A NON-FICTION ACCOUNT OF CORPORAL PUNISHMENT AT A KOREAN UNIVERSITY
Reported by Jane Finney
Given my long interest in corporal punishment, the background to which is explained in my story THE PUNISHMENT SLIP, I was intrigued to come across a newspaper story about a girl in Korea was who taking her university to court for allowing footage of her receiving corporal punishment to be leaked onto the internet. The most surprising part of this story, as far as I was concerned, was the revelation that university students in Korea were subject to CP. I had never heard of any country where this kind of thing happened at university level. Using the information in the story, I managed to contact the girl through her lawyer, and entered into a correspondence with her (she was fluent in English). The following account is taken from several emails she sent me between August and October 2011. I have edited together the various emails to form a continuous narrative, and made several changes in order to render parts of her account in coherent English (though I must stress again that her English was excellent). She has approved the final version, and given me permission to make it available on the internet. Though she did not request this, I have removed all references to actual names and places.
Thank you for your interest in my case. I can understand your surprise upon learning that students in Korean universities are given the cane. In Korean high schools, of course, the cane is used regularly. I must have received more than a dozen canings during my years at (name of a Korean girls’ school).
Most of the time these were class punishments, which means that teachers would cane the whole class because several students were misbehaving. It was very unfair, I thought. Usually, these canings would take place in a courtyard; the class would be marched out, lined up, and told to bend over with their hands flat on the ground. The teacher would then move along the line giving us a number of strokes (usually five) on our bottoms. Once a girl had received her strokes, she would have to move to the other side of the courtyard and resume her previous position, bent over with her hands on the ground. I guess this is because maintaining the position was part of the punishment.
At other times, individual students would be given the cane for specific reasons; often, anyone who received low marks in an (exam? test?) would be caned; these canings would take place in front of the glass, with the girl leaning forward by the blackboard. I had a tremendous feeling of injustice when I had to receive a class punishment, despite the fact that I hadn’t done anything wrong. Also, the class punishments were worse than the specific punishments, as maintaining the hands on floor position made it difficult to rub your bottom after you had been caned, and, if you were near the end of the line, it was terrifying to see the teacher gradually working his or her way towards you – you would hear the girls crying in pain, and knew that soon you would be the one crying.
You can see footage of typical Korean school canings (though none from the school I attended) filmed by students on their cellphones, at this website: (URL removed as detected as containing malware)
I really hated receiving the cane (big surprise, huh?), and was looking forward to leaving high school and going to university. So it was more than a little annoying to learn that my university (name of university provided) was one of the few that practiced corporal punishment. However, the kind of punishment that was given in the university differed in several ways from that carried out in high school, the most obvious (and welcome) difference being that there were no class punishments, nor punishments for poor scores.
Caning would only be carried out for breaking rules or not doing as we were told, and I felt relatively confident that I could get through university unbruised. The other major difference was that, whereas in high school, the cane would always be applied to our bottoms, and would consist of no more than five strokes, in university it was applied to the soles of our feet: the reason for this is that in high school the girls wore skirts (and in boys’ schools the boys wore thin uniform trousers), whereas in university most of us wore jeans, so caning our bottoms would not have been so effective.
The canings in university would consist of many more strokes (conversations with friends who received this punishment suggest that the average number was about 30) – I’m not sure why, perhaps because you really had to do something wrong to receive a caning in university. Also, the punishments were carried out in private, with only the teacher and student present. For this reason, the teachers had to film each punishment with a video camera, so that there would be a record in case any claims of improper conduct were made.
I only received the cane once in university, about half way through my first year. I was supposed to write an essay on Kim Manjung for my Korean literature course, and had in fact completed the essay. However, when I reached into my bag to take the essay out and hand it to my teacher, Mr D (full name provided), I found that I had forgotten to bring it. I tried to explain this to Mr D, but he told me to remain behind after class. I knew what was coming, and felt really afraid, though I had nobody but myself to blame.
After the rest of the class had left, Mr D took out his video camera, started filming me, and told me that he was going to give me the cane. He told me to take off my shoes and approach the blackboard, then take off my socks and kneel down on the stage by the board. I did this, and was then told to role the bottom of my jeans up slightly. After I had done this, I sat in a kneeling position. Mr D, who had taken a long thin cane from his desk, then told me to sit up, so that my back was clear of my feet.
Once I was in position, he put down the video camera, took his cane and lined it up against the soles of my feet. I shuddered, since I could not see what he was doing back there, but I knew what was coming. Mr D then delivered ten hard strokes to the soles of my feet. I cried out after each one, the pain was really horrible. Mr D then walked away and moved his video camera.
I thought, with some relief that perhaps my ordeal was over (he had not told me how many strokes I was to receive), but it seems that he was simply moving the camera into a different position. He then lined up his cane against my feet once more, and delivered another dozen or so strokes. I was happy to discover that this second set was much lighter than the first, but the strokes still hurt, and I was unable to prevent myself from crying out with the pain caused by each one.
Mr D again moved the camera into a different position, and I asked if my punishment was now over. Mr D said: “almost, there are just five more strokes.” I was in great pain by this point, so I asked if he could make the strokes lighter, and Mr D said that he could either give me ten light ones or five strong ones. I decided that the five strong ones would at least get this over with quicker, so I said: “five strong ones then, but please sir, not too strong.”
Mr D then made another adjustment to his camera, and gave me another five, and, although they were very painful, they were not quite as bad as the first batch. Once this was finished, Mr D picked up his camera and told me that I could get dressed and leave when I was ready, and that he would expect to receive my essay at the next lesson.
I picked up my socks and walked limpingly back to my chair. My feet were in such pain that I could barely stand, but I was determined not to cry in front of Mr D. I put my socks and shoes back on, and left the room. As soon as I got outside, I burst into tears; it had been such a painful and humiliating experience, especially since I thought of myself as a grown woman, and didn’t think it was right that I should have to be punished in this way. But I could not deny that the punishment had been fair, since I really should have remembered to bring my essay. I did not feel angry at Mr D, because he was just doing his job, and I think he made some of the strokes lighter than he might have because he could see how distressed I was by the first ten hard strokes.
I left university in 2009. In March of this year (2011), my friend from university (name supplied) whom I had kept in contact with sent me the following link:
He said that it seemed to be footage of me receiving a caning. When I looked at the link, I was horrified to see that my punishment was indeed now available for all to see on the internet. I do not know how this was leaked, or by who, but my lawyer suspects that teachers make some extra income by providing footage of students (especially female students) being caned to private DVD companies, who sell compilations of this footage to people (mostly in other countries) who like to watch such things. Of course, this is completely illegal.
All the moments in which Mr D speaks have been carefully removed from the video in order to protect his identity, though my identity is not protected at all. My lawyer has contacted the university, but they have not been able to provide an explanation as to why this footage was made available. They claim to have searched their archives and been unable to locate the footage, so they assume it was simply misplaced. If I were to sue Mr D for improper behavior, I would have a good case, since there is, at least theoretically, no footage to prove that such behavior did not take place. But I have no problem with Mr D (assuming he was not responsible for the footage being seen outside the university), as I believe that my punishment was carried out in a proper and professional manner. I am only angry that this footage has been made public.
My lawyer has asked YouTube to remove the video (though it is also available on other sites), but they have not responded: this is perhaps a good thing, since it makes the fact of this material’s public availability undeniable. I will let you know as soon as I have any news about the progress of my case.