Korea, South - History

Korea, South - History

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A. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively, but certain limitations apply to public officials and teachers. A 2015 Supreme Court decision affirmed the right of all migrant workers, including undocumented workers, to form or join a union.

The law places some restrictions on unions’ ability to organize their administration, including restricting the ability of union leaders to receive pay for time spent on union work. Laws banning education workers from engaging in certain political activities, such as joining a political party or openly endorsing a political party or candidate, also constrained unions’ abilities to advocate for their positions. The law also prohibits dismissed workers from being union members.

The law limits the right to strike, in particular for workers in “essential services.” Essential services are defined broadly and include services such as railroads, air transport, communications, water supply and other utilities, and hospitals. By law unions in essential service industries may be required to maintain 50 percent service. Individuals designated as essential by management, with input from labor unions, may not strike. The law also prohibits strikes by national and local government officials, with some exceptions for specified public servants.

By law unions must submit a request for mediation to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) before a strike; otherwise, the strike is illegal. Strikes initiated following this period are legal if they obtain majority support from union membership. The law prohibits strikes when a dispute is referred to binding arbitration.

The law adopts a narrow interpretation of “labor dispute,” which makes strikes on many issues falling under managerial control, such as downsizing and layoffs, illegal. Strikes not specifically pertaining to labor conditions, wages, benefits, or working hours are also considered illegal. Stakeholders noted that strike procedures were overly burdensome.

The law permits workers to file complaints of unfair labor practices against employers who interfere with union organizing or who discriminate against union members. The NLRC may require employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The law prohibits retribution against workers who conduct a legal strike. Labor organizations noted the inability of full-time labor union officials to receive wages and onerous registration requirements for individuals involved in bargaining effectively limited legal protections against unfair labor practices.

The government generally enforced legislation related to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and collective action (which includes legal strikes). Employers who violate a regulation on unfair labor practices may be imprisoned or fined). In addition, an employer can be punished for disregarding a NLRC order to reinstate a worker. The law sets penalties, in the form of fines or imprisonment, against employers who refuse or neglect to accept unions’ legitimate requests for bargaining. The law also penalizes illegal strike activities with imprisonment or a fine), depending on the offense.

Many labor organizations generally operated without government interference; however, stakeholders noted the government used overly broad criminal legal provisions, including the “obstruction of business” provisions, to justify criminal prosecutions and other extreme measures against union leaders to suppress strikes.

In May the second panel of the Supreme Court rejected further appeals by the president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, Han Sang-gyun, of his July 2016 conviction on six, mostly obstruction-related, charges. The charges arose from his role in organizing a November 2015 “People’s Rally” which resulted in injuries to 76 Korean National Police personnel, obstruction of public duty of 32 police personnel, and damage to 43 police buses and 138 pieces of equipment, including torn police uniforms and vests. Han was first sentenced to five years in prison and a 500,000 won ($430) fine. This was reduced on appeal to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 won ($444), which sentence the Supreme Court confirmed.

NGOs and labor experts noted a one-year sentence had been the norm in recent years for leading labor protests, and progressive local media noted Han’s punishment was “the stiffest sentence for a rally organizer since the country’s democratization in 1987.” The UN Special Rapporteur expressed his concern about “a trend of gradual regression on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association,” during his January 2016 visit.

In his June 2016 report, the UN Special Rapporteur noted examples of antiunion practices by companies, including: encouraging the formation of management-supported unions; undermining employee unions through various means including surveillance, threats, and undue pressure on members; disguised subcontracting to avoid selected employer responsibilities and dismissal of members; firing union leaders and workers following strike action; and assigning union leaders demeaning jobs to demoralize them. He noted employers allegedly used labor relations consultancy firms to obtain advice that facilitates the erosion of trade union rights. The International Trade Union Confederation noted similar concerns during the year, including employers imposing the choice of union on construction workers and discrimination against unionized workers at a car factory.

As of September 2016, the Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU) had approximately 1,200 members. In its first year as a recognized union, the MTU conducted organizing campaigns and training for workers. It also mobilized members to advocate for a minimum wage increase and better working conditions. Nonetheless, undocumented foreign workers still face difficulties participating in union activities due to fear of exposing themselves to arrest and deportation.

B. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government generally enforced the law effectively. Penalties for forced labor are commensurate with those for other serious crimes and the government stated they were sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports some migrant workers were subject to forced labor. Migrant workers who traveled to the country for employment sometimes incurred thousands of dollars in debts, making them vulnerable to debt bondage. Some migrant workers in the agriculture, livestock, and fishing industries faced conditions indicative of forced labor, including deceptive recruiting practices, confiscation of passports, and nonpayment of wages.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) reported passport confiscation was “rare” due to increased employer awareness that it is a violation of the Immigration Control Law. Civil society groups and foreign workers centers explained that, although illegal confiscation was increasingly uncommon, many foreign workers unknowingly sign paperwork legally authorizing employers to obtain passports and other forms of identification on their behalf; thus, many of the problems associated with passport confiscation remain unaddressed.

Amnesty International’s 2015/16 report noted it was extremely difficult for migrant workers to seek alternative employment under the terms of the Employment Permit System (EPS) even if they experienced exploitation or abuse by their employer and highlighted poor conditions for migrant workers in agriculture (see section 7.d.), including conditions indicative of forced labor.

The media reported suicide was the number one cause of migrant workers’ deaths followed by industrial accidents, illnesses, and car accidents. According to the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions, since the implementation of EPS in 2007, 36 Nepali migrant workers have committed suicide. This number includes nine Nepali migrant workers who committed suicide in 2015, seven in 2016, and five as of August. The stated reasons for the suicides included depression, overwork, and unpaid additional allowances.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

C. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of persons under age 15 without an authorization certificate from the MOEL. Authorities issued few such certificates for full-time employment because education is compulsory through middle school (approximately age 15). To obtain employment, children under 18 must obtain written approval from either parents or guardians. According to labor laws, employers in industries considered harmful or hazardous in ethical or health terms are prohibited from employing children under 18 and can face fines or imprisonment. Inspections and penalties were sufficient to ensure compliance. The government reported two violations of child labor law in the year to November.

There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, “Children”).

D. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and social status. The law states there shall be no discrimination in economic, social, or cultural life based on sex, religion, or social status. The law explicitly prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of age, physical condition, hometown, education, marital status, pregnancy, nationality, or medical history. There are no laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of color, political opinion, language, or HIV or other communicable disease status.

The law requires equal pay for equal work when men and women do work of equal value in the same business. Labor laws generally provide foreign migrant workers the same legal protections as nationals, but the government did not effectively implement the law.

There was no comprehensive mechanism to enforce all these provisions if discrimination occurred.

