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05/15/2018 Special > Opinion


[Op-ed] Not a Princess Anymore

Physical and emotional abuse by Hanjin group heiresses


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On April 2018, the former vice president of Hanjin Group (a South Korean conglomerate), Cho Hyun-min (also known as Emily Cho), was accused of splashing a cup of water on a member of an advertisement agency. As she is the younger sister of Cho Hyun-ah (also known as Heather Cho), infamously known for her "nut rage," the media and the public paid close attention to the issue. People have generally been raging at the Cho family’s attitude of acting as a royal family. This negative sentiment of the public has led to more testimonials, exposure, and proof of the past behaviors of the Cho family.
Cho Hyun-ah (Heather) is leaving the court after her second trial.
(Photo courtesy of Hankyoreh)

The peanut-return

On a Korean airplane at John F. Kennedy International Airport heading to Incheon, Heather Cho was on her way back home in a first-class seat. A flight attendant offered her a bag of macadamia nuts as part of the service. She famously became outraged by the fact that the package was given unopened rather than having the nuts opened and served on a plate. Cho then made the flight attendant kneel down and apologize, and she repeatedly struck his knuckles with her tablet PC. She did not stop there and even made the whole plane with more than 200 people aboard return to the airport just to force the flight attendant off the plane. This incident was dubbed as the "peanut-return" or the "nut rage," and became an internationally notorious story.
Cho was sentenced to 12 months in prison for obstructing aviation safety, and she resigned her vice chairman position from Hanjin Group. Although she only served three months and returned to management soon, many Korean people still remember the incident as one of the many cases of chaebol , or family-run conglomerates, abusing their power. Commonly referred to as gabjil, it is not surprising anymore if the chairman of a big company yells at his driver for trivial issues or at his children for mocking "commoners" on social media. However, Cho Hyun-ah’s behavior was one of the most extreme cases that Korean people had ever heard of, and that is why people were angry at the whole family when her sister Cho Hyun-min turned out to be treating her underlings with zero respect as well.
Cho Hyun-min  (Emily) and her short apology on her Facebook wall which says, "I apologize for my foolish behavior."
(Photo courtesy of SBS)

The water-rage leading up to investigations
After the accusation of her throwing a cup of water at a person during a meeting, there was the publication by an insider of recordings of her screaming at her staff. She did not hesitate to shout, scream, or swear, and she seemed to disregard others' ears. “Don’t you know who I am?”, “You are going to go and trash talk behind me, aren't you?”, and “I know people can hear,” are some of her words in the recordings. Most people's common sense informs them that a boss cannot physically or emotionally abuse his or her staff; however, it turned out that it wasseen as okay to do in the Cho family. Emily and Heather’s mother was also charged with physical violence towards Hanjin Group employees.
These sets of behaviors made the public as well as the employees outrage. About 400 former and present workers of Korean Air went to the streets of Gwanghwa-mun, demanding the Cho family to step down from management. The pilot labor union also demonstrated with candle lights for the same matter. Several posts petitioned the Blue House to request that the name of Korean Air change, as their behavior is damaging the reputation of Korea as a whole. The one with the most signatures was signed by 5,136 people. A whole episode on the 9th of May's KBS's "In Depth 60 Minutes" was dedicated to the Cho family’s illegal deeds and misbehaviors.
The public rage also led to additional testimonies on possible tax evasion by the family. Cho Yang-ho, the chairman, is now accused of evading inheritance tax totaling 5 billion won, and, based on a number of whistle-blowers, there is now an investigation looking into uncovering the illegal smuggling of goods . As the gabjil culture is fairly spread in Korean culture, regardless of the amount of wealth one owns, it seems quite hopeful that people are trying to change such an atmosphere by condemning the arrogant, disrespectful behavior of the chaebol families. We should keep an eye on the issue of Hanjin Group’s heiress issues but also on our everyday lives where gabjil can happen much more often, although on a lighter scale. 

Kim So-yun
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