Protest Dialectics
State Repression and South Korea's Democracy Movement, 1970-1979
Paul Chang



Protest Dialectics and South Korea’s Democracy Movement

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must . . . undergo the fatigues of supporting it.

—Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, September 12, 1777

The promise of a democratic Korea was made on August 15, 1948, with the official founding of the Republic of Korea, or South Korea. Established with the support of the United Nations, South Korea represented one of the first demarcations of the political line that would come to define the emerging world order in the aftermath of World War II. It was to be a beacon of democracy and capitalism juxtaposed to what was then the real viable alternative of world communism. The following month, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea, was founded and these two states, occupying a small peninsula in East Asia, became symbols for a larger Cold War that engulfed the world in the postwar period.

It is a curious thing, then, that South Korea did not transition to democracy until forty years after its founding. June 29, 1987, was a watershed moment in South Korea’s political development. Against the backdrop of a hot summer’s day that burned even brighter due to the violent street protests that had occurred in the weeks before, Roh Tae Woo, chosen successor to President Chun Doo Hwan, announced the reinstitution of direct presidential elections. The June Declaration was a significant political turning point and South Korea is now a celebrated case of democratization during the “third wave of democracy” (Huntington 1991). Today South Korea enjoys a relatively stable, if not always peaceful, democratic polity.

The content, and indeed the very necessity, of the 1987 June Declaration for political reforms would have surprised observers of Korea in 1948. The victory of the Allied Powers in World War II, and the subsequent presence of the United States in East Asia, brought to the region new political and economic forms. Countries occupied by the United States, including most importantly Japan, were to be democratic capitalist polities acting as bulwarks against the spread of communism. Demarcated by various focal points throughout the world—initially Greece and Turkey—the policy for “containment” outlined by George F. Kennan and declared by U.S. President Harry S. Truman in the Truman Doctrine on March 12, 1947, marked the beginning of the Cold War.

It was uncertain in the immediate postwar period how this new U.S. foreign policy was to affect the Korean peninsula. Statements about the fate of Korea at the various conferences of the world’s superpowers during and after World War II were ambiguous.1 But with the agreement for a shared trusteeship and the subsequent occupation of the Korean peninsula in 1945 by the Soviet Union in the north and the United States in the south, Korea became increasingly important to America’s containment policy. Indeed, as Bruce Cumings notes, the partitioning of Korea in 1945 was “the first postwar act of containment” (1981: 117). After Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule (1910–1945), it was readily assumed that it was to be a single nation governed by democratically elected leaders. But in 1948 Kim Il Sung and the northern Korean leadership refused to allow the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK), which was to oversee the formation of an independent Korean government, to enter its sphere of influence (Armstrong 2003: 133), and the failure of the UNTCOK to hold a peninsula-wide presidential election all but secured the formal division of the Korean nation.

The UN-sponsored election in 1948 was held only in southern Korea and brought to power Syngman Rhee, who was to dominate South Korean politics until 1960, when large student demonstrations forced him to abdicate. Although the Republic of Korea “officially espoused liberal democracy as its form of government from the outset” (Kang 2002: 6), in the realpolitik context of the Cold War, national security and economic development took precedence over freedom and liberty. Democracy gave way to dictatorship and South Korea was ruled by authoritarian leaders until the reinstatement of direct presidential elections following the June Declaration in 1987. Although there were times when a democratic South Korea seemed likely—most notably during the Chang Myŏn government in 1960–1961 and the “Spring of Seoul” in 1980—these moments proved to be ephemeral as successive military generals forcibly took political charge. The democracy promised in 1948 would evade South Koreans for four decades, sacrificed for the sake of security and development. In the end, democracy was not to be something granted but had to be won by a burgeoning contentious civil society that emerged and evolved within the context of authoritarian rule.