Discrimination occurred against persons with HIV/AIDs, women, persons with disabilities and migrant workers.

Discrimination against women in both hiring and in employment continued. Women continued to experience a pay gap, and a higher percentage of women filled lower-paying, low-skilled, contract jobs. Women often faced difficulties returning to the workforce after childbirth. According to the Ministry of Gender and Equality, in July nearly seven out of 10 of the country’s top 500 companies were found to have zero women at the executive level.

The Counseling Center against Sexual Violence in Busan, the country’s second largest city, funded by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, revealed on August 25 that the number of the cases of sexual harassment has doubled to 1,038 in 2016 from 536 cases in 2015.

The law excludes “those who clearly lack the capacity to work.” In 2014 the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stated its concern that many persons with disabilities who work, especially those with psychosocial disabilities, received compensation below the minimum wage. A person with disabilities working for any company with 50 full time employees can request a reasonable accommodation, such as adjusted working hours, and the denial of such a request could constitute discrimination. According to the Korea Employment Agency for the Disabled’s latest report, as of May 2016, approximately one-half of the estimated 1.36 million persons between ages 15 to 64 with disabilities were employed.

Many migrant workers face discrimination and difficult working conditions. The maximum length of stay under the EPS is four years and 10 months, just under the five years needed to apply for permanent residency. Some NGOs and civil society groups asserted this explicitly excludes foreign workers from permanent residence or citizenship eligibility. Amnesty International’s 2015-16 report stated the terms of the EPS make it extremely difficult for migrant workers to seek alternative employment even if they experience exploitation or abuse by their employer (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.).

The law prohibits discrimination against informal or irregular workers (those who do not have full-time, permanent employment and who do not receive benefits at the same level as permanent workers) and requires the conversion of those employed longer than two years to permanent status. Nonetheless, subcontracted workers (known as “dispatched workers”) and temporary workers comprised over one-fifth of wage workers in the labor force and faced discriminatory working conditions on the grounds of employment type.

NGOs and the local media reported irregular workers were at greater risk for discrimination because of their status (see section 7.e.).

E. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In July the government raised the minimum wage by 16.4 percent to 7,530 won ($6.49) per hour for 2018, marking its biggest jump in nearly two decades. A person making the minimum wage for a 40-hour workweek would earn significantly less than the minimum monthly cost of living for a family of four, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The law allows a flexible system under which employees may work more than eight hours during certain days or more than 40 hours per week during certain weeks, so long as average weekly work hours for any given two-week period do not exceed 40. For employers who adopt a flexible system, amounts exceeding 40 hours constitute overtime. Foreign companies operating in the export processing zones are exempt from labor regulations that mandate one day of rest a week, such as weekends, also referred to as “weekly rest.” The law limits overtime of ordinary workers to 12 hours a week to protect workers’ health.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards and is responsible for monitoring industry adherence. Under the law, workers have the right to remove themselves from situations of danger without jeopardizing their employment. These standards apply to all sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, and mining.

The government enforced laws on wages and acceptable conditions of work for all sectors. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health provisions and overtime regulations include imprisonment and fines. These were sufficient to deter violations; the government reported a more than 25 percent drop in indictments for violations form 2015 to 2016. The government conducted labor inspections both proactively, according to regulations, and reactively, within a month after an accident occurred. MOEL conducted on-site inspections in the second half of 2016 and found violations at 86.8 percent of workplaces. The International Labor Organization observed, however, that the number of labor inspectors was insufficient and that unannounced inspections were rare. The government also conducted educational programs to prevent accidents.

A set of regulations outlines legal protections for migrant (those under the EPS) and foreign (all others) workers. Permit holders may work only in certain industries and had limited job mobility, but most enjoyed the same protections under labor law as citizens. Contract workers, irregular workers, and part-time workers accounted for a substantial portion of the workforce, particularly in electronics, automotive, and services sectors.

Workers under the EPS faced multiple restrictions on employment mobility. Such workers lose their legal status if they lost their job and did not find a new employer within three months. If a migrant worker is not able to get a job within three months, authorities could cancel his/her work permit, forcing the worker to return home or remain in the country illegally. This situation was particularly difficult for seasonal workers, such as those involved in agriculture or construction. Migrant workers did not have access to lists of companies that were hiring when they wanted to change jobs, which made it more difficult for these workers to change jobs freely. Employers effectively controlled the list of job-seeking workers and had the right to contact the person they choose. Migrant laborers were required to return home after a maximum of four years and 10 months in the country but could apply to reenter after three months.

To prevent violations and improve working conditions for migrant and foreign workers, the government provided pre-employment training to newly arrived foreign workers, workplace adaptation training to those who changed workplaces, and training to employers who hired foreign workers. The government funded 42 Foreign Workers Support Centers nationwide, a call center that provided foreign workers with counseling services in 15 languages, Korean language and cultural programs, shelter, and free health-care services. MOEL continued programs for foreign workers, including free legal advice, counseling, translation services, health checkups in their native language, and the establishment of several human rights protection centers for foreigners.

MOEL partnering with the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, established 16 Multicultural Family and Migrant Centers in to provide foreigners workers, international marriage immigrants, etc., with a one-stop service center (including immigration, welfare and education services).

The law requires severance payments to migrant workers departing the country who worked for at least one year. Many workers, however, reported difficulty in receiving payments after returning to their home country due to banking regulations and intransigent employers. NGOs reported that many departing migrants never received these payments.

Some NGOs reported migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation because the law excludes regulations on working hours, holidays, and benefits for the agricultural, livestock, and fisheries industries--industries with large populations of migrant workers. Other NGOs reported foreign laborers sometimes faced physical abuse and exploitation by employers in the form of longer working hours and lower wages than their local Korean counterparts. Moreover, according to NGOs, workers also faced unexpected contract changes, such as the deduction of accommodation or meal expenses from wages.

The government reported descriptions of and statistics on work-related injuries and fatalities on a quarterly basis on its websites. The Korean Overseas Safety and Health Agency reported there were 67,651 industrial work-related accidents and 1,512 fatalities as of September. In May, six persons died and over 20 others were injured when a crane collapsed in the Geoje Shipbuilding Yard of Samsung Heavy Industries.

Feminism in South Korea

Feminism in South Korea is the origin and history of the movement of feminism or women's rights in South Korea.

