Park Chung-hee

Park Chung-hee
Park Chung-hee
President of South Korea
In office
March 24, 1962 - October 26, 1979 Acting until 17 December 1963
Preceded by Yun Po-sun
Succeeded by Choi Kyu-hah
Personal details
Born September 30, 1917(1917-09-30)
Gumi-si, North Gyeongsang, Japanese-ruled Korea (now South Korea)
Died October 26, 1979(1979-10-26) (aged 62)
Seoul, South Korea
Nationality South Korean
Political party Democratic Republican
Spouse(s) Yuk Young-soo (assassinated in 1974)
Alma mater Kyungpook National University

Imperial Japanese Army Academy
Korea Military Academy

Religion Buddhism
Military service
Service/branch Manchukuo Imperial Army
Republic of Korea Army
Rank ROK Army General
Korean name
Revised Romanization Bak Jeonghui
McCune–Reischauer Pak Chŏnghŭi
Pen name
Hangul 중수
Revised Romanization Jungsu
McCune–Reischauer Chungsu
Japanese name:
Takagi Masao (?)

Park Chung-hee (September 30, 1917 – October 26, 1979) was a Republic of Korea Army general and the leader of South Korea (the Republic of Korea) from 1961 to 1979. He seized power in a military coup and ruled until his assassination in 1979. [1] He has been credited with the industrialization of the Republic of Korea through export-led growth.[2] However, he is still a controversial figure in the country's history due to his authoritarian way of ruling the country, especially after 1971.

He was named one of the top 10 Asians of the Century by Time magazine (1999).[3]


Early life

Park was born in Gumi-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do during the Japanese occupation. His father was Park Seong-bin (age 46 at the time) and his mother was Baek Nam-hui (age 45). His eldest brother was Park Dong-hee (age 22); second brother was Park Mu-hee (age 19); eldest sister was Park Gwi-hee (age 15); third brother was Park Sang-hee (age 11); fourth brother was Park Han-saeng (age 7); and his youngest sister was Park Jae-hee (age 5).

Park came from an undistinguished local branch of the Goryeong Bak clan.

Park won admission to the Daegu Teacher's Gymnasium, which was a favored high school for prospective primary teachers. He entered on April 8, 1932 and graduated on March 25, 1937, after five years of study. His formative years coincided with the Japanese invasion of China, starting with the Manchurian incident in 1931 and culminating in the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Park went on to teach for several years in Mungyeong, where the primary school has been preserved as a museum.

In April 1940, Park enrolled in the Manchukuo Imperial Army Academy, and on completing his studies with top marks in 1942, was selected for officer training at the Army Staff College in Japan. After graduating third in his class, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 8th Infantry Division of the Manchukuo Army, and served during the final stages of World War II. At the time he used his Japanese name Takagi Masao. After the war, he went on to serve in the military of the Republic of South Korea but was expelled in 1948 when it was discovered that he had participated in a communist cell organized within the South Korean army. During the Korean War he rejoined the military and became an expert at logistics. He received a year of special training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He rose steadily through the ranks, eventually reaching the rank of general.

Personal life

He was married to Kim Ho Nam and got divorced. Later, he was married to Yuk Young-soo, with whom he had two daughters and one son. The elder daughter Park Geun Hye later became a politician.

Ascent to presidency

Syngman Rhee, the first president of the Republic of Korea, was forced out of office on April 26, 1960 as an aftermath of the April 19 Movement, a student-led uprising. A new government took office on August 13. This was a short-lived period of parliamentary rule in Republic of Korea with a figurehead president, Yun Bo-seon; the real power was vested in Prime Minister Chang Myon.

Yun and Chang did not command the respect of the majority of the Democratic Party. They could not agree on the composition of the cabinet and Chang attempted to hold the tenuous coalition together by reshuffling cabinet positions three times within five months.

Political background

Meanwhile, the new government was caught between an economy that was suffering from a decade of mismanagement and corruption by the Rhee presidency and the students who had led to Rhee's ousting. The students regularly filled the streets, making numerous and wide-ranging demands for political and economic reforms. Law and order could not be maintained because the police, long an instrument of the Rhee government, were demoralized and had been completely discredited by the public. Continued factional wrangling caused the public to turn away from the party.

