|Birth Day:||November 14, 1917|
|Death Date:||Oct 26, 1979 (age 61)|
As per our current Database, Park Chung-hee died on Oct 26, 1979 (age 61).
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He served in the Japanese Manchukuo Imperial Army while Korea was under Japanese rule and fought in World War II before entering the Republic of Korea Army.
Park was born on 14 November 1917, in Gumi, North Gyeongsang in Korea under Japanese rule, to parents Park Sung-bin and Bek Nam-eui. He was the youngest of five brothers and two sisters in a poor Yangban family. Extremely intelligent, egotistic and ambitious, Park's hero from his boyhood on was Napoleon, and he frequently expressed much disgust that he had to grow up in the poor and backward countryside of Korea, a place that was not suitable for someone like himself. Those who knew Park as a youth recalled that a recurring theme of his remarks was his wish to "escape" from the Korean countryside. As someone who had grown up under Japanese rule, Park often expressed his admiration for Japan's rapid modernization after the Meiji Restoration of 1867 and for Bushido ("the way of the warrior"), the Japanese warrior code.
As a youth, he won admission to a teaching school in Daegu and worked as a teacher in Mungyeong-eup after graduating in high school, but was reportedly a very mediocre student. Following the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the ambitious Park decided to enter the Changchun Military Academy of the Manchukuo Imperial Army, with help from Imperial Japanese Army Colonel Arikawa (a drill instructor at the teaching school in Daegu who was impressed by Park's military ambitions). During this time, he adopted the Japanese name Takagi Masao (高木正雄). He graduated top of his class in 1942 (receiving a gold watch from the Emperor Puyi himself) and was recognized as a talented officer by his Japanese instructors, who recommended him for further studies at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy in Japan.
Park returned to Korea after the war and enrolled at the Korea Military Academy. He graduated in the second class of 1946 (one of his classmates was Kim Jae-gyu, his close friend and later assassin) and became an officer in the constabulary army under the United States Army Military Government in South Korea. The newly established South Korean government, under the leadership of Syngman Rhee, arrested Park in November 1948 on charges that he led a communist cell in the Korean constabulary. Park was subsequently sentenced to death by a military court, but his sentence was commuted by Rhee at the urging of several high-ranking Korean military officers. While Park had been a member of the Workers' Party of South Korea, the allegations concerning his involvement in a military cell were never substantiated. Nevertheless, he was forced out of the army. While working in the Army as an unpaid civilian assistant, he came across the 8th class of the Korea Military Academy (graduated in 1950), among whom was Kim Jong-pil, and this particular class would later serve as the backbone of the May 16 coup. After the Korean War began and with help from Paik Sun-Yup, Park returned to active service as a major in the South Korean Army. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in September 1950 and to colonel in April 1951. As a colonel, Park was the deputy director of the Army Headquarters Intelligence Bureau in 1952 before switching to artillery and commanded the II and III Artillery Corps during the war. By the time the war ended in 1953, Park had risen to become a brigadier general. After the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, Park was selected for six-months training at Fort Sill in the United States.
After returning to Korea, Park rose rapidly in the military hierarchy. He was the head of the Army's Artillery School and commanded the 5th and 7th Divisions of the South Korean army before his promotion to major general in 1958. Park was then appointed Chief of Staff of the First Army and made the head of the Korean 1st and 6th District Command, which gave him responsibility for the defense of Seoul. In 1960, Park became commander of the Pusan Logistics Command before becoming Chief of the Operations Staff of the South Korean Army and the deputy commander of the Second Army. As such, he was one of the most powerful and influential figures in the military.
On 25 April 1960, Syngman Rhee, the authoritarian inaugural President of South Korea, was forced out of office and into exile following the April 19 Movement, a student-led uprising. A new democratic government took office on 13 August 1960. However, this was a short-lived period of parliamentary rule in South Korea. Yun Bo-seon was a figurehead president, with the real power vested in Prime Minister Chang Myon. Problems arose immediately because neither man could command loyalty from any majority of the Democratic Party or reach agreement on the composition of the cabinet. Prime Minister Chang attempted to hold the tenuous coalition together by reshuffling cabinet positions three times within five months.
