A Bad Outcome of the Confucian Culture in Korea: The Iljin

If you don’t understand the structure of a Confucian society, basically, the older people are in charge.  Even if a brother is only a year older, because he his older, his younger brother must listen and do what he says.  The Confucian style model for a society usually works pretty well because the grandparents are in charge, and they keep the younger members of the family out of trouble because the younger members of the family know they must listen to the grandparents.  With the grandparents in charge, the morals are higher and the crime rate is lower. However, since whoever is the oldest is in charge, sometimes kids end up in charge when parents or teachers aren’t around, and they end up abusing their status of being older. This is one of the things that caused the emergence of what the Koreans call the Iljin, a kind of gangs in Korean high schools and junior highs.

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I have heard the Iljins called clicks, but from what I remember from clicks in high school, it is just a social group. There was no bullying going on, but the Iljins turn into a group of bullies.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t any bullies in American schools.  When I was in high school in Oklahoma, the Senior boys in the sport program used play “kill the freshman,” and go after the freshman boys and give them a really rough time.  I told everyone in another blog about senior boys in my high school in California taking a boy who stepped on the senior lawn into the bathroom and dunking his head in the toilet and flushing it calling it a swirly.  In Texas, the boys were just as hard in the sports programs in recent years when some boys from a sports program took a new boy and held him down and had him shut his eyes, and then told him to open his eyes, and when his eyes were open, one of the boys had taken his pants off and sat on his face with his bare bottom.  The mother was ready to sue. These kinds of things happen in sports programs in America among the boys, but the girls are not involved.  The last time I was in Texas, one of the high school girls told me that girls were fighting in her high school more than they used to, but traditionally girls weren’t involved in any of the nonsense the boys in sports were putting one another through.  My family moved a lot as I was growing up, and everywhere we moved, the boys who lived there thought they had to try to put my brothers in their place, but as a girl, no one every bothered me. However, these Iljins in Korea are no respecter of persons.  It is not just in the sports program, and it is not just among the guys, but they also beat up girls.

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A Wangdda


The Iljins are formed from students who all have the same classes together.  They are the larger kids.  They begin like a social click.  The kids who are physically larger and more popular can get into the Iljin.  If a student is what the Koreans call “a wangdda,” they are in danger from the Iljin. A wangdda is a student who is smaller than the others or different in some way.  Perhaps they limp. Perhaps they stutter. Perhaps they think a little funny or are just socially awkward. Maybe they are a foreigners.  In some way, they have become an outcast, so they are called wangdda.  The students from the Iljin actually beat the wangdda students up.  It doesn’t matter if the wangdda is a boy or a girl. I actually saw a picture of a girl from a school in Busan where she was completely bloody from head to foot because she had been beaten up by an Iljin.  She was physically very small, and that may have been their only motivation.

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I read an article about these Iljins, and the Korean who wrote it was suggesting that perhaps one of the problems in their schools is that unlike in America where the teachers have their own classrooms, here in Korea, the students have a classroom.  In America, the students change classes going from one teacher’s classroom to the other, and they aren’t with the same students all day long. However, here in Korea, since the students stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers are the ones changing classes, the students get to know one another too well, and the students in the Iljins become too close.

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I know things are not as good in American high schools as they were when I was in high school.  For many Americans through the years, high schools have been a place of a lot of good memories, but I talked to a Korean friend today, and she had the complete opposite feeling about high school in Korea.  She felt like it was a nightmare, and she only wants to forget it.  She was a good student who made great grades, but she was very unhappy in high school. I am sad because I know many Americans feel this way now a days about high schools too.  If our societies are so civilized, then why can’t we teach our kids to act civilized?  There must be a solution. Overall, the Confucian system works for a very orderly society with a low crime rate and high morals, but they still have a problem of bullying.  Bullying is becoming a bigger problem in American schools too. Do we need to send all these students back to kindergarten to teach them how to get along? Getting along with others is supposed to be taught in American kindergartens.  We have a saying in America, “Everything I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten.”  None of these kids should ever have been allowed to graduate from kindergarten.  I say send all the bullies back to kindergarten! Don’t let them graduate until they learn how to act like civilized human beings.

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