On December 31st, a man burned himself to death on a road overlooking Seoul Station in the middle of the capital. Before dousing himself in flammable liquid, he unfurled banners criticizing the government and the recent NIS election interference. His suicide note also prominently featured the “how are you doing?” movement currently growing through posters throughout the country.
Netizens debated whether the man’s death was deserving of martyrdom or was a hyperbolic response to a political debate. This is not the first time a single protester has chosen a public location in Seoul for a political suicide, just six months ago a male rights activist jumped off a bridge over the Han river.
From The Kyunghyang Shinmun:
Convenience store clerk in his forties burns himself to death, asks final question: “How are you doing?”
On the last day of December in 2013, a man in his forties set himself ablaze on an elevated road in front of the Seoul Station. He died at 7:55 a.m. the next day. Lee Nam-jong bound himself in chains, hung up anti-government banners on the roadway, doused himself with flammable fluid and set himself on fire to end his own life. His death threw a question to Korean society in 2014.
“How are you doing?”
At the site of the incident, a blackened diary was discovered. Its cover was burnt but its contents were undamaged. There were three letters for his family, two letters for those who helped him, and two letters for the public. A 17-line memo entitled “How are you doing?” was written for the public.
Lee was born in Gwangju in 1973 as the second oldest of three siblings. His father was a teacher. He majored in English literature at Joseon University in the late 1990’s and finished his military duty as an ROTC captain. While he was preparing for a government exam, he drove a taxi as a part-time job. Due to a car accident, he gave up his studies. Afterwards, he began doing all sorts of work including making deliveries for a living. Before his death, he worked as a manager at a convenience store in Buk-gu, Gwangju. He had debt due to his older brother after he had made investments under his sibling’s name and incurred debts. The debts resulted in him becoming a credit delinquent seven or eight years ago.
During his school days, he was into poetry. His older brother said, “Nam-jong liked poetry. He was good at writing. There is a box full of his poems at home. He had been writing a diary since he was little.”
According to Park Ju-min, a lawyer who read Lee’s suicide notes, Lee sent his message to the public through the “How are you doing” poster format. In his suicide notes, he criticized the circumstances of illegal governmental interference in the last presidential election. He said the Park Geun-hye government is brushing it off as an ‘individual fault’ and trampling on democracy. He requested, “Our citizens are hesitant and afraid now. I will take all the fear with me. I ask you to rise up with no fear.” Before committing suicide, Lee hung up banners on the roadway reading “Park Geun-hye must resign. Implement a special investigation [against the NIS].”
Lee’s older brother said, “Nobody would set himself on fire for petty things. There must have been a strong message he wanted to send. How frustrated he must have been to chose such method?”
Lee took care of his family right until his suicide. He lived in a small apartment in Buk-gu, Gwangju, with his mother and older brother since 1992. Neighbors said, “Lee took care of his mother without complaints.” In his letter to his younger brother, Lee said, “I’m sorry to leave the burden on you. Don’t be sad. Think I died happily. Take care of mom.” About a week ago, Lee tried to change the recipient of his life insurance to his younger brother. It seems he tried to help his family with his death.
Lee’s mother, who rushed to the hospital in Seoul where her son was taken, sobbed and wailed until she could not stand upon hearing of her son’s death. Democratic Party permanent adviser Jeong Dong-young, Democratic Party’s lawmaker Nam-yun In-sun, Martyr Jeon Tae-il‘s younger brother Jeon Tae-sam, and others visited the funeral home. Lee’s funeral will be held as a democratic public funeral by a civic group on January 4th and he will be laid to rest in the democratic burial site in Mangwol-dong, Gwangju.
Comments from Daum:
You are truly a martyr for democracy. Your honorable death will be eternally remembered in this country’s history and remind our descendants of the importance of democracy.
President Park Geune [disrespectfully misspelled] should think hard about his death. About who caused it. He will still be resentful in heaven. Rest in peace.
I can only say I’m sorry…
Implement a special investigation for government agencies’ interference in the presidential election. Rest in peace.
I hope your death was not in vain… Rest in peace.
The living shall follow this….
