From Jonathan Gardner's Korean Notebook
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Ancient History

  • Three Kingdoms
  • Shilla
  • Goryeo
  • Mongol Invasion
  • Chosun
  • Qin conquest

Modern History

Major events:

  • Fall of Chosun / Japanese Occupation
  • Liberation by MacArthur / Occupation by US and Russia
  • Korean War
  • Post-War Poverty and Corruption
  • President Pak, Chung Hee and the Tiger years
  • Democracy and Stability

Important Years:

  • 1910: Korea formally annexed by Japan, without Korea's assent. Japan exploits the Korean peninsula, conscripts tens of thousands of men to serve in the military, and somewhere around 200,000 women as sex slaves called "comfort women." Koreans learn Japanese and they are forced to behave like Japanese.
  • 1945: Japan surrenders, and MacArthur takes control of Korea. He forms a government. The Soviet Union occupies the north with tanks and threats, while the south is run by the Americans and allied forces. The Soviets remain firm and Korea remains divided to this day.
  • 1948: Syngman Rhee becomes the first president of South Korea in their newly established constitutional government. Although a kind and good person, he is unable to manage the government which becomes known for corruption and incompetence.
  • 1950: The North invades the South, starting the Korean War. The war lasts until 1953, with the North penetrating all the way almost to Pusan, then the UN forces pushing them back to the Yalu river, then the North with China pushing them back to Seoul. An armistice is signed, but the war is never formally ended.
  • 1960: Synghman Rhee's reign ends in political turmoil. Leftists run the government. Currency loses its value and goods become scarce.
  • 1961: General Pak, Chung-hee leads a bloodless coup de tat and takes control of Korea as a dictator. He reforms the government and sets Korea on the path to become an economic powerhouse. Park Chung-hee suppresses communist elements in South Korea.
  • 1963: Pak, Chung-hee is narrowly re-elected.
  • 1967: Pak, Chung-hee defeats Kim, Dae-jung. Economy grows rapidly, and for the first time in Korea's history, money and food are plentiful.
  • 1972: Pak, Chung-hee dissolves the government and constitution in emergency measures, rumored to be a planned invasion of North Korea.
  • 1979: Pak, Chung-hee is assassinated by a communist student. Chun, Doo-hwa takes control.
  • 1987: Roh, Tae-Woo, a close friend of Chun, Doo-hwa, is elected president.
  • 1992: Kim, Young-sam is elected president. This is the first time power changes hands without a coup or a death. President Kim is also a civilian.
  • 1997: The currency collapses as Asian countries see their exports drop. Kim, Dae-Jung (yes, the same one that ran against Pak, Chung-hee) is elected president. He deals favorably with the North Koreans and is rumored, perhaps justifiably, to be a communist.
  • 2002: Roh, Mu-hyon is elected president. He continues to pursue the liberal policies of Kim, Dae-jung. President Roh is plagued by accusations and evidence of corruption, and trials are held for his impeachment. After some political turmoil,
  • 2007: Lee, Myung-bak, a conservative and hardliner, is elected. ex-President Roh commits suicide, admitting to the corruption in his suicide note. President Lee pursues a stiff stance against North Korea.

Current State

The South Koreans are experiencing unprecedented material wealth. They have a vibrant, growing economy, whereas Japan's has been stagnant for the past ten or fifteen years. However, South Korea's reproduction rate is far below what it should be, although people are reacting by raising larger families than they did in past times.

North Korea is completely marginalized. Their military is not comparable to South Korea and the United States' presence in the area. They have had famine after famine, and their last-ditch effort to develop nuclear weapons is just that. With both Presidents Lee of South Korea and Obama of the United States, along with the government of Japan taking a hard stance against North Korea, there is a high likelihood of the collapse happening sooner rather than later.

The political system has endured several changes in government as well as all kinds of dischord. Although the Koreans now appreciate Pak, Chung-hee's leadership in the sixties and seventies, no one wants to go back to that kind of government.