Park Chung-hee

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This is a Korean name; the family name is Park.
Park Chung-hee
Park Chung-hee
5th – 9th President of the
Republic of Korea
Term of office 1963 (chairman of the SCNR 1961-1963) – 1979
Preceded by Yoon Po-son
Succeeded by Choi Kyu-ha
Date of birth September 30 (or November 14), 1917
Place of birth Gumi-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
Date of death October 26, 1979
Place of death Seoul
Spouse Yuk Young-soo
Political party Democratic Republican Party

Park Chung-hee (September 30 or November 14, 1917 – October 26, 1979) stands as the dominant figure in the Republic of Korea's history and particularly in the development of modern South Korea. Taking control of the South Korean government through a bloodless coup in 1961 after the resignation of President Syngman Rhee a year earlier, Park ruled the South at a time of critical transition. During his presidency, he lifted South Korea from poverty through rapid economic development in the face of a determined North Korean enemy seeking to destabilize his country.

An austere and frugal man, Park was president from 1961 to 1979. He became a leading Asian nation builder, rapidly modernizing the South through export-led growth while successfully protecting his nation from the communist North with the assistance of U.S. forces. Park also earned domestic and international criticism for his harsh authoritarian rule. Today in South Korea, however, Park is widely respected as his country's most effective leader and father of its phenomenal economic progress. In 1999, TIME magazine named him one of the "Most Influential Asians of the Century."

Park Chung-hee
Hangul 박정희
Hanja 朴正熙
Revised Romanization Bak Jeonghui
McCune-Reischauer Pak Chŏnghŭi

Early Years

Park was born in Seonsan, a small town in Gumi-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do near Daegu, Korea. He was the seventh child from a family of modest means. Park won admission to Daegu Teacher's College through a competitive examination, entering in 1932 and graduating in 1937. His formative years coincided with the Japanese invasion of China, starting with the Manchurian Incident in 1931 and culminating in all-out war in 1937. He went on to teach for several years in Mungyeong.

Military career

Park won admission to a two-year training program in Manchukuo, the Japanese puppet state in Manchuria. Under the Japanese policy of sōshi-kaimei, he adopted the Japanese name Masao Takagi (高木正雄), as was mandated of all Koreans. He graduated from the Japanese Manchurian Military Academy at the top of his class in 1942. He then was selected for another two years of training at the Imperial Military Academy in Tokyo as a Warrant Officer of the Imperial Japanese Army. After he graduated in 1944, Park became an officer of the Kantogun, a unit of the Imperial Japanese Army, and was promoted to lieutenant of the Japanese Manchukuo Imperial Army before the end of the Pacific War in 1945.

Post-World War II

In the aftermath of Japan's defeat in World War II, under his elder brother's influence, Park, considered a revolutionary and charismatic leader by his peers, joined a communist group, the South Korean Labor Party, in the American occupation zone, which later became South Korea. Park was involved in a conspiracy to remove President Syngman Rhee. In early 1949, Park was arrested, convicted of treason, and sentenced to life in prison, but his sentence was commuted by Rhee on the strong recommendation of his American military adviser, James Hausman. Park was released soon after revealing names of communist participants to the South Korean authorities. However, the outbreak of the Korean War enabled him to be reinstated, and he served the new nation fighting against the communists.

Political Career

Ascension to presidency

Rhee, the first president of the Republic of Korea, was forced out of office on April 26, 1960 in the aftermath of the April 19 Movement, a student-led uprising. A new government took office on August 13. This was a brief period of parliamentary rule in the Republic of Korea with a figurehead president, Yoon Po-son, in response to the authoritarian excesses and corruption of the Rhee administration. Real power rested with Prime Minister Chang Myon.

Yoon 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 suffering from a decade of mismanagement and corruption by the Rhee presidency and the students who had led to Rhee's ouster. Students regularly filled the streets, demanding wide-ranging political and economic reforms. Law and order could not be maintained because the police, long an instrument of the Rhee government, were demoralized and completely discredited to the public. Continued factional wrangling caused the public to turn away from the party.

Coup d'état

Seizing the moment, Major Gen. Park Chung-hee led a bloodless military coup (called the 5.16 Revolution) on May 16, 1961, largely welcomed by a general populace exhausted by political chaos. Although Chang resisted the coup efforts, President Yoon 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.

Given Park's prior association with communists, the United States was worried he could be a secret communist. Hausman flew to Washington and, supported by the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, told high officials there was no cause for concern. However, Park clearly was not the man the U.S. would have endorsed to be Korea's next leader.