Coup d'état

Park then led a military coup (called the 5.16 coup d'état) on May 16, 1961, a coup largely welcomed by a general populace exhausted by political chaos. Although Prime Minister Chang resisted the coup efforts, President Yun sided with the junta and persuaded the United States Eighth Army and the commanders of various South Korean army units not to interfere with the new rulers. Soon, Park Chung-hee was promoted to Lieutenant General.

The Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) was created on June 19, 1961 to prevent a countercoup and to suppress all potential enemies, domestic and international. It was to have not only investigative power, but also the power to arrest and detain anyone suspected of wrongdoing or harboring antijunta sentiments. The KCIA extended its power to economic and foreign affairs under its first director, Colonel (retired) Kim Jong-pil, a relative of Park and one of the original planners of the coup.

President Yun remained in office to provide legitimacy to the regime, but resigned on March 24, 1962. Park then became Acting President as well as chairman of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction and was promoted to full general. Following pressure from the Kennedy administration in the United States, Park finally relented and agreed to restore civilian rule. He narrowly won the 1963 election as the candidate of the newly created Democratic Republican Party over Yun, candidate of the Civil Rule Party. He was re-elected in 1967, again defeating Yun by a narrow margin.

First two terms as president

Economic reform

President Park Chung-hee, standing third from left, at a 1966 SEATO convention.

Park is generally credited with playing a pivotal role in the development of South Korea's economy by shifting its focus to export-oriented industrialization. When he came to power in 1961, South Korea's per capita income was only USD 72. North Korea was the greater economic and military power on the peninsula due to the North's legacy of Japanese-built facilities such as the power and chemical plants, and also the large amounts of economic, technical and financial aid it received from other communist bloc countries such as the Soviet Union, East Germany and Poland.

South Korean industry saw remarkable development under Park's leadership. He had seen the development of Manchukuo based on Japanese investment in infrastructure and heavy industries when he was an officer in the Manchukuo imperial army. Intending to acquire money and technology for South Korea via Japanese grants and soft loans, Park normalized diplomatic relations with Japan in 1965 (Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea). Many South Koreans questioned Park's decision, which was extremely unpopular due to vivid memories of Japan's colonization of Korea; it resulted in widespread unrest. However, Park's strategy succeeded in attracting Japanese capital and technology, along with American aid, to develop South Korea's heavy industry and infrastructure, although many Koreans criticized it as too meager recompense for the long Japanese occupation. Government-corporate cooperation on expanding South Korean exports helped lead to the growth of some South Korean companies into today's giant Korean financial conglomerates, the chaebols.

Creation of economic development agencies

  • Economic Planning Board (EPB)
  • Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI)
  • Ministry of Finance (MoF)[4]

Foreign policy

Park's government deployed over 300,000 South Korean troops in the Vietnam War, a commitment second only to that of the United States.[5] The stated reasons for this were to help maintain good relations with the U. S., prevent the further advance of communism in East Asia[6] and to enhance the Republic's international standing. In January 1965, on the day when a bill mandating a major deployment passed the National Assembly (with 106 votes for and 11 against),[7] Park announced that it was "time for South Korea to wean itself from a passive position of receiving help or suffering intervention, and to assume a proactive role of taking responsibility on major international issues."[8]

In the 1960s, Park made speeches in which he blamed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and the British Empire generally for Japan's takeover of Korea.[9]

Dictatorial rule

Park clamped down on personal freedoms under the provisions of a state of emergency dating to the Korean War. Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and the press were often curtailed. The KCIA retained broad powers of arrest and detention, and opponents were frequently tortured.[10]

Yusin Constitution

The Constitution of 1963 limited the president to two consecutive terms, and Park had promised after being sworn in for his second term that he would leave office in 1971. However, with the assistance of the KCIA, his allies in the legislature succeeded in amending the Constitution to allow the current president—himself—to run for three consecutive terms. In 1971, he won another close election, this time over Kim Dae-jung.

