restricted access 8. Rural Modernization under the Park Regime in the 1960s
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When one looks back at the various Park regimes—the military junta (Supreme Council for National Reconstruction 1961–3), the semi-democratic Third Republic1 (1963–72), and the authoritarian Yusin Republic2 (1972–9)—from our vantage point in the early twenty-first century, the various periods tend to blur together. One tends to think of Five-Year Plans, the turn to export orientation with labor-intensive light industrialization, the development of vocational high schools, or perhaps the toxic combination of the Yusin Constitution, labor repression, and the Heavy and Chemical Industrialization Program of the 1970s. As we all know, South Korea emerged into the eighties as an urban industrial economy, participating more and more in international chains of production and transfers of capital and technology. Educated, urban residents demanded, and eventually got (though not during the lifetime of President Park) democratic reforms, the right to travel, and a relatively free press, so as to build a vibrant, modern, and, even to an extent, a cosmopolitan society. Such “collective memories” of the Park regime are popular today in certain sectors of Korean society,3 but these memories tend to be anachronistic and teleological. They are teleological of course, because they interpret the past in terms of its “purpose” in creating the present. These memories are anachronistic because they neither correspond to the consciousness of Park and his associates during the sixties and seventies when they were active, nor to the consciousness of most Koreans during those times. The basic problem is that these collective memories generally ignore the rural sector, and the importance of the rural sector in the thinking of Park and the economic and social planners of his time. 8 Rural Modernization under the Park Regime in the 1960s Clark W. Sorensen Clark W. Sorensen 146 The Importance of The Rural Sector To Park Today the rural sector in South Korea contributes a bare 4 percent of GDP, and rural workers are less than 14 percent of the workforce.4 Park and his planners, of course, had looked forward to the day when the Republic of Korea would be an industrial society. (This is hardly unique to Park’s era: even Yi Kwangsu in 1916 could imagine Korea becoming industrial and commercial ).5 The reality of the 1960s and 1970s, however, was that South Korea was still largely a rural country with most labor in the agricultural sector. At the time of the May 16, 1961 coup that brought Park to power, South Korea’s population was 56.5 percent rural. This rural population would continue to grow for almost a decade to peak in 1968 at 15.9 million people. The rural population began to decline rapidly after that, but as late as 1975 nearly two in five South Korean residents were still rural, and there were more agricultural than industrial workers in South Korea. For most of the Park regime, then, the rural agricultural sector absorbed the largest portion of the South Korean labor force, and supported the largest number of families. Being able to provide economic stability, even prosperity, to this huge peasant sector6 was a critical need for a developmental state like South Korea under Park because the authoritarian regime could prove its legitimacy only through the ability to promote economic growth and wellbeing . Park’s electoral support, moreover, continued to be heavily dependent on the rural sector until the end of his life. During the Third Republic (1963– 72), when the president was directly elected, Park was able to win handily in 1963 and 1967 but barely squeaked by against Kim Dae Jung (Kim Taejung) in 1971. As the burgeoning industrial cities created by successful industrialization filled with laborers who were exposed to new ideas, the cities became more demographically important and voted against the Park regime in greater numbers . Park and his Democratic Justice Party (DJP) became more and more dependent upon the dwindling number of rural voters the longer he was in power. The DJP polled a majority of Seoul and Pusan dwellers in 1963. By 1971 the DJP had lost all cities and could poll majorities only in rural areas.7 The move to indirect elections for president, and to more heavy-handed repression in 1971–2, thus was, at least in part, a response to the declining importance of the rural sector—the bedrock of Park’s political support. Rural Modernization under the Park Regime in the 1960s 147 The New Village movement, begun in 1971, was designed in part...