In an effort to boost tourism, Gangwon Province has announced its plans to set up Korea’s first nude beach by 2017. However, these plans are being met with heavy opposition from Gangwon residents and local governments. “When I first heard about the plans to make nude beaches on the East Coast, I was shocked. Not only had I never heard about nude beaches, but I could not understand why anyone would want to make one,” said Lee Yu-sang, a Sophomore in the School of Economics at Sogang University. Koreans, like most residents of Gangwon Province, are not only against the idea of having a nude beach, they are also unfamiliar with the idea of public nudity. According to a survey on 300 Hanyangians, 72 percent said they had not even heard of naturism or nudism. Lucia Escartin, a Spanish resident said, “When there is a nude beach section at the beach I visit, I go. People here like the opportunity to swim naked and to get an even tan.” While Korea is struggling to establish even its first nude beach, they can be found in many European countries such as Spain, France and Germany. This different attitude toward nude beaches can be attributed to different perspectives on public nudity and sexuality.
Different Religious Histories
In European countries, Christianity was and is the most dominant religion. This religious background perhaps is one of the reasons why Europeans are more tolerant toward seeing the naked human body in public. Christians believe that the human form is the image of god. This belief in the naturalness of the naked body has been practiced in many ways throughout the history of Christianity and can be seen in baptisms and the Renaissance. Until the Middle Ages, baptisms, a religious ritual of Christianity that symbolizes one’s rebirth, were often held with unclothed participants. This was meant to represent ones rebirth. By returning to one’s original image, the nakedness symbolized washing away one’s sins and returning to the innocent form of God’s first created humans, Adam and Eve. Nudity in religion can also be seen during the Renaissance with artists such as Raphael, Caravaggio and Michelangelo painting and sculpting the naked human body in various poses and scenes. In fact, during the Renaissance, Christian churches supported religious art, many of which included nudity.
Unlike Christianity in European countries however, Confucianism was widely adopted as the main religion in Korea. Many Confucians such as Xunzi, and Mencius conveyed their thoughts of shame toward nudity and urged restraint. According to Xunzi’s teachings, humans are inherently evil. Therefore, if we are not taught propriety and self-control, we will fall victim to our innate lustful desires, resulting in chaos. Confucian and Mencius viewed the body as synonymous with terms like anarchy, irrationality, and sexual desires, in other words, things to be separated from the organized, rational, and pure mind. Moreover, in line with the gender discrimination of Confucianism, a female who exposes her body to strangers would be guilty of committing a sexual act, which is something women are expected to avoid. Professor Christian J. Park in the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Hanyang University (HYU) said, “Koreans are uncomfortable with the concept that both men and women in the nude occupying the same space. This can be attributed to the strict gender division of roles and spaces in Korea.”
Views on Nudity
“As long as it is not too explicit, public nudity is fine with me,” said Candelier Clement, a Senior in the Department of Information Systems at HYU who is from France. Public nudity is much more accepted in Europe than it is in Korea. The naturist movement, where people get naked for ecological, health, and religious purposes, is an example. The naturist movement which originated in Germany in the early 20th century has since spread to many Western countries. While there are various intentions for this practice, naturists in general use nudity to express certain beliefs to the public.
However in Korea, even the smallest public displays of nudity are frowned upon. “I highly doubt nude beaches will be established anytime soon in Korea. Public nudity in Korea would be punishable by law as a corruption of public morals,” said Lee Jun-gyu, a Sophomore in the Department of English Language and Literature at HYU. The corruption of public morals, better known to Koreans as the Punggimoonran crime, is often mentioned concerning public nudity. “Koreans in general have a strong concern for public appearance or for being presentable. Therefore, public nudity is believed to be an extreme opposite,” said Professor Park. However, while there are laws restricting sexual misconduct, the Punggimoonran crime in fact does not exist. Koreans went as far as to fabricate a criminal offense to deter public displays of nudity.
The connection between sexuality and nudity also contributes to the acceptance of public nudity. For instance, when wearing revealing clothes, people tend to associate exposure of skin with sexuality. “I think public nudity and nude beaches are more acceptable in France because we talk about sex and are not ashamed of it,” said Aline Levant, an MBA student at HYU Business School. Since Westerners are more comfortable with sexuality, they tend to be more unrestrained in their stance on nudity as well. “In societies where it is less taboo to have public discussions about sex, people feel more comfortable with public nudity. They may not see a big difference between wearing a bikini and being completely naked,” said Professor Park.
On the other hand, Korean society is much less forgiving when it comes to sexuality. Professor Park said, “South Korean society has a strong taboo against public discussions about sex. Koreans get uncomfortable talking about sex openly or anything that might lead to a public discussion about sex.” Therefore, when it comes to nude beaches, Koreans are likely to be repulsed by the idea of it and even concerned about related sexbased crimes. “I fear that nude beaches will attract many perverts who just want to stare at naked women. Sexual abuse is already an issue in Korea, and nude beaches will make matters worse,” said Lee Jun-gyu.
Problems Regarding Cultural Differences
Both European and Korean views on nudity have historical and cultural bases. Therefore, whatever the outcome may be on the establishment proposal of a nude beach in Korea, the cultures of every society should be respected. “Gangwon Province says it is planning to build nude beaches in order to attract foreign tourists. While I think that Koreans do need to be more broad-minded about nudity, this is still Korea and Koreans live here. We should come first,” said Lee Yu-sang. When notions such as the creation of a nude beach arise, differences in cultural views should be considered carefully.