A few days ago, Na Hyang-wook would have been getting ready for a convivial evening out with reporters from the Kyunghyang Shinmun, a left-leaning national paper in South Korea.

A chance, perhaps, for this 47-year-old member of the country's bureaucratic elite to give journalists a steer on coverage, a political tidbit or two, in his capacity as head of policy and planning at South Korea's ministry of education.

Not any more, he isn't.

Whatever the rules of engagement established ahead of their private dinner, the newspaper says its reporters were so outraged by his comments that they felt compelled to report them.

They claim they even gave him the chance to retract them - only to be rebuffed.

So just how bad could it have been?

Bad enough for Na to experience a particularly brutal round of online shaming, and a parliamentary grilling on Monday, at which members of ruling and opposition parties lined up to chastise him.

Na told the reporters, in what he now says was a fug of drunkenness and fatigue, just how he viewed the overwhelming majority of the society whose children's education was his chief responsibility.

Ninety-nine percent, he said, were equivalent to "dogs and pigs", requiring only to be fed and kept alive.

Far from encouraging greater social mobility, he argued for a caste system, on the basis that people aren't born equal.

He also accused the public of hypocrisy in grieving over the recent death of a 19-year-old subway worker.

This was a young man crushed by an oncoming train while rushing to complete his task - seen as representative of overworked, underpaid contract workers around the country.

South Korean cartoonist draws Internet fame

All that would be bad enough. But it came at a time when the divisions within South Korean society are a major theme of public debate.

Much of it has centred on the distinction between being born with a gold spoon or a dirt spoon in this stratified society - described by some online as "Hell Korea".

Hardly surprising, then, that Na's comments have provoked a storm of online criticism. One commenter on this article wrote: "High-ranking government officials or lawmakers probably think the same way. They just don't say it."

This cartoon depicts what it calls the "evolution of Hell Korea's people".

The education minister has been unsparing in his criticism, saying there could be no excuse for inappropriate remarks and promising stern punishment.

But that might not be enough to avert the feeling that a widespread resentment of South Korea's elite class has been entrenched by the shocking, drunken candour of one of its own.

Source: Al Jazeera