South Koreans will long remember November 21, 1997, the day when
South Korea accepted the terms of an International Monetary Fund (IMF)
bailout precipitated by a lack of dollars with which to repay debts to for-
eign financial institutions. Major newspapers heralded the day as Korea’s
“second national day of humiliation,” the first being the Japanese colo-
nization of Korea on August 22, 1910. It was the beginning of the Asian
Debt Crisis, or “IMF crisis,” in South Korea, which officially took place
in that country from December 1997 to July 2001 and which resulted in
unprecedented mass layoffs and socioeconomic chaos.1
South Korean people who lived through the Asian Debt Crisis (the
crisis) became familiar with new idioms such as “IMF homeless,” “new
intellectuals,” “family breakdown,” “unemployed person with higher
education,” and “venture capital.” These phrases represent the frantic and
fragmented social response to the crisis. “IMF homeless” (aiemep’û silchik
nosukcha) spoke to escalating homelessness during the crisis; “new intel-
lectuals” (sin chisigin) stood for a new generation of workers with high-
tech information skills who had become redundant in the job market but
had the potential to lead a transformed, postcrisis South Korea; “family
breakdown” (kajông haech’e or kajok haech’e)—ubiquitous in the media,
academy, and government—indexed a widespread sense of moral dete-
rioration; “unemployed person with higher education” (kohangnyôk sirôp-
cha) labeled candidates applying to a specialized public works program
(konggong kûllo saôp) for well-educated jobless people; and “venture capi-
tal,” “venture industry,” and “venture business” (bench’yô k’aepital, bench’yô
ôpkye, bench’yô saôp) promised new, high-risk, high-return investment and
business methods. For many South Koreans these were not meaningless
abstractions, but the terms through which they came to think about their
familial, social, and economic predicament.
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