Just after being sworn in for his third term, Park declared a state of emergency "based on the dangerous realities of the international situation." In October 1972, he dissolved Parliament and suspended the Constitution. In December, a new constitution, the Yusin Constitution, was approved in a heavily rigged plebiscite after a vigorous campaign on its behalf by the heavily censored press. It borrowed the word "Yusin" () from the Meiji Restoration (Meiji Ishin; ) of Imperial Japan. He drew inspiration for his self-coup from Ferdinand Marcos' similar move a few weeks earlier.

The new document dramatically increased Park's power. It transferred the election of the president to an electoral college, the National Conference for Unification. The presidential term was increased to six years, with no limits on reelection. In effect, the constitution converted Park's presidency into a legal dictatorship. In the elections of 1972 and 1978 he was re-elected without any opposition.


Park in 1964


The growth of the South Korean economy secured a level of support for the Park Chung-hee presidency in the 1960s, but that support started to fade after economic growth started slowing and because of the authoritarian measures taken by Park. By the late 1970s, demonstrations against the Yushin system erupted throughout the country indicating Park’s rising level of unpopularity.

A demonstration that hurt Park’s popularity was the “Pu-Ma struggle.” On October 16, 1979, student demonstrations calling for the end of dictatorship and the Yushin system began at Busan National University and moved into the streets of the city. Students and the riot police fought all day, and by the evening, 50,000 people had gathered in front of the city hall. After several public offices were attacked and around 400 protesters were arrested, the government declared martial law in Busan on October 18. On October 18, the protests spread to Masan. Students from Kyungnam University in Masan also participated in protests, which spread and resulted in 10,000 mostly students and workers joining the struggle against the Yushin System. They began attacking the police station and city offices of the ruling party, and a city-wide curfew was put into place.[11]

The rising unrest in the public contributed to the sense of urgency in the government, and hence, to Park Chung-hee’s assassination.

Vietnam war

At the request of the United States, Park Chung-hee sent approximately 320,000 South Korean troops to fight alongside the United States and South Vietnam in the Vietnam War. He wanted to strengthen the military alliance with the United States. But there were also financial incentives for South Korea's participation in the war. Soldiers were paid by the United States government and their salaries were remitted directly to the South Korean government. Park was eager to send troops and vigorously campaigned to extend the war. In return for troop commitments, South Korea received tens of billions of dollars in grants, loans, subsidies, technology transfers, and preferential markets, all provided by the Johnson and Nixon administrations.[12]

Assassination attempts

The Blue House Raid

On January 21, 1968, the 31-man Unit 124 of Korean People's Army (North Korean) special forces commandos attempted to assassinate Park and nearly succeeded. They were stopped just 800 metres from the Blue House by a police patrol, and all but two were killed or captured. Three days later, January 23, the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea. In response to the assassination attempt, the South Korean government reportedly organized the ill-fated Unit 684. This group was intended to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung, but was disbanded in 1971.

Second attempt

On August 15, 1974, Park was delivering a speech in the National Theater during a ceremony to celebrate the nation's deliverance from Japanese colonial domination 29 years before, when a presumed North Korean agent Mun Se-gwang fired a gun at Park from the front row. The bullets missed the president, but a stray bullet struck his wife Yuk Young-soo, who died later in the day, and one choir girl. The incident was filmed on video.[13] Park continued his speech as his dying wife was carried off of the stage.[14]


On October 26, 1979, Park was shot by Kim Jae-kyu, the director of the KCIA. Kim claimed that Park was an obstacle to democracy and that his act was one of patriotism. After Kim shot the president to death and the leader of his guards, his agents quickly killed four more of the presidential bodyguards before the group was apprehended. The entire episode is usually considered either a spontaneous act of passion by an individual or as part of a pre-arranged attempted coup by the intelligence service.[15]

The events surrounding Park's assassination inspired the 2005 black comedy 그때 그사람들/"Geuddae geusaramdeul" (English title: The President's Last Bang) by Korean director Im Sang-soo.