This book examines South Korea’s democracy movement in the 1970s, a period considered by many to be the “dark age for democracy” in Korea (Lee M. S. 2010; Lee 2006; Yi 2011). Partly because the 1970s is characterized as a “dark age,” most studies of South Korea’s democratization have focused on social movements in the 1980s, when in the summer of 1987, traditionally docile segments of society, including the middle class, joined antigovernment protests.2 There are, for example, several important studies on the Gwangju Uprising3 and the impact that Gwangju had on the radicalization of social movements in the 1980s (Lewis 2002; Lee 2007; Shin and Hwang 2003). Other writers have looked at specific sectors of the 1980s democracy movement, including the activism of particular social groups—students (Park 2008; Lee 2007), farmers (Abelmann 1996), white-collar laborers (Suh 2009)—and the rise of the minjung (people’s) culture that provided master symbols and narratives that structured the discourse of the movement (Lee 2007; Wells 1995a). Justifiably, analysts point to democratic transition in 1987 and further consolidation in the 1990s as central steps in Korea’s4 democratization (Kim 2003; Diamond and Kim 2000).

But before Gwangju in 1980 and democratic transition in 1987, numerous events in the 1960s and 1970s laid the groundwork for the democracy movement in the 1980s. The large protest cycle in the summer of 1987 was in no way spontaneous and was instead the culmination of a movement that spanned more than two decades. The 1970s was a particularly important period when many social groups joined students, the primary movement actor in the 1960s, in the fight against dictatorship. The impact of events discussed in this book—such as the 1973 Theological Declaration of Korean Christians, the Dong-A Ilbo Declaration of Media Freedom in 1974, the Minch’ŏng and People’s Revolutionary Party cases in 1974 and 1975, the Declaration for the Salvation of the Nation in 1976, and the Tongil Textile and Y. H. Trading Company’s women workers’ struggles in 1978 and 1979—extends beyond that period in that they motivated the politicization of diverse sectors of Korean society and shaped the trajectory of state-society relations in the 1980s. I bring to light these and other stories that unfolded as the promulgation of the Yusin Constitution in 1972 “transformed the presidency into a legal dictatorship” (Eckert et al. 1990: 365).

The narrative of the 1970s as democracy’s “dark age” obfuscates important material and discursive developments that facilitated South Korea’s transition to democracy and became the foundations for contemporary civil society. I present a comprehensive analysis of social movements in the 1970s to show how these foundations were laid.5 By focusing on the 1970s democracy movement I do not intend to underestimate the importance of events that preceded the Yusin period (1972–1979). Most significant was the April 1960 student revolution, by which students and other segments of Korean society forced Syngman Rhee to resign his presidency. The revolution that began on April 19, 1960, established a model for future antigovernment protests, providing an all-too-rare moment of success for people’s movements in South Korea.

Also, when South Korea and Japan began a dialogue with the goal of reestablishing diplomatic relations, students across the nation again took to the streets in large protests. Though their efforts did not stop the two countries from normalizing relations in 1965, both the 1960 and 1964–1965 protest cycles are part of the lore of democratization narratives in South Korea and were in tangible ways important for movements in the 1970s.6 Still, the 1970s presented to dissidents an altogether different authoritarian structure compared to that of the 1960s—one that would require a sustained movement for democracy. As Hae Gu Jung and Ho Ki Kim point out, the 1970s democracy movement “was different from that of the past . . . it now became resistance to the Yushin system itself, namely an antiestablishment movement” (2009: 7).

The reasons that a sustained democracy movement emerged in the 1970s are quite simple. Although some suspected that his supporters had tampered with the electoral process during the elections in 1963 and 1967, President Park maintained a semblance of democracy in the 1960s by establishing relatively independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, and by holding regular direct presidential and general elections. Thus it is incorrect that “for the next 18 years (following the coup d’état in 1961) Park would rule the country with an iron hand” (Lee M. S. 2010: 58). Compared to the Yusin period, the 1960s represented a distinct political situation, one that Hyug Baeg Im characterizes as “soft authoritarianism” or “a brief democratic interlude” (2011: 234). But after Park Chung Hee forced the National Assembly to amend the constitution in 1969 to allow him to run for a third presidential term, and after he replaced the democratic constitution with the Yusin Constitution in 1972, it became clear to all that he had no intention of upholding democratic principles. The Yusin Constitution institutionalized authoritarianism and, consequently, dissident communities mobilized to change foundational political structures rather than address ad hoc government policies.


