Conscience on the WallThe past, present, and future of daejabos
Yoo Hye-rim  |
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승인 2010.10.28  21:49:47
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                                                                       KOREA DEMOCRACY FOUNDATION ARCHIVES
   Daejabo put up by the Sejong University Student Association in January 1991 to censure the Roh Tae-woo governmentKOREA DEMOCRACY FOUNDATION ARCHIVES  



  Kim Ye-seul's *daejabo*, posted at Korea University in March 2010  

A CROWD gathers around in front of the Central Library. Their eyes are fixed on a large piece of paper posted on the surface of a round pillar. Even those rushing out of the library cannot help but slow down to check out what everyone is looking at. A freshman might regard this with curiosity, for it is a scene rarely seen outside college campuses. Indeed, the prevalence of daejabo culture --posting messages about social or campus issues on a large poster -- seems to be a unique characteristic of university campuses in Korea. College students, faster than anyone in adopting new digital gadgets, are the ones still using wallpaper posters as a means of communication. The question becomes why. Has it been the custom to do so, a sort of a tradition? If so, when did this tradition begin and how did it keep itself alive amidst today's technology?

 In turbulent times

   A daejabo commonly refers to a large piece of paper containing the message of a person or an organization, attached on the wall in public spaces in order to capture the attention of passers-by. Although historical records suggest that wallposters were used as a communication tool in ancient China, the modern daejabo emerged amidst the country's modernization movement. When the Red Guards initiated the 1966 Cultural Revolution, a socialist movement led by Mao Zedong, they put up a daejabo on a wall in Beijing University to indicate that the university was in the hands of anti-revolutionaries. This piece of paper, whose impact stirred all of China, came to be known as the first modern daejabo. The Chinese people named it so because the message was written in big characters to enable people to read it from a distance. Used as a mouthpiece for politicians during Zedong's rule, the daejabo turned, ironically, into a powerful tool in the democratization movement. In the 1978-9 Democracy Wall Movement, human rights activist, Wei Jingsheng, declared on a famous daejabo: "The fifth modernization is democratization."
   The daejabo played a significant role in Korea as well. The 1980s, a period of social turmoil, was the era of daejabo. Under the military dictatorship of President Jeon Du-hwan, there was neither freedom of speech nor of the press. The daejabo, as a result, surfaced as a source of uncensored information; for instance, some posters exposed the corruption of the bureaucrats, such as the nepotistic system of the Fifth Republic. As one of the few channels of information that lay outside of the government's radar of censorship, the daejabo shaped and reshaped public opinion quickly and effectively. The police constantly pulled the posters down, but word still spread fast enough to rouse the public.
   The daejabo played a prominent role especially in the student movement. According to Jeong Si-dong ('86, Dept. of Dentistry), a Yonsei alumnus and former student activist, the student movement lay at the core of the social movement back in the '80s. "As college students craving for truth and justice, we could not allow ourselves to think that the oppression and injustice in the society were problems far from our own," recalls Jeong. The Student Association (SA) and various student organizations used daejabos to enlighten students of the current situation and the role they should take as college students. daejabos ignited debates. When a daejabo was posted up, a series of wallposters would quickly follow in response, reflecting the many different views surrounding social changes. "Disputes in this form became especially fierce as the 1988 presidential election drew near," says Jeong.

                                               CONTRIBUTED BY REVOLUTION ONLINE
                 A Chinese daejabo during Mao Zedong's era  

The voice on campus

   The military regime eventually collapsed and democracy took root in Korea. Nowadays, there are various ways through which people can freely express their thoughts. TV and newspapers are no longer under government control; internet newspapers like OhmyNews and Dailian invite "netizen reporters" to write for them; voicing one's opinion on online communities or private blogs has become a right taken for granted.
   Yet, the daejabo has not disappeared. It still plays a crucial part in on-campus communication, delivering a wide range of messages: accusations (urging honorary professor Kim Dong-gill to apologize for his insensitive criticism of president Roh Moo-hyun prior to Roh's death), requests (demanding AKARAKA to make  its expenditures public), apologies (an engineering student apologizing to the whole student body for sexually harassing a prospective freshman), and so on. For many student organizations, it still serves as the primary means of communicating with the student body. Jeong Da-hye (Pres., Student Association) states that the SA uses the daejabo not only to announce its official position on certain issues but also to observe general sentiment on campus. "We monitor daejabos inside school on a regular basis, because it helps us to keep an eye on student opinions and take action on important issues," she claims.
   Some issues raised by daejabos even go as far as to grab the attention of the society at large. That is what happened in March 2010, when a piece of writing posted on the College of Politics and Economics building of Korea University became a national issue. Kim Ye-seul, a Korea university student, had posted a hand-written daejabo stating that she would drop out of school that day. She claimed she was "rejecting" college, which had become a "subcontractor supplying humans as products" to the capitalistic society. Kim's statement triggered contemplation and discussion about today's education, not only among Korea University students but throughout the whole society. The incident was broadcasted on the MBC 9 o'clock news, covered on the first page of Kyunghyang Newspaper, and even published into a book. Students at other universities, such as Seoul National, Yonsei, Gookmin, and Ewha, put up daejabos pointing out the faults with the Korean university education on their own campuses.