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

Yoon remained in office to provide legitimacy to the regime, but resigned in March 1962. Park Chung-hee was the real power as chairman of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction with rank of general. Following pressure from the Kennedy administration in the United States, a civilian government was restored, with Park narrowly winning the 1963 election as the candidate of the newly-created Democratic Republican Party over Yoon, candidate of the Civil Rule Party. He was re-elected in 1967, again defeating Yoon by a narrow margin.


First two terms as president

Economic reform

Park played a pivotal role in the development of South Korea's economy by shifting its focus to export-oriented industrialization. Park's model of economic development was Japan's highly successful postwar system. When he came to power in 1961, South Korean per capita income was only US$72, and North Korea was the greater economic and military power on the peninsula because northern Korea was industrialized under the Japanese regime due to its proximity to Manchuria and greater abundance of natural resources. During Park's tenure, per capita income increased twenty-fold, and South Korea's rural, undeveloped economy was transformed into an industrial powerhouse. Even President Kim Dae-jung, one of Park's most outspoken opponents during his rule, retrospectively praised him for his role in creating modern-day South Korea.

The strength of Park's leadership was evidenced by the remarkable development of industries and rise in the standard of living of average South Korean citizens during his presidency. Park's 1965 normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan had been extremely unpopular at the time and resulted in widespread unrest as memories of Japan's 35-year brutal colonization of Korea were still vivid. However, by normalizing relations, Park opened the door to Japanese capital. Japanese assistance—although criticized by many Koreans as too little to compensate for the 35 years of occupation by Imperial Japan—along with American aid, helped restore the South's depleted capital. Nonetheless, with North Korea's stronger economy at the time, Park did not have the options or time to negotiate for more fitting reparations and apologies. This matter still plagues Japan and South Korea's relationship today.

Agricultural reform

The New Community Movement, also known as the New Village Movement or Saemaeul Undong, was a highly successful initiative launched by Park in the early 1970s to modernize the rural South Korean economy. It has since become a model for other undeveloped nations.

Key to its success was motivating the rural community toward self-help and cooperation. Saemaul Undong consisted of three components: mental, behavioral and environmental. The mental campaign included improving relations with one's neighbors, advancing traditional ethics, and strengthening community awareness. The behavioral campaign emphasized public order, public manners, and prohibition of public drunkenness. The environmental aspect stressed cleanliness around one's home or business, and developing greener cities and streams.

Saemaul Undong was at its core not just a government-backed action project but a revolution of thinking based on the conviction that anything can be done if there is the will to do it. It represented a struggle for a better life, not only for the individual but also for the benefit of society as a whole; i.e., wealth is both a mental as well as material concept. Saemaul Undong's ethics and values were seen as the essence for building a new society and prosperous nation, and by extension, even bringing peace and order to mankind.

Through this movement, thatched-roof rural dwellings in the South were replaced by those built of tiles and cement; rural agricultural output reached unprecedented levels. By 1974, rural income had surpassed urban income. By 1978, 98 percent of all villages had become self-reliant.


As president, Park limited personal freedoms under the provisions of a state of emergency dating to the Korean War (1950-1953). Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press meant little. The KCIA retained broad powers to arrest and detain anyone on any charge.

The electoral system was heavily rigged in favor of Park's Democratic Republican Party, which routinely won large majorities in the National Assembly. In spite of this, Park was narrowly reelected in 1967 against Yoon.

One of the most notorious cases of Park's human rights abuses was his order that a leading political rival, Kim Dae-jung, be killed for his strong opposition to Park's 1972 imposition of martial law. In August 1973, Kim, while visiting Japan, was abducted by KCIA operatives, beaten, and brought aboard a boat bound and weighted from which he was to be dumped into the ocean. Only the immediate intervention of U.S. Ambassador Philip Habib saved his life. Had Kim been killed, Habib believed, a serious crisis within South Korea and between the Republic of Korea and Japan would have erupted. Habib threatened the Park government with "grave consequences" for U.S.-Korea relations if Kim were killed; five days later, Kim was released a few blocks from his home in Seoul. Kim Dae-jung would later be elected President of the Republic of Korea.

Yushin Constitution

The Constitution of 1963 barred a South Korean president from seeking a third consecutive term. However, with the assistance of the KCIA, Park's allies in the legislature succeeded in amending the Constitution to allow the current president—himself—to run for three consecutive terms. In 1971, Park narrowly defeated Kim Dae-jung in the general election.

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 Yushin Constitution, was approved in a heavily-rigged plebiscite. It borrowed the word "Yushin" from the Meiji Restoration (Meiji Yushin) of Imperial Japan. 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, converting Park's presidency into a legal dictatorship. Park was re-elected in 1972 and 1978 with no opposition.

