Korea’s original name, Choson, Meant “land of the morning calm.”The country’s history has been shaped by frequent invasions from its neighbors. Korean history is divided into three main periods: the silla (668-935), Koryo (935-1392), and Yi (1392-1910) dynasties. The name “Korea” is derived from the middle dynasty of Koryo. Foreign influence-direct and indirect-occurred throughout these dynasties. All of Korea’s foreign overlords-Mongolian, Chinese, and Japanese instituted a closed-door policy in order to solidify their rule. This isolation earned Korea the name of the Hermit kingdom.
In 1910, Japan annexed Korea and enforced ruthless control, outlawing Korean culture and language. Despite resistance, several generations grew up more familiar with Japanese than with Korean customs. At the Yalta Conference at the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union jointly established temporary administrative trusteeship over Korea until democratic elections could be held. Japanese forces south of the thirty-eighth parallel surrendered to the United States and forces in the north surrendered to the U.S.S.R. The Soviets blocked attempts to hold nationwide elections, and the two sides became deadlocked. When authorities in the north ignored a United nations resolution for supervised elections in 1948, a pro-Western government was established in the south (the republic of Korea). Later the Soviet Union established the Democratic Peoples’s republic of Korea in the north. In June 1949, U.S. troops withdrew.One year later, North Korean forces invaded South Korea. A United Nations-backed coalition of sixteen member nations sent assistance to South Korea. The resulting war lasted three years and ended in a stalemate. On July 27, 1953, an armistice agreement was signed and a military Armistice Commission with five members for each side was set up to supervise the implementation of the armistice. Since neither the United States nor South Korea ever signed the agreement (although they respect the terms as members of the United Nations), a state of war is formally still in effect.
Few societies have changed as rapidly or as dramatically since the end of World War II as that of South Korea.When the war ended in 1945, the great majority of the people living in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula were poor peasants. The Japanese colonial regime from 1910 to 1945 had promoted modernization of the economy and society, but this had a limited, and mainly negative, impact on most Koreans as its main intent was to serve Japan. The poverty and distress of the South Koreans were deepened by the Korean War of 1950-53 when numerous people died and cities and towns were devastated. During the next few decades, however, South Korea evolved into a dynamic industrial society. By 1990 educational and public health standards were high, most people lived in urban areas, and a complex structure of social classes had emerged that resembled the social structures of developed Western countries or Japan. The country also was making substantial progress in its evolution from a military dictatorship similar to that of many Third World regimes to a democratic, pluralistic political system. In the mid-1950s, few observers could have imagined that Seoul, the country’s capital, would emerge from the devastation of war to become one of the world’s most vibrant metropolitan centers rivaling Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Los Angeles.
The population of the Korean Peninsula, sharing a common language, ethnic identity, and culture, was one of the world’s most homogenous. Although there were significant regional differences even within the relatively small land area of South Korea, neither North Korea or South Korea has significant non-Korean ethnic minorities. This homogeneity, and the sense of a shared historical experience that it promoted gave the people of South Korea a strong sense of national purpose. However, the years of Japanese colonial rule, the division of the peninsula after World War II, the establishment of two antagonistic states in the north and south, and the profound changes in the economy and society caused by industrialization and urbanization since the 1950’s led may South Koreans to search anew for their national identity and place in the world. Often, the concern for identity expressed itself as xenophobia, the creation of a “national mythology” that was given official or semiofficial sanction, or the search for specail and unique ‘essence” of Korean culture.
South Korea is a unitary multiparty republic, governed by a president, prime minister, deputy prime minister, and state council (cabinet). There is also a 299 seat unicameral National Assembly and a supreme court.
The prime minister is the head of the government. The chief of state is the president, who is elected to a five-year term. Members of the National Assembly serve a four year term.
Governments Role in Economic Development
In 1961 General Park Chung Hee overthrew the popularly elected regime of Prime Minister Chang Mayon. A nationalist, Park wanted to transform South Korea from a backward agricultural nation into a modern industrial nation that would provide a decent way of life for its citizens while at the same time defending itself from outside aggression. Park’s government was the beneficiary of the syngman Rhee administration’s decision to use foreign aid from the United States during the 1950’s to build an infrastructure that included a nationwide network of primary and secondary schools, modern roads, and a modern communications network. The result was that by 1961, South Korea had a well-educated young work force and a modern infrastructure that provided Park with a solid foundation for economic growth.
