Liberté, égalité, fraternité
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Umberto Eco’s Middle Age History: For Men Only, says leading Korean publisher

Sigongsa publicly apologises for ‘not having thought the event through’

Yesterday, leading Korean publishing house Sigongsa published an official apology. The apology concerned the release of a new two-volume translation of Umberto Eco‘s “Introduction to the Middle Ages“.

The publisher announced that they would hold a special event – a writing competition whose prize included copies of the Middle Ages translation as well as the opportunity to write an all-expenses-paid book review. Women need not apply.

The event, as advertised on Sigongsa’s Naver blog

As soon as the event was published, female aficionados of Eco, Middle Age history, and of  Sigongsa demanded an explanation regarding their discriminative attitude – what’s the link between Umberto Eco and misogyny?

Sinagong is a highly influential and well-reputed publishing house in South Korea whose range includes both domestic and international authors. They publish translations of many famous foreign authors’ works, including Fifty Shades of Grey, British magazine Cereal, Ito Junji’s horror comics, The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, the John Grisham collection, and a series of classics by Jane Austen, Cervantes, Dumas, Goethe, Saint-Exupéry, Shakespeare,  and Virginia Woolf.

The unforeseen attack took the publisher and marketing team by surprise, apparently, to which they published an official apology. But something about this isn’t quite right either.

Sigongsa’s official ‘apology’, published December 29th, was taken down in less than as day, after it caused more if not as much controversy as the event itself (Image source:


Hello, I’m the Sigongsa employee in charge of the “Men, Otakus of the Middle Ages”event. I was wondering why I kept on getting Twitter alerts after coming home, so I logged on to see an endless number of RTs.

First of all, there is a lot of controversy regarding why I restricted the event to men only.
I apologise for not having thought it through.

The theme to Volume 2 of “Middle Ages” was cathedrals, cities and knights. […] I narrowed down the main theme of our publicity campaign to “Male Elegance”. I’ve also been preparing a seminar with the eponymous title and have already spoken to Mr. Eco about it.

As the marketer in charge, I conducted a lot of research online with the keyword ‘Middle Ages’. I saw that many people who are interested in history, games, and fiction had posted lots of information about the Middles Ages.

There was a lot of information, and even a good deal of expert information, so it surprised me. I thought that most of the posts had been written by men (this could be a mistake or prejudice on my part…) […]

However, I would like to emphasise that this is not a gender-discriminative event in any way, as people claim on Twitter  […]


The marketer does not state anywhere whether he knew the actual identity of the writers. He simple assumes that they are men. The ‘apology’ backfired and caused even more controversy than the event itself, to which the publisher reacted by simply deleting the apology.

Here are some of the RTs, retrieved December 30th, 16:00 CET.

Is your job ‘Cyberworld Sexer?’ (a sexer is someone who specialises in telling the sex of animals)
Multiple RTs point out the poor grammar and sentence structure of the ‘ apology’ post, and question how someone with such a bad command of the Korean language could work at a publishing house
Others have highlighted the fact that Sigongsa’s CEO, Chun Jae-gook, is the son of Chun Doo-hwan, Korean dictator of the 80s responsible for the 1980 Gwangju Massacre
“So, if there is a book on the Joseon Dynasty, only the Jeonju Lees (descendants of the Lee Dynasty) must be allowed to review it, huh?” mocks one comment

As of December 30th, the initial apology posted on Naver Blog has been retracted, and the company has issued no further comments. Many fans of Umberto Eco and Sigongsa’s works have announced a boycott on all their publications, which also include a popular travel guide section and children’s comics. The angry RTs on Twitter continue…


This entry was posted in: Liberté, égalité, fraternité


Internationally lost since 2000, Emily was born in Seoul, raised in India, and has been living and studying in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands since 2014. A translator and interpreter by profession, she enjoys talking and debating just about anything.

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