary Body; Overcoming Red Complex


Since Korea war in 1950, Korea was divided into south and north. S. Korea advocating liberal democratism has confronted N. Korea of communism. It had kept pace with the Era of cold war and influenced culture and ideology in Korea society. The gloomy history of Korea war in 1950 has changed the concept of red.

The authoritarian government of S. Korea confronting N. Korea had justified in detaining people and oppressing peoples' everyday life and freedom of expression , under the slogan of anticommunism. The Koreans suffered from red complex and were highly repressed.

At the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, ironically Korean supporters selected two negative concepts;"RED" and "DEVILS". All generations, young and old, male and female enjoyed it, gathering in public spheres with red T-shirts, printed by “Be the Reds” and Taeguk mark grotesquely on the face and body. People took photographs of themselves by digital divices like cellular phones and uploaded them their own blogs and webpages. The press didn’t blame of red devils and never reported it reminding of red complex.

It was the first massive and revolutionary experience to remove the negative horrible complex meaning from red. Red complex was produced and controlled by the ruling power and its ideological apparatus, mass media. Being red devils was the free self-expression pursuing desire from young generation’s body over the whole generations. It was erupted from body and it could break the barrier, taboo and norms in culture and ideology on the base of 'scattered' personal experience of expressing his/her identity in the jungle of digital device and internet among the young generation before 2002 world cup. It was not controlled from up to down and it continuously influenced the culture and politics of 2006 in Korea.

In this paper, red devils extended from the original members of it to all free Korean supporters at home and abroad. This paper focused on the impulse of that supporting movements and the results of red devils during 2002 soccer game . And how is changing red complex having repressed Korea society and everyday life of Korean People steadily.

The meaning of Red before 2002

S. Korean government defined N. Korea as "bbal gang yi(red people)" and arrested those who defending the communism or socialism and tortured by the National Security law since 1948. And then through the previous presidents,Park, Chun, and Rho, they abused it to keep their political power over the people. In every political election campaign, candidates who had gained a high approval rating suffered from color controversy; the previous President Kim, DaeJung(1998.3~2003.2). Sometimes the progressive ones are blamed as red people and arrested. Even the reformers, activists and religious leaders who work for farmers, women and urban labors was detained while labeling as Pro-North Korea group; the present Prime Minister, Han(2006) was attained as Christian Academy Scandal in 1979. And the descedents of communists or partisans could not get good jobs, by unfair bandages like the implicative system. Like this, to mention N.Korea itself and related with communists or defectors who left for N.Korea were restricted. Until 1989, a university student was prisoned by the police for one more night because he brought a book written by Marx. To Koreans above the middle of 30s, communism and red associated with horrors: to be arrested, to be tortured, to be killed and to be isolated. They are not free from the association of red complex: red, communism, and physical and social horrors.

Individuals repressed in the cultural context

In 1970s and 1980s to preserve a good custom by the authoritarian government, the young people were censorshiped even by the length in male’s hair and female's skirt. President Chun, following President Park, suppressed the democratic civilian movements of Gwang Ju with the army in May, 1980. The civilians were reported as spies, gangsters and impure elements. And the government arrested the alcoholic, the tattooed, and gangsters into the `Sam chung Kyo Yook Dae`(1980.8.4) and disciplined them to the degree of almost torture as punishment. The number of victims reached 45,000. It was justified to enlighten them and remove criminals from the society. And Koreans watched them with tattoos, disciplined through news programs on prime time. The journalists reported it without criticizing. They could produce physical and ideological horror and spread it over the people. At that time the mass media was sponsored by the government. They played a role of the ideological apparatus and propaganda channel.

Though those direct legal restrictions have disappeared, it’s horrible effect remains the Korean above middle age. Nowadays, Korean teanagers wear uniform with limited hair style. According to a survey by the Committee of Teenagers(2006), what the teenagers think of as serious problems in their everyday life, are restriction to hairstyle(64.2%), school uniform regardless of season(61.1%)

Divine Flag as the symbol of Nation
And Taegukgi, the national flag of Korea is the divine object. Nobody could dream of using it except worshiping it. When the national anthem was heard on the open space at about 5 P.M., people had to stop on the spot and then they saluted toward the symbol of the nation while putting right hand to the heart and remembering the pledge allegiance to the flag . And it was a ritual to salute toward the flag before each projecting the movie even in the theatre, dark and closed space till the last military government.