Against this backdrop of social instability and division, Major General Park formed the Military Revolutionary Committee. When he found out that he was going to be retired within the next few months, he sped up the Committee's plans. It led a military coup on 16 May 1961, which was nominally led by Army Chief of Staff Chang Do-yong after his defection on the day it started. The military takeover rendered powerless the democratically elected government of President Yun, ending the Second Republic.
Initially, a new administration was formed from among those military officers who supported Park. The reformist military Supreme Council for National Reconstruction was nominally led by General Chang. Following Chang's arrest in July 1961, Park took overall control of the council. The coup was largely welcomed by a general populace exhausted by political chaos. Although Prime Minister Chang and United States Army General Carter Magruder resisted the coup efforts, President Yun sided with the military and persuaded the United States Eighth Army and the commanders of various ROK army units not to interfere with the new government. Soon after the coup, Park was promoted to Lieutenant General. The South Korean historian Hwang Moon Kyung described Park's rule as very "militaristic", noting right from the start Park aimed to mobilize South Korean society along "militaristically disciplined lines". One of Park's very first acts upon coming to power was a campaign to "clean up" the streets by arresting and putting to work all street kids and vagrants.
On 19 June 1961, the military council created the Korean Central Intelligence Agency in order to prevent counter-coups and suppress potential enemies, both foreign and domestic. Along with being given investigative powers, the KCIA was also given the authority to arrest and detain anyone suspected of wrongdoing or having anti-government sentiments. Under its first director, retired Brigadier General Kim Jong-pil, a relative of Park and one of the original planners of the coup, the KCIA would extend its power to economic and foreign affairs.
Park oversaw transitional changes between the two Koreas from conflict to consolidation. In 1961, the North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung secretly sent Hwang Tae-song, a former friend of Park Chung-hee and a vice-minister in ministry of trade, to South Korea, hoping to improve inter-Korean relations. However, in order to dissipate the suspicions about his Communist leanings and assure Americans his firm stance as an ally, Park decided to execute Hwang as a spy.
Park is credited with playing a pivotal role in the development of South Korea's tiger economy by shifting its focus to export-oriented industrialisation. When he came to power in 1961, South Korea's per capita income was only US$72.00. North Korea was the greater economic and military power on the peninsula due to the North's history of heavy industries such as the power and chemical plants, and the large amounts of economic, technical and financial aid it received from other communist bloc countries such as the Soviet Union, East Germany and China.
Park's economic policy was highlighted by South Korea's relationship with West Germany. Park had an affinity for Germany due to its history of having strong leadership like that of Bismarck and Hitler, and wanted to create ties with West Germany to deal with the problems of increasing population growth and economic hardships and to receive an inflow of foreign capital for domestic development. Upon an agreement in 1961, South Korea sent labor forces to Germany, including more than 8,000 mine workers and 10,000 nurses, which continued until 1977.
Among Park's first actions upon assuming control of South Korea in 1961 was to pass strict legislation metrifying the country and banning the use of traditional Korean measurements like the li and pyeong. Despite its strict wording, the law's enforcement was so spotty as to be considered a failure, with the government abandoning prosecution under its terms by 1970. In the end, South Korea's traditional units continued until June 2001.
President Yun remained in office, giving the military regime legitimacy. After Yun resigned on 24 March 1962, Lt. General Park, who remained chairman of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, consolidated his power by becoming acting president; he was also promoted to full general. Park agreed to restore civilian rule following pressure from the Kennedy administration.
One of Park's main goals was to end the poverty of South Korea, and lift the country up from being a Third World economy to a First World economy via etatist methods. Using the Soviet Union and its Five Year Plans as a model, Park launched his first Five Year Plan in 1962 by declaring the city of Ulsan was a "special industrial development zone". The chaebol of Hyundai took advantage of Ulsan's special status to make the city the home of its main factories.
