The Name of Honor and Prosperity - The Republic of Korea (South Korea)
The "Republic of Korea" was technically first founded in 1919, when activists declared independence from Japanese colonial occupation. However, the government was forced to exist in exile in China until Korea gained independence from Japan in 1945 at the end of World War II. Korea was then temporarily divided between the Soviets and Americans, and in 1948, the Republic of Korea resumed control of the southern part of the peninsula under the leadership of Syngman Rhee. Following the Korean War (1950-1953), South Korea continued to have an American military presence. The war-torn country was the recipient of foreign aid, yet economically lagged behind North Korea. In 1960, Rhee was forced to resign after protests against a rigged election.
An interim government was instated but short-lived when, in 1961, Park Chung Hee took over in a military coup and established martial law. His policies focused on intense economic and infrastructural development, including construction of roads, factories, and housing, as well as the New Village (Saemaeul) Movement, a rural modernization initiative. The government also subsidized certain companies, which would later go on to become the hereditary conglomerates, called chaebol in Korean, that form the base of South Korea's economy today. The government also profited economically from sending troops to the Vietnam War. This rapid economic development was accompanied by a population boom and increased urbanization. However, this period was also a time of intense suppression of political opposition, an absence of freedom of the press, and manipulated elections. Park’s implementation of the Yushin Consitution in 1972 granted him control over the parliament and allowed perpetual presidency. Park's legacy is thus mixed, with the impressive economic development that brought the nation out of poverty on one hand, and a legacy of authoritarian violence and human rights violations on the other.
Park was assassinated in 1979, after which Chun Doo-hwan came to power in another military coup. Chun followed the legacy of Park as an autocratic leader. He had political rivals arrested and violently suppressed protesters in the 1980 Gwangju massacre. However, during this time, the economy continued to improve, with the emergence of the electronics and automobile industries. In 1987, students and laborers who had become increasingly distrustful of the government led massive protests which eventually forced the government to capitulate to calls for democratization. A constitution ensuring a direct presidential election and civil rights was instituted. In 1988, a democratic election was held, however, due to a divided opposition vote, a military official of Chun era, Roh Tae-woo, was elected. 1988 was also the year of the Seoul Summer Olympics, which raised South Korea’s international standing.
In 1993, the first civilian president, Kim Young-sam, was elected. South Korea joined the OECD in 1996, but was then faced with the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. This ushered in a period of serious unemployment and financial difficulties, resulting in the International Monetary Fund having to relieve the country.
In 1998, Kim Dae-jung, an opposition party candidate, became president. Kim implemented various economic reforms, including the creation of a national pension and reconstruction of conglomerates, and government support of IT industries. He also pursued the Sunshine Policy, diplomatic policy toward North Korea which encouraged communication. In 2000, Kim received the Nobel Peace Prize for the policy. In 2002, the Korea-Japan World Cup was held.
Roh Moo-hyun, a human rights advocate, was inaugurated as president in 2003, and in 2008, a conservative candidate, Lee Myung-bak, became president. Lee was first president who had been a CEO (of Hyundai Engineering and Construction), and was also the mayor of Seoul prior to becoming president.
In 2013, Park Geun-hye, South Korea elected its first female president, who is also the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, became president. In 2014, during Park's administration, a ferry named Sewol carrying hundreds of people, many high school students, began to sink and was abandoned by the captain, leading to the deaths of most trapped inside. This incident became a national disaster, angering many citizens upset about government-business collusion and lack of government responsibility for citizens' safety.In autumn of 2016, when it was revealed that Park was involved in corruption with a close confidant, Choi Soon-sil, the citizens of South Korea mobilized across the nation in the millions to hold candlelight protests throughout the cold winter months demanding Park's impeachment. Park was voted by the parliament to be impeached and this decision was upheld by the Constitutional Court in the spring of 2017. Moon Jae-in was elected president shortly thereafter.
South Korea has achieved economic prosperity through automobiles, shipbuilding, smartphones, and other industry. However, South Korea's soft power has seen massive growth since the 2000s and South Korean media contents have become one of the nation's major exports. In 2012, the song Gangnam Style by Psy was released, going on to become the most viewed video on YouTube of all time at the time. This feat symbolized the success of the Korean Wave (hallyu), a term for the popularity of Korean popular culture, including music, food, and television dramas, abroad. In 2010, figure skater Kim Yuna won Olympic gold and in 2018, South Korea will hold the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. This demonstrates that after war, poverty, authoritarian rule, lightning-speed economic development, political corruption, democratization, and more, South Korea has a leading cultural and economic powerhouse not only in East Asia, but the world at large.