                                                                       CONTRIBUTED BY NANUMMUNHWA
  Students reading a *daejabo* posted at Ewha Womens' University in response to Kim Ye-seul's statement  

Merits and limitations of the daejabo

   The daejabo has unique characteristics that make it an effective on-campus communication method. "If the message is intended for those nearby, the daejabo is one of the easiest and fastest ways of reaching the receiver," says Kang Jeong-soo (Prof., Dept. of Mass Communication). Posted at locations that many students pass by daily, daejabos are directly exposed to the target audience. They carry even greater merits when addressing campus issues, because they get posted at the very site where the issue is being debated. Furthermore, the daejabo is an accessible and affordable medium open to everyone, and allows the writer, if he or she wishes, to express his or her opinion anonymously.
   Compared to placards and flyers, daejabos also tend to be longer in length, and takes the form of a complete piece of writing. Hence it allows the writer to explain the context of the situation and develop his argument more logically and systematically. Finally, the daejabo enables two-way communication. The readers can respond to a daejabo publicly by posting their own daejabos. When Kim Ye-seul's daejabo was put up, 15 other daejabos appeared at the site within two weeks, some supporting and others criticizing the points she had made.
   The daejabo also has problems, however. Because one can post a daejabo under anonymity and easily avoid taking responsibility for its content, the posters do not always contain the truth. But rumors spread quickly, regardless of its veracity. That becomes a serious problem when specific people are deliberately defamed. Another weakness of the daejabo is that it is not archived. "With daejabos, there is no way of tracking and recording what issues drew attention, what conflicts and troubles people went through, and what opinions have been raised," explains Kang.


The future of daejabo

   As today's ever-digitalizing society pushes people further and further away from traditional paper-based media, some predict that the daejabo will inevitably be replaced by digital media. Possible substitutes include blogs, online university communities, and social network services (SNS). All of these, like the daejabo, are available to anyone who want to share their thoughts. Private blogs give writers wide exposure, some anonymity, and enough space and freedom to reason their thoughts out. Schools' online communities, on the other hand, are effective for reaching fellow students, and allow fast and active interaction among the users. Then there are SNS like Twitter and Facebook, spreading more quickly than ever with the increasing popularity of smartphones. Although few currently use SNS to discuss campus or social issues, some claim its potential of becoming the new daejabo. "SNS has gained some popularity now, but it is only a start," says Kang. A research done by the market research firm Comscore in July 2010 shows that the number of Korean SNS visitors increased by 57% from last year, the second fastest among major countries. "At this rate, SNS will emerge as the primary means of communication in the upcoming future." He expects that a hub of on-campus communication will be established to bring individual users together. "It may be the SA's Facebook, Twitter, or something like that. Just like there are always people passing by the library, there will be numerous people gathering around the online hub," says Kang.
   Others, however, expect that the daejabo will continue to have its place on campus. Digital media have their limits in substituting daejabos. Blogs, for example, are not as efficient in addressing campus issues, for their target is not narrowed down to a specific audience. The fast pace of interaction on schools' online communities, while a big strength, might sometimes keep the user from taking enough time to think about the issue before arguing his views. With SNS, people tend to express themselves in shorter texts, in a more casual manner. "The daejabo forces people to establish a position about a specific issue and support it with logic and reasons, not just react to it emotionally. This can be quite different from the way people use digital media," says Jeong Da-hye. "The two distinct cultures will most likely coexist, rather than one replacing the other."


*             *              *

   When choosing a medium, the ultimate goal of the messenger is to find the format that best suits the purpose and situation, one that can deliver the message most effectively. "People will stop writing daejabos if they find a medium that's more effective and convenient. They will not, however, stop talking," says Kang. At the base lies the desire to "communicate." The daejabo has been one of the ways people chose to channel that desire, but there is no guarantee that it will remain so. What is crucial is that there are always people who bring up and talk about "our" problems. Will daejabos be around forever? It is hard to tell. But as long as we keep wanting to think about and share our issues, the daejabo will continue to exist in some form in some place, whether that be the daejabo we know now or something entirely new.

Box: Daejabos around the world
-First record of the Korean wallposter dates back to Shilla Dynasty, under the rule of Queen Jinseong. Wallposters accusing the wrongdoings of nobles, called Gweseo, became prevalent in the mid and late Joseon Dynasty, though they were strictly forbidden by the law.

-Religious reformation in Germany started with a piece of daejabo when Martin Luther nailed up his 95 Theses for Church Reform on the door of Wittenburg Cathedral.

-Wallposters played the role of the newspaper during the French Revolution and Russian Revolution, delivering the news to the public.

-Communist countries in the Soviet Union used wallposters as political propaganda in the 20th century. 

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