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Red, olive, blue: the politics of color

Oct. 31, 2012 - 20:22 By Korea Herald

Color used to be a clear-cut indicator of ideological views in Korean politics, with blue symbolizing conservatism and red embodying socialism.

For decades successive authoritarian regimes often called progressive intellectuals and activists “ppalgaengi,” a Korean word originally denoting a red fish but which has come to be a Korean equivalent of “commie.”

So when the conservative presidential candidate Park Geun-hye changed its representative color to red early this year while renaming her party Saenuri, which means “a new world” in Korean, it stunned senior conservative politicians.

“The color cannot be distinguished from that of the new liberal party,” Son Bum-gyu, a Saenuri lawmaker, quipped at the time of the change.

“People in my district hate the color red,” Bae Young-shik, another conservative lawmaker, complained.

But the color stayed on, and so did Park’s consistent approval emanating from the nation’s conservative electorate, which never swayed below 30 percent throughout the campaign.

The color red “reflects the preferences and predilections of the young generation, as seen in the Red Devil [supporters],” said Cho Dong-won, who directs Saenuri Party’s campaign marketing, referring to the supporters of South Korea’s national soccer team who dress in red shirts.

The color also symbolizes passion, Cho added, which counters the popular image of Park as an “ice princess,” owning to her cold and aloof persona.

For the liberal faction, yellow and green had been the symbolic colors for more than a decade. The presidential camp of Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party combined the two colors, choosing olive-green as the official color of the presidential campaign.

Choi Chang-hee, who spearheads the advertising campaign of Moon’s campaign, explained in a press conference that the color gives the impression of calm, self-restraint, and stability, which goes hand-in-hand with the popular image of Moon.

And where is blue, the color that was once the background filler of conservative campaign ads and billboards? It has been taken up by independent presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo, who is running on a progressive platform ― and not without a good reason.

“In psychology, blue is recognized as a color associated with credibility,” said Han Sang-man, a professor of visual design at Keimyung University. “That is why the color of major corporations’ corporate identity and police cars is blue.”

White, which symbolizes purity, cleanliness, and innocence, is another color preferred by the progressive presidential candidate. In campaign logos and posters, the name of Ahn and his presidential camp are written in thick white letters against a backdrop of blue.

By Samuel Songhoon Lee (