Many news reports recently have remarked on the fact that a large number of those protesting the re-introduction of American beef imports have been middle and high school students. One Joongang Ilbo reporter attended last night’s vigil.

Update: If you can read Korean there is also this article on the same subject, kids participating in the beef protests.

Further update: There is also this Korean-language article about student protestors, and the Marmot has a translation of what the scientist whose research is at the center of the protestors’ case really thinks of American beef.

A third candlelight vigil protesting the importation of American beef was carried off without incident. Extreme political slogans were reduced and so police estimate that 10,000 people attended the vigils held on the 2nd and 3rd.

8,500 attended the vigil at 8:15 pm on the 6th in front of the National Assembly building in Yeouido, calling for the impeachment of President Lee. Half of them were students in their middle and high school uniforms. Rally leader Kim Pyeong-gun climbed on to a 1-ton truck and asked, “we must stop mad cow. Let’s show the fear of our people through our silence.” The participants lit the candles in front of them. They sang along to Arirang from the speakers. But they did not carry pickets with political slogans.

American Beef

Most of the participants said they had learned of the vigil through internet message boards or cellphone text messages. 12-year old elementary student Yun, who came from Incheon with her friends, said, “I saw it on the internet and came without my parents knowing. I eat beef every other day in school but it’s like I didn’t know the media is saying there is a danger of mad cow disease.”

13-year old middle school student Go, who came to the vigil after finishing an exam at school, said, “on the fan site for Dongbangshingi I saw a message saying let’s gather in Yeouido. I’m here because of Dongbangshingi.”

Many came because of what they read on the internet. 21-year old Myongji University student Kim Seon-ah said, “I received a message that said let’s stop mad cow disease, there is a candlelight vigil. So I came.”

Students’ distrust of repeated government messages that the beef is safe remains high. 17-year old high school student Jo pointed out, “we don’t believe everything that gets written on the internet. But if there is a danger then stopping this from the beginning is the right thing to do.” Lee Jae-myeong, a 19-year old freshman at Gyeonggi University, retorted, “there is a lot of wrong information on the internet, like saying that mad cow disease can spread through the air, so I don’t understand, but the government hasn’t released any detailed information so I don’t think a hasty agreement is ok.”

At 7 pm that night the candlelight was held at the Cheonggyecheon, organized by “Crazy Cow Dot Net” (미친소닷넷). Over 3,000 people participated. Like the vigil on the 3rd, police estimate that up to half of them were students — the “school uniform army”.

Seats not occupied by students were filled with members of 10 organizations formed to protest the importation of American beef.

Through a bullhorn the chairman said, “at the Office of Education hundreds of teachers should come and the students should go home. But the teachers don’t come. That’s the obligation of a teacher.”

On the platform citizens and students went up and raised their voices. 42-year old Kim Hae-suk, who went up with her daughter, a second-year middle school student, said, “when they were out of power these politicians were saying that American beef was dangerous, and now suddenly they’re changing their story and saying it’s safe. I don’t trust the politicians and bureacrats.”

Compared to the vigil held on the 3rd there were remarkably fewer signs and banners. “Students are crushed under the university entrance exams but came anyway,” said 20-year old Heo Geu-ru, who carried signs that said “we are not studying machines”. At around 9:30 the vigil was winding down and participants cleaned up their trash. There were no scuffles between participants and police.

Students Protest American Beef