In a 1959 article published in the leading Korean intellectual journal Sasangge Monthly (World of Thought), Quaker leader Ham Sok Hon criticized college education for “imprisoning” the minds of students, who by only reading books are blinded to the necessity of engaging in their country’s social and political life (Ham 1959).7 Ham’s exhortation foreshadowed the important role that students would play in bringing down Syngman Rhee’s government through the April 1960 student revolution. From the vantage point of hindsight it is thus surprising that the same journal that was a platform for democratic participation in the 1950s then endorsed Park Chung Hee’s military coup d’etat in 1961, declaring in the June issue that “the Military Revolution of May 16, 1961, constitute[s] the last effort to save the nation from the dire predicament it faced” (quoted in Park 2011: 379). The contributors to Sasangge Monthly were not the only ones to harbor hope in Park’s new government, and it is no less surprising that in another influential journal, Kidokkyo sasang (Christian Thought), Hyŏn Yŏnghak—a leading member of the progressive Christian community—declared his support of Park Chung Hee’s economic policies: “Succeed or fail, we must see [the Park Chung Hee government’s] Five-Year Plan to completion, even if we have to fix its flaws and inadequacies along the way, because of the utmost urgency of establishing our own autonomous economy” (Hyŏn 1962: 51).

The hope that Park Chung Hee would “save the nation” quickly deteriorated, however, as progressive intellectuals became increasingly critical of Park’s policies, including the normalization of relations with Japan in 1965 and the amendment of the constitution to extend his rule in 1969. By 1970 Sasangge Monthly had completely reversed its initial “positive appraisal” (Park 2011: 379) of Park Chung Hee when it published Kim Chiha’s poem “Ojŏk” (“Five Bandits”) in the May issue,8 and Chang Chunha, the journal’s founding editor and publisher, emerged as a leading critic of Park’s rule. Similarly, Hyŏn Yŏnghak had a radical change of heart, becoming during the Yusin period a proponent of Minjung Theology, which advocated “liberation from the oppression” of the very economic policies he had endorsed in his 1962 article.

The initial support that the contributors to Sasangge Monthly and Kidokkyo sasang lent to Park Chung Hee at the outset of his rule and their eventual antigovernment stand represent not only the changing attitudes of progressive intellectuals and theologians but also the shifting relationship between state and society throughout the 1960s and 1970s.9 Just as the authoritarian nature of Park Chung Hee’s government evolved over the course of the eighteen years he ruled South Korea—from military government (1961–1963) to the “democratic interlude” (1963–1972) and finally to formal authoritarianism (1972–1979)—so too did the voices critical of Park’s regime. As Park moved increasingly closer to autocratic rule, these critical voices became louder, eventually developing into a sustained social movement for democracy. In turn, after the formation of a formal authoritarian state in 1972, Park responded to antigovernment protesters with new repressive laws and tactics. In short, the repressive capacity of the Yusin regime and the movement for democracy developed in tandem, each influencing the trajectory of the other. If South Korea in the postliberation period is characterized by a “strong state and contentious civil society” (Koo 1993: 231), this book shows how, through specific historical processes, the state became “strong” and civil society “contentious.”

Data Sources

This book draws on several types of data to track the emergence and evolution of the democracy movement during the highly repressive Yusin period. Focusing on the relationship between state repression and mobilization, I use a mixed methods strategy to analyze qualitative and quantitative data (Tashakkori and Teddlie 1998). Qualitative sources include Korean and English language archives and sourcebooks: the Korea Democracy Foundation’s “dictionary” of protest events (Minjuhwa undong kwallyŏn sakŏn sajŏn) and movement organizations (Minjuhwa undong kwallyŏn tanch’e sajŏn), the UCLA Archival Collection on Democracy and Unification in Korea, and the eight volume 1970s Democracy Movement (1970-yŏndae minjuhwa undong) published by the National Council of Churches in Korea.

