Hell Joseon

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Hell Joseon, Hell Chosun or Hell Korea (Korean: 헬조선) is a satirical South Korean term that became popular around 2015. The term is used to criticize the socioeconomic situation in South Korea.[1] It is particularly popular among younger Koreans, due to their feelings about unemployment and working conditions in modern society.[2][3]


The phrase is a mixture of the words "Hell" and "Joseon", meaning that "(South) Korea is a hellish, hopeless society". Although the term began with private individuals on the internet, it was later adopted by the mass media.[4]


The phrase has been used in complaints about government policies which are seen as contributing to youth unemployment, economic inequality, excessive working time, inability to escape from poverty despite hard work, a society that favours vested interests, and irrationality in daily life.[5] Usage of this term increased through social-networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, spreading particularly rapidly in September 2015.[6]

Until 2019, the phrase had been superseded by a new term, “Tal-Jo”, a pormanteau comprising "leave" and "Joseon," which might be best be translated as "Escape Hell."[7]


One widely accepted reason for the rapid spread of the phrase "Hell Joseon" is the growing opinion among the populace that there is overall inequality in South Korea.[8]


South Korea is currently operating a compulsory military service draft system as part of its truce with North Korea. The present military service period is 1 year and 9 months.[9] Conscripted Koreans spend much of their time in the military disconnected from society. Even during obligatory military service, there is inequality due to social class. This is one reason some Koreans to try to avoid the compulsory military service, which has, in turn, created an issue of draft dodging.[10] People began to use their personal power such as wealth or connections to gain exemptions, or to "escape" to a comfortable place for a comfortable life.[10] Koreans with English language skills apply for competitive spots to serve with American soldiers as KATUSAs. Entertainers applied as life-friendly entertainers, and rich men manipulated documents for exemption using their money.[11]

Academic requirements[edit]

In South Korea, most people go to college because there is an implicit rule that it will be difficult for one to get a job if he/she did not go to college.[12] There is a reason for this. There is a strong organizational culture in South Korea related to universities and academic institutions or hometown. For example, the power of this organizational culture acts when interviewing to enter the workplace. If people with the same conditions are interviewed, they will be accompanied by someone from the same school and hometown as the interviewer. This culture exists within the company. People who are not from special schools are discriminated against and culled.[13] This causes inequality and dissatisfaction among people. Within the company, people from the same school or from the same region come together to form a faction.[14]

High population density[edit]

The population density of Korea is 519 people/km2. Seoul is very dense, at around 16,593 people/km2.[15] This level of population causes poverty for many as well as having to compete endlessly. Eventually, many people abandon their hopes for marriage (known as the Sampo generation) as they cannot afford to support a family.[16]

Cultural influence[edit]

In 2015, a South Korean film called Hell Joseon filled theaters.[17] On September 3, 2015, DC Inside opened the Hell Joseon Gallery.[18] Since September 2015, the exposure of the phrase increased considerably online.[19] In addition, Dish Inside users can express the oppressed complaints of young people.[20]


Critics[who?] say "the surplus man who does nothing tells the story of Hell Joseon".[clarification needed][21] It is also pointed out that the phrase itself is caused by dissatisfaction with society's inequality or absurdity, but it is also problematic in that it does not actually expect any political actions.[clarification needed][22] Lee Er Young said, "The countries that want to leave the Hell Joseon are not heaven."[non sequitur] The present employment and inequality situations are a global phenomenon, which is the result of the development of information technology.[according to whom?][23]

Park Geun-hye, former president of South Korea who is now serving a 24 year prison sentence, said "There are a growing number of new words that deny our great modern history and disparage our world that is envied as a place to live," as a way of criticizing the trend of the phrase "Hell Joseon." She added, "Self-depreciation, pessimism, distrust and hatred can never be the driving force of change and development,"[24] However, some argued that Park's government should think about why the phrase "Hell Joseon" was born, because the term was coined during her presidency.[25]

