Park Chung Hee
(1917-1979)

President of South Korea from 1961 until his death in 1979. In a career very similar to that of Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek (qv) he served in the Japanese Imperial armed forces (adopting the Japanese name Masao Takagi) and liked what he saw, in particular the corporatist economic practice he viewed as being the cornerstone of Japanese success. When he took control of South Korea in a military coup that ousted the short lived democratic government he immediately nationalised the country's banks and engaged the Chaebol system wherein a few highly organized capitalist super-businesses execute economic policy on behalf of the government. In case these bussinessmen needed any more encouragement one of General Park's first acts as premier was to insitute the Illicit Wealth Accumulation Law which saw many leading lights in the business community threatened with jail and penury. They could avoid this nastiness on one condition...they took what profits they had made under the country's previous regimes and re-invested them. Needless to say this was the beginning of the boom that lead to Korea becoming the 11th biggest economy in the World.

Despite his dictatorial rule and the high growth that occured during his years in power Park displayed admirable honesty, never seemingly tempted to enrich himself like so many other despots. Indeed he considered it important that his lifestyle be an austere one if he was asking his countrymen and women to sacrifice for furture prosperity. He wore simple suits, mixed his rice with barley to save on rice and had bricks placed in the toilet of his official residence to conserve water. A far cry from the lavish lifestyle of his supposedly Communist counterpart in the North, Kim Il Sung. (qv)

In 1965 Park normalised relations with the former colonial power Japan which immediately produced an $800 million line of credit (enough for pet projects like the Pusan-Seoul expressway and the steel mill at Pohang.) He also sent large detatchments of the South Korean army to fight alongside the US in the Vietnamese war, ensuring not only goodwill from the Americans but also lots of juicy war contracts.

He ruled the country as a civilian president from 1963 to 1971 when, despite having won the (rigged) election against Kim Dae Jung he decided martial law was the best route after all. He called his new system Yushin - revitalizing reforms - and anyone who didn't think they were the greatest thing since sliced bread were, well, they were not treated very nicely by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA). It was not a happy ending for Park though as the country went into recession in 1979, leading to rioting and then his assassination at the hands of the head of the KCIA, on October 26th.

Length of Rule - Sixteen years

Related Links

Park Chung Hee Memorial Hall

The North's take on Park

Books

To Build a Nation

Park Chung Hee

Out of Print

The Two Koreas

Don Oberdorfer

Out of Print

Buy this book
Back to Index page