A Quick History of the Democratization of South Korea

With the Presidential Election occurring tomorrow, I was curious about the history of South Korea. Talking to students and co-workers  peaked my interest so this past week I’ve been studying a bit about the history of the democratization of South Korea. I am by no means an expert but here are the basics along with some of the facts that I think gives us a glimpse into Korea. Here is a short summary of what I found :


1910 – 45 

The Japanese Occupation

Japan occupied Korea in 1910, ending its monarch rule. Japan helped build up Korea’s infrastructure, especially the street and railroad systems. The Japanese attempted to eliminate the Korean culture from society, destroying some Korean artifacts, statues and buildings in the process. People were forced to adopt Japanese names, convert to the Japanese religion of Shinto and were forbidden to use Korean language in schools and business. During World War II, Japan used Korea for its resources, including its people, whether for forced labor, sex slaves (women known as “comfort women”) and medical experiments. Koreans, along with many other Asians, were experimented on in Unit 731, a secret military medical experimentation unit in World War II. Many of the forced laborers were never repatriated to Korea.

1945 – 60

The First Republic & the Korean War

The Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945, the 38th parallel marked the beginning of Soviet and U.S. trusteeship over the North and South, respectively. In 1946, an interim legislature and interim government were established, making Seungman Lee 이승만 the first President of South Korea. On September 9, 1948, a communist regime, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), was proclaimed under Kim Il Seong 김일성.
Soon after taking office, Lee enacted laws that severely curtailed political dissent. It soon became clear that Lee’s governing style was going to be authoritarian. His government oversaw several massacres, including the Jeju massacre, where up to 60,000 rebels and civilians were reportedly killed by the Army. Both Lee and Kim Il Seong wanted to unite the Korean peninsula under their individual governments, but the United States refused to give South Korea any heavy weapons. By contrast, Pyongyang was well-equipped with Soviet aircraft and tanks. On June 25, 1950, the North Korean Army invaded the South, starting the Korean War 한국 전쟁. UN forces helped the South while Communist Chinese volunteers sided with the North, resulting in a three-year war which left millions dead on both sides.
Student protests in Masan (the city I visited just a few weeks ago) against the corrupt government caused Seungman Lee to step down as president in 1960. On that election day, protests by students and citizens against the irregularities of the election burst out in the city of Masan. Initially these protests were quelled with force by local police, but when the body of a student was found floating in the harbor of Masan, the whole nation was enraged and protests spread nationwide. He died in exile in Honolulu, Hawaii.

1961 – 79

The Second & Third Republic

The Democratic Party, which had been in the opposition during the First Republic, easily gained power and the Second Republic was established. The revised constitution dictated the Second Republic to take the form of a parliamentary cabinet system where the President took only a nominal role. The assembly elected Yun Bo Seon 윤보선 as President and Chang Myeon 장면 as the prime minister and head of government in August, 1960. Under pressure from the left, the Chang government carried out a series of purges of military and police officials who had been involved in anti-democratic activities or corruption. A Special Law to this effect was passed on October 31, 1960. 40,000 people were placed under investigation; of these, more than 2,200 government officials and 4,000 police officers were purged.

South Korea’s First Dictator

The May 16 coup, led by Major General Park Cheong Hee 박정희 on May 16, 1961, put an effective end to the Second Republic. He then established martial law and later had himself elected president. Park’s administration started the Third Republic by announcing the Five Year Economic Development Plan, an export-oriented industrialization policy. Though his leadership was oppressive, President Park instigated many economic and social changes which helped elevate Korea into and industrializing nation. Major infrastructure enhancements, including the Seoul-Busan expressway and the Seoul subway system, began under his regime. The Fourth Republic began with the adoption of the Yusin Constitution on November 21, 1972. This new constitution gave Park effective control over the parliament and the possibility of permanent presidency. The Korean CIA director Kim Jae Kyu 김재규 assassinated President Park on October 26, 1979, thus bringing the 18-year rule of military regime to an end.