Women's suffrage in South Korea was included in Article 11 of the national constitution in 1948. The constitution says "all citizens shall be equal before the law, and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic, social or cultural life on account of sex, religion or social status." [1] The feminist or women's rights movement in South Korea is quite recent compared to first wave and second wave feminism in the Western world. While drastic changes in the workplace and economy have been implemented as a result of the industrialization of the economy and globalization, there has been less change in cultural values in South Korean society. [2]


Overview Edit

Following the Korean War, South Korea remained one of the poorest countries in the world for over a decade. In 1960 its gross domestic product per capita was $79. [45] The growth of the industrial sector was the principal stimulus to economic development. In 1986, manufacturing industries accounted for approximately 30 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 25 percent of the work force. Benefiting from strong domestic encouragement and foreign aid, Seoul's industrialists introduced modern technologies into outmoded or newly built facilities at a rapid pace, increased the production of commodities—especially those for sale in foreign markets—and plowed the proceeds back into further industrial expansion. As a result, industry altered the country's landscape, drawing millions of laborers to urban manufacturing centers.

A downturn in the South Korean economy in 1989 spurred by a sharp decrease in exports and foreign orders caused deep concern in the industrial sector. Ministry of Trade and Industry analysts stated that poor export performance resulted from structural problems embedded in the nation's economy, including an overly strong won, increased wages and high labor costs, frequent strikes, and high interest rates. The result was an increase in inventories and severe cutbacks in production at a number of electronics, automobile, and textile manufacturers, as well as at the smaller firms that supplied the parts. Factory automation systems were introduced to reduce dependence on labor, to boost productivity with a much smaller work force, and to improve competitiveness. It was estimated that over two-thirds of South Korea's manufacturers spent over half of the funds available for facility investments on automation.

Rapid growth from 1960s to 1980s Edit

With the coup of General Park Chung-hee in 1961, a protectionist economic policy began, pushing a bourgeoisie that developed in the shadow of the State to reactivate the internal market. To promote development, a policy of export-oriented industrialization was applied, closing the entry into the country of all kinds of foreign products, except raw materials. An agrarian reform was carried out with expropriation without compensation of Japanese large estates. General Park nationalized the financial system to swell the powerful state arm, whose intervention in the economy was through five-year plans. [46]

The spearhead was the chaebols, those diversified family conglomerates such as Hyundai, Samsung and LG Corporation, which received state incentives such as tax breaks, legality for their hyper-exploitation system and cheap or free financing: the state bank facilitated the planning of concentrated loans by item according to each five-year plan, and by economic group selected to lead it.

Until 1961, South Korea received a 3100 million dollar donation from the United States, a very high figure for the time, a privilege for being on the hottest frontier of the Cold War. This policy of foreign economic and military support continued for decades. The chaebols started to dominate the domestic economy and, eventually, began to become internationally competitive. Workers' saw their wages and working conditions steadily improve, which increased domestic consumption. And the country steadily rose from low income to middle income status by the 1980s. [47]

South Korea's real gross domestic product expanded by an average of more than 8 percent per year, [48] from US$2.7 billion in 1962 [49] to US$230 billion in 1989, [50] breaking the trillion dollar mark in 2006. Nominal GDP per capita grew from $103.88 in 1962 [51] to $5,438.24 in 1989, [52] reaching the $20,000 milestone in 2006. The manufacturing sector grew from 14.3 percent of the GNP in 1962 to 30.3 percent in 1987. Commodity trade volume rose from US$480 million in 1962 to a projected US$127.9 billion in 1990. The ratio of domestic savings to GNP grew from 3.3 percent in 1962 to 35.8 percent in 1989. [48] In 1965 South Korea's rate of growth first exceeded North Korea's rate of growth in most industrial areas, though South Korea's per capita GNP was still lower. [53]

The most significant factor in rapid industrialization was the adoption of an outward-looking strategy in the early 1960s. [54] [48] This strategy was particularly well-suited to that time because of South Korea's poor natural resource endowment, low savings rate, and tiny domestic market. The strategy promoted economic growth through labor-intensive manufactured exports, in which South Korea could develop a competitive advantage. Government initiatives played an important role in this process. [48] Through the model of export-led industrialization, the South Korean government incentivized corporations to develop new technology and upgrade productive efficiency in order to compete in the highly-competitive, global market. [55] By adhering to state regulations and demands, firms were awarded subsidization and investment support to rapidly develop their export markets in the fast-paced, evolving international arena. [55] In addition, the inflow of foreign capital was greatly encouraged to supplement the shortage of domestic savings. These efforts enabled South Korea to achieve rapid growth in exports and subsequent increases in income. [48]

By emphasizing the industrial sector, Seoul's export-oriented development strategy left the rural sector relatively underdeveloped. The steel and shipbuilding industries in particular played crucial roles in developing South Korea's economy during this time. [56] Except for mining, most industries were located in the urban areas of the northwest and southeast. Heavy industries generally were located in the south of the country. Factories in Seoul contributed over 25 percent of all manufacturing value-added in 1978 taken together with factories in surrounding Gyeonggi Province, factories in the Seoul area produced 46 percent of all manufacturing that year. Factories in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province employed 48 percent of the nation's 2.1 million factory workers. Increasing income disparity between the industrial and agricultural sectors became a serious problem by the 1970s and remained a problem, despite government efforts to raise farm income and improve rural living standards. [48]

In the early 1980s, in order to control inflation, a conservative monetary policy and tight fiscal measures were adopted. Growth of the money supply was reduced from the 30 percent level of the 1970s to 15 percent. Seoul even froze its budget for a short while. Government intervention in the economy was greatly reduced and policies on imports and foreign investment were liberalized to promote competition. To reduce the imbalance between rural and urban sectors, Seoul expanded investments in public projects, such as roads and communications facilities, while further promoting farm mechanization. [48]

The measures implemented early in the decade, coupled with significant improvements in the world economy, helped the South Korean economy regain its lost momentum in the late 1980s. South Korea achieved an average of 9.2 percent real growth between 1982 and 1987 and 12.5 percent between 1986 and 1988. The double-digit inflation of the 1970s was brought under control. Wholesale price inflation averaged 2.1 percent per year from 1980 through 1988 consumer prices increased by an average of 4.7 percent annually. Seoul achieved its first significant surplus in its balance of payments in 1986 and recorded a US$7.7 billion and a US$11.4 billion surplus in 1987 and 1988 respectively. This development permitted South Korea to begin reducing its level of foreign debt. The trade surplus for 1989, however, was only US$4.6 billion, and a small negative balance was projected for 1990. [48]

1990s and the Asian Financial Crisis Edit

For the first half of the 1990s, the South Korean economy continued a stable and strong growth in both private consumption and GDP. Things changed quickly in 1997 with the Asian financial crisis. After several other Asian currencies were attacked by speculators, the Korean won started to heavily depreciate in October 1997. [57] The problem was exacerbated by the problem of non-performing loans at many of Korea's merchant banks. By December 1997, the IMF had approved a US$21 billion loan, that would be part of a US$58.4 billion bailout plan. [57] By January 1998, the government had shut down a third of Korea's merchant banks. [57] Throughout 1998, Korea's economy would continue to shrink quarterly at an average rate of −6.65%. [57] South Korean chaebol Daewoo became a casualty of the crisis as it was dismantled by the government in 1999 due to debt problems. American company General Motors managed to purchase the motors division. Indian conglomerate Tata Group, purchased the trucks and heavy vehicles division of Daewoo. [57]