Assassination attempts

The Blue House Raid

On January 21, 1968, a 31-man North Korean military detachment sent by President Kim Il Sung, was secretly sent to South Korea to kill Park, and came close to succeeding. The commandos had crossed the DMZ on January 17, and spent two days infiltrating towards Seoul before being spotted by four South Korean civilians. After spending several hours trying to indoctrinate the civilians about the benefits of communism, the infiltrators let the civilians go with a stern warning not to notify the police. However, the civilians went to the police that night and the local police chief notified his chain of command, which reacted promptly.

The infiltrators entered Seoul in small groups on January 20 and noticed the increased security measures implemented throughout the city. Realizing their original plan had little chance of success, the team leader improvised a new one. Changing into ROK Army uniforms of the local 26th Infantry Division, complete with the correct unit insignia, which they had brought with them, they marched the last mile to the Blue House, the presidential residence, posing as ROK Army soldiers returning from patrol. As the unit approached the Blue House, they passed several National Police and ROK Army units en route. About 800 yards from the Blue House, a police contingent finally halted the unit and began to question them. The nervous North Koreans fumbled their replies, and when a suspicious policeman drew his pistol, a North Korean commando shot him. A melee ensued in which two commandos died. The rest scattered and fled towards the DMZ.

For the next several days, South Korean and American soldiers and police cooperated in a massive manhunt. Three infiltrators were pursued and killed in the Seoul area, while 25 others were eventually hunted down and killed in various firefights, with one captured. Only two of the 31 North Koreans could not be accounted for. During this assassination attempt, 68 South Koreans were killed and 66 wounded, including about two dozen civilians. Three Americans also died and three wounded.

Second Attempt

On August 15, 1974, while Park was delivering a speech at a ceremony to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the nation's liberation from Japan, a young North Korean agent and Korean resident of Japan, Mun Se-gwang, fired shots at Park from the aisle of the National Theater. His shots missed the president, but a bullet, apparently from a presidential bodyguard's wild shot, struck Park's wife Yuk Young-soo in the head; she died hours later. After the scene calmed down, Park waved his hand to the stunned crowd, which broke into loud applause, and resumed reading his prepared speech. An aide later explained that the president is a man of responsibility who finishes what he sets out to do regardless of obstacles.


On October 26, 1979, Park was gunned down at a private dinner by Kim Jae-kyu, the director of the KCIA. Kim was convinced Park was an obstacle to democracy and that his act was one of patriotism. Once Kim shot both the president and the chief of his presidential bodyguards to death, his agents quickly killed four more bodyguards before the group was apprehended. This incident has been considered either a spontaneous act of passion by an individual or a prearranged coup attempt by the intelligence service, with the latter more widely believed. The events surrounding Park's assassination inspired the 2005 South Korean black comedy The President's Last Bang by director Im Sang-soo.

Park Chung-hee is buried at Seoul National Cemetery.


Supporters have maintained that despite Park's dictatorial rule, the nation sustained unprecedented economic growth during his years in power; moreover, Park did not engage in corruption and led a simple life. Detractors insist he was fundamentally a brutal dictator and human rights abuser who only brought about high growth through military control over labor.

In the view of some observers, the costs of staying in office too long were lethal to Park. His assassination was followed by at least a decade of public discredit, as his two presidential successors retained policies similar to Park's until the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. However, slowly, Park's economic achievements, patriotism, frugality and strength of character have come to reassert themselves in the Korean public mind.

His daughter, National Assembly member Park Geun-hye, was chairwoman of the conservative Grand National Party. She resigned her post in order to seek her party's nomination for the December 2007 presidential election. From 1974 to 1979, after her mother's death, Park Geun-hye was regarded as the nation's first lady.

See also

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Millett, Allan R. 2005. The War for Korea, 1945-1950: A House Burning. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700613939
  • Oberdorfer, Don. 1997. The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. ISBN 978-0201409277
  • Park, Chung Hee. 1979. Korea Reborn: A Model for Development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 978-0135168318

External links

All links retrieved November 18, 2022.

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

Flag of South Korea.svg
Presidents of South Korea
Provisional Government: Rhee Syng-man | Park Eunsik | Yi Sang-ryong | Hong Jin | Yi Dong-nyung | Kim Gu
Republic: Rhee Syng-man | Yun Bo-seon | Park Chung-hee | Choe Kyu-hah | Chun Doo-hwan | Roh Tae-woo | Kim Young-sam | Kim Dae-jung | Roh Moo-hyun | Goh Kun (Acting) | Roh Moo-hyun | Lee Myung-bak | Park Geun-hye | Hwang Kyo-ahn (Acting) | Moon Jae-in


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