Park was close friends with the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had established diplomatic relations in 1962 and following a visit to Iran in 1969, developed a close relationship with the two countries. Park realized the importance of Iran in securing oil for South Korea's industrial development and by 1973, was their main and only source of oil during the Oil Crisis. Most refineries in South Korea were built to process Iranian crude and thousands of engineers and workers were sent to Iran to help develop their refining capability. The relationship eventually expanded beyond oil as Park promoted other industries to operate in Iran. Many Chaebol's went to Iran, including Hyundai Engineering & Construction, whose first Middle East Project were a series of Shipyards in Bandar Abbas and Chahbahar to help develop Iran's maritime industry. Park's favorite architect Kim Swoo-Geun and his office designed the Ekbatan Complex in Tehran and the South Korean Special Forces helped train the Imperial Iranian Navy Commandos.
In 1963, he was elected president in his own right as the candidate of the newly created Democratic Republican Party. He appointed Park Myung-keun, the Vice Leader of the party as the chief of the President's Office. He narrowly defeated former President Yun, the candidate of the Civil Rule Party, by just over 156,000 votes—a margin of 1.5 percent. Park would be re-elected president in 1967, defeating Yun with somewhat less difficulty.
Beginning in October 1964, North Korea increased the infiltration of its intelligence-gatherers and propagandists into the South. More than 30 South Korean soldiers and at least 10 civilians had been killed in clashes with North Korean infiltrators by October 1966.
One of Park's reforms was to bring in 24 hour provision of electricity in 1964, which was a major change as previously homes and businesses were provided with electricity for a few hours every day. With the second Five Year Plan in 1967, Park founded the Kuro Industrial Park in southwestern Seoul, and created the state owned Pohang Iron and Steel Company to provide cheap steel for the chaebol, who were founding the first automobile factories and shipyards in South Korea. Reflecting its etatist tendencies, the Park government rewarded chaebol who met their targets under the Five Year Plans with loans on easy terms of repayment, tax cuts, easy licensing and subsidies. It was common from the late 1960s onward for South Koreans to speak of the "octopus" nature of the chaebol as they began to extend their "tentacles" into all areas of the economy. Some of the successful chaebol like Lucky Goldstar (LG) and Samsung went back to the Japanese period while others like Hyundai were founded shortly after the end of Japanese rule; all would go to become world-famous companies. Hyundai, which began as a transport firm moving supplies for the U.S. Army during the Korean War, came to dominate the South Korean construction industry in the 1960s, and in 1967 opened its first car factory, building automobiles under license for Ford. In 1970, Hyundai finished the construction of the Seoul-Pusan Expressway, which become one of the busiest highways of South Korea, and in 1975 produced the Pony, its first car that was designed entirely by its own engineers. Besides manufacturing automobiles and construction, Hyundai moved into shipbuilding, cement, chemicals and electronics, ultimately becoming one of the world's largest corporations.
In June 1965 Park signed a treaty normalizing relations with Japan, which included payment of reparations and the making of soft-loans from Japan, and led to increased trade and investment between South Korea and Japan. In July 1966 South Korea and the United States signed a Status of Forces Agreement establishing a more equal relationship between the two countries. With its growing economic strength and the security guarantee of the United States, the threat of a conventional invasion from North Korea seemed increasingly remote. Following the escalation of the Vietnam War with the deployment of ground combat troops in March 1965, South Korea sent the Capital Division and the 2nd Marine Brigade to South Vietnam in September 1965, followed by the White Horse Division in September 1966. Throughout the 1960s, Park made speeches in which he blamed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and the British for Japan's takeover of Korea.
At the request of the United States, Park sent approximately 320,000 South Korean troops to fight alongside the United States and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War; a commitment second only to that of the United States. The stated reasons for this were to help maintain good relations with the United States, prevent the further advance of communism in East Asia and to enhance the Republic's international standing. In January 1965, on the day when a bill mandating a major deployment passed the National Assembly (with 106 votes for and 11 against), Park announced that it was "time for South Korea to wean itself from a passive position of receiving help or suffering intervention, and to assume a proactive role of taking responsibility on major international issues."
