A Guide to South Korean CENSORSHIP

A Guide to South Korean CENSORSHIP

Whether it's tattoos, alcohol, cigarettes, weapons and of course nudity, most of us drama addicts have at some point run into a blurred square on our screen that made us go "What is that? It's so obvious what is it, so why have it?

It is, of course, the very sinner himself, the censorship. *Cue dramatic music*

So what's the deal with the blurry items in the dramas? Why are they in front of us and how is it not applied when they're using tools in, say, a kitchen? Those big bad boys are just as capable of slicing up your worst enemy as the next murder weapon. 

I'll be dealing with this topic in this article - Please enjoy. 


Of course, Asia is a mixture of different countries with different rules regarding Censorship, hence the same rules/laws do not always apply to all Asian countries - Please take this into consideration. Also, I've chosen to limit this article to South Korea alone. Whether these laws/regulations apply to other countries is not documented and will not be discussed in this article. I am in no way an expert on this subject but merely an individual who has access to a computer with internet. All I've done is collect information on the subject.  

So, without further ado, let's start this guide! 


In South Korea, there are specific rules to what can be broadcast and what cannot. The KCSC, or the Korea Communications Standards Commission, is the body of the South Korean internet censorship. They have made a list of what cannot show up on Korean television without our loveable blurred blobs. 

According to rule number 81, Art 37 of KCSC Rules states: "The following items, which may convey excessive shock, anxiety or disgust to viewers, may not be broadcast. There may be limited exceptions if such depiction is unavoidable in discussing the content; even in such cases, expression of these items must be approached cautiously." - meaning they can't air without being censored. So, let's take a look at the disclosed criteria.  

  1. 1. Graphic depiction of beheading, strangulation or dismemberment. 
  2. 2. Direct depiction of the moment of suicide, or depiction that implies the method of suicide.  
  3. 3. Graphic depiction of killing or maiming with firearms, knives or other tools. 
  4. 4. Depiction of mangled corpse or body parts.  
  5. 5. Graphic depiction of the killing of an animal.  
  6. 6. Other depictions that are similar to the above. 

So, by law, the networks, such as the awesome SBS and jTBC, have to comply with the law and add those dreaded censored clouds. 



Had a rough day? Want to relax by taking a breather and smoking a cigarette? Not on Korean television, you don't. 

In 2015, TradingEconomics made a study on the consumption of cigarettes in South Korea. You're probably thinking, what's that got to do with anything, but stay with me for a second.  

In the study, it states that South Korea's smoking rate is 49.8 percent amongst male citizens over the age of 15. In comparison, a study of Belgium showed a rate of 26.5 percent in 2015. That shows a larger rate in South Korea than in Belgium. 

We, as mere peasants, aren't the only ones that caught wind of the displeasing news. So, the government tried decreasing the number of smokers by forcing significant price hikes, financial incentives and medical help for quitting smoking, mandatory warning photos on the packs, advertising bans, and of course, our lovely ban in the drama world also known as censorship. 

But, at least we can enjoy the directors' creative ways of going around the censorship, such as standing on a rooftop multiple times during the lifespan of a drama without lighting a cigarette but keeping it unlit in your mouth throughout the whole scene. - We're not judging, merely appreciating. 



So, we've all been there. The evil villain is heading straight towards you - what do you do? Do you A: Take your chances and run for it, hoping the sexy male lead will save you on time or B: Take the blurred "is-that-a-knife?" and cut him up. 

While you might be brave and take option B, you can take a look to the side and see KCSC shaking their heads at you. 

Knives. I think this was my first meeting with the censorship. Probably yours as well. Let me know in the comment section? 


So, what's the reason for blurring out knives in the first place? Well, take a wild guess... I'm waiting. 

The KCSC. Yup, didn't really surprise anyone there. If you have read until this point, you have also read the above-mentioned criteria regarding the censorship. 

However, one big question remains: "Why not the kitchen knives?" 

The answer is more simple than you probably imagined. A kitchen knife is indeed a potential murder weapon, but so is a car. It's the intention of the knife that matters. (This is also why you can experience that in one scene the knife is visible and in the next it's blurry). It's all about what the wielder is using the knife for - and don't come here saying that cutting a few onions is the same as slicing up the old ajumma next door because she slapped you with kimchi yesterday. Yes, I went there. My career as a comedian is as clear as the censored knife above.     


Fancy a dragon tattoo down your left arm? - Sure, just don't expect it to show up on TV.


Although the very act of getting a tattoo isn't illegal, the military doesn't accept men with larger tattoos on their body. In South Korea, you as a man will at some point between the age of 18 to 35 be enlisted in the South Korean mandatory service program. It basically means you're forced to enlist in the military for about two years' time. However, with that back tattoo you wanted, you can "dodge the bullet" if you know what I mean. - It's, of course, not something the Koreans will clap their hands at. 

Also, for many decades the tattoos have been a sign of organized crime organizations referred to as the Jo-Pok in South Korea. It's the Korean equivalent of the Japanese Yakuza and Chinese Triad.

What are your thoughts on this?

Thanks for reading!

