Just Sociology

From Oppression to Prosperity: The Story of South Korea’s History and Development

A country’s history often plays a crucial role in shaping its present and future. Koreans are no strangers to this fact as they have had a tumultuous past.

From Japanese colonialism to the Korean War and the subsequent division of North and South Korea, the country has witnessed many defining moments. These events have played a pivotal role in shaping the current political and economic landscape of Korea.

This article aims to explore the Japanese Occupation of Korea, the Korean War and the Division of the country, and South Korea’s development strategies under General Park Chung-Hee. Japanese Occupation of Korea, 1910-1945

The Japanese first invaded Korea in 1592, but it was not until 1910 that Japan officially occupied Korea.

The occupation period was characterized by brutal and oppressive policies enforced by the Japanese. Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese language and customs, and the education system was remodeled to erase Korean history and culture.

The Koreans were exploited through forced labor, and the Japanese colonialists continued to export natural resources, such as food and fuel, to the motherland.

The Japanese also banned the use of the Korean language, which meant that Koreans were forced to learn and use the Japanese language.

This prohibition led to a decline in the use of the Korean language and the loss of many cultural traditions. The Koreans who opposed Japanese rule were subjected to harsh punishments, including torture and execution.

During World War II, Koreans were mobilized for the Japanese war effort and were forced to serve in the Japanese military.

Korean War and Divide, 1950-1953

The Korean War, which occurred between 1950 and 1953, resulted in the division of Korea into North and South Korea.

The 38th parallel was established as the de facto border between the two countries, with North Korea adopting a communist regime and South Korea adopting a capitalist one. The division of Korea was a direct result of Cold War politics as the Soviet Union supported North Korea, and the United States backed South Korea.

The Korean War had significant social and economic consequences for both North and South Korea. North Korea became one of the poorest countries in the world, while South Korea embarked on a development path that ultimately propelled it to become one of the world’s most advanced economies.

South Korea had to undergo significant social and economic changes to achieve this level of development.

Growth under General Park Chung-Hee

After a military coup in 1961, General Park Chung-Hee came to power in South Korea. Park implemented a series of policies aimed at promoting economic development, and under his leadership, South Korea achieved remarkable economic progress.

Park’s authoritarian approach made it possible to implement critical economic transformations in a short amount of time.

Park emphasized the importance of a five-year plan that focused on economic development and modernization.

The plan’s main objective was to increase per capita income and reduce poverty rates in the country. Park also fostered close ties with the private sector, which he saw as crucial for promoting industrialization.

During Park’s reign, South Korea transformed from a primarily agricultural economy to one centered on exporting manufactured goods. South Korea’s yearly income increased from $82 to $2,300 in just two decades under Park’s leadership.

Import Substitution Industrialization

Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) was one of the primary strategies that South Korea implemented to promote economic development. The idea behind ISI was to promote domestic production and reduce reliance on foreign goods.

The implementation of ISI was carried out through protectionist policies, with the government providing incentives to domestic producers while imposing tariffs on imported goods.

The government also disciplined domestic producers regarding quality control and investment in the manufacturing sector.

The discipline approach ensured that resources were effectively utilized, and the manufacturing sector became increasingly competitive. The government also implemented consumption control policies to boost domestic consumption levels, which helped spur and sustain economic growth.


South Korea’s history has been marked by significant events that shaped its current political and economic landscape. The Japanese occupation of Korea and the Korean War were defining moments that had significant social and economic consequences for North and South Korea.

Under General Park Chung-Hee’s leadership, South Korea implemented successful development strategies, including

Import Substitution Industrialization, that propelled it to become one of the world’s most advanced economies. Despite the challenges it faced in the past, South Korea has emerged as a model for economic development and modernization.


South Korea’s astonishing economic growth has been fueled by a combination of progressive government policies, a highly skilled workforce, and the presence of large corporations such as Samsung. Samsung has played a crucial role in South Korea’s economic growth and, in this article, we will explore the history of Samsung Corporation and the costs that South Korea has had to pay for its development.

History of Samsung Corporation

Samsung Corporation was founded in 1938 by Lee Byung-Chul, initially as a small trading company. The company traded in dried fish, flour milling, confectionery, and textile weaving, but it was not until the 1960s that Samsung ventured into heavy industry.

Samsung saw an opportunity to develop South Korea’s heavy industry, primarily due to the country’s need for economic growth to improve the living standards of its people.

Samsung rapidly transformed into a technology giant, producing a range of products, from mobile phones to flat-screen televisions.

