Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
History of South Korea
- See History of Korea for a history of the Korean peninsula before the establishment of the Republic of Korea.
The History of South Korea begins with the state's establishment following the division of the Korean peninsula. After Japan's surrender to the Allied Powers, division at the 38th Parallel marked the beginning of Soviet and U.S. trusteeship over the North and South, respectively. On August 15, 1948 the Republic of Korea was established, with Syngman Rhee as the first president; on September 9, 1948, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established under Kim Il-sung.
On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea (see Korean War). Led by the U.S., a 16-member coalition undertook the first collective action under U.N. Command (UNC). Oscillating battle lines inflicted a high number of civilian casualties and wrought immense destruction. With the People's Republic of China's entry on behalf of North Korea in 1951, stalemate settled in close to the original line of demarcation.
Armistice negotiations, initiated in July 1951, finally concluded on July 27, 1953 at Panmunjeom, in the now Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The resulting Armistice Agreement was signed by the North Korean army, Chinese People's Volunteers and the U.S.- led and Republic of Korea supported United Nations Command. A peace treaty has not been signed up to now.
After the armistice, South Korea experienced political turmoil under years of autocratic leadership of Syngman Rhee, which was ended by student revolt in 1960. However, military coups led by Major General Park Chunghee in 1961 put South Korea under authoritarian rule for another two decades, during which South Korea achieved amazing economic growth, with per capita income rising to 13 times the level of North Korea.
After the assassination of Park Chunghee in 1979, a vocal civil society emerged that led to strong protests against authoritarian rule. Composed primarily of university students and labor unions, protests reached a climax after Major General Chun Doo-hwan's 1979 Coup d'état of December Twelfth and declaration of martial law. On May 18, 1980, a confrontation broke out between students of Chonnam National University protesting against the closure of their university and armed forces and turned into a citywide riot that lasted nine days until May 27. Immediate estimates of the civilian death toll ranged from a few dozen to 2000, with a later full investigation by the civilian government finding 207 deaths (see: Gwangju Massacre). Public outrage over the killings consolidated nationwide support for democracy, paving the road for the first democratic elections in 1987.
In 1997, the nation suffered a severe financial crisis from which it continues to make a solid recovery. South Korea has also maintained its commitment to democratize its political processes, as Kim Dae-jung won the presidency in the same year. This was the first transfer of the government between parties by peaceful means. Kim Dae-jung pursued the "Sunshine Policy," a series of efforts to reconcile with North Korea, which culminated in the summit talk with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, for which Kim Dae-Jung was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace in 2000. However, the efficacy of the Sunshine Policy was brought into question amid allegations of corruption. Roh Moo-hyun was elected to the presidency in 2002.
On 12 March 2004, the South Korean National Assembly (Parliament) voted to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun on charges of corruption and political patronage. Uri Party, which solely supported the President, angrily boycotted the vote. This motion clearly affected the outcome of the parliamentary election held on 15 April 2004, in which Uri Party won 152 seats from the total of 299 seats in the National Assembly. For the first time in 18 years the ruling party became the majority in the House. This is arguably the first time in more than 40 years that a liberal party has held a majority in the Assembly.
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