The Park administration decided that the central government must play the key role in economic development because no other South Korean institution had the capacity or resources to direct such drastic change in a short time. The resulting economic system incorporated elements of both state capitalism and free enterprise. The economy was dominated by a group of chaebol, large private conglomerates, and also was supported by a significant number of public corporations in such areas as iron and steel, utilities, communications, chemicals, and other heavy industries.The government guided private industry through a series of export and production targets utilizing the control of credit, informal means of pressure and persuasion, and traditional monetary and fiscal policies.
The government hoped to take advantage of existing technology to become competitive in areas where other advanced industrial nations had already achieved success. Seoul presumed that the well-educated and highly motivated work force would produce lowcost, high-quality goods that would find ready markets in the United States and the rest of the industrial world. Profits generated from the sale of exports would be used to further expand capital, provide new jobs, and eventually pay off loans.
Economic programs were based on a series of five-year plans that began in 1962.
The first five year Economic Development Plan (1962-66) consisted of initial steps toward the building of a self-sufficient industrial structure that was neither consumption oriented nor overdependent on oil. Such areas as electrification, oil refining, synthetic fibers, and cement were emphasized. The Second five-year Economic Development Plan (1967-71) stressed modernizing the industrial structure and rapidly building import-substitution industries, including steel, machinery, and chemical industries. The Third Five-Year Economic Development Plan (1972-76) achieved rapid progress in building an export-oriented structure by promoting heavy and chemical industries.The Fourth Fie-Year Economic Development Plan (1977-81) fostered the development of industries designed to compete effectively in the world’s industrial export markets. The late 1970s, however, witnessed worldwide recession, rising fuel costs, and growing inflation. South Korea’s industrial structure became somewhat imbalanced, and the economy suffered from acute inflation because of an overemphasis on investment in heavy industrial goods. The Fifth Five-Year Economic and Social Development Plan (1982-86) sought to shift the emphasis away from heavy and chemical industries, to technology-intensive industries, such as precision machinery, electronics and information.The Sixth Five-Tear Economic and Social Development Plan (1987-91) to a large extent continued to emphasize the goals of the previous plan. The government intended to accelerate import liberation and remove various types of restrictions and nontariff barriers on imports. The goal of the Seventh Five-Year Economic and Social Development Plan (1992-96), formulated in 1989, was to develop high-technology fields, such as microelectronics, new materials, fine chemicals, bioengineering, optics, and aerospace. Government and industry would work together to build high-technology facilities in seven provincial cities to better balance the geographic distribution of industry throughout South Korea.
The social values of contemporary South Korea reflect the synthesis and development and diverse influences, both indigenous and foreign. Probably the most important of these is the neoConfucian doctrine of the Chinese philosopher Zhu Xi (1130-1200), first introduced into Korea during the closing years of the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392). The rules of the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910) adopted it as their state ideology. The most important Korean neo-Confucian philosopher, Yi Hwang, also known as Yi T’oe-gye (1501-70), had a great influence on later generations of Confucianists not only in Korea, nut also in Japan. Throughout traditional Korean society, from the royal palace and central government offices in Seoul to the humblest household in the provinces, the themes of the hierarchy and inequality were pervasive. Persons were expected to nurture “sincere” attitudes, which meant not so much expressing what one “really” felt as “reflecting on” or “clarifying” one’s thoughts and feelings until they conformed to traditional norms. There was no concept of rights of the individual. The ideal man or woman was one who controlled his or her passions or emotions in order to fulfill to the letter a host of exacting social obligations.
Family and lineage continuity traditionally was, and to a great extent remains, a supremely important principle. This reflects Mencius’s view that of all possible unfilial acts, to deprive one’s parents of posterity is the worst. Historically, the Korean family has been patrilineal. The most important concern for the family group was producing a male heir to carry on the family line and to perform ancestor rituals in the household and at the family gravesite. The first son customarily assumed leadership of the family after his father’s death and inherited his father’s house and a greater portion of land than his younger brothers.
Traditionally, the purpose of marriage was to produce a male heir to carry on the family line and not to provide mutual companionship and support for husband and wife. Marriages were arranged. A go-between or matchmaker, usually a middle-aged woman, carried on the negotiations between the two families involved who, because of a very strict law of exogamy, sometimes did not know each other and often lived in different communities. The bride and groom met for the first time at the marriage ceremony, a practice that ended in the cities by the 1930’s.