Blind Rage

Angry Korean masseuses


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 An American proxy government repealed it in 1946, but South Koreans readopted the rule, albeit unofficially, in 1963.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.