2012 Elections

To understand what is happening currently in Korea, we must understand that he was born in Gumi, a small city outside of Daegu. Daegu is known to be a conservative city, so a lot of older people still support his rule and currently wish to see his daughter take power. His wife was assassinated the previous year by Mun Segwang, a North Korean sympathizer from Japan during an attempt on his life. His daughter,  Park Geun Hye 박근혜, is currently running for President. 

1980 – 87

The Fifth Republic 

After President Park’s assassination, the prime minister took the president’s role. It only lasted for 6 days, when  General Cheon Du Hwan 전두환 staged a military coup and took power on May 17, 1980. After re-establishing martial law which closed universities, placed further restrictions on the press and banned political activities, he had himself elected President and banned several hundred former politicians from campaigning.  Uprising in the city of Gwangju occurred on May 18 to 27, 1980 and is referred to as the Gwangju Democratization Movement 광주 민주화 운동 and sometimes called 5.18, in reference to the date the uprising began.  During this period, citizens rose up against Cheon’s dictatorship and took control of the city. In the course of the uprising, citizens took up arms by raiding police stations and military depots to oppose the government and re-establishment of Marshall law, but were ultimately crushed by the South Korean army. Estimates suggest up to 2,000 people may have died, although numbers range from as little as a few hundreds to a few thousands. 
The government denounced the uprising as a rebellion instigated by Kim Dae Jung 김대중 (a politician) and his followers. In subsequent trials, Kim was convicted and sentenced to death. With the intervention of the United States government and international supporters (including the Pope), the sentence was reduced to 20 years in prison and later he was given exile to the U.S. Kim temporarily settled in Boston and taught at Harvard University as a visiting professor to the Center for International Affairs, until he chose to return to his homeland in 1985. 
In September of 1980, Chun was elected president by indirect election and inaugurated in March of the following year, officially starting the 5th Republic. A new Constitution was established with notable changes; maintaining the presidential system but limiting to a single 7 year term, and strengthening the authority of the National Assembly. But the system of indirect election of president stayed. Despite the economic growth and results in diplomacy, the government, having gained power by coup d’etat, was essentially a military regime When a protesting Seoul National University student died under police interrogation in 1987, public fury was immense, forcing President Chun to implement more social reforms and hold presidential elections in 1988.

Relevant to today

A new movie called 26년 (26 years) is now out in theaters. It is a fictional story about a group of people searching for the person responsible for the Gwangju attacks. 
Ex President Chun is still alive today and this past year got into some hot water: Disgraced Ex-President Claims to Live on $300, Joins Golf Club

1988 – 92 The Sixth Republic

General Noh Tae Woo 노태우, Chun’s chosen political successor, won the presidential election. Noh befriended Chun Du Hwan while in high school in Daegu. The opposition party failed to field a single candidate, splitting the opposition vote and giving Noh a comfortable win and became the country’s first cleanly elected president. During his term, President Noh’s government established diplomatic relations with many non-capitalist countries, including the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union, both long-term allies of communist North Korea. The successful hosting of the 1988 Olympic Games brought Korea to the center stage of world recognition.

1992 – 1996

The election of President Kim Yeong Sam 김영삼 ushered in a new era of civilian rule. The implementation of the real-name financial transaction act put an end to the easy hiding of hot money. Another 2,000 rules and regulations were abolished or amended during President Kim’s term. Kia Motors collapsed, setting off a chain of events which embroiled South Korea in the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis during the last year of his presidency. Despite the many contributions he made, Kim, Yeong- Sam will probably be remembered most for the dismal economic situation the country was in when he left office. 

“Trial of the Century”

Almost immediately, Kim came under pressure to right the wrongs of the military government’s past transgressions. After a long investigation, former Presidents Chun and Noh were found to have initiated the 1979 coup, now referred to as a “premeditated military rebellion,” that led them to power. At first, it appeared the two men would not be prosecuted; however, public outrage demanded that they be tried for staging the 1979 coup and the Gwangju massacre. They each faced separate bribery charges. Chun received life imprisonment, while Noh was sentenced to 17 years in jail. President Kim Yeong Sam issued a special pardon for them a year later, in the name of national reconciliation.

