South Korean Identity Under Park Geun-hye: Crosscurrents & Choppy Waters

 

South Korea’s nation-building project during the Cold War relied heavily on strong state direction designed to generate a sense of cohesion and national identity. These strategies were conceived and executed during the Cold War under the authoritarian leadership of developmental dictators Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan. The environment was also defined by South Korea’s dependence on its alliance with the United States. During the early stages of South Korea’s national development, the leaders mobilized the people primarily through appeals to anti-communism focused on North Korea and through anti-imperialism focused on the historical legacy of Japanese imperialism and Korea’s lost nationhood. Although South Korea’s developmental success came at a high cost to personal freedoms, South Korea’s largely peaceful democratic transition and continued economic success generated a positive record of achievement, which itself has become a source of pride and has emerged as a component of its national experience that developing countries seek to emulate. As evidence of the magnitude of South Korea’s economic and political transformation, consider that the South Korea that freely chose to elect Park Geun-hye president in 2013 had a per capita GDP of over $24,000 and a college-age population of which 90 percent entered college. This is a far cry from the country that her father Park Chung-hee took over militarily in 1961. In that year, its per capita GDP was $1,458, 15 percent of South Koreans lived in poverty, and only 8 percent attended college.

 

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