Manufacturing Contempt: State-Linked Populism in South Korea

Joseph Yi, Joe Phillips, Wondong Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The current crisis in South Korea-Japan relations partly originates from a South Korean state that is neither fully authoritarian nor liberal. In the past, right-wing, authoritarian regimes in Seoul fomented populist-nationalist contempt against Japan and North Korea, with biased and censored public discourse, but ignored public sentiments when negotiating with the target states. Since the democratic transition in the 1990s, South Korean governments no longer ignore public sentiments. Left-wing leaders and groups have pluralized public discourse about North Korea, exposing citizens to various views and information, and generated public support for Seoul to pursue rapprochement; but, no comparable groups generate counter-narratives about Japan. Instead, left-wing groups have accelerated negative portrayals and coopted state officials to censor dissenting views. Korean censorship follows illiberal trends in western democracies to ban certain public expressions considered offensive to historically victimized groups. The Korean case demonstrates that, without meaningful opposition and counter-narratives, activists for populist causes link with state power to infringe on the rights of domestic citizens and foreign entities. The remedy is liberalized public discourse that critically discusses complex realities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)494-501
Number of pages8
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Oct 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)


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