★ Democratic Party idiots, declare the last presidential election to be null and void right now and sue the fake president to stop her job. We should take down Park Geun-hye, who has benefited from all the dirty tricks of the national bureaucracy, including the Netizen Intelligence Service [National Intelligence Service], and hold a fair presidential election.
★Kim Jong-pil: “She [Park Geun-hye] even has a child with Choi Tae-min. How can she get into politics like that?”
Kim Hyeon-cheol: “It is an incontrovertibly fact that she has a child from Choi Tae-min.”
★ When Roh Mu-hyun was elected president, who opposed it and asked for a recount? Let’s break the neck of the crazy chicken [referring to President Park] and save the country and democracy.
The criminal who set him on fire is the bulldozer president who doesn’t listen.
★ I accuse former central election management and manipulation committee chairman Kim Neung-hwan of corruption on a scale unheard of in our nation’s history.
“Vote for the candidate’s promises.”
That’s the phrase he officially used in the last presidential election. He was an agent who actively supported Chicken Head [Saenuri] Party Park Geun-hye’s fraud against citizens. He lied that he would work at a convenience store after retirement and then went to a big law firm.
This society is too tough on people to blame the suicide all on his personal situation. I hope it becomes better in the new year. Rest in peace.
Rest in peace. I hope you are happy and calm in heaven.
From Yonhap News:
“I will take the fear with me”, Self-immolation protester’s suicide notes revealed
The suicide notes from 40-year-old Lee Nam-jong who set himself on fire on an elevated road in front of the Seoul Station on December 31st have been revealed.
[text of the suicide notes] How are you doing?
How are you doing, everyone? It is hard to even say hello in this tough situation. The Park Geun-hye administration is a coup administration that destroyed free democracy while pretending to advocate it without using physical weapons. President Park Geun-hye claims she values principles but why does she not apply those principles to herself?
President Park Geun-hye should take responsibility for the national bureaucracy’s interference in the presidential election, whether it was her plan, her willful negligence or the bureaucracy’s independent scheme. I hope President Park Geun-hye’s principles are not like the conscience of Lee Sang-deuk and Choi Shi-jung who shed crocodile tears and swore they had done nothing shameful.
Everyone, allow me to take away the invisible but very real fear and deficiency that exists here. I will take the fear with me. Rise up.
Park Seok-un, representative of the Korea Alliance for Progressive Movement, said, “Nothing in the suicide notes indicates that the deceased was depressed about his life conditions. The police should stop trying to attribute his death to his personal situation. The deceased himself called for the current administration’s resignation.”
The public funeral committee did not reveal the other five suicide notes out of concern for Lee’s privacy. The committee promoted the deceased as a martyr to democracy and plans to hold a public funeral. At 9:30 a.m. on January 4th, the funeral procession will have a send-off ceremony at Seoul Station Square and head to Gwangju for the final ceremony. Afterwards, his body will be buried in the old 5.18 burial site in Mangwol-dong.
Comments from Naver:
A martyr for democracy? Ha ha, what dog-snorting bullshit. What’s more appalling is those who try to strategically use his death for political gain. So dirty….
A martyr for democracy? A public funeral? @@ I’m dumbfounded..
I guess if you die like that after suffering from bad credit and debt, you can go to the 5.18 burial site. What a world.
‘A martyr of democratic merit’, ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke.
What? Self-immolation to protect democracy? Aren’t his values messed up? Do we have a military dictatorship now? Or have we fallen to communism? I voted for Park, not because she’s Park Chung-hee’s daughter but because she seemed to be decent and able to get things done. I was sure that her family members wouldn’t rake in money through corruption.
As long as death is involved, should everything be forgiven and beautified? I’m at a loss for words about our times where those who commit suicide because their crimes were being investigated or to overthrow the government are more respected than soldiers who fell during the Korean War.
When I die, I will die like that, too. So I can get a cool public funeral…
Rest in peace. But I’m dumbfounded that the reason for such extreme suicide through self-immolation was the Park Geun-hye administration.
I’m at a loss for words. So you become a martyr as long as you die blaming the country and the government? Even a public funeral? “How are you doing?” Yeah, I’m doing just fine. Those who worship him as a martyr should be kicked out of country for real.