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Coddling of ‘Gold-Spoon’ Children Shakes South Korea’s Political Elite

SEOUL, South Korea — The biggest political crisis for President Moon Jae-in of South Korea — weeks of large protests that have tarnished his image and forced his justice minister to resign — started with an obscure medical research paper.


The paper, published by a team of university researchers in the Korean Journal of Pathology in 2009, listed as its lead author the daughter of a professor, Cho Kuk, who would go on to become justice minister under Mr. Moon. But in August, a local newspaper revealed that the daughter’s achievement had come after only a two-week internship with the team while she was still a high school student.

這篇由一個大學研究團隊于2009年發表在《韓國病理學雜志》(Korean Journal of Pathology)上的論文,將曹國(Cho Kuk)教授的女兒列為第一作者。曹國后來成為文在寅的法務部長官。但今年8月,一家地方報紙爆料,他女兒的這項成就是在她還是一名高中生的時候,在該研究團隊僅實習了兩周之后取得的。

The revelation infuriated South Korean students, who saw it as all the proof they needed to demand that Mr. Cho be fired, and they declared Mr. Moon’s promise to create “a world without privilege” a lie.


The scandal has exploded into the biggest embarrassment of Mr. Moon’s presidency as he has struggled with an ailing economy and a lack of opportunity for many young people. It has particularly fueled outrage about the “gold spoon” children of the elite, who glide into top-flight universities and cushy jobs, leaving their “dirt spoon” peers to struggle in South Korea’s hobbled economy.


The tale of the implausible academic feat by the justice minister’s daughter crystallized that resentment.


“The paper is so technical I can’t even understand its title even though I am a chemical and biological engineering major,” Hong Jin-woo, a graduate student at Seoul National University, said during one of the first campus protests against Mr. Cho in August. “Is it possible for a high school intern to plan and conduct lab experiments and draft and revise such a paper, all within two weeks?”

“這篇論文的技術難度這么大,我連它的題目都看不懂,盡管我是化工和生物工程專業的學生。”首爾大學(Seoul National University)研究生洪津宇(Hong Jin-woo,音)參加今年8月校園里首次爆發的針對曹國的一次抗議活動時說。“一個高中實習生有可能在兩周時間里,在實驗室策劃并進行這些實驗,起草和修改這樣的論文嗎?”

“Never,” he said. “But it became possible because she had Professor Cho as a parent.”


Mr. Cho was a celebrity professor at Seoul National University School of Law before Mr. Moon made him a presidential secretary last year, promoting him to justice minister in August. Students suspected that Mr. Cho’s influence helped his daughter, Cho Min, be named as lead author on the research paper, and that the paper subsequently helped her gain admission to the prestigious Korea University in Seoul in 2010. The research paper was retracted by the journal last month in the face of mounting public outrage.

曹國曾是首爾大學法學院的知名教授,去年,文在寅將他任命為總統秘書,并在今年8月提拔他為法務部長官。學生們懷疑,曹國的影響力幫助他的女兒曹敏(Cho Min,音)被列為這篇研究論文的第一作者,而這篇論文后來幫助她在2010年進入了首爾著名的高麗大學(Korea University)。面對公眾日益高漲的憤怒情緒,該學術雜志上個月撤銷了這篇研究論文。

Mr. Cho’s wife, a professor, is already on trial on charges of fabricating an award certificate from her university’s president to help her daughter’s admission to medical school in 2015. Prosecutors are also investigating accusations that Mr. Cho’s wife fabricated an internship certificate from the Korea Institute for Science and Technology for the same purpose. After her admission to medical school, Mr. Cho’s daughter received scholarships over six consecutive terms, although her family was wealthy and she failed to achieve excellent grades.

曹國的妻子也是一名教授,為了幫助女兒在2015年進入醫學院,她偽造了一份來自她所在大學校長的獎狀,并因此在法院受審。檢方還在調查曹國的妻子為同一目的偽造韓國科學技術院(Korea Institute for Science and Technology)實習證明的指控。曹國的女兒進入醫學院后,連續六學期獲得獎學金,盡管她家境富裕,成績也不理想。

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The revelations have convulsed a country that only two and a half years ago saw the ouster of Mr. Moon’s predecessor and conservative enemy, Park Geun-hye, in a scandal that erupted over academic favoritism shown to the daughter of a close friend of Ms. Park.


When Mr. Moon took office the following year, his central promise was to create a level playing field for all South Koreans, who have grown tired of excesses widely reported among the country’s rich and well-connected.


The first student protests against Mr. Moon, in August, started small, involving a few hundred people across a few college campuses. But they helped fuel much bigger protests that have since filled downtown Seoul.


Mr. Cho stepped down this month, and both he and Mr. Moon apologized for disappointing young people, but Mr. Moon’s once solid support among the young has plummeted, polls show.


“We have grown up believing that everyone will have the same opportunities to enter good universities as long as we work hard,” said Park Min-hoe, a student at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul. “But we learned through this scandal that such a rule doesn’t apply in reality.”

