Losing Face

Argus Paul Estabrook

2016 - 2017

Seoul, South Korea

In South Korean society, losing face is the worst thing that can happen to a person. The damage of having one’s identity lost to shame is so ruinous, that it can completely destroy a person’s social standing and authority.

And that is exactly what happened to the 11th President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye.

In late October 2016, Park's relationship with a shadowy advisor from a shaman-esque cult was revealed to extend to acts of extortion and influence peddling. South Koreans were shocked by the revelations. Demanding a government free from corruption and unknown influences, protesters began staging mass demonstrations every consecutive weekend in Seoul.

Flooding the streets while they marched towards the presidential grounds, protesters filled the night air chanting in unison, “Come down and go to jail!” Effigies and satirical street art continuously sprang up around the capital, especially so in Gwanghwamun Square. Measuring public opinion approximately one month after the protests began, Gallup Korea revealed her approval rating sank to a mere 4%, the lowest for any sitting president in South Korean history.

On December 9, 2016, the National Assembly voted to impeach her in an overwhelming 234-56 vote.

On March 10, 2017, she was formally removed from office after the Constitutional Court announced its unanimous ruling to uphold the impeachment.

This is what it looks like when the South Korean President loses face.

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  • Read All About It - A man sells Workers' Solidarity newspapers to protesters marching towards the presidential Blue House. The headline reads: Park Geun-hye Resign Now.

  • Dark Horse - A demonstrator rides a fiberglass horse in Gwanghwamun Square to deliver his protest message to others.

  • Student Protesters March - Among the most vocal and energetic groups taking part in the anti-president demonstrations are young South Korean students.

  • Resistance - An overwhelming number of police confront protesters around downtown Seoul. Through physical presence, they easily barricade numerous public streets.

  • Behind Bars - Imprisoned and surrounded by journalists, a protester plays President Park Geun-hye during the Christmas Eve demonstration in Seoul, South Korea.

  • Taking Part - At a volunteer table full of candles for the night's vigil, a man picks up a protest sign during the 15th demonstration in Seoul, South Korea.

  • Holding On - Young boys with their vigil candles stand alongside Gwanghwamun Plaza. The sticker on the sign reads: Prevent seizing the media.

  • Seoul Spirit - As traditional musicians play, others chant and lose themselves in dance during the 19th straight weekend of demonstrations.

  • Glance Back - Behind Seoul’s iconic statue of King Sejong the Great, banners hang in remembrance of Park Jong-chul, a student who died after being tortured for his activism in 1987.

  • Strings Attached - A protest poster on the subway wall at Gwanghwamun Station. Anti-Park imagery was a common sight in and around the capitol.

  • For Sore Eyes - Even before the formal process of President Park Geun-hye's impeachment began, a concerned public focused on Gwanghwamun Square as an area to peacefully assemble.

  • Hand in Hand - Two women dressed in traditional Hanbok walk by one of the Haetae lion guards at the entrance of Gwanghwamun Gate. Across the street the protests in Seoul continue.

  • Judgment Day - Televised live from the main courtroom, the ruling to uphold the impeachment was delivered by acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi on March 10, 2017.

  • Waiting in the Wings - A young child sits with friends and family before participating in a parade celebrating Park Geun-hye's official removal from office.

  • Victory - Protesters rejoice as a triumphant mood overtakes Gwanghwamun Square on March 11, 2017.

  • Parting Thought - As the protests fade into memory and unknown political realities emerge, a new question arises for South Korea: Where do we go from here?