Check out:

-> Adventures in Kdrama Censorship

Comments (47)

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  • Reply
    KawaiiGhoul_ 11 days ago

    I'm not a fan of the censorship in Korea

  • Reply
    Alekwang 12 days ago - edited

    Koreaboo copied this article or is it just me?

  • Reply
    PrettyCarEye 13 days ago - edited

    Great topic. You forgot to mention the censorship when it comes to physical intimacy. A lot of those idiotic stone wall, wide eyed kisses and stiff intimate reactions is in large part due to censorship. And why even a man without a shirt on is cause for the entire population to be scandalized. While this article is only about South Korea, I find it interesting that pretty much ALL kinds of sexual intimacy, even just a simple french kiss is censored in SK (on TV at least, movies are a whole different kettle of fish), but in China (for both TV and films) anything is pretty much allowed as long as the camera doesn't pan below the waistline.

  • Reply
    SecondLeadQueen 13 days ago - edited

    By big tattoos you mean like a single big tattoo? Because i seen a few kpop celebrities with sleeves. Example Taeil from Block B he is full of them and also Zico. Bang Yongguk from BAP has a few of them. GD. And probably a few more that i don't remember at this moment. So how are those artist going to deal with it. You think they have privileges?

    • Reply
      KawaiiGhoul_ 11 days ago

      They probably won't qualify for it. Amber from F(x) has a big tattoo on her right arm and she went on a tv show where idols and actors experience the army or something like that and she almost didn't qualify because her one tattoo was too big. So I'm not really sure if they'll get out of it or not but I'm curious.

  • Reply
    PriRiRin 13 days ago

    I have seen 2) in heart to heart and Irish Uppercut.

  • Reply
    Afi 14 days ago

    Wow. Learned something new today: smoking stats. That's almost half of men above 15 smoking. I was so surprised (disappointed) when I learned that Taeminnie and Lee Min Ho smoke. Been worried about GD and TOP as well. But I guess it's not too unusual considering this info.

    Also...Apart from the whole "holds cigarette in mouth without lighting it" I've also seen "holds lit cigarette in hand without bringing it to lips." They are creative.

  • Reply
    ManaSura 14 days ago - edited

    Great Article.
    Of course the hero of censorship is knifes, cigarettes getting blurred is a new info. Do they sincerely think that blurring up a lighted cigarette can help reduce consumption???!!
    As for the tatoos, I can live with a real tattoo of a k-pop artist getting censored like the pic you attached above, but I can never understand censoring up a tattoo that was inserted as make-up on an actor's body for the sake of the role!!! (I am looking at you cruel City) Why bother do it when it when it will get censored anyway???!!!
    Good work on the article, keep it up.

  • Reply
    tee 14 days ago

    i've always been so confused by the censorship of tattoos i never knew the military doesn't accept big ones ?? tbh tho i'm thankful for the censorship sometimes helps me avoid nightmares ehe

  • Reply
    Feli 14 days ago

    Do these rules apply to cable too? Here is the US, we have censorship for public "network" TV, but not for private cable networks like HBO, Showtime, or say AMC. Also some rules are relaxed if the show airs after "family time" usually the hours of 6 to 10 pm....

  • Reply
    Alekwang 14 days ago

    does this only apply to modern day dramas? I'm pretty sure I always see bloody daggers/swords stabbing or cutting people in historical dramas. There's also dismemberment/hanging/torture/beating and so on.

  • Reply
    SUNNY 14 days ago - edited

    Swords, battle axes, giant steel spiked bowling balls on a chain, guillotine, baseball bat to the car windows and hood? It's all good! Fake blood covered rubber knife? Smear it before it causes a downfall to the nation! Stat!

    • Reply
      Louise Mcdonald 14 days ago

      This is exact!y what I was thinking when I watched Bad Guys yesterday. We can't show someone being stabbed, but caving a mans head in with a baseball bat is fine

  • Reply
    VioletSakura 15 days ago

    Most of the time the blurring makes the whole "dangerous" situation somewhat funny! I mean you are watching a drama and suddenly this blurred knife in your face... if the situation is dangerous and alarming, you want to feel it, I mean that's why you are watching the damn show, right? And instead of that you get a cartoonish situation, where you know there's a knife, but you can't actually see the blade... I don't think this helps the cause...

  • Reply
    aimsat 15 days ago

    very informative and insightful...different topic for an article...really appreciate... :) :)

  • Reply
    neo 15 days ago - edited

    I think brand logos were my first encounter with censorship

    • Reply
      SUNNY 14 days ago

      Covering logos on clothing with colored tape or on articles is not really censorship. It's the entertainment company that dies this to avoid paying the company that designed the item. They tape over the logo on the front of a car. The tape over a few letters of the car's name on the back trunk too.

  • Reply
    displacedmoon 15 days ago

    the unlit cigarette! maybe because i'm an ex-smoker, but it drives me up the wall whenever i see actors holding a cig for what seems like forever, and just as they're about to light up, they get interrupted. lol. i think the only time i really found tattoo censorship distracting was in cruel city. the lead, paksa-adeul, had a full back tattoo that i think would have added to the character/drama if they had not blurred it out. but oh well..."them's the rules."

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