In addition, throughout the empirical chapters I present excerpts from twenty in-depth interviews I conducted with individuals who participated in antigovernment protests in the 1970s. The interviewees were active in different dissident networks during the Yusin period, such as pastors and laypersons from the progressive Christian community, members of the first generation of human rights lawyers, journalists from leading newspaper Dong-A Ilbo who began the media freedom movement, and progressive intellectual groups. The oral histories derived from the interviews offer rich accounts of how individuals experienced important events in the 1970s. They are invaluable for the simple reason that the generation that participated in the democracy movement in the 1970s is aging and many important figures have already passed (see Appendix A for further detail of data sources and interviewees).10

To better understand the overall temporal trajectory of the democracy movement, I complement the qualitative sources with analyses of a novel quantitative protest and repression events database that is part of the larger Korea Democracy Project (KDP) at Stanford University. The Stanford KDP is a collaborative effort to take stock of South Korea’s democracy movement in the postliberation period. At the heart of the Stanford KDP are several datasets that record various attributes of events related to the democracy movement. I analyze the Stanford KDP Events Dataset (1970–1979), which includes characteristics of nearly three thousand protest and repression events. Although the data are not without some of the limitations found in most protest events datasets, to my knowledge they represent the most exhaustive effort to systematically quantify characteristics of protest and repression events related to South Korea’s democracy movement in the 1970s (see Appendix B for the dataset codebook).

Analytic Approach and Outline of Chapters

I analyze the qualitative and quantitative data deductively using a conceptual framework derived from recent theoretical developments in social movement research. The analysis begins with the reasonable, if not always obvious, assumption that social movements change over the course of their trajectories. Simply put, movements move. Some scholars have taken note of this, arguing that social movements “are seldom static; thus to study them is to study SM [social movement] change” (Gale 1986: 205). In order to study change, however, we need a diachronic view of movement evolution that accounts for the dynamic nature of contention over time (Meyer and Staggenborg 1996). To better understand how the democracy movement evolved throughout the Yusin period, I adopt what Tahi L. Mottl describes as “a unified movement-countermovement perspective to conflict” (1980: 623).

Sociologists have long argued that state actors fundamentally affect collective action because they control the material conditions that define the possibilities for mobilization (Skocpol 1985; Zwerman and Steinhoff 2005; della Porta 1996; Earl 2003; Davenport, Johnston, and Mueller 2005). This is particularly true for authoritarian systems such as Park Chung Hee’s Yusin government: authoritarian regimes, relative to their democratic counterparts, exercise greater control over the polity because power is centralized (Davenport, Johnston, and Mueller 2005; della Porta 1996; Earl 2006; Goldstone and Tilly 2001) and they hold a “monopoly on violence” (Weber 1919, reprinted in Gerth and Mills 1946: 77). If there is general agreement about the role that repression plays in defining authoritarian systems (Almeida 2003, 2008; Davenport, Johnston, and Mueller 2005; Johnston 2005; Earl 2003, 2006; Goldstone and Tilly 2001; della Porta 1996; Osa 2003; Rasler 1996), it is less clear what the consequences of repression are for social movements.

Research on comparative social movements has revealed a “paradox” regarding the impact of repression on mobilization (Brockett 1995, 2005). Whereas some argue that repression discourages social movements (Olzak, Beasley, and Olivier 2003), because of the additional costs associated with dissident activity, others insist that it increases grievances and, subsequently, motivation to participate in protests (White 1989; Khawaja 1993, 1994). In reviews of this literature, researchers have puzzled over the fact that “both threats and opportunities can mobilize activism” (Meyer and Staggenborg 1996: 1645). As David S. Meyer and Suzanne Staggenborg ponder, “for some challengers, increased political openness enhances the prospects for mobilization, while other movements seem to respond more to threat than opportunity” (1996: 1634).

Still others have argued for a nonlinear relationship between repression and protest. But even here, the directions of nonmonotonic patterns are contested. Some argue that the relationship takes on an inverted U shape: lower levels of repression might offer the opportunity to engage in various forms of collective action, but if the repression becomes severe, the costs of participation might be too high and thus lead to demobilization (Brockett 2005; Muller 1985; Weede 1987). Others suggest the reverse: repression is a threat to movement participants and initially deters protest activity. If, however, this repression is determined to be unjust, the same repression can lead to the radicalization of a movement and facilitate further protest (Opp and Roehl 1990; Rasler 1996).

