In the 1970s, the full-scale development of the area now known as Kangnam commenced, ushering in the era of real estate investment on apartments which transformed housing styles in South Korea. Apartments were pitched as the most ideal type of housing, putting them in a competitive market of high demand and skyrocketing prices. The apartments were also viewed as a means of quick asset investment among middle-class Koreans. Within this apartment frenzy stood the female real estate speculator, the Pokpuin, who frequented real estate agencies, fanning the flames of greed and dreams for overnight riches.
This paper seeks to locate the Pokpuin in the real estate development market during the 1970s. The apartment speculation boom cannot be attributed to the Pokpuin alone, yet she became the target of public anger and criticism, singled-out as being responsible for fueling illegal and unethical investments. The apartment boom of the 1970s was in fact generated in large part by the government, developers, construction companies and realtors. While their pursuit of profit was deemed as legitimate, the Pokpuin’s conduct was mostly tainted by presumed illegitimate and greedy motivations. By comparing Korea’s Pokpuin with Japan’s “Mrs. Watanabe” and China’s “Da Ma”, all of whom represent female investors, I problematize this gendering of real estate investment and treat the Pokpuin as a byproduct of the family-centered culture in East Asia.
The poisonous existence of the Pokpuin emerged in the late 1970s. Behind the defamed Pokpuin there were actually two diverging types. On one hand were the Pokpuin who pursued a life of luxury and decadence, amassing their fortune from unethical, opportunistic investments. On the other hand were the Pokpuin married to salarymen, whose motives were to maintain their status within the middle class, effectively manage savings and accumulate assets. Im Kwon Taek’s 1980 film Pokpuin highlights the former type of Pokpuin, while Park Wan Seo’s 1984 novel, Sŏul saramdŭl stars the latter—a woman married to an incapable man and, lacking alternatives, ends up gambling in the real estate market to improve her family’s financial standing.
Given the family dynamics of South Korea in the 1970s, the responsibility of lining-up for lottery tickets to purchase apartments and visiting realtors’ offices fell upon the wife, who was also responsible for the children’s education and living environment. It was within this context, under this division of labor, where the Pokpuin participated in real estate speculation while her husband was at work. Her pursuit was not hers alone; it was the collective pursuit with her husband for the enhancement of family finances. I argue that the Pokpuin embodied the thickly misogynistic climate of the 1970s that projected the chaotic rise of greed onto the woman.