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In the second half of the twentieth century, the Republic of Korea (ROK) achieved a double revolution. In a few short years, South Korea shifted from an underdeveloped agricultural economy to an industrialized, high-income economy with highly developed heavy industry and information technology. During the same time South Korea shifted from military authoritarian regimes to civic democracy. These historical changes began under President Park Chung Hee (Pak Chŏnghŭi) (1961–79) who seized power through a military coup on May 16, 1961, and then ruled the country for almost eighteen years until his regime collapsed after his assassination on October 26, 1979. It has been widely observed that the state played a dominant role in East Asian industrialization,1 and in this regard the ROK has been particularly notable for its rigid centralization, combined with a competent technocracy, among other driving factors.2 During the Park era, the growth rate of South Korea’s Gross National Product (GNP) averaged 8.5 percent per annum.3 Exports, which had stood at a mere $100 million in 1964, when the Park state launched export-led industrialization, amounted to $10 billion in 1978, the year before Park’s assassination. In 2008, South Korea reached an estimated $432 billion in exports.4 The top-down industrialization through the Park state’s guided economy became known as the “Miracle on the Han River,” (Hangang ŭi kyŏk) and was admired by many political leaders in the region, including Deng Xiao Ping in China and Mahathir in Malaysia, who both adopted the Korean model of development for their own countries. International recognition of the ROK’s Introduction Hyung-A Kim and Clark W. Sorensen Hyung-A Kim and Clark W. Sorensen 4 successful economic development, however, did little to mollify Park’s domestic critics. Over the last thirty years, especially since South Korea’s democratization in 1987, many Koreans continue to question the extent to which the socio-cultural and institutional legacies of the Park era may have created the continuing imbalances in South Korean society. In the meantime, the ROK’s economic miracle has baulked twice, initially in the 1997–8 financial crisis and again in the global economic crisis brought on largely by the U.S. in 2008, which reduced the ranking of the South Korean economy from the thirteenth largest in the world to the fifteenth. Yet, the ROK’s recovery from these economic crises has in both instances been swift, although at a high price, paid particularly by ordinary working people. Following the 1997–8 crisis, many ordinary Koreans suffered layoffs or became irregular workers as a result of neo-liberal economic restructuring and subsequent reforms since the liberal government of Kim Dae-jung (Kim Taejung, 1998–2003). In 2009, South Korea, the fourth largest economy in Asia, is reported to have recorded the sixth fastest increase in economic growth in the April–June period among the group of twenty economies, with a 2.5 percent increase.5 The Republic of Korea’s democratic consolidation is no less impressive. According to the Freedom House survey published in 2006, South Korea received a rating of one for political rights (with one indicating the most free and seven least free), and a two for civil liberties.6 In regard to freedom of the press, South Korea ranked higher than Australia, Table 1 Average Annual GDP Growth Rates in Four Year Increments 1955–2004 Year GDP Growth Rate 1955–1959 4.2 1960–1965 6 1966–1970 10.6 1971–1975 7.4 1976–1980 7.2 1981–1985 7.8 1986–1990 9.8 1991–1995 6 1996–2000 4.4 2001–2004 4.75 Introduction 5 France, Italy, Japan, and the United States.7 In 2010, Korea ranked twentysixth among 127 of the most democratic nations in the world. Although the success of the ROK’s economy and democracy must, in its final analysis, be considered as a collective outcome of the efforts of all Koreans, the South Korean case serves as a prototype for the Asian developmental model, with the defining feature of detailed intervention in manpower planning, particularly in the state’s implementation of the Heavy and Chemical Industrialization Plan launched in January 1973. A brief review of the Park era (1961–79) is useful and sheds some light on the extraordinary changes in South Korean society over the past three decades since Park’s assassination. Historical review In 1961, when Major General Park Chung Hee and his young...


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