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Friday, February 21, 2014 

The history of Korea's censorship of manhwa in the 1990s

The Korea Times wrote about the history of the country's censorship of manhwa (their pronunciation of manga) in the 1990s, and how its recovered since, but with difficulty, as artists are now looking to the internet for development. They also tell how this far eastern country had a reaction not unlike the middle ages to comics and cartoons:
Kim’s story is a common one in a country where schools used to pick a day in May to gather the many comic books impounded from students and burn them in the schoolyard, one of the strangest rituals honoring the month designated by the state as “month of the family.”

The book burnings, which were encouraged by government officials, continued until the late 1990s. The biggest of these ceremonies was held every year in front of the Seoul City Hall, where municipal authorities invited the national media to record the spectacle of thousands of comic books going up in flames.

Cartoons were demonized then for the same reasons politicians are demonizing video games now.

They were blamed for encouraging a culture of violence and sex. The truth is that politicians, lawmakers and teachers were merely catering to Korea’s famously overzealous parents, who want their kids to do nothing but download English words to their brains 24/7.

Things took an irrevocable turn for the worse in 1997 when the culture ministry named cartoons, along with cigarettes and alcoholic beverages, as “harmful substances” for youngsters.

Cartoon magazines, which had thrived in the 1980s and earlier part of the 1990s, were doomed because storeowners were restricted from selling them to their main audience.

“The heyday of Korean cartoons was short. Censorship was heavy during the military governments. In the 1980s and early 90s, there were a few authors who were selling copies in the several millions. Huh Young-man’s works were popular and the Japanese series, ‘Dragon Ball’ by Akira Toriyama, was probably the most popular comic series ever,” said Lee of KCA.

“The government suppression of the 1990s was a decisive blow. Policymakers loosened their grip simply because cartoons had lost much of their relevance as cultural products. But the readership of cartoons recovered in the 2000s when they were offered as free Internet content.”
And people think the restrictions in USA comic books during the 50s and 60s - something several major companies agreed to themselves for the sake of pushing others out of business - was bad! So instead of setting up an age limit for sales not unlike movies and developing better educational curriculum, the government encouraged scenarios straight out of Fahrenheit 451. Now I understand why manhwa's never been as big a medium as manga, with fewer animation studios to boot. I hope they've come to their senses now, and some modern writers and artists are trying to take advantage of the internet for rebuilding the medium again.

Someday, people are going to look back at the 50s and 60s after reading this and figure that whatever happened at the time was petty compared to this madness.

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  • I'm Avi Green
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