1997 – 2002

The election of President Kim Dae Jung 김대중 (the man who had been arrested during the Gwangju Democratization Movement) marked the first time an opposition leader has been elected as president in Korea. In diplomacy, Kim Dae Jung pursued the “Sunshine Policy“, a series of efforts to reconcile with North Korea. This led to reunions between the separated families of the Korean War, and the summit talk with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Because of this, he was the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. He came to be called the “Nelson Mandela of Asia” for his long-standing opposition to authoritarian rule. The Wikileaks data reveals that the US Embassy in Seoul described Kim as “South Korea’s first left-wing president” to the American government on his day of death.

Bill Clinton Kim Dae-Jung


So here is where I read up to. I was blown away by how hard it was to get a democratic government in South Korea. And even the past few presidents have shown moments of corruption, bribery etc. I forget how young Korea is sometimes, the flashy technology sometimes blinds me from how new it all really is. So tomorrow is election day, and another moment for Koreans to choose how they will be governed. But I am assured that if they are really unhappy and disagree with what their government is doing, they (especially the young people) will stand up for their rights. I hope they continue to feel like they are being heard, and can mature and define what democracy means to them. 


Jeju Named One of the New 7 Wonders of Nature (Almost)

The New 7 Wonders of Nature

This past weekend, Jeju Island celebrated their win in being chosen as one of the provisional new 7 Wonders of Nature. The winners were announced on the New7Wonders Web site by Bernard Weber, founder and president of New7Wonders Foundation, from its headquarters in Zurich at 4:07 a.m. Korean time [source].

It is possible that there will be changes between the above provisional winners and the finally confirmed winners. The provisional winners were selected  based on the first count of votes (a 2 year vote), and were chosen from 28 locations spanning the globe. Voting ended Friday (11/11/11) at 11:11 a.m GMT. The winners will be officially announced in 2012 [source].

When asked about the idea behind the New 7 Wonders, Bernard Weber said, “There are some places in the world where people can’t vote. We like to think that we can make a contribution by getting people to participate in democracy,” Fitzgerald said. Projects like the New 7 Wonders of Nature, he said, do that, and “help raise digital literacy.” [source]

The provisional winners are:

  • the Amazon in South America
  • Halong Bay, Vietnam
  • Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil
  • Jeju
  • Komodo National Park, Indonesia
  • Puerto Princesa Underground River
  • the Philippines
  • Table Mountain, South Africa

Jeju Island

The Jeju Development Institute projects that there will be an increase of 73.6 percent in foreign tourists and 8.5 percent in Korean tourists. They predicts that the increase in tourism will boost the local economy by as $1.1 billion. Last year, 770,000 foreign tourists visited Jeju Island, just 8.8 percent of the number of foreign tourists who visited mainland Korea. [source]
What I loved abut visiting Jeju Island with the girls this past May, was seeing the Seongsan Ilchulbong peak. Jeju is beautiful. If you ever have a chance, go see it!
This is Seongsan Ilchulbong ( 성산일출봉 ), known in English as Sunrise Peak. It is over 100,000 years old, created by a volcanic eruption at the time. 
The crater is about 1,969 feet in diameter and 295 feet high.
My friend Mihwa and I at the top of Seongsan Ilchulbong. The sunset was amazing!

Jeju Pt 2: The Chocolate Museum

I had high expectations

Great Expectations

The Chocolate Museum in Seogwipo, Jeju is the second largest chocolate museum in the world (the largest is the Cologne Chocolate Museum in Germany). The building looks like an ancient castle made of chocolate (it’s actually volcanic rock from Jeju). I had high hopes for this museum from the beginning. It was named as one of the ‘World’s Top 10 Best Chocolate Museums in the World’ by the members and editors of VirtualTourist.com and it is the only chocolate museum found in Asia. 

With our free coffee with purchase of ticket


What we found inside was a strange conglomeration of things. Yes, they explained the production method of chocolate and its movement through history. That is what excited me the most, seeing some Mayan history in a random Korean museum. Aka my ancestors. Half of them anyways.  