These conflicting findings have led some to the unhelpful conclusion that “there are theoretical arguments for all conceivable basic relationships between government coercion and group protest and rebellion, except for no relationship” (Zimmerman 1980: 191; quoted in Lichbach 1987: 267). Although the relationship between repression and mobilization is indeed complicated, past studies have primarily analyzed the most simple indicator of movement vitality: aggregate counts of protest events (Olzak, Beasley, and Olivier 2003; Rasler 1996; Opp and Roehl 1990). As Dean Hoover and David Kowalewski recognize, however, quantitative studies that rely on overall protest event counts as the main variable of analysis “are limited by their use of single dimensions of dissent and repression” (1992: 156). Although repression might increase or decrease (or both) the number of protest events, a more thorough understanding of a movement’s trajectory is possible if we consider the possibility that repression has multiple, and sometimes divergent, consequences for mobilization.

One helpful way to disentangle the relationship between repression and protest is to disaggregate movements into their various components and assess how repression impacts individual parts such as protest “form” (McAdam 1996), tactical adaptation (Ennis 1987; McAdam 1983; Olzak and Uhrig 2001), and internal movement dynamics, including alliances and schisms (Almeida 2005; Meyer and Corrigall-Brown 2005; Bystydzienski and Schacht 2001). That is, we can shift our focus away from the total quantity of protest events to the substantive quality of movement characteristics. Mara Loveman (1998), for example, has shown that activists in Latin America were motivated to establish social movement organizations during heightened periods of repression. In addition, several studies have shown that movement actors will alter their tactical strategies to adapt to repressive contexts (McAdam 1983; Lichbach 1987; Moore 1998), while others have found that high levels of repression influence the articulation and development of movement ideologies (Davenport and Eads 2001). Thus, expanding organizational capacity, tactical adaptation, and ideological development are just a few of the unintended consequences of repression that studies employing simple event counts miss.

This book is an attempt to contribute to this growing literature on the differential impact of repression on social movements. The democracy movement that emerged during the Yusin period would wax and wane through the 1970s in what Myung-Lim Park has described as “an endless cycle of repression and resistance” (2011: 398). I provide a detailed account of how this “endless cycle” unfolded by specifying the conditions that contributed to the increasing severity of state repression, which in turn influenced the mobilizing strategies of antigovernment dissidents. The arguments laid out in the book highlight the importance of combining quantitative and qualitative data sources to analyze disaggregate components of mobilization, because state repression did not so much quell the democracy movement as it shaped its trajectory in significant ways.

The empirical chapters are organized into three parts. In Part 1, I assess the larger political context from which the democracy movement emerged. Chapter 1 tracks the transformation of Park’s leadership as he shifted from ruling within the parameters of a democratic system to establishing a formal authoritarian structure in 1972. His pursuit of national security and economic development led to two important policy decisions in the 1960s. Fearful that America’s commitment to South Korea’s national security would be compromised by the redistribution of military resources to Southeast Asia, Park agreed to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s request for Korean participation in the Vietnam War. In addition, as the United States winded down its assistance program to Korea, Park turned to Japan as a source of financial resources. The normalization of relations with Japan in 1965 and the reparations received from reestablishing diplomatic ties were intended to boost the government’s economic drive but faced widespread criticism from Korean society. Intent on pushing through normalization, Park Chung Hee reverted to using the military to put down student demonstrations, reflecting his increasing reliance on coercive tactics to silence political dissent. This authoritarian tendency culminated in the Yusin Constitution in 1972.

The Yusin Constitution formalized authoritarianism in Korea. In Chapter 2, I discuss the repressive structures that undergirded Park’s dictatorship, including the military and the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. In addition, guided by a fairly nuanced and evolving repression strategy, Park consolidated the authoritarian system by enacting additional political control laws that allowed him to ignore basic rights and bypass habeas corpus codified in his own Yusin Constitution. The promulgation of presidential Emergency Decrees, along with the National Security Law and the Anti-Communist Law, reflected a greater capacity for structural repression. Temporal analysis of aggregate protest data shows that increasing state repression had a profoundly negative impact on the ability of dissidents to stage public protests. Initially targeting student dissidents who were considered to be the largest threat to social stability, the Yusin regime continued to expand its repressive coverage of the democracy movement.

