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Inkyu Kang

Yushin as a Visual Metaphor: A Semiotic Analysis of the Fourth Republic’s...

Inkyu Kang, Penn State University

Abstract: Cartoons are not always a laughing matter. Not only have they been a popular source of entertainment, but they have also been a powerful political tool at the same time. Due to their easily accessible nature, cartoons have often been used to reach and persuade the masses in both war and peace. As an effective medium for framing socio-political issues, cartoons have appeared in a wide-ranging commentaries from Martin Luther’s pamphlets against the Catholic Church to the propaganda posters during the two world wars, and to today’s syndicated editorial cartoons (Abraham 2009; Shikes 1969).

South Korea is hardly an exception. Since Lee Do Young contributed Korea’s first manhwa to the Daehan Minbo in 1909, cartoons and comics have played an essential role in shaping public opinion on various social and political agendas in the country. In particular, the Park Chung Hee administration made heavy use of them to advertise government policies. It was Park’s presidency, ironically, when comic books were cracked down on as part of the “social purification” campaign under the Yushin Constitution. The government’s contradictory attitude evinces the impact the popular medium has as “an almost magical way of catching and keeping the reader’s attention” (Strömberg, 2010, 8).

This paper explores the propaganda cartoons distributed by the government to promote the October Yushin during the Fourth Republic (1972-1979). Special emphasis will be placed on how the concept “yushin” was visually represented in comic art. For example, a 1972 brochure titled “A Rewarding Tomorrow” says, “After all, the October Yushin is to live a better life.” The answers provided by the accompanying illustrations by Shin Dong Woo, one of the top cartoonists in the 1970s, look far more down-to-earth. According to them, “a better life” means constructing high-rise buildings, laying out multilane highways, and owning fancy cars.   

This study is an attempt to investigate comic art propaganda as cognitive shortcuts to express the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. I would argue that such visual metaphors have had a lasting impact on not only the perception of the Park administration, but also the very notions of “development” and “progress.” Yushin has been discussed merely as political ideology, but such a stance fails to grasp its overarching influence beyond politics on South Koreans’ daily lives. Against such reductionism, this paper deals with Yushin as a meaning-making process based on a broad definition of culture as “a system of meanings and values,” or “a whole way of life” (Williams 1977, 13).    


Abraham, L. (2009). Effectiveness of cartoons as a uniquely visual medium for orienting social issues, Journalism & Communication Monographs, 11(2), 117-165.

Shikes, R. E. (1969). The indignant eye: The artist as social critic in prints and drawings from the fifteenth century to Picasso. Boston: Beacon Press.

Strömberg, F. (2010). Comic art propaganda: A graphic history. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Williams, R. (1977). Marxism and literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Inkyu Kang is an Assistant Professor of Digital Journalism at Penn State, The Behrend College. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before joining Penn State, he taught East Asia-related courses at the University of Wisconsin including Modern Korea, Korean Popular Culture, and Korean Culture and Civilization. He has written two books on Korea, translating several books into Korean including Daniel Chandler’s Semiotics: The Basics (2003, London: Routledge). Kang’s major research interests are cultural studies and new media technologies.