A bit of my culture

Cacao bean

So apart from this cool intro to the history of cacao in early civilizations, you also get a look at the ‘Collection Square’. The ‘Collection Square’ features a wide array of chocolate cases and other items that Mr. Han Ye-seok, the museum director, has collected from around the world. 

Heading towards the Museum store, you are stopped by the glass walls that let you see into the kitchen, where a chocolate artisan is creating these awesome little truffles that make you want to melt. 

Choco Facts:


And then there was the Christmas room. Say what? Some portions of this trip were just plain random. Like this room for example, followed by the strange items they sold in the shop such as lighthouse figures and nutcrackers. Hmm. For a chocolate shop, it really lacked the creativity to really draw the conclusion to a powerful close. The expensive truffles weren’t worth it. We left wishing it was more like a cafe – with offers of decadent chocolate cakes and creamy chocolate drinks. Unfortunately, we were left to fend for ourselves. Just look at those faces! We were like pitiful children, left with no dessert after dinner.

Gorging on random donuts from a random Korean bakery

Jeju Pt 1: Land of Oranges, Pigs and Lovers


MAY: Jeju Island, the perfect getaway to spend time with the girls. Though, technically, it’s a “Honeymooner’s Paradise”. The three chicas and I thought, “hey, what the heck? May as well enjoy its beauty”. We all had a must-see added to the list of things to do, but what made it easier and complete was renting a car. Can’t have a girl’s weekend without making it a road trip right?

Jeju Island is the only autonomous province in Korea. It lies south of the mainland, and is a short 2 hour flight from Daegu. Jeju is a bit different than the mainland. According to most, mainland Koreans sometimes have a hard time understanding them because of the dialect. A volcanic island, Jeju is famous for its unique flora and lifestyle. It’s like traveling back in time to an isolated island. To learn more here are some useful sites: here and here. Jeju can be summed up in 3 words: oranges, pigs and lovers. This is an over simplified version of what Jeju is, but for the four of us, this was our vacation summed up to it’s core. 

Source: Visit Korea

About those pigs…. Samgyeopsal (삼겹살). Pork belly, as it is called in English, is what Jodi and I usually eat at the traditional BBQ place. But here in Jeju, it’s different. Why? Their pigs are black. I wouldn’t think that made a difference but suddenly it does and it is a must have from what I have been told. 

What can I say? I was a bit traumatized, and for various reasons. First, we noticed that our pork belly still had hair engrained in it’s layer of fat. Seriously, I can see hair follicles. Now, I know I am “Chica Vs. Food”, but I think it is a fundamental feeling everyone has that they just don’t appreciate hair in their food. Secondly, the price. Regular pork belly is so cheap you could have it for a week without making a dent in your wallet. Here, we paid around $80 for it. What?! That is unheard of here in Korea. On top of that, I personally am not a fan of pork and for me this Jeju pork must have been overfed because its layers of fat were a lot thicker that the inland pigs of Korea. I left feeling queasy for various reasons. 

Source: Wiki

Now to further make this article complete, I did some research. Probably should have done that BEFORE I went. Needless to say,  I found out that this samgyeopsal we ate, is actually called Ddong Daeji (똥돼지). Literal translation? Poop pigs. 

No joke, further research led me to the traditional Jeju ways of raising their black pigs. They literally ate whatever came out of the home or communities’ outhouses … and you know exactly what that means. “The population began to diminish when farmers were not eager to breed them and the Saemaeul Movement replaced traditional toilets with modern ones. The Jeju Husbandry Promotion Center is breeding some 200 indigenous poop pigs to preserve their pure blood. So the Jeju black pork you currently get is actually from a mixed breed” (Joogangdaily). 

Don’t judge, it’s not like you’re eating actual poop. And anyways, nowadays that isn’t how they are raised. A little historical tidbit my Korean friends failed to tell me. No worries, I judged it after I ate it. Though apparently most people love it, so maybe I ate at the wrong place. Read this guy’s perspective. Ha maybe this should have been a “Chica vs. Food” episode. Lesson learned…research next time and THEN eat it.