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‘We Are Not Fine!’ Posters Go Viral at South Korea's Universities

Are we seeing a Korean version of Occupy Wall Street?

A handwritten poster by a university student that spelled out the student's frustration with social injustice and current political developments went viral, both on- and offline in South Korea. Inspired by this so-called “We are not fine” poster, which lists various social issues as the reason why “we are not fine”, young Koreans have started writing their own posters and plastering campus bulletin boards with their messages.

Ju Hyun-woo, a student at Korea University, wrote the message below on two large pieces of paper and posted them on his school bulletin board last week. Ju's manifesto listed major social issues that ignited protests, including the presidential election manipulation scandal; mass layoffs of railroad workers; the struggle of small town Milryang's senior residents against the construction of a high voltage tower; the corrutpion of powerful corporations; and the ever-crunched and insecure job market.

He then called on fellow students: “I just want to ask you, ‘Are you okay?’ Are you fine with ignoring all these issues because they are not your problems? I just wanted to ask whether you feel okay about hiding behind political apathy to justify yourself. And if you are not ‘fine’ after seeing all these problems, then voice your opinions – whatever that may be”.

Ju's hand-written poster which sparked this movement

Ju's handwritten poster explaining his frustration with various social issues inspired many other South Koreans to do the same. Photo posted on the ‘Can't Be Okay’ Facebook page. Used with permission.

Following the explosive reaction on campus to the poster, it has spread like wildfire [ko] to universities across the country. More than 20 major universities within and outside of Seoul have joined so far, including Seoul National University, Yonsei, Hanyang, Ewha, KAIST, Pusan University, and many more. Even a student at University of California at Berkley in the United States and some high school students have followed suit (see photos below).

A Facebook page titled “Can't Be Okay” [ko] was set up to share the flood of photos. In a week, it has received 262,000 likes, and Ju's poster, which started the movement, has earned more than 2,000 likes and been shared more than 440 times. Below are six photos from the Can't Be Okay Facebook page, republished with permission: 


A student holding a sign in front of the posters. The sign reads, “I am not fine with the nation's democracy, which keeps regressing toward the past.”


Numerous “We are not fine” posters cover bulletin boards at Korea University. Facebook photo description reads, “Over 40 pages of posters were attached at the back entrance of the Korea University's Politics and Economics Dept. building”.


Seoul National University's “We are not fine” poster. 


Yonsei University's “We are not fine” poster


Hangyang University's “We are not fine” poster


Pusan University's “We are not fine” poster

Several journalists analyzed [ko] the reason why the poster has become so popular with students, concluding that it is because the poster isn't a political statement from certain interest groups, but is a “frank personal statement written in conversational language by a fellow student” who shares the pain and frustration of young, struggling Koreans.

Many Twitter users also shared photos of handwritten posters:

At Sookmyung Women's University. From one end to the other are “We are not fine” posters. Someone wrote over there, “I wasn't able to sleep till late at night, after reading these posters”. It seems like something about these posters has deeply resonated with students.

A handwritten “We are not fine” poster, written by Shin Eun-je and Park Moo-young. It was posted on [University of California at] Berkley's bulletin board. This has started to spread internationally. 

This is an image of a Hyosung High School senior's “We are not fine” poster. 

After the concept went viral, Korea University decided to preserve [ko] Ju's poster at the university museum and introduce it as “a document of a democratic movement”.

Under the banner of “We are not fine”, a group of students from Korea University went offline and protested on December 14.

At Seoul station, on December 14, 2013

Korea University back entrance, on December 14, 2013

The nation's beloved best-selling author, Gong Ji-young, commented about this viral poster:

The keyword of the year 2013 is “We are not fine”. One student's conscience and courage has shaken up the whole country this winter. One individual is not insignificant at all.

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