Actions by the South Korean government and debt swaps by international lenders contained the country's financial problems. Much of South Korea's recovery from the Asian Financial Crisis can be attributed to labor adjustments (i.e. a dynamic and productive labor market with flexible wage rates) and alternative funding sources. [57] By the first quarter of 1999, GDP growth had risen to 5.4%, and strong growth thereafter combined with deflationary pressure on the currency led to a yearly growth of 10.5%. In December 1999, president Kim Dae-jung declared the currency crisis over. [57]

2000s Edit

Korea's economy moved away from the centrally planned, government-directed investment model toward a more market-oriented one. These economic reforms, pushed by President Kim Dae-jung, helped Korea maintain one of Asia's few expanding economies [ citation needed ] , with growth rates of 10.8% in 1999 and 9.2% in 2000. Growth fell back to 3.3% in 2001 because of the slowing global economy, falling exports, and the perception that much-needed corporate and financial reforms have stalled.

After the bounce back from the crisis of the late nineties, the economy continued strong growth in 2000 with a GDP growth of 9.08%. [57] However, the South Korean economy was affected by the September 11 Attacks. The slowing global economy, falling exports, and the perception that corporate and financial reforms had stalled caused growth to fall back to 3.8% in 2001 [58] Thanks to industrialization GDP per hour worked (labor output) more than tripled from US$2.80 in 1963 to US$10.00 in 1989. [58] More recently the economy stabilized and maintain a growth rate between 4–5% from 2003 onwards. [58]

Led by industry and construction, growth in 2002 was 5.8%, [59] despite anemic global growth. The restructuring of Korean conglomerates (chaebols), bank privatization, and the creation of a more liberalized economy—with a mechanism for bankrupt firms to exit the market—remain Korea's most important unfinished reform tasks. Growth slowed again in 2003, but production expanded 5% in 2006, due to popular demand for key export products such as HDTVs and mobile phones. [ citation needed ]

Like most industrialized economies, Korea suffered significant setbacks during the late-2000s recession that began in 2007. Growth fell by 3.4% in the fourth quarter of 2008 from the previous quarter, the first negative quarterly growth in 10 years, with year on year quarterly growth continuing to be negative into 2009. [60] Most sectors of the economy reported declines, with manufacturing dropping 25.6% as of January 2009, and consumer goods sales dropping 3.1%. [60] Exports in autos and semiconductors, two critical pillars of the economy, shrank 55.9% and 46.9% respectively, while exports overall fell by a record 33.8% in January, and 18.3% in February 2009 year on year. [61] As in the 1997 crisis, Korea's currency also experienced massive fluctuations, declining by 34% against the dollar. [61] Annual growth in the economy slowed to 2.3% in 2008, and was expected to drop to as low as −4.5% by Goldman Sachs, [62] but South Korea was able to limit the downturn to a near standstill at 0.2% in 2009. [63]

Despite the global financial crisis, the South Korean economy, helped by timely stimulus measures and strong domestic consumption of products that compensated for a drop in exports, [64] was able to avoid a recession unlike most industrialized economies, posting positive economic growth for two consecutive years of the crisis. In 2010, South Korea made a strong economic rebound with a growth rate of 6.1%, signaling a return of the economy to pre-crisis levels. South Korea's export has recorded $424 billion in the first eleven months of the year 2010, already higher than its export in the whole year of 2008. The South Korean economy of the 21st century, as a Next Eleven economy, is expected to grow from 3.9% to 4.2% annually between 2011 and 2030, [65] similar to growth rates of developing countries such as Brazil or Russia. [66]

The South Korean government signed the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA) on 5 December 2013, with the Australian government seeking to benefit its numerous industries—including automotive, services, and resources and energy—and position itself alongside competitors, such as the US and ASEAN. [67] South Korea is Australia's third largest export market and fourth largest trading partner with a 2012 trade value of A$32 billion. The agreement contains an Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause that permits legal action from South Korean corporations against the Australian government if their trade rights are infringed upon. [68]

The government cut the work week from six days to five in phases, from 2004 to 2011, depending on the size of the firm. [69] The number of public holidays was expanded to 16 by 2013. [70]

South Korean economy fell in 2019's first quarter, which was the worst performance since the global financial crisis. GDP declined a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent from the previous quarter. [71]

High-tech industries in the 1990s and 2000s Edit

In 1990, South Korean manufacturers planned a significant shift in future production plans toward high-technology industries. In June 1989, panels of government officials, scholars, and business leaders held planning sessions on the production of such goods as new materials, mechatronics—including industrial robotics—bioengineering, microelectronics, fine chemistry, and aerospace. This shift in emphasis, however, did not mean an immediate decline in heavy industries such as automobile and ship production, which had dominated the economy in the 1980s. [ citation needed ]

South Korea relies largely upon exports to fuel the growth of its economy, with finished products such as electronics, textiles, ships, automobiles, and steel being some of its most important exports. Although the import market has liberalized in recent years, the agricultural market has remained largely protectionist due to serious disparities in the price of domestic agricultural products such as rice with the international market. As of 2005, the price of rice in South Korea is about four times that of the average price of rice on the international market, and it was generally feared that opening the agricultural market would have disastrous effects upon the South Korean agricultural sector. In late 2004, however, an agreement was reached with the WTO in which South Korean rice imports will gradually increase from 4% to 8% of consumption by 2014. In addition, up to 30% of imported rice will be made available directly to consumers by 2010, where previously imported rice was only used for processed foods. Following 2014, the South Korean rice market will be fully opened. [ citation needed ]

Additionally, South Korea today is known as a Launchpad of a mature mobile market, where developers can reap benefits of a market where very few technology constraints exist. There is a growing trend of inventions of new types of media or apps, using the 4G and 5G internet infrastructure in South Korea. South Korea has today the infrastructures to meet a density of population and culture that has the capability to create strong local particularity. [72]

The following table shows the main economic indicators in 1980–2018. Inflation under 2% is in green. [73]