A devout Buddhist,[16] Park is buried at Seoul National Cemetery.


A large number of South Koreans, especially those from Park's native Yeongnam region, consider Park to be one of the greatest leaders in Korean history[verification needed] and continue to hold Park in high regard in great part due to the industrial and economic growth experienced by South Korea under his regime.[verification needed] He is often credited as one of the main influences responsible for bringing economic prosperity to South Korea.[verification needed] Today, Park is recognized and respected by some Koreans as his country's most efficient leader[verification needed] who is credited for making South Korea what it is today in economic terms.[17]

There are also many Koreans who condemn him for the brutality of his dictatorship and for his service to the Japanese army during World War II. There were widespread human rights abuses in South Korea during his rule. Thousands were arrested and imprisoned to long sentence terms merely for criticizing him in workplaces or bars. The Yusin Constitution of 1972 was widely interpreted as Park's intention to rule South Korea as a dictator for life.

His daughter Park Geun-hye was elected the chairman of the conservative Grand National Party in 2004. She later resigned her post in order to prepare a presidential bid for an upcoming election. However, she lost her bid to her intra-party rival, Lee Myung Bak.[18]

On October 24, 2007, following an internal inquiry, South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) has admitted that its precursor, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), undertook the kidnapping of Kim Dae-jung, saying it had at least tacit backing from then-leader Park Chung-hee.[19][20]

Further reading

  • Our Nation's Path: Ideology of Social Reconstruction, by Park Chung-hee. (Hollym Publishers, 1970.)
  • Troubled Tiger: Businessmen, Bureaucrats, and Generals in South Korea, by Mark Clifford. (M. E. Sharpe, 1994.)
  • Developmental Dictatorship and the Park Chung-hee Era (Changbi Publishers, 2003), a collection of essays edited by Lee Byeong-cheon. (English translation published by Homa & Sekey Books, 2006.)

See also


  1. ^ BBC News' "On this day"
  2. ^ Developmental Dictatorship and the Park Chung-hee Era (Homa & Sekey, 2006)
  3. ^ Time Asia: Asians of the Century, August 1999, retrieved on April 20, 2010
  4. ^ San José State University Department of Economics
  5. ^ Developmental Dictatorship and the Park Chung-hee Era p248 (Homa & Sekey, 2006)
  6. ^ Developmental Dictatorship and the Park Chung-hee Era p258 (Homa & Sekey, 2006)
  7. ^ Developmental Dictatorship and the Park Chung-hee Era p253 (Homa & Sekey, 2006)
  8. ^ Developmental Dictatorship and the Park Chung-hee Era p260 (Homa & Sekey, 2006)
  9. ^ Dr. J. E. Hoare, providing written evidence to the British House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.
  10. ^ See Korea Week May 10, 1977, page 2 and C.I. Eugene Kim, 'Emergency, Development, and Human Rights: South Korea,' Asian Survey 18/4 (April 1978): 363-378.
  11. ^ Shin, Gi-Wook. "Introduction." Contentious Kwangju: the May 18 Uprising in Korea's Past and Present. Eds. Gi-Wook Shin and Kyung Moon Hwang. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Park Chung-hee assassination attempt
  14. ^ Shaw, Karl (2005) [2004] (in Czech). Power Mad! [Šílenství mocných]. Praha: Metafora. p. 13. ISBN 80-7359-002-6. 
  15. ^ 1979: South Korean President killed
  16. ^ A Very Tough Peasant
  17. ^ Gregg, Donald (23 August 1999). "TIME: The Most Influential Asians of the Century". Time. 
  18. ^ Scanlon, Charles (2 June 2006). "S Korean famous daughter aims high". BBC News. 
  19. ^ S Korean spies admit 1973 snatch BBC
  20. ^ South Korea's Spy Agency Admits Kidnapping Kim Dae Jung in 1973

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Yoon Po-son
President of South Korea
Succeeded by
Choi Kyu-ha

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  • Park Chung Hee — biographical name 1917 1979 South Korean leader (1961 79) & president (1963 79) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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