“我們從小以為,只要努力學習,每個人都有同樣的機會進入好大學,”首爾淑明女子大學(Sookmyung Women’s University)學生樸敏昊(Park Min-hoe,音)說。“但我們從這起丑聞中了解到,這個規則在現實中并不適用。”

“We wanted to punish the government for betraying our hopes for fairness,” she added.


In the decades after the 1950-53 Korean War, poor South Korean families cherished their country’s education system as a way for “a dragon to rise from a humble ditch” — or for their children to climb the social ladder. But South Koreans’ confidence in education as a great equalizer has dissipated with the scandals in recent years, as they have seen the rich and powerful rig the country’s university-admission system to favor their own children.


In South Korea, white-collar workers’ salaries and job titles in their 60s can often be predicted by which university they attended. The jostling for position starts in kindergarten, with some rich parents spending thousands of dollars a month on private tutoring to help their children secure spots in elite prep schools and top universities.


Well-connected families often resort to dubious tactics to get their children into the best universities, such as helping them land coveted internships at big corporations, research think tanks and university labs, which offer opportunities to get credit on research papers. 紐約時報中英文網 http://www.244129.buzz


The Education Ministry’s audits of universities since 2017 have uncovered 794 research papers where middle school or high school students were listed as co-authors, including at least 11 where professors named their own children as co-authors. When economists from Seoul National University compared two boroughs of Seoul in 2014, they found that children from the wealthier borough were 20 times more likely to enter the university, the country’s most coveted, than children from the other.


South Korean TV dramas and movies, such as Bong Joon Ho’s latest film, “Parasite,” have attracted huge audiences by fictionalizing the divide between the so-called gold-spoon children and their less well-to-do dirt-spoon peers.

韓國電視劇和電影,比如奉俊昊(Bong Joon Ho)執導的新片《寄生蟲》(Parasite),通過所謂的“金湯匙”孩子與他們不那么富裕的“土湯匙”孩子差異的虛構故事,吸引了大量觀眾。

“South Korean millennials consider fairness the most important value — an attitude the older generations have failed to understand,” said Ahn Byong-jin, a political scientist at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. As the economy has slowed and attractive jobs have become harder to come by, they have become more sensitive to the “fair rules of game,” Mr. Ahn said.

“韓國千禧一代認為公平是最重要的價值觀,而老一輩人不理解這種態度,”慶熙大學(Kyung Hee University)首爾校區的政治學教授安炳鎮(Ahn Byong-jin,音)說。隨著經濟放緩,有吸引力的工作越來越難找,他們對“公平的游戲規則”變得更加敏感,安炳鎮說。

The case that took down President Park — leading to the first such impeachment in South Korean history — was emblematic of such favoritism, and was set off when students at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul began organizing rallies against her government in 2016.

讓樸槿惠下臺、導致韓國歷史上首次彈劾總統的案件就是這種特別關照的典型。引發這一切的是2016年,首爾梨花女子大學(Ewha Woman’s University)學生開始組織反對樸槿惠政府的集會。

The students had learned that Choi Soon-sil, a secret friend of Ms. Park, used her influence with the president to force Ewha to enroll her daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, in 2015 ahead of better-qualified applicants. Ewha professors gave Ms. Chung good grades, even though she later said she hardly knew what her major was because she seldom attended classes.

學生們得知,樸槿惠的閨蜜崔順實(Choi Soon-sil)利用自己對總統的影響力,迫使梨大在2015年錄取了自己的女兒鄭維羅(Chung Yu-ra),而不是比她更有資格的申請者。梨大教授們給了鄭維羅很好的成績,盡管她后來說,她幾乎不知道學的是什么專業,因為很少去上課。

Ms. Choi and Ms. Park were also convicted of conspiring to collect $7.3 million in bribes, including three thoroughbred horses, from Samsung, South Korea’s largest conglomerate, to support Ms. Chung’s equestrian career.


Ms. Chung infamously belittled her less-privileged friends in a Facebook post. “You’ve got nothing but your parents to blame for your lack of resources,” she wrote.


Mr. Moon’s election brought to power the liberal elites, who claimed to be more egalitarian than their conservative opponents.


“Everyone will have equal opportunities,” Mr. Moon promised in his inaugural speech in 2017. “The process will be fair, and the result will be righteous.”


Mr. Cho has been a star of Mr. Moon’s government, and a leading advocate of equal opportunities since his days as a professor. He had more than a million followers on social media accounts. He had been a favorite to succeed Mr. Moon.


Mr. Cho admitted that his word has not matched his deeds, but insists that his family has done nothing unlawful. But students coined a saying for his apparent hypocrisy: choronambul, or “If Cho Kuk does it, it’s called romance. If others do the same, it becomes adultery.”


“We felt the more betrayed because it happened in the liberal government,” said Hwang Seung-hwan, a student at Korea University. “We have thought that if the liberals were incompetent, they were at least less corrupt than the conservatives. They crushed our expectations.”

“因為是發生在自由派政府,就更讓我們感到遭受了背叛,”高麗大學學生黃承煥(Hwang Seung-hwan,音)說。“我們曾認為,如果自由派無能的話,至少他們比保守派的腐敗程度要低。他們徹底壓垮了我們的預期。”



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