In January 2019, president Moon Jae-in’s economic adviser Kim Hyun-chul resigned after drawing public ire for saying that young, unemployed Korean language graduates who can’t find a job here should stop blaming “Hell Joseon” and move to Southeast Asia to become Korean language teachers.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Lashing out at "Hell Joseon", young'uns drive ruling party's election beatdown". english.hani.co.kr. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
  2. ^ Fifield, Anna (January 30, 2016). "Young South Koreans call their country 'hell' and look for ways out". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
  3. ^ hermes (January 7, 2018). "South Korea's young lament inequality in their society". The Straits Times. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  4. ^ "나라 탓하는 '헬조선'…부모 탓하는 '흙수저'". hankyung.com (in Korean). October 4, 2015. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  5. ^ "최신 영상 | 연합뉴스". 연합뉴스 (in Korean). Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  6. ^ "청년의 상실감이 만들어낸 온라인 유행어 '헬조선'". KBS 뉴스 (in Korean). Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  7. ^ Andrew Salmon (December 31, 2019). "75% of young want to escape South". Asia Times. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  8. ^ "[전성원의 사람냄새] 헬조선을 만든 사람들". 인천일보 (in Korean). October 23, 2017. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  9. ^ "군 복무기간 21개월로 '동결'" (in Korean). December 21, 2010. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  10. ^ a b ""고위층·고소득자 병역기피 특별관리"". KBS 뉴스 (in Korean). Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  11. ^ '실형', 병역기피위해 가짜진단서 만든 의사 (September 13, 2017). "병역기피위해 가짜진단서 만든 의사 '실형'". 서울경제 (in Korean). Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  12. ^ "[청년 리포트] ⑦ 대학 대신 내 길 갔지만…"고졸로 살기 쉽지 않아요"". KBS 뉴스 (in Korean). Retrieved November 27, 2017.
  13. ^ "학연, 지연, 인맥이라는 그들만의 리그 - ㅍㅍㅅㅅ". ppss.kr (in Korean). Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  14. ^ "기업 10곳 중 7곳, 학연 지연에 따른 라인(파벌) 존재해". 벤처스퀘어 (in Korean). August 31, 2011. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
  15. ^ "국가지표체계". www.index.go.kr (in Korean). Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  16. ^ "[표지이야기]연애도 결혼도 출산도 포기한 '삼포세대'" (in Korean). May 31, 2011. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  17. ^ "영화가 본 2015 대한민국은 '헬조선'". 한국일보 (in Korean). Retrieved November 20, 2017.
  18. ^ "자국비하 게시판 왜 만들지…헬조선갤 개설 어리둥절". news.kmib.co.kr. Retrieved November 20, 2017.
  19. ^ 현혜란 (September 18, 2015). "<빅데이터 돋보기> 청년의 상실감이 만들어낸 유행어 '헬조선'". 연합뉴스 (in Korean). Retrieved November 20, 2017.
  20. ^ ""현실반영 어마무시" Korea 부루마블 '씁쓸' [20대뉴스]". news.kmib.co.kr. Retrieved November 20, 2017.
  21. ^ "아무일도 안 하며 '헬조선' 불만 댓글…'잉여'인간 160만명으로 급증" (in Korean). Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  22. ^ "[이택광의 왜?]망한민국" (in Korean). Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  23. ^ "대한민국이 '헬조선?' 그럼 어느나라가 천국? - 경북도민일보". www.hidomin.com (in Korean). Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  24. ^ 강건택 (August 15, 2016). "'헬조선' 정면비판한 朴대통령, 신산업창출·노동개혁에 강조점". 연합뉴스 (in Korean). Retrieved March 31, 2019.
  25. ^ "[비하인드 뉴스] '헬조선' 신조어 대신 '노오력'을?". news.jtbc.joins.com (in Korean). August 15, 2016. Retrieved March 31, 2019.
  26. ^ "Moon's economic adviser resigns over 'Hell Joseon' jab". Korea JoongAng Daily. January 29, 2019. Retrieved September 11, 2020.

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