Regulation

Blind Rage

Angry Korean masseuses

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Massage therapy is the only occupation in South Korea where you must be blind to obtain a state license. When sightless masseuses learned that the state might begin licensing competitors who could see, many of them protested by lighting cars on fire and jumping from a bridge into the Han River.

The law dates back to 1910, when it was imposed by the Japanese. An American proxy government repealed it in 1946, but South Koreans readopted the rule, albeit unofficially, in 1963. In 2003 the courts upheld the rule as it had been developed by the Health and Welfare Ministry. A new court overturned that decision in 2006, arguing that a department policy lacked the authority of an official law. In response, blind massage therapists threw themselves from buildings and onto subway tracks, prompting the National Assembly to impose the rule by statute.

Blind South Koreans claim they'll be forced out of the market and into the streets by seeing therapists if the courts find the current law unconstitutional. But it turns out the two groups are already competing. According to Park Yoon Soo, a leading opponent of the current law, there are at least 120,000 illicitly practicing seeing therapists in the country, outnumbering the 7,100 licensed blind therapists by a ratio of 16 to 1.

The National Human Rights Commission has stated it believes the court should uphold the law, even though many opponents believe it confines the blind to "a vocational ghetto" and undercuts their ability to pursue other careers.

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  1. Rent seeking in a ghetto is still rent seeking.

  2. That has to be without doubt the craziest thing I have ever heard!

    Jess
    http://www.anonymity.at.tc

  3. You can say that again! Unbelievable!

    Pat
    http://www.ahole.is.me

  4. Why don’t they just become swordsmen, like Zatoichi?

  5. Think that’s odd? Try Korean Fan Death:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_death

    “Fan death is a South Korean urban legend which states that an electric fan, if left running overnight in a closed room, can cause the death (by suffocation, poisoning, or hypothermia) of those inside. Fans manufactured and sold in Korea are equipped with a timer switch that turns them off after a set number of minutes, which users are frequently urged to set when going to sleep with a fan on.[1]”

  6. @ Pat Pending:

    Please keep it up. We all know it’s futile, but so far I’m loving it.

  7. Baked Penguin,

    Zaitochi’s secret identity as an awesome swordsman was protected by his cover as a masseuse.

  8. Abdul – Yes, but with a whole army of blind swordsmen, they wouldn’t need to keep it a secret.

  9. Baked – what about the blind swordsmen riding flying monkeys?????

  10. You can say that again!

    Okay! I will! Or something much like it!

    Bubba

    http://www.iz.in.yurputer

  11. Moose – a whole army of them? Ok, now you’re just being silly.

  12. Oh wait, I forgot it was Tuesday.

  13. I think the law is interesting and rational because it serves both the social concept of modesty and the provision of some degree of job protection for the disabled. The cynic knows that the reason many or most people who are masseurs are drawn to the profession because of prurient interest in ‘seeing people naked’ and touching their bodies; similarly, people make use of this service to receive such attention. The verification of this idea lies in the fact that so many people work ‘underground’ to provide such services even though they are sighted and it is against the law.

  14. I’ve read about the same kinds of protests against the end of caste-exclusive professions in India and Japan.

    It’s an important reminder to me that even the most oppressive societal institution often has its supporters among the most oppressed.

  15. “it serves…the social concept of modesty…”

    Oops. Sorry. I didn’t mean to put my hand THERE and squeeze THAT. I’m blind, you know.

  16. The cynic knows that the reason many or most people who are masseurs are drawn to the profession because of prurient interest in ‘seeing people naked’ and touching their bodies

    Yuck. I’d day neither “many” nor “most”, but I have as much evidence as you do. Wanna arm-wrestle to settle it?

  17. I’d “say”, of course…

  18. Off-hand, I wouldn’t count on the law being overturned; after all, the courts recently refused to strike down the law criminalizing adultery.

  19. @FrBunny
    OK – let’s carry on with the cynicism…how about podiatrists, proctologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists…the list is endless!

  20. I think the law is interesting and rational because it serves both the social concept of modesty and the provision of some degree of job protection for the disabled.

    Rational? I don’t think so. The social concept of modesty is easily preserved by draping your customers (as its called in the biz). Banning non-disabled people from certain occupations certainly exceeds any rational basis for protecting the jobs of the disabled, in my book.

  21. Goddammit, Penguin!

    Drat!

  22. Baked –

    just cuz you penguins have mad skillz…

    oh hrumph.

    kicks pebble. tromps off into swamp

  23. I don’t think this story will have a happy ending.

  24. Don’t laugh. In North Korea, you must be blind to be a dentist.

  25. I thought that fan death thing was pretty funny. I went to the kitchen to ask the wifefriend (from Laos) if she’s heard of this crazy Korean thing. Turns out its true. Guess the joke is on us. She bought me a new laptop yesterday, so as far as I’m concerned this fan death business is real.

  26. This reminds me of my plan for drug legalization:

    We let retired seniors between 65 and 85 control the distribution of currently illicit drugs. It brings them income, provides some accountability in the system, and promotes strong bonds between the very young and the very old.

    Just imagine if little Timmy had to go be nice to grandma every Thursday night when he needed to score for the weekend! It would be great! Plus, we could forget the whole ‘prescription drug plan’ bullshit and let the raisins pay for their pills with drug money.

    So who can I get to draft the legislation?

  27. P Brooks, Moose: I explain it better here.

  28. While no actor since Shintaro Katsu has gobbled rice balls on camera quite the same, it should be noted for the record that master Ichi’s big bling came from the dice . . .

  29. well challenged, Baked.

    note the comments – we have found another pic of the swordswomen.

  30. I think the law is interesting and rational because it serves both the social concept of modesty and the provision of some degree of job protection for the disabled.

    If people are really concerned about their masseuse ogling their exposed flesh, wouldn’t blind people have an inherent advantage in the massage market, even in the absence of this law?

  31. MUST RESIST OVERWHELMING URGE …TO MAKE BAD SEXUAL PUNS….
    O, I can’t. Doesn’t polishing your sword too much cause blindness? Although I note that my own excessive sword polishing, if done by Korean masseurs, has led to many a happy ending.

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