Asia Rising

Full Program Description

Asia Rising
From the ashes of war, Japan and Korea rise to economic prominence
Original broadcast: Wednesday, June 16, 1999 at 10pm
(check local listings for re-broadcast dates)


"We had a strong desire to be number one in the world. That might sound arrogant, but the words 'number one in the world' were often used. We hated to be behind any other country."
-- Suezo Uchida, Japan


Tokyo, 1951. General Douglas MacArthur bid farewell to Japan -- and the Japanese to six years of American occupation. But the future was uncertain: Much of rural Japan still relied on centuries-old farming methods; sanitation and public health were poor; and industry was practically nonexistent. But with massive drives to promote education and technology, Japan and her immediate neighbors proved they could run advanced industrial economies as well as -- or better than -- Western nations.

The Japanese government gave special priority to shipbuilding, employing prefabrication techniques that would shave as much as a year off standard Western production times. By the end of the 1950s, Japan had overtaken Britain as the largest shipbuilder in the world. Soon, Japanese cameras and motorbikes were cheaper and more reliable than the products of Western competitors. By 1964, Japan was on the brink of becoming the third largest economy in the world -- ahead of Britain and West Germany.

After the Korean War, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world, with an average annual income of sixty-seven dollars. The country continued in perpetual crisis until a military coup in 1961 saw the rise of the tough, authoritarian rule of General Chung Hee Park, who put the country on the fast track to economic expansion. Focusing on steelworks, shipbuilding, and car manufacturing -- partly underwritten by Japanese war reparations -- South Korea soon began to rival Japan in exports.

Korea's new democracy allowed ordinary citizens to share in the nation's wealth. By 1988, South Korea was sufficiently confident to host the Olympics in Seoul -- and, less than a decade later, won the rank of the world's eleventh largest economy.

The people remember: US military occupation of Japan, effects of the Korean War, shipbuilding, imports/exports, automobile as export, improved education, steel production, 1964 Tokyo and 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Asia Rising is produced and directed by Bill Treharne Jones. Series senior producer is David Espar. Series executive producer for WGBH Boston is Zvi Dor-Ner; Peter Pagnamenta is executive producer for the BBC.

John Forsythe narrates.



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