BEIJING - A few days ago in the northeastern city of Changchun, a man left his baby in his SUV while he went inside a convenience store. He returned to find his car, which he had left unlocked and running, stolen, along with the baby.
After 48 hours of public mobilization and searches, Zhou Xijun, 48, surrendered to police. He admitted that he had strangled the baby after hearing him crying in the back of the SUV. He then buried the baby's body in the snow by the roadside.
When news of the terrible crime became public, there was an enormous outcry on the Internet. Many netizens, including celebrities who are known for usually being quite moderate, were furious.
"He is not a human, he is a monster! We do not recognize that he turned himself in to the police!" wrote one celebrity.
A TV commentator said: "We believe that justice will punish this criminal severely. If he is ultimately sentenced to death I hope his execution will be by firing squad. Lethal injection is too good for him."
"Zhou Xijun should be lynched," added another celebrity.
I understand fully the rage and emotion of China's citizens. And even though Zhou has given himself up to the police, he can still receive the death penalty for homicide.
However, I believe in dealing with the case in accordance with the law. Zhou Xinjun's legal rights should be protected, and it should be verified whether he really turned himself in to the police. Even if he is sentenced to capital punishment and is executed immediately, no one should be using words such as "lynching," which only serve to incite public hatred.
We aspire to a society governed by the rule of law. It is important for our officials to withstand the pressure and emotion of public opinion and deal justly with this criminal, however evil he may be.
The purpose of the law is to regulate people's social behavior and make society progress towards civilization. If we allow overflowing hatred to guide us then society will become submerged in this emotion. This runs exactly counter to the nature of the law. If a person's evil incites an entire society's evil, then justice will not prevail, and our society can only be harmed by more evil.
Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.
SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.
The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.
It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.
Seoul housing prices top London and New York
In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.
According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.
Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.
One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.
According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.
Playing the stock market
At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.
A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."
In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.
42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s
Game of survival
In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.
But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.
This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.
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