Beyond Continuity: The Defiance of Ordinary Citizens and the 2016 Candlelight Protests in South Korea

Y. U.N. Ji-Whan, M. I.N. Hee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


In explaining the 2016 candlelight protests that removed Park Geun-hye from the presidency, many commentators in South Korea have emphasized the historical continuity of this event with previous candlelight protests that had different goals and contexts. Commentators have highlighted the uninterrupted commitment of active citizens to democratic progress and claimed that these citizens played the determining role throughout all of the candlelight protests. In addition to this view, this paper argues that there is an important discontinuity in the 2016 protests: ordinary citizens defied the Park government when the government undermined their livelihoods, and this defiance constituted the uniqueness of the 2016 candlelight protests. Specifically, by comparing the life cycle of the 2016 protests with that of the 2008 protests, this paper reveals that ordinary citizens influenced the process of the 2016 event by (1) initiating the preceding small protests, (2) continuously mobilizing livelihood issues and thus delaying the professionalization of the protests, and (3) de-radicalizing the movement. Therefore, the 2016 candlelight protests must be interpreted not only as the culmination of Korea’s decades-long democratic movement but also as a successful struggle of precarious people against the growing neoliberal threats to their livelihoods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-179
Number of pages30
JournalKorea Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Academy of Korean Studies, 2020.


  • 2016 candlelight protests
  • Korean democracy
  • defiance
  • discontinuity
  • neoliberalism
  • ordinary citizens


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