Birth of Red Devils and Young generation in Korea

Red Devils is the official title of S. Korea National Soccer team’s supporters. In 1998 it was decided naming after “red fury”, which a foreign journalist named in reporting Korean team in 1983 Mexico FIFA World Youth Championship. For old generations, that was a serious combination of negative meanings under the political and cultural context of Korea. But the young generations are different. They are free from war and red complex somewhat. At that time, the supporters had experienced the Sunshining Policy(1998) of Kim, DaeJung who became the president although he had been recongnized as red people, pro-North Korea.

The Korean Teachers & Educational Worker’s Union was established in May 28,1989 but in 1999 it could be legalized. Since 1990, the university students were called as Cham Kyo Yook generation and they were more independent and expressed more freely against authority and dignity. They are the generation enjoying freedom of expressing through digital devices; celluar phone, digital camera and internet. They have the image of red, not connected to red complex. So they could easily decide “Red Devils” as the title of supporting subjects.

At the beginning of 2002 World Cup, the Red Devils was not focused by Korean People. As the Korean team went the first round unexpectedly, Koreans became to feel interested in Red Devils, gathered with red shirts on the street one by one. They were melted into “Corea”, “Dae Han Min Kuk” “Arirang” with one voice and fell in the ecstasy. At last, regardless of age, sex, class and even race including foreign laborers, all people in Korea and abroad absorbed in supporting with red T-shirts without ideological and cultural restriction. If it was spread among only one specific classes, it could be just a fashion or sub-culture. Everyone did willingly participated in red devils. Newspapers looked red by photos. So it was revolutionary phenomena in Korea. Young generations made clothes with Tae Guk Ki and painted their face and body with Tae guk mark grotesquely. The phenomena itself was beyond norm and border.

Beyond previous attitude toward face and body

Traditionally, the every part of body is given by parents and therefore not harming any part of it is the base of Hyo(obedience to parents), Korean virtue. Therefore the drawing lines and painting colors on the face and body was restricted. A tattoo has considered the icon of gangsters and criminals. Under the government of the President Chun, men who tattooed were arrested as criminals.

During supporting Korean team in 2002, as red devils, the young generations decorated their cheeks, face and body, with a red-blue Taeguk mark and the letters “I love Korea”. They “transform”ed the National Flag into a part of body .

It was the first experience ex-pressing love for flag as the symbol of nation with direct and more instinct sense of “touch” on their skin and body. They rather attracted a public gaze, camera of journalism, and uproaded their photos on the web sites and kept them in their own mobile phone. They were praised rather than punished. It escaped an implication of serious deviation from Korean society.

They enjoyed “becoming different” from uniformed style of a normal life style. At the same time, it paved the way to their own taste and hidden identity beyond tradition, taboo and ideological apparatus.

Rebirth of Red as Bio-Color and talisman against evils(ill luck)

The traditional representative colors of Korea are five; white, yellow, red, blue and black. Red color had been used as color of King, bride, married women, unmarried women, artist, male musician, female dancer and shaman, even in funeral ritual . Specially red is vivid symbol of birth of life and passion extracted from blood as a concrete warm material flowing under skin. Regardless of race and color, class, everyone has in common universally the material of red warm fluid: Blood. So I call red Bio-color.

Red is used on talisman to expel ill luck and evils. Red is the border between life and death. Like that, red is unconsiously familiar color to Koreans, while isolated from red complex. It was also invented symbolic and cultural concept related natural object. Through the function of ideology of ruling power, it was reversed into a red complex. As a result, Korean avoid using it and Korean identity isolated from its tradition. The red color is regarded as only young women’s and devaluated as frivolous or prostitute.

During 2002, Koreans expressed and extended it over the skin. The skin is the surface and the region accumulated by one’s identity, emotion and feeling, delight and anger, repressed by ideology, custom, rules. They ex-pressed red freely and recovered it as bio-color and traditional code.

Koreans regained red color through the body by becoming red devils. Reversely, they could accept and consume red because it is part of tradition and their body .

Why did they become voluntarily to be red devils and drive themselves frantic, shouting out “Dae Han Min Guk”, “Oh, Pilseung Korea” using “Corea” instead of Korea?

Unknown country, unknown my identity ; “Are you Chinese? Or Japanese?”

Spreading over several generations Koreas have been neglected collectively and it im-pressed the sense of alienation into Koreans’ heart. The excess of im-pression results in explosion of ex-pression.

Why were Koreans mobilized voluntarily in front of the screen in Korea, Japan and other countries in 2002 as well as in the stadium of LA in 2006? The world cup game is not performed in reality there. According to SBS news at Jun. 19, 2006, at the day of Korea-France match, there were 20,000 Koreans at only Staple Stadium, in LA, USA apart from Germany. Is it just because Koreans enjoy being excited at digital cyber reality and cyber reality game, virtual reality? No.

