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A battle of lion, tiger and turtle? Art of face reading offers peculiar take on presidential race

Between various scandals, the leaking of private conversations and talks of possible unified candidacies, support for the three major candidates in Korea’s ongoing presidential race has fluctuated unpredictably throughout.

But there are those who believe that hints lie in the faces of the three – the ruling party’s Lee Jae-myung, and opposition parties’ Yoon Suk-yeol and Ahn Cheol-soo -- and one can read them through the art of fortunetelling known as “gwansang.”

“None of these three are compatible with each other, so I think that (a unified candidacy) would be a long shot,” Paik Woon-san, head of the Association of Korean Prophets, said on the chances of Yoon and Ahn joining forces to defeat Lee.

According to gwansang experts, the faces of the three politicians can be likened to animals; Lee being a lion, Yoon a tiger, and Ahn -- while somewhat vague -- a turtle.

From left: Yoon Suk-yeol, Lee Jae-myung and Ahn Cheol-soo
From left: Yoon Suk-yeol, Lee Jae-myung and Ahn Cheol-soo
Referring to both the art of face reading and the face itself, gwansang is similar to Western physiognomy in theory, but varies in practice. In essence, it is not necessarily intended to predict a person’s future, but rather to assess one‘s fortune via the characteristics and traits observed on the face.

In gwansang, the forehead, the area around the nose and eyes and the area around the mouth and jaws respectively refer to a person’s early, middle and later stages of life. 

What do their faces tell us?

All the three candidates are in their late 50s to early 60s, meaning the lower part of their face would factor in prominently.

Paik attributed Yoon’s recent troubles -- namely various scandals related to his family -- to his lips, which greatly affect one’s fortune in the early 60s. “His lips are a bit small and at times a little crooked when talking. ... Otherwise he has a great face.”

He explained that Yoon’s large face goes well with his large body, along with the forehead, eyes and his nose. Wrinkles around his mouth also indicate good fortune throughout the life of Yoon, who turned 61 in December.

The expert likened the rivalry between Yoon and Lee as a fight between a lion and a tiger. A certain branch of gwansang makes comparisons of one’s face to animals for the sake of better understanding.

Paik said Lee slightly edges Yoon out in terms of fortune in the later years of life -- which both are in right now. But as in the case of the two alpha predators, the two are so equally matched that it would be meaningless to predict the result at this point.

As for Ahn, who has recently emerged as a potential significant factor with two front-runners Lee and Yoon locked in a tight race, Baek Jae-kwon, an expert in gwansang who teaches at Cyber Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said he has the face of a turtle.

“As turtles are gentle creatures, turtle-faced people are also gentle and calm,” Baek wrote in his column, adding that “turtles also have access to luck.” This may explain Ahn’s repeated resurgences in politics after unsuccessful runs in both presidential and Seoul mayoral races.

Baek said Ahn’s face hints he may be better at business than politics.

“A turtle type tends to mull things over,” wrote Baek. Ahn reported his wealth to be 155 billion won ($130 million), most of which he accumulated through the nation’s largest antivirus software firm AhnLab that he founded in 1995.

Turtle types may have trouble in shaking up politics, but the expert stressed that Ahn’s support will rise over time as he is virtuous in dealing with the public. Paik too said Ahn has “a fortune that gradually improves over time.”

Year of the Tiger

Ahn may not have the best gwansang for a politician, but he does have one thing going for him in that this is literally his year, according to the Chinese zodiac.

This is the Year of the Black Tiger, and Ahn was born in the same black tiger year in the previous cycle, 60 years ago. This serves as a major boost in terms of East Asian fortunetelling.

“He could determine the presidential race’s outcome. That’s how strong (his luck) is,” Paik said. He had already predicted the same about Ahn in an interview with another media outlet in mid-December, when Ahn’s support was at meager 5 percent and he was just a relatively minor factor in the race.

But good luck in gwansang does not always yield good results. Sim Sang-jung of the minor opposition Justice Party is generally seen by gwansang experts as having a substantial amount of talent and luck, but her support has been sluggish.

Paik stressed that gwansang is not about telling one’s future, choosing not to be pegged to a prediction in the upcoming election, whether it be Lee, Yoon or the unexpected surge of Ahn.

”(Gwansang) does not tell one’s fate itself. You have to look at various factors (in telling the future), not just gwansang. A fight between a lion and tiger is impossible to predict,” he said.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)
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