In October 1966, Park ordered the Korean Army to stage a retaliatory attack without seeking the approval of General Charles Bonesteel. This action, which was in retaliation for ongoing South Korean losses, caused tension between Park's government and the U.S. command in Korea, which wished to avoid violations of the armistice.
Between 1966 and 1969 the clashes escalated as Park's armed forces were involved in firefights along the Korean DMZ. The fighting, sometimes referred to as the Second Korean War, was related to a speech given by Kim Il-sung on 5 October 1966 in which the North Korean leader challenged the legitimacy of the 1953 Armistice Agreement. Kim stated that irregular warfare could now succeed in a way conventional warfare could not because the South Korean military was now involved with the ever-growing Vietnam War. He believed Park's administration could be undermined if armed provocation by North Korea was directed against U.S. troops. This would force United States to reconsider its worldwide commitments. Any splits would give the North an opportunity to incite an insurgency in the South against Park.
After taking office for his second term in 1967, Park promised that, in accordance with the 1963 Constitution which limited the president to two consecutive terms, he would step down in 1971. However, soon after his 1967 victory, the Democratic Republican-dominated National Assembly successfully pushed through an amendment allowing the incumbent president —himself— to run for three consecutive terms.
On 21 January 1968, the 31-man Unit 124 of North Korean People's Army special forces commandos attempted to assassinate Park and nearly succeeded. They were stopped just 800 metres from the Blue House by a police patrol. A fire fight broke out and all but two of the North Koreans were killed or captured. In response to the assassination attempt, Park organized Unit 684, a group intended to assassinate Kim Il-Sung. It was disbanded in 1971.
A sign of the growth of the South Korean economy was that in 1969 there were 200,000 television sets in operation in South Korea, and by 1979 there were six million television sets operating in South Korea. In 1969, only 6% of South Korean families owned a television; by 1979 four of every five South Korean families owned a TV. However, all television in South Korea was in black and white, and the color television did not come to South Korea until 1979. Reflecting the growth of TV ownership, the state-owned Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) began to produce more programming, while private sector corporation MBC began operating in 1969. During the Yusin era, television productions were subjected to strict censorship with, for example, men with long hair being banned from appearing on TV, but soap operas became a cultural phenomenon in the 1970s, becoming extremely popular.
In the meantime, Park grew anxious of the shift in US policy towards communism under Richard Nixon's Guam Doctrine. His government's legitimacy depended on staunch anti-communism, and any moderation of that policy from South Korea's allies (including the US) threatened the very basis of his rule. Park began to seek options to further cement his hold on the country. In May 1970, the Catholic poet Kim Chi-ha was arrested for supposedly violating the Anti-Communist Law for his poem Five Bandits, which in fact had no references to Communism either explicitly or implicitly, but instead attacked corruption under Park. The issue of the journal Sasanggye that published the Five Bandits was shut down by the government. One of the eponymous bandits of the Five Bandits is described as a general who began his career fighting for Japan in World War Two, and all of the bandits of the poem are described as Chinilpa collaborators who served Japan because of their greed and amorality. Park recognized the reference to himself in Five Bandits with the character of the general while the fact that all of the bandits have a Chinilpa background was a reference to the social basis of Park's regime. In 1974, Kim was sentenced to death for his poem, and though he was not executed, he spent almost all of the 1970s in prison. Later in 1970, Park launched his New Village Movement that set out to modernize the countryside by providing electricity and running water to farmers, building paved roads, and replacing thatched roofs with tin roofs (the latter was said to reflect a personal obsession on the part of Park, who could not stand the sight of thatched roofs on farmers' homes, which for him was a sign of South Korea's backwardness).
In 1971, Park won another close election against his rival, Kim Dae-jung. That December, shortly after being sworn in, he declared a state of emergency "based on the dangerous realities of the international situation". In October 1972, Park dissolved the legislature and suspended the 1963 constitution in a self-coup. Work then began on drafting a new constitution. Park had drawn inspiration for his self-coup from Ferdinand Marcos, President of the Philippines, who had orchestrated a similar coup a few weeks earlier.