Even Asians in American experience a stereotype determined by race, unskillful language and their mother-land’s culture : A yellow, a slant, a gook , chicken heads, yellow man, gibberish . Additionally Koreans are not distinguished well from Chinese and Japanese. The name of Korea has been undiscovered and Koreans felt neglected and despised behind the curtain of Korean war. Because of that kind of collective neglect, they can be mobilized voluntarily and identify themselves as Korean using “red” isolated from red complex. They shouted themselves hoarsely with joy repeatedly all night on the soccer match with simple short songs and slogan: “Dae Han Min Guk” “Oh Pilseoung Korea” “Arirang” and Korean National anthem. They didn’t feel tired and boring of a few of simple slogans. They could get soaked to the skin and body with the dynamic energy of red and with grotesque face and body painting like tattoos. Apart from the fear to be arrested with red color, they were reported with positive word, “beautiful, passionate” They didn’t need feel fearful and could experience that uniqueness is attractive.

They break the negative meaning covering the name of Korea. Under the name of Korea with red T-shirts, they overcome the sense of isolation. And they could in-grave and express their identity toward two directions: inside of their body and outsider of it. They themselves could give rebirth to Korea while reversing the image of red by cutting the red complex.

The image of City

By the Choi’s paper(2000), Gwanghwamun, presently the main street of supporting soccer team was depicted black, gray color to Koreans’ mental map. It has been a district of high culture performed at Sejong cultural center and unreachable space surrounded by police protecting American Ambassy and American cultural center. The subjects of the survey expressed their feeling about Sejong street was black and grey related with police and power. however otherstreet connected directly to Sejong street as vivid, red.

After 2002 world cup, they could have Seoul Plaza and a pedestrian crosswalk on the streets of Gwanghwamun. Before that, the street of Seoul was cubic for the vehicle therefore pedestrians could not recognize themselves as proud subjects. So more and more red devils flowed into the street of downtown. They could cut negative image of red complex. And as proud subjects, Koreans occupied the street and enjoyed there with red color. It was a rebirth as place with passion, rejoicing(jouissance) of Koreans. Red/blue is according of yin and yang is color of living power(life) and of joy as vivid as their contrast. But it doesn’t mean opposition, rather than vivid harmony.

In 2006, the some candidates of local election campaigned with the photos of red devils and red color. On April 20, 2006, Han, Myeong Sook became the first Prime Minister in Korea. In 1970, she was a member of Christian Academy, a institute of activists and religious leaders for farmers, women and urban laborers. The Park Chung-Hee government labeled it a Pro-North Korean group and detained the members. Han was detained for two and half years. During Kim, Dae-Jung administration entered politics and finally became the Prime Minister in 2006.

Until now Color controversy in Korea was not removed completely. But the red color didn’t remind people of communism directly and the horror of red was weakened and other voices except anti-communism, can be appeared. At least, red color is detached from communism.

In popular culture, as the subject matter of Korean films, a divided circumstances after Korea War including dispersed family and defectors treated increasingly and the attitude of it changed from anticommunism to humanity "Silmido(2003)","Takgukgi:Brotherhood of War(2003)","South of Border(2006)". And musical "Yoduk Story(2006)" directed by a defector from N.Korea could be performed by donation of Netizens.

Overcoming Red complex is on going

Until now, it is early decision that Koreans removed completely red complex. But in Korea society it is true that overcoming red complex is on going. We can see it in a variety of division. Bodies named red devils could experience reversing taboo and norms repressed by ideological apparatus. By the experience they can have chance of their own judgement overcoming red complex. Red devils selected the slogan “Red, Go Together”. Red devils who visited in Germany in 2006, meet N.Korean performance group and encouraged together. Revolution of red devils through the body is on going beyond boder.

David Henry Hwang, FOB and other plays, 1989, p.32

Elizabeth Wong, Kimchee and Chitlins, 1994, p. 401, 403,404

Moomoo-bok : Costume of a Female Shaman(p.161), Moomoo-bok : Costume of a Female Exorcist (p.163), Funeral Procession of the Chosun Dynasty (p.180~181)


Kwon, Oh-Chang, Korean coustumes during the Chosun Dynasty, Hyunam Publishing, 2004, Hongnyong-po: The King’s official Robe in Red (p. 21), Hwalot: Ceremonial Robe(p.122~123), Booin-Bok :Everyday Wear for Married Women(p.130), Chonyo-bok: Everyday Wear for Girls(p.134), Yeoryong-bok: Costume for a Courtesan Dancer(p.151),

AM 7, 2006-06-23, p.14

Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag : Before this proud Taegeukgi, I firmly pledge my loyalty and will devote my body and soul to the eternal glory of my country and people.