Year GDP
(in bn. US$ PPP)
GDP per capita
(in US$ PPP)
GDP growth
Inflation rate
(in Percent)
(in Percent)
Government debt
(in % of GDP)
1980 85.4 2,240 −1.7% 28.7% 5.2% n/a
1981 100.2 2,587 7.2% 21.4% 4.5% n/a
1982 115.2 2,929 8.3% 7.2% 4.1% n/a
1983 135.6 3,396 13.2% 3.4% 4.1% n/a
1984 155.1 3,839 10.4% 2.3% 3.9% n/a
1985 172.4 4,225 7.8% 2.5% 4.0% n/a
1986 195.6 4,747 11.2% 2.8% 3.8% n/a
1987 225.4 5,417 12.5% 3.0% 3.1% n/a
1988 261.2 6,214 11.9% 7.1% 2.5% n/a
1989 290.5 6,844 7.0% 5.7% 2.6% n/a
1990 331.0 7,720 9.8% 8.6% 2.5% 12.9%
1991 377.5 8,721 10.3% 9.3% 2.5% 12.1%
1992 410.0 9,373 6.2% 6.2% 2.5% 11.8%
1993 448.5 10,148 6.8% 4.8% 2.9% 11.0%
1994 500.2 11,206 9.2% 6.3% 2.5% 9.8%
1995 559.6 12,410 9.6% 4.5% 2.1% 8.7%
1996 613.1 13,468 7.6% 4.9% 2.1% 8.0%
1997 660.7 14,376 5.9% 4.4% 2.6% 9.9%
1998 631.5 13,644 −5.5% 7.5% 7.0% 14.2%
1999 713.1 15,297 11.3% 0.8% 6.6% 16.2%
2000 790.0 16,805 8.4% 2.3% 4.4% 16.6%
2001 846.5 17,870 4.9% 4.1% 4.0% 17.2%
2002 926.3 19,442 7.4% 2.8% 3.3% 17.0%
2003 973.2 20,321 3.1% 3.5% 3.6% 19.8%
2004 1,051.4 21,866 5.2% 3.6% 3.7% 22.4%
2005 1,130.8 23,469 4.3% 2.8% 3.8% 25.9%
2006 1,226.4 25,318 5.3% 2.3% 3.5% 28.1%
2007 1,332.3 27,368 5.8% 2.5% 3.3% 27.4%
2008 1,399.2 28,523 3.0% 4.7% 3.2% 26.9%
2009 1,421.0 28,820 0.8% 2.8% 3.6% 30.0%
2010 1,535.4 30,985 6.8% 2.9% 3.7% 29.5%
2011 1,625.3 32,547 3.7% 4.0% 3.4% 30.2%
2012 1,696.2 33,790 2.4% 2.2% 3.2% 30.8%
2013 1,780.6 35,310 3.2% 1.3% 3.1% 33.7%
2014 1,871.6 36,882 3.2% 1.3% 3.5% 35.5%
2015 1,944.3 38,112 2.8% 0.7% 3.6% 37.3%
2016 2,022.2 39,484 2.9% 1.0% 3.7% 37.6%
2017 2,125.5 41,331 3.2% 1.9% 3.7% 37.7%
2018 2,235.3 43,290 2.7% 1.5% 3.8% 37.9%

Shipbuilding Edit

During the 1970s and 1980s, South Korea became a leading producer of ships, including oil supertankers, and oil-drilling platforms. The country's major shipbuilder was Hyundai, which built a 1-million-ton capacity drydock at Ulsan in the mid-1970s. Daewoo joined the shipbuilding industry in 1980 and finished a 1.2-million-ton facility at Okpo on Geoje Island, south of Busan, in mid-1981. The industry declined in the mid-1980s because of the oil glut and because of a worldwide recession. There was a sharp decrease in new orders in the late 1980s new orders for 1988 totaled 3 million gross tons valued at US$1.9 billion, decreases from the previous year of 17.8 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively. These declines were caused by labor unrest, Seoul's unwillingness to provide financial assistance, and Tokyo's new low-interest export financing in support of Japanese shipbuilders. However, the South Korean shipping industry was expected to expand in the early 1990s because older ships in world fleets needed replacing. [74] South Korea eventually became the world's dominant shipbuilder with a 50.6% share of the global shipbuilding market as of 2008. Notable Korean shipbuilders are Hyundai Heavy Industries, Samsung Heavy Industries, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, and the now bankrupt STX Offshore & Shipbuilding.

Electronics Edit

Electronics is one of South Korea's main industries. During the 1980s through the 2000s, South Korean companies such as Samsung, LG and SK have led South Korea's growth in Electronics. In 2017, 17.1% of South Korea's exports were semiconductors produced by Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix. Samsung and LG are also major producers in electronic devices such as Televisions, Smartphones, Display, and computers.

Automobile Edit

The automobile industry was one of South Korea's major growth and export industries in the 1980s. By the late 1980s, the capacity of the South Korean motor industry had increased more than fivefold since 1984 it exceeded 1 million units in 1988. Total investment in car and car-component manufacturing was over US$3 billion in 1989. Total production (including buses and trucks) for 1988 totaled 1.1 million units, a 10.6 percent increase over 1987, and grew to an estimated 1.3 million vehicles (predominantly passenger cars) in 1989. Almost 263,000 passenger cars were produced in 1985—a figure that grew to approximately 846,000 units in 1989. In 1988 automobile exports totaled 576,134 units, of which 480,119 units (83.3 percent) were sent to the United States. Throughout most of the late 1980s, much of the growth of South Korea's automobile industry was the result of a surge in exports 1989 exports, however, declined 28.5 percent from 1988. This decline reflected sluggish car sales to the United States, especially at the less expensive end of the market, and labor strife at home. [75] South Korea today has developed into one of the world's largest automobile producers. The Hyundai Kia Automotive Group is South Korea's largest automaker in terms of revenue, production units and worldwide presence.

Mining Edit

Most of the mineral deposits in the Korean Peninsula are located in North Korea, with the South only possessing an abundance of tungsten and graphite. Coal, iron ore, and molybdenum are found in South Korea, but not in large quantities and mining operations are on a small scale. Much of South Korea's minerals and ore are imported from other countries. Most South Korean coal is anthracite that is only used for heating homes and boilers.

In 2019, South Korea was the 3rd largest world producer of bismuth, [76] the 4th largest world producer of rhenium, [77] and the 10th largest world producer of sulfur. [78]

Construction Edit

Construction has been an important South Korean export industry since the early 1960s and remains a critical source of foreign currency and invisible export earnings. By 1981 overseas construction projects, most of them in the Middle East, accounted for 60 percent of the work undertaken by South Korean construction companies. Contracts that year were valued at US$13.7 billion. In 1988, however, overseas construction contracts totaled only US$2.6 billion (orders from the Middle East were US$1.2 billion), a 1 percent increase over the previous year, while new orders for domestic construction projects totaled US$13.8 billion, an 8.8 percent increase over 1987.