Park Chung-hee remains a controversial figure in South Korea. The eighteen-year Park era is considered to be one of the most, if not the most, controversial topics for the Korean public, politicians, and scholars both at home and abroad. A large number of South Koreans, especially those from Park's native Yeongnam region, consider Park to be one of the greatest leaders in the country's history and thus continue to hold Park in high regard in great part due to the industrial and economic growth experienced by South Korea under his regime. Park was accused of having pro-Japanese tendencies by some, but it is widely agreed that Park is responsible for the beginning of a normalized relationship with Japan and today Japan is one of South Korea's top trading partners, surpassed only by the People's Republic of China and the United States. He is often credited as being one of the major people responsible for bringing economic growth and development to South Korea. Park has been recognized and respected by many South Koreans as his country's most efficient leader, credited with making South Korea economically what it is today. However, Park is also regarded as a highly repressive dictator who restricted personal freedoms and was isolated from the people. At the very least, his actions put United States and South Korea foreign relations at risk, at least under Carter. Dissolving the constitution to allow him unopposed rule and a third term, blackmail, arresting, jailing and murdering opposition figures are well documented. The new constitution President Park implemented after declaring the state of emergency in 1971, gave him the power to appoint one third of the members of the National Assembly and even outlawed criticism of the constitution and of the president. There were also many economic feats established during Park's regime, including the Gyeongbu Expressway, POSCO, the famous Five-Year Plans of South Korea, and the New Community Movement.
Despite the hostility, negotiations were conducted between the North and South regarding reunification. On 4 July 1972 both countries released a joint statement specifying that reunification must be achieved internally with no reliance on external forces or outside interference, that the process must be achieved peacefully without the use of military force, and that all parties must promote national unity as a united people over any differences of ideological and political systems. The United States Department of State was not happy with these proposals and, following Park's assassination in 1979, they were quietly buried.
A new constitution, the so-called Yushin Constitution was approved in a heavily rigged plebiscite in November 1972. Meaning "rejuvenation" or "renewal" (as well as "restoration" in some contexts), scholars see the term's usage as Park alluding to himself as an "imperial president."
The new Yushin constitution was a highly authoritarian document. It transferred the presidential election process to an electoral college, the National Conference for Unification. It also dramatically expanded the president's powers. Notably, he was given sweeping powers to rule by decree and suspend constitutional freedoms. The presidential term was increased from four to six years, with no limits on re-election. For all intents and purposes, it codified the emergency powers Park had exercised for the past year, transforming his presidency into a legal dictatorship. As per his new constitution, Park ran for a fresh term as president in December 1972, and won unopposed. He was reelected in 1978 also unopposed. Many of South Korea's leading writers were opposed to the Park regime, and many of the best remembered poems and novels of the 1970s satirized the Yushin system.
On 15 August 1974, Park was delivering a speech in the National Theater in Seoul at the ceremony to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the ending of colonial rule when a man named Mun Se-gwang fired a gun at Park from the front row. The would-be assassin, who was a Japanese-born North Korean sympathizer, missed Park but a stray bullet struck his wife Yuk Young-soo (who died later that day) and others on the stage. Park continued his speech as his dying wife was carried off the stage. Mun was hanged in a Seoul prison four months later. On the first anniversary of his wife's death, Park wrote in his diary "I felt as though I had lost everything in the world. All things became a burden and I lost my courage and will. A year has passed since then. And during that year I have cried alone in secret too many times to count."
Park was married to Kim Ho-nam (having one daughter with her) and the two later divorced. Afterwards, he married Yuk Young-soo, and the couple had two daughters and one son. Yuk was killed in the assassination attempt against Park in 1974.
In 1975, Park ordered homeless people to be removed from the streets of Seoul. Thousands of people were captured by the police and sent to thirty-six camps. The detainees were then used as free labor by the authorities and subjected to degrading treatment. Many died under torture.