Samsung’s insistence on research and development and technological innovation made it a global powerhouse, and it led to a remarkable economic growth in South Korea.

Economic Growth and GDP

Samsung’s success is one of the reasons why South Korea experienced fast economic growth. In the decades after the Korean War, South Korea’s GDP soared, with the country steadily becoming one of the leading economies in the world.

Samsung’s success played a central role in this growth, with the company’s investments and export activities significantly contributing to the country’s prosperity. In 2020, South Korea’s GDP stood at USD 1.63 trillion, making it the 10th largest economy in the world.

It is worth noting that during the 1960s, South Korea’s GDP was only about USD 3 billion. Samsung and other Korean corporations have played a critical role in remarkably propelling South Korea’s economic growth.

Political and Social Costs

While South Korea’s economic growth is impressive, it is worth noting that there have been costs associated with its development. One of the most notable costs is in the area of political and social rights; South Koreans have had to endure limited freedoms, including a lack of free speech and press freedoms.

South Korea has had several high-profile incidents whereby the government has prosecuted individuals who have criticized the government, leading to widespread vocal criticisms of the government’s handling of such matters.

South Korea’s working culture also contributes to the social costs of development.

Long working hours and a lack of work/life balance has led to high levels of stress among workers, and the country has the highest suicide rate among OECD countries. Additionally, gender inequality persists in South Korea despite the country being highly advanced in other areas.

Women in South Korea still face significant obstacles in accessing leadership and prominent roles in society.

Mental Health and Social Welfare Costs

The costs of development are not limited to political and social rights but also extend to mental health and social welfare. The Korean workplace has a highly competitive culture, with pressure placed on employees to perform at the highest standards.

This pressure often results in high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Exacerbating this, the country’s work culture stigmatizes mental health concerns, which further exacerbates mental health issues.

Social welfare has also been a significant cost of development in South Korea. The country’s rapid growth has contributed to socioeconomic divisions, with significant disparities between the rich and the poor.

The country’s economic growth has led to an increase in alcohol consumption, which has subsequently led to alcohol dependency and alcohol-related health problems.


Samsung has been an integral part of South Korea’s economic growth and development, a story that is globally recognized.

Nevertheless, the costs associated with such growth must be acknowledged. The country’s development has come at a considerable social cost, and South Korea still has a long way to go when it comes to developing better social welfare programs and addressing gender inequality.

The pressure of an intensely competitive work culture results in employees living under considerable stress and anxiety. Future strategies focused on solving mental health issues in the workplace and society as a whole will be necessary to secure South Korea’s long-term sustainable growth.


In conclusion, South Korea’s history, division, development strategies, and the role of companies like Samsung have made it a model for growth and prosperity. However, there have been significant social, political, and economic costs associated with this development.

The country still has a long way to go in addressing gender inequality, improving working conditions, and providing better mental health support in the workplace. South Korea’s story provides lessons on how a country can grow and achieve economic prosperity but also serves as a reminder that there are costs that come with this growth.


Q: What was the Japanese occupation of Korea, and what were its consequences? A: The Japanese first invaded Korea in 1592, but it was not until 1910 that Japan officially occupied Korea.

It was a brutal period characterized by oppressive policies, exploitation through forced labor, and a ban on the use of the Korean language. Q: What led to the division of Korea, and what were its consequences?

A: The division of Korea occurred after the Korean War between 1950-1953, with the 38th parallel serving as the de facto border between communist North Korea and capitalist South Korea. The division had significant social and economic consequences for both countries, with North Korea becoming one of the poorest countries globally and South Korea transforming into one of the world’s most advanced economies.

Q: What were some of the key strategies that led to South Korea’s economic growth? A: South Korea’s development strategy included a focus on industrialization, a five-year plan under General Park Chung-Hee, and

Import Substitution Industrialization.

Samsung played a crucial role in this, with its investments and export activities contributing significantly to the country’s prosperity. Q: What were some of the costs of South Korea’s development?

A: The costs of development included limited political and social freedoms, long working hours leading to stress and anxiety, and gender inequality. Mental health issues and alcohol dependency were also significant costs of development, requiring future strategies to develop better social welfare programs and support for mental health in the workplace.

Q: What does South Korea’s development story signify to other countries worldwide? A: South Korea’s growth and prosperity demonstrate that with the right policies, investments, and collaboration with the private sector, a country can achieve remarkable economic progress.

However, this also highlights the importance of developing strategies that incorporate social welfare, gender equality, and mental health support to address the social costs of development.

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