South Korean construction companies therefore concentrated on the rapidly growing domestic market in the late 1980s. By 1989 there were signs of a revival of the overseas construction market: the Dong Ah Construction Company signed a US$5.3 billion contract with Libya to build the second phase (and other subsequent phases) of Libya's Great Man-Made River Project, with a projected cost of US$27 billion when all 5 phases were completed. South Korean construction companies signed over US$7 billion of overseas contracts in 1989. [79] Korea's largest construction companies include Samsung C&T Corporation, which built some of the highest building's and most noteworthy skyscrapers such as three consecutively world's tallest buildings: Petronas Towers, Taipei 101, and Burj Khalifa. [80] [81]

Armaments Edit

During the 1960s, South Korea was largely dependent on the United States to supply its armed forces, but after the elaboration of President Richard M. Nixon's policy of Vietnamization in the early 1970s, South Korea began to manufacture many of its own weapons. [82]

Since the 1980s, South Korea, now in possession of more modern military technology than in previous generations, has actively begun shifting its defense industry's areas of interest more from its previously homeland defense-oriented militarization efforts, to the promotion of military equipment and technology as mainstream products of exportation to boost its international trade. [ citation needed ] Some of its key military export projects include the T-155 Firtina self-propelled artillery for Turkey the K11 air-burst rifle for United Arab Emirates the Bangabandhu class guided-missile frigate for Bangladesh fleet tankers such as Sirius class for the navies of Australia, New Zealand, and Venezuela Makassar class amphibious assault ships for Indonesia and the KT-1 trainer aircraft for Turkey, Indonesia and Peru.

South Korea has also outsourced its defense industry to produce various core components of other countries' advanced military hardware. Those hardware include modern aircraft such as F-15K fighters and AH-64 attack helicopters which will be used by Singapore, whose airframes will be built by Korea Aerospace Industries in a joint-production deal with Boeing. [83] In other major outsourcing and joint-production deals, South Korea has jointly produced the S-300 air defense system of Russia via Samsung Group, [ failed verification ] and will facilitate the sales of Mistral class amphibious assault ships to Russia that will be produced by STX Corporation. [84] South Korea's defense exports were $1.03 billion in 2008 and $1.17 billion in 2009. [85]

Tourism Edit

In 2012, 11.1 million foreign tourists visited South Korea, making it the 20th most visited country in the world, [86] up from 8.5 million in 2010. [87] Recently, the number of tourists has grown dramatically due to the increased popularity of the government-sponsored Korean Wave (Hallyu).

Seoul is the principal tourist destination for visitors popular tourist destinations outside of Seoul include Seorak-san national park, the historic city of Gyeongju and semi-tropical Jeju Island. In 2014 South Korea hosted the League of Legends season 4 championship and then, in 2018, the season 8 championship.

Since 1991 there has been a steady upwards trend in South Korean M&A until 2018 with only a short break around 2004. Since 1991 around 18,300 deals in, into or out of South Korea have been announced, which sum up to a total value of over 941. bil. USD. The year 2016 has been the year with the largest deal value (1,818 in bil. USD) and the most deals (82,3). [90]

Target industries are distributed very evenly with no industry taking a larger share than 10%. The top three target industries are Electronics (9.7%), Semiconductors (9.1%) and Metals and Mining (7.7%). However, over 51% of the acquiring companies originate from the financial and brokerage sector. [ citation needed ]

Economic and social developments

In the 1950s South Korea had an underdeveloped, agrarian economy that depended heavily on foreign aid. The military leadership that emerged in the early 1960s and led the country for a quarter century may have been autocratic and, at times, repressive, but its pragmatic and flexible commitment to economic development resulted in what became known as the “miracle on the Han River.” During the next three decades, the South Korean economy grew at an average annual rate of nearly 9 percent, and per capita income increased more than a hundredfold. South Korea was transformed into an industrial powerhouse with a highly skilled labour force. In the late 20th century, however, economic growth slowed, and in 1997 South Korea was forced to accept a $57 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—then the largest such rescue in IMF history. The country also wrestled with reforming the chaebŏl and liberalizing its economy. Nevertheless, its economy enjoyed a recovery in subsequent years, and the country entered the 21st century on a relatively firm economic footing.

South Korean society underwent an equally rapid transformation after the Korean War. The population more than doubled between the end of the war and the turn of the 21st century. Simultaneously, modern education developed rapidly, again with considerable government involvement but also because of the resurgence of the Korean people’s traditional zeal for education after decades of repression during the Japanese occupation period (1910–45). The growth of educational institutions and of commercial and industrial enterprises in and around South Korea’s major cities attracted an increasing number of rural people to urban areas. Seoul, in particular, grew some 10-fold to about 10 million people between the end of World War II and the early 21st century. There was a corresponding growth in communications media, especially newspaper and magazine publishing. An ambitious program was also undertaken to expand and modernize the country’s transportation infrastructure.

The most conspicuous social change in South Korea, however, was the emergence of a middle class. Land reform carried out in the early 1950s, together with the spread of modern education and the expansion of the economy, caused the disappearance of the once-privileged yangban (landholding) class, and a new elite emerged from the ranks of the former commoners. Another significant social change was the decline of the extended-family system: rural-to-urban migration broke traditional family living arrangements, as urban dwellers tended to live in apartments as nuclear families and, through family planning, to have fewer children. In addition, women strenuously campaigned for complete legal equality and won enhanced property ownership rights. Women also won the right to register as a head of family in a new family register system ( hojŏk) that took effect in 2008. Under the old system only men could register as family heads thus, children were legally part of the father’s family register, not the mother’s. The new system increased women’s legal standing in, among other things, divorce and child-custody cases. This system also granted adopted and stepchildren rights that were equal to those of biological children—for example, in matters of inheritance.

Rapid urbanization, the nuclear family system, the increase in women’s active participation in the economy, and lengthening life expectancies meant that by the early 21st century South Korea had decreasing birth rates and an aging population. The overall population was expected to decrease over the next decades as well. The government was concerned that fewer children and an aging society would slow economic growth and destabilize the social security system in the future.


South Korea's history began with Dangunwanggeom's Gojoseon. Gojoseon was conquered by Han China. After Gojoseon collapsed, there were a lot of countries such as Buyeo, Okjeo, Dongyae and Samhan. But Baekje, Goguryeo and Silla were the strongest. So their period began, and it is called the Three Kingdoms Period. Goguryeo and Baekje were conquered by Silla and Dang China's allied forces, and Silla unified the three kingdoms. There was another country, Balhae. Balhae was founded by Dae Jo-Young. Later Silla and Balhae's period is called South and North Countries Period. A rebellion in Later Silla caused the birth of a new nation: Goryeo, which was founded by Wanggeon. Mongolia's invaded Goryeo. Near the end of the Goryeo period, there was a great general Lee Seong-Gye. The king of Goryeo directed him to occupy Yodong, but he opposed. However, Lee Seong-Gye went to Yodong to occupy it, but he returned to Goryeo and he revolted. His revolt succeeded, and he founded the country Joseon. Joseon's first king, Taejo, moved the capital to Hanyang (Seoul). Joseon's fourth king, Sejong, made the Korean alphabet, Hangeul. Joseon's twenty-second king, Jeongjo, built Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon. Joseon's twenty-sixth king, Gojong, changed the country's name to Daehanjeguk. When Daehanjaeguk's power weakened, Japan occupied it for 35 years until Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945. In 1950, there was a big war, the Korean War. As a result, Korea was split into two countries, North and South.

