Under Japanese control since 1905, Korea is officially annexed in 1910, governed by a series of military governor generals. Korean-language newspapers are closed, books on Korean history are burned, and thousands of Korean politicians are arrested. Resistance erupts, but it is poorly financed and soon collapses. Schools are closed, and more than 90 percent of school-age children go uneducated.
The March First Movement holds massive street protests throughout the country against Japanese rule. The Japanese respond with a brutal campaign of repression, using the military to disrupt the demonstrations, killing 7,500 and wounding 16,000. Pro-independence activity is banned. The Provisional Government of Korea in Exile, led by Syngman Rhee, is established in Vladivostok, Shanghai, and Seoul.
The prohibition on Korean newspapers and political groups is lifted, though both are strictly censored. Korean farmers are forced from their land, and almost 12 million people in 2.3 million farm households live on the edge of starvation. In the cities, almost 80 percent of the population lives in poverty, a result of Korean workers earning less than half of what their Japanese counterparts earn.
Japan's empire-wide military preparations see large-scale industrial development -- steel mills, auto plants, oil refineries, and hydroelectric plants -- and a modern transportation infrastructure. Koreans are to be assimilated into Japanese society; by 1940, 84 percent of all Korean families have adopted Japanese names. Korean youth are drafted into or forced to "volunteer" for the Japanese army.
Japan surrenders to the Allies. Russian and American forces occupy and divide the Korean peninsula at the 38th parallel. Despite Korean calls for independence, the Allies propose a five-year trusteeship over the country. A U.S.-Soviet committee fails to organize an interim provisional government. An Interim People's Committee, headed by Kim Il Sung, becomes North Korea's first central government.
Despite UN attempts to secure a compromise and proclaim a unified independent Korea, two separate states are established: the Republic of Korea in the South and the communist Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the North. Fighting between forces on opposite sides of the 38th parallel becomes more frequent. Soviet and U.S. forces withdraw.
North Korea launches a surprise attack on the South, overwhelming an undermanned and underequipped South Korean army. A United Nations force led by U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur fights to defend the South. The battle seesaws as China intervenes with troops and materials, and Seoul changes hands four times. When the front stabilizes at the UN-sanctioned 38th parallel, truce negotiations begin.
A cease-fire ends hostilities and sets the officially recognized border between North and South at the 38th parallel. President Syngman Rhee twice amends the constitution so he can remain in power. Economic policies focus on increased industrial production, but the country is on the verge of bankruptcy due to the inefficiencies of the Rhee administration and the embezzlement of aid and resources.
Violence erupts over a fraudulent presidential election, and President Rhee resigns. The transitional government creates a bicameral legislature, and although the opposition Democratic Party (DP) is elected to power, it cannot consolidate its gains. Rhee loyalists control the military and police, and the DP cannot satisfy growing student demands for social and economic reforms.
Maj. Gen. Park Chung Hee leads a coup and declares martial law. He assumes the presidency and cements power in successive elections. He rules free of legislative oversight and institutes economic planning and controls geared to achieve industrialization and exports. The economy achieves stellar growth.
Park wins the presidential election, but re-imposes martial law. The economy turns to heavy and chemical industries, partly to aid in national defense. North and South hold discussions on political and military issues, including reunification. As growth slows, inflation reaches double digits. Dependence on foreign oil pushes the country into a recession during the second global oil crisis.
High inflation continues, and crowded cities experience housing, sanitation, transportation, and pollution problems. Students stage violent demonstrations against political repression. Park is assassinated by the head of the Korean CIA, throwing the country into a state of crisis. In response to continuing student protests following the assassination, Gen. Chun Doo Hwan stages a coup.
The collaboration between government and business delivers strong growth. The country shifts its economic focus from heavy industries to consumer goods, and import restrictions are reduced. Active political life resumes as martial law is lifted, but an extremist student protest movement continues violent protest actions. Chun survives several North Korean assassination attempts.
Gen. Roh Tae Woo, a protégé of President Chun, agrees to implement democratic reforms, including direct election of the president in coming elections. Opposition political parties participate in political reform. Divided opposition, however, allows Roh to be elected president.
Seoul hosts the 1988 Summer Olympics. The South Korean economy steers away from its reliance on exports to meet the demands of a growing domestic market. Student protests against U.S. interventionist policies take the form of widespread arson and firebombing. By the end of the decade, Korea's economic growth slows, and inflation increases. In 1991 the UN admits South Korea as a member.
Kim Young Sam (Democratic Liberal Party) is the first elected civilian president since the 1961 coup. He launches a far-reaching anticorruption campaign and institutes immediate economic reform. North and South Korea sign the Joint Declaration of Denuclearization, a treaty broken almost immediately as North Korea attempts to procure nuclear weapons.
The regional financial crisis hits hard. The value of the Korean won falls more than 50 percent against the U.S. dollar, and GDP growth plummets from 5 percent in 1997 to -5.8 percent in 1998. An IMF bailout of US$58 billion opens Korea to foreign investment. The South's "Sunshine Policy" actively engages the North for peace while endorsing a "zero-tolerance" policy toward aggression.
A breakthrough in North-South relations takes place, with the first-ever summit between North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il and South Korea's president Kim Dae-jung. In 2000 North and South agree to reconnect the Seoul-Sinuiju railway line, severed since the nation was divided in 1945, bridging the Demilitarized Zone to facilitate inter-Korean trade.
South Korea successfully co-hosts the 2002 World Cup, boosting its image and confidence. Kim Dae-jung bows out with the 2002 elections. Despite corruption scandals, the country appears on a vibrant social and cultural path. The economy is on a solid course back to growth. But the global slowdown and a gathering political crisis with the North are increasingly causes for worry.
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