The chapters in Part 2 trace the emergence of the democracy movement from the context of the authoritarian political system established with the passing of the Yusin Constitution. In Chapter 3, I explain how students, motivated by a proud history of political engagement, made multiple attempts to organize a nationwide movement against Park Chung Hee’s government. After a relatively quiet period following the 1960 student revolution and the 1964–1965 protest cycle against the normalization of relations with Japan, Park Chung Hee was pressured to respond to the reemergence of the student movement in 1971. Because he assumed power in 1961 in the wake of the student revolution, Park was well aware of the potential of student demonstrations to cripple social stability and challenge his rule. Increasing state repression was fueled by his determination not to let large student protests develop into the kind of revolution that brought down Syngman Rhee’s government in 1960. The consequences of repression were dire: the mass arrests of student protesters led to the rapid demobilization of their movement at two critical junctures in 1971 and 1974.

If the analysis stopped here, the macro quantitative indicators would corroborate the interpretation that state repression was highly effective in stifling protest and that the 1970s were indeed a dark period for Korean democracy. The fall of the student movement, however, motivated the politicization of new social movement groups and in Chapter 4 I discuss the emergence of Christian activists, who replaced students as the salient actors in the movement after 1975. The participation of Christians in antigovernment protests was critical to the survival of the democracy movement and for various reasons the state was less effective at repressing them than at repressing secular groups. The diversification of movement actors also included journalists and lawyers, and in Chapter 5 I explore how and why they became key contributors to the democracy movement in the latter part of the 1970s. Although each group addressed different aspects of Park Chung Hee’s authoritarian government, both journalists and lawyers came to the fore of the movement as the severity of state repression reached new heights. The chapters in Part 2 thus detail the differential impact of state repression as it led to the demobilization of some movement groups while politicizing others.

The diversification of actors participating in antigovernment protests triggered important changes in the democracy movement. The chapters in Part 3 assess how the movement evolved as dissidents adapted to new repressive measures by the state. In Chapter 6, I argue that state repression unintentionally motivated the development of protest strategies and the movement’s ideology. Because different groups relied on tactics that were specific to their own community norms, the demise of the student movement and the entry of new movement actors altered the overall character of the movement. Similarly, whereas the initial goals of the movement in the early 1970s revolved around democratic and economic reforms, new actors further diversified the issues that were raised in antigovernment protests. In short, the diversification of movement participants subsequently led to the diversification of their tactical repertoire and the discursive challenge that dissidents raised against the Yusin government. These developments, it is important to note, occurred when the overall number of protest events plummeted after the systematic repression of the student movement in 1974 and the promulgation of Emergency Decree 9 in 1975.

In Chapter 7, I explore an additional unintended consequence of state repression. The diversification of movement actors provided the opportunity to create alliances and coalitions, which in turn strengthened the solidarity of the movement. Movement solidarity was primarily driven by the repression strategies employed by the state against dissenting groups. The impact of outgroup contention on ingroup solidarity was evident in the formation of loose alliances between diverse sectors of the democracy movement. These informal alliances led in turn to formal coalitional organizations that brought together Christians, journalists, lawyers, laborers, oppositional politicians, intellectuals, and students. Some of the alliances first established in the 1970s, most notably between students and workers, set the stage for the important relationships that defined the democracy movement in the 1980s (Lee 2007).

In the concluding chapter I discuss the legacy of the 1970s democracy movement to South Korea’s democratization. Although the Yusin system ended with Park Chung Hee’s death in 1979, social movements active during his rule continued to have consequences for the democracy movement in the 1980s. Subsequent movements inherited from the 1970s several important pillars of mobilization, including a generation of leaders who came of age during the Yusin period, organizational models, and master symbols that defined movement ideology. This is not to overlook significant differences between activism in the 1970s and activism in the 1980s: the latter involved a process of radicalization after the shock of the massacre in the 1980 Gwangju Uprising (Lee 2007). The purpose instead is to remember that “perhaps movements are never really born anew. Rather, they contract and hibernate, sustaining the totally dedicated and devising strategies appropriate to the external environment” (Taylor 1989: 772). It is the hope of this book to tell the story of those who sacrificed much—and in some cases all—for the possibility of democracy in South Korea, and to give due credit to them for planting the seeds that matured into the vibrant civil society in South Korea today.