South Korea is in East Asia, bordering North Korea, and is surrounded by water on three sides, as it makes up the southern part of the Korean peninsula. It is separated from Japan by the Sea of Japan (known as East Sea by the South Koreans). South Korea is mainly mountainous, and there are many islands off the south coast. The capital city, Seoul, is quite close to the North Korean border. The largest island is Jeju Island and the highest mountain is Hallasan, on Jeju. The country is slightly smaller than Iceland and Virginia.

South Korea is a democracy, meaning that people can vote for their government. However, this is recent. South Korea was an authoritarian dictatorship for most of its history. The President of South Korea is elected to a five-year term, and cannot stand in a Presidential Election for a second time. The current president is Moon Jae-in since 10 May 2017. The previous president, Park Geun-hye, was impeached for corruption.

South Korea known for a lot of technology. This includes the car-makers Hyundai and Kia. The well-known global brand Samsung, which makes mobile phones, semi-conductors and electric devices, is also South Korean.

South Korea has been affected by both continental culture and marine culture because it is located on a peninsula. Ancient South Korean culture has developed with the culture of Siberia, the northern part of Central Asia, the southern part of Southeast Asia and neighboring countries like China.

Language Edit

South Korea's customary and official language is Korean. Many linguists says that it is linked with Altaic languages. Hangul, the alphabet which is used to write Korean, was published by King Sejong the Great of Joseon in 1446. It is the only alphabet in the word whose creator, invention day and invention principle is known.

Food Edit

A customary South Korean regular meal is made up of rice, Korean soup, kimchi and other various dishes. Generally, Korean dishes are seasoned with sesame oil, soy bean paste, soy sauce, salt, ginger and chilli pepper paste. The most famous traditional food of Korea, kimchi, is eaten with nearly every meal. There are lots of popular South Korean typical foods such as bibimbap, tteokbokki, and bulgogi.

Religion Edit

In South Korea, 19.7% of people are Protestant, 6.6% are Catholic, 23.2% are Buddhist, 49.3% have no religion, and 1.3% either are a part of other religions or have beliefs that are unknown. [10]

Music Edit

The most representative traditional music of Korea is Arirang and every region has its own folk song. Many South Korean singers are well known in world as K-pop is steadily developing. Famous K-pop artists include BTS, BLACKPINK, EXO, TWICE & NCT.

Hip hop artists such as Zico, Jvcki Wai, San E & Giriboy are also popular.

South Korea has 1 special city (Teukbyeolsi 특별시 特別市), 1 special self-governing city (Teukbyeol-Jachisi 특별자치시 特別自治市) 6 metropolitan cities (Gwangyeoksi 광역시 廣域市), and 9 provinces (do 도 道). The names below are given in English, Revised Romanization, Hangeul, and Hanja.

North And South Korea: A Quick History

The devastating Korean War left more than a million dead and tensions between the two neighbours continue to simmer.

Thursday 25 July 2013 13:48, UK

On the Korean Peninsula there are two versions of history. The version people learn depends on whether they are North Korean or South Korean.

Either way though, understanding both versions is key to understanding this most unusual of countries: its quirks, its people, its politics and its government's ability to survive against the odds.

There is no logical reason why the land that makes up the Korean Peninsula should be split into two countries.

The people either side of the border speak the same language and have the same ancestors.

But since 1945, it has been two countries: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

From 1910 until the end of World War Two, the Korean Peninsula was Japanese territory.

With Japan's defeat, America and the Soviet Union took control of the peninsula.

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They decided to split it in two: America didn't want the communist administration in Moscow to control the whole thing. Moscow felt the same about total American control.

And an agreement was reached between Washington and Moscow and an arbitrary line was simply drawn across the middle.

The North became The Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It adopted the communist ideology of its Soviet masters.

A young war hero called Kim Il-Sung became its prime minister.

The South adopted American-style democracy and became the Republic of Korea.

Just five years later though in 1950, Kim Il-Sung and his new army, backed by communist China and Russia, invaded the South.

Within months North Korean forces controlled almost the entire peninsula.

An American-led United Nations force fought back and the Korean War had begun.

Three years of fighting left well over a million people dead. Among them were soldiers from both Koreas, America, China, Russia and Britain.

But no side could claim victory. The border remained where it had been at the start - across the 38th Parallel - and to this day it is a heavily guarded and mined demilitarised zone.

In the decades that followed, the Soviet Union and China continued to prop up the North.

Inside the closed country, Kim Il-Sung's government controlled information and adopted their own version of history which states that the US-backed South Koreans invaded the North.

In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. North Korea had lost its main communist ally and trading partner.

The 1990s were dominated by a catastrophic famine in which millions died. A once strong country began to crumble.

And yet the country remained cut off, shunning most Western offers of help.

Kim Il-Sung, at his death in 1994, was declared Eternal President.

His son Kim Jong-Il ensured continuity and - on his death in 2011 - the leadership was assumed by his son, Kim Jong-Un.

And so through extreme control and isolation spanning 65 years, the Kim dynasty has cemented its cult of personality through which the state is still run.

Words in This Story

peninsula n. a piece of land surrounded by water on most sides and connected to a larger piece of land

atrocity – n. a very cruel or terrible act or action usually involving death

deliverv. to take something to a person or place to do what you say

elderly – n. older adults

negative – adj. showing refusal or denial

commit – v. to carry out to promise

reconciliation – n. the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement

Memories of Massacres Were Long Suppressed Here. Tourists Now Retrace the Atrocities.

BUKCHON, South Korea — The soldiers descended upon the village, torching its homes and corralling residents into a schoolyard. After screening out relatives of military members and the police from the gathered crowd, the soldiers divided those remaining — men, women and children — into groups of 30 to 50, and dragged them away.

When the shootings were over in Bukchon, South Korea, 300 bodies, clad in traditional white clothes, were strewn across a nearby farm patch and rocky pine grove, looking “like so many freshly pulled radishes,” as survivors of the attack on Jan. 17, 1949, described it.