Park invited the Shah in 1978 for a special "South Korea-Iran" summit to further deepen relations but due to the Iranian Revolution, it never materialized. In preparation for that summit, Tehran and Seoul became sister cities and the two exchanged street names as well; Teheran-ro in Gangnam and Seoul Street in Tehran which both still remain.
These demonstrations came to a decisive moment on 16 October 1979, when a student group calling for the end of dictatorship and the Yushin system began at Busan National University. The action, which was part of the "Pu-Ma" struggle (named for the Pusan and Masan areas), soon moved into the streets of the city where students and riot police fought all day. By evening, up to 50,000 people had gathered in front of Busan city hall. Over the next two days several public offices were attacked and around 400 protesters were arrested. On 18 October, Park's government declared martial law in Busan. On the same day protests spread to Kyungnam University in Masan. Up to 10,000 people, mostly students and workers, joined the demonstrations against Park's Yushin System. Violence quickly escalated with attacks being launched at police stations and city offices of the ruling party. By night fall a citywide curfew was put into place in Masan.
On 26 October 1979, six days after the student protests ended, Park was shot dead by Kim Jae-gyu, the director of the KCIA, after a banquet at a safehouse in Gungjeong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul. Kim also killed Park's chief bodyguard, Cha Ji-chul. Other KCIA officers then went to other parts of the building shooting dead four more presidential guards. Kim and his group were later arrested by soldiers under South Korea's Army Chief of Staff. They were tortured and later executed. It's unclear whether this was a spontaneous act of passion by an individual or part of a pre-arranged attempted coup by the intelligence service. Kim claimed that Park was an obstacle to democracy and that his act was one of patriotism. The investigation's head, Chun Doo-hwan, rejected his claims and concluded that Kim acted to preserve his own power.
Park, who was said to be a devout Buddhist, was accorded the first South Korean interfaith state funeral on 3 November in Seoul. He was buried with full military honors at the National Cemetery. Kim Jae-gyu, whose motive for murdering Park remains unclear, was hanged on 24 May 1980.
Park led the Miracle on the Han River, a period of rapid economic growth in South Korea, until 1979. However, his authoritarian rule saw numerous human rights abuses. Opinion is thus split regarding his legacy between those who credit Park for his reforms and those who condemn his authoritarian way of ruling the country (especially after 1971). Older generations who spent their adulthood during Park's rule tend to credit Park for building the economic foundation of the country and protecting the country from North Korea, as well as leading Korea to economic and global prominence. Although Park was listed as one of the top ten "Asians of the Century" by Time magazine in 1999, the newer generations of Koreans and those who fought for democratization tend to believe his authoritarian rule was unjustified, and that he hindered South Korea's transition to democracy. He is also believed to be one of the main causes of regionalism which is a serious problem in Korea today.
Park's eldest daughter from his second marriage (with Yuk Young-soo), Park Geun-hye, was elected the chairwoman of the conservative Grand National Party in 2004. She was elected as South Korea's 18th and first female president in 2012 and took office in February 2013. Park Geun-hye's association to her father's legacy has served as a double-edged sword. She had previously been labeled as the daughter of a dictator; however she has been quoted as saying "I want to be judged on my own merits." Her presidency ended in her impeachment in 2016 and removal from office in 2017. She was sentenced to 24 years in prison on 6 April 2018. Park is currently held at Seoul Detention Center.
On 24 October 2007, following an internal inquiry, South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) admitted that its precursor, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), undertook the kidnapping of opposition leader and future President Kim Dae-jung, saying it had at least tacit backing from then-leader Park Chung-hee.
In a 2015 South Korean Gallup poll on the greatest president in South Korean history, Park topped the chart with an approval rating of 44%.
Currently, Park Chung-hee is 105 years, 0 months and 24 days old. Park Chung-hee will celebrate 106th birthday on a Tuesday 14th of November 2023.
Find out about Park Chung-hee birthday activities in timeline view here.