1. At the Cairo Conference (November 22–26, 1943) the United States, Great Britain, and China agreed that Korea, after thirty-six years of Japanese colonial rule, should be an independent nation “in due course,” but date and timing were not specified. Similar statements by the superpowers were made in Teheran (November 28–December 1, 1943), Yalta (February 4–11, 1945), and Potsdam (July 17–August 2, 1945).

2. Common narratives of social movements in post-liberation Korea emphasize state repression and authoritarianism in the 1970s, and sometimes skip over this decade altogether. For example, Kenneth Wells argues that “from the Yŏsun rebellions in 1948 to the 1960 student uprising and 1980 Kwangju rebellion, South Korea’s history has been marked by bloody clashes between military regimes and a disaffected populace” (1995b: 3).

3. The 1980 Gwangju Uprising consisted of protests that arose in the city of Gwangju, located in South Jeolla Province. Initiated by students at Chonnam National University against General Chun Doo Hwan, who assumed power after Park Chung Hee’s death in 1979, the struggle quickly escalated to include Gwangju citizens who took up arms against the encroaching military. To this day it is uncertain how many citizens were killed by the military during the struggle.

4. Unless otherwise noted (as in North Korea), Korea refers to South Korea throughout the book.

5. Some studies look at social movements in the 1970s but do not provide a comprehensive analysis of the democracy movement in that decade. Instead, they focus on specific groups, including Christian activists (Sunoo 1976; Kang 1997); on the relationship between Christians and the labor movement (Ogle 1990); and on the contributions of foreign missionaries (Stentzel 2006), women workers (Park 2005), and Chŏn T’aeil, whose suicide protest is discussed in Chapter 3 (Cho 2003).

6. Assessments of when the democracy movement “actually” began depend on the definition of democracy employed. In the activist community in South Korea today it is common to hear of the long history of the minjung movement. The Tonghak Uprising in 1894—the largest peasant uprising in premodern Korea—is often cited as the beginning of this history, which moves through the March 1, 1919, independence movement against Japanese colonialism, the 1960 student revolution, the 1970s anti-Yusin movement, the Gwangju Uprising in 1980, and the massive protests in June 1987. While this teleological understanding of Korean social movements contributes to a feeling of continuity, legitimacy, and moral justification, it also overlooks important distinctions between the different movements. It is not so much my intention to challenge this narrative, or to identify a starting time for the democracy movement, as to point out the distinct political context that gave rise to a sustained democracy movement in the 1970s.

7. Juxtaposing colleges and prisons, the latter representing the potential cost of political engagement, Ham Sok Hon writes, “That is why I call college a prison and prison a college. In college, rather than learning, people lose their good nature. In prison, people have the outside world completely taken away from them. Ironically, people only seek their God-given humble heart no longer influenced by the physical, because there is nothing else left” (Ham 1959: 192). Ham Sok Hon’s message was not an unusual one for the Sasangge Monthly: at around the same time that Ham’s article was published, Chang Chunha—the journal’s founding editor—demanded in the preface of the one hundredth issue that students “‘stand up against [the] injustice and immorality’ of the Rhee regime” (quoted in Robinson 2012: 14).

8. The reference to the “five bandits” in Kim Chiha’s poem was a play on the “five traitors” who were the officials of the Chosŏn Dynasty who signed the Ŭlsa Treaty of 1905, which made Korea a protectorate of the Japanese Imperial Empire and paved the way for formal colonization in 1910. The five bandits represent the network of corporate, government, and military elites who during Park Chung Hee’s rule were responsible for the oppression of the Korean people generally and of Korean workers specifically. In Kim Chiha’s words, the five bandits were the “ConglomerApe, AssemblyMutt, TopCivilSerpent, General-in-Chimp and HighMinisCur” (Kim 1970, translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé, available at, retrieved April 13, 2013).

9. Myung-Lim Park argues that the intellectuals writing in Sasangge Monthly in the 1950s, who became the first generation of “dissident intelligentsia” (2011: 373), initially supported Park Chung Hee’s coup in May 1961 because of their “staunchly anticommunist” political views.

10. After granting an interview in 2000, Yi Ujŏng passed away on May 30, 2002. Other prominent leaders, including Kim Kwansŏk, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea in the 1970s, have also passed away.