Seventy years later, a tour group arrived in Bukchon to look solemnly at the small graves of the infants killed that day. After decades of a strictly enforced silence, Jeju Island, where this and many similar atrocities took place, is now inviting visitors to learn first hand about one of the ugliest chapters in modern Korean history.

During these painful explorations of the island’s grim history, visitors occasionally meet survivors like Ko Wan-soon, 79.


“When my infant brother cried on the back of my mother, the soldier slammed him in the head twice with a thick club,” Ms. Ko said, recalling what happened at the Bukchon school ground. “It’s good that we can now talk about these things.”

These so-called “dark tours” reflect a growing freedom under the government of President Moon Jae-in to revisit the abuses perpetrated when South Korea was governed under a dictatorship. But for a long time, no one could discuss what happened at Bukchon and elsewhere around Jeju between 1947 and 1954.

During those years, Jeju, an island off the southern coast of South Korea, was a human slaughterhouse, with an estimated 30,000 people losing their lives, about one-tenth of the island’s population. A vast majority of them were killed by police, soldiers and anti-Communist vigilantes hunting for leftist insurgents and their relatives.

In South Korea’s postwar prosperity, however, golf courses and resort hotels were built on Jeju, not memorials and history museums.

The island became the country’s top tourist destination, with millions of visitors attracted by the scenic beauty and folk culture found around Bukchon on the island’s northern shore: old hackberry trees bent and twisted by the wind, jade-green coastal waters and so-called sea women diving for abalones and octopuses.

The new tourists are seeking a different experience.

“Jeju is no longer the tourist destination I used to know,” said Lee Hang-ran, 32, a schoolteacher from mainland South Korea, after visiting Bukchon.

After World War II, Korea was divided between an American-backed government in the South and a Soviet-backed one in the North. Starting in the spring of 1947, a group of Jeju islanders rose up against police brutality and called for a unified Korean government.

The police and soldiers, joined by a right-wing paramilitary group from the mainland, responded with an extermination campaign, branding the insurgents as Communist agitators. The rebels fought back, raiding police stations, but vastly outnumbered and outgunned, the peasant army was eventually crushed.

Also killed were large numbers of relatives and others considered sympathizers.

During the crackdown, many rebels and villagers fled to the hills to hide in the island’s caves. As part of the tours, visitors crawl into some of these pitch-black rock shelters, using their smartphones for light. Rusting bullets and fragments of earthen utensils used by the fugitives are still found in these claustrophobic, bat-infested caves.

Visitors can also see mass grave sites where hundreds of people, mostly relatives of the insurgents and others deemed leftist, were rounded up and executed as part of an effort to remove a potential fifth column at the outbreak of the Korean War in the early 1950s.

“They usually chose promontories, waterfalls and sandy beaches for execution sites because it was easier to dispose of bodies there,” said Lee Sang-eon, 56, a Bukchon native who lost four relatives and recently volunteered to give tours around his village.

Tales of brutality by government forces and paramilitary thugs are still recounted by islanders with both fear and spite, including the raping of women and requiring people to applaud as their relatives were killed. Soldiers are said to have forced a mother to walk around her village with the severed head of her insurgent son.

It was only in 2000 that a law took effect requiring a formal investigation. In 2006, the South Korean government apologized for the indiscriminate butchering of innocent islanders in the name of fighting Communism. In 2008, the government opened a large Jeju “Peace Park” honoring the victims.

At a government-built museum, thousands of names, including those of children, are inscribed in walls of black marble, helping visitors feel the scale of the slaughter.

While the government has now acknowledged its culpability, victims’ families during the postwar decades lived with the stigma of being blacklisted as “reds” under the guilt-by-association system, and a pervasive system of political surveillance kept people from talking about the horrors they had witnessed.

Even though the history now can be freely discussed, many island residents choose not to.

The Jeju killings remain a sensitive topic in South Korea, which is divided over how to come to terms with its tumultuous modern history. Conservative activists still define the island’s uprising as “riots.”

“Where I come from, if you talk about things like the way the government oppressed the Jeju people, you are likely branded as a ‘red,’ ” said Jang Soo-kyeong, 48, who took a recent tour of the island and lives in Daegu, a conservative city in mainland South Korea. “I wish we could discuss this kind of thing freely regardless of changes in government.”

For residents of the island, the history is deeply personal.

Some families married their daughters to soldiers, police officers or anti-Communist vigilantes for survival. The rebels murdered relatives of police officers, as well as villagers who collaborated with soldiers. Islanders, often after torture, informed on their pro-insurgent neighbors.

“Relatives of victims and perpetrators still live in the same village,” said Kang Ho-jin, a Jeju native. “Old villagers know who killed whom.”

Many survivors have refrained from discussing the era even with their children. Interconnected through centuries of marriage, these older islanders wanted to end the vicious circle of hate begetting hate.

“They believed that if all the truth were known, it would sow discord in the village,” Mr. Lee said.

Some victims’ families remain fearful of a backlash and worry that if conservatives returned to power in Seoul, they would again suppress efforts to investigate.

Younger residents of the island, however, can be more eager to explore, and expose, the past.

The great-grandfather of Kim Myong-ji, 27, a Jeju native, was killed by government forces. But rather than hiding this family history, Mr. Kim is now an organizer of one of the tours that lay bare the past.

“I wanted to trace my great-grandfather’s life and why he had to die,” Mr. Kim said. “I want to raise the awareness of what happened in Jeju.”


The Korean won is the official currency. The government-owned Bank of Korea, headquartered in Seoul, is the country’s central bank, issuing currency and overseeing all banking activity. All banks were nationalized in the early 1960s, but by the early 1990s these largely had been returned to private ownership. Foreign branch banking has been allowed in South Korea since the 1960s, and in 1992 foreigners began trading on the Korea Stock Exchange in Seoul.

South Korea borrowed heavily on international financial markets to supply capital for its industrial expansion, but the success of its exports allowed it to repay much of its debt. However, the accumulation of a staggering amount of foreign debt and excessive industrial expansion by major conglomerates caused severe economic difficulties in the late 1990s. Government and business leaders jointly created reforms, such as the restructuring of foreign debt and a bailout agreement with the International Monetary Fund, to create a more stable economic structure.


This review of famous Koreans reveals that dictatorial regimes cannot completely oppress the freedom fighters, and that the society does not prosper during the rule of oppression. The ‘will’ to resist oppression works to achieve its ultimate goal of freedom. The dictatorial philosophy of cutting off communication is invalid now. Koreans are from a great nation. Remembering their history and appreciating what was good, they are fully alive in the current situation and determined to progress. One thing North and South Korea may expect in the future is a unified Korea. Success and progress will be theirs if at any point in the future united they stand. Korea has a rich past, a vibrant present, and shall emerge as one of the great nations of the world.



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