Believe it or not, this is part 2 in my history of the development of Korea.
So gather ’round, because today, little children, I’m going to tell you the story of the Dictator and the village.
During the Korean war, the president was Syngman Rhee, who, all told, was a wanker. He was outrageously anti-communist, which is why the American’s liked him, but he was also completely pro-me. In other words, even though the American’s had hoped to see democracy spring in Korea, what they ended up with was another life long dictator. By 1960 the Korean people were sick of him, and gave him the boot. He was rescued by the CIA and was set up in Hawaii. After Rhee there was a shortly lived republican government, then a coup by Park Jung Hee.
President Park was another strongman, but this time he had some vision. He rounded up the usual suspects, a group of gangsters and mob breakers, and handed them the countries future on a plate. These baddies were such players as the presidents of Hyundai and Samsung. Both companies later grew into massive global organizations, all backed up with Park’s money. There was more then just corruption though, President Park actually meant to build a country, and he did. He forced a highway to be built from Seoul to Busan, and pushed Korean soldiers into the Vietnam war, where they basically fought as American mercenaries, bringing home the dough to help propel their country. During this period he started a moved called the ‘new village’ movement.
The basic goal of this program was to build modern infrastructure in the country. Seoul had electric street cars in the 30s, but most of Korea in 1960 was still mud and wattle huts. President Park planned to change this. He gave each village a few hundred tonnes of free concrete. Then, the next year, whomever used the concrete best would get more. This lead to be building of industries, and a revolution in the countryside. The mud and wattle began to disappear, as newer (though still very traditional) concrete houses began to spring up around the country.
Though these villages abound in the countryside, few remain in the cities. The houses were all traditionally designed, with small outbuildings surrounding a center courtyard and closed in by a large gate. These courtyards were the heart of the old villages, where all the veggies were dried (Korean food involves a lot of dried foods), games were played, life was lived.
But, as President Park was fated to be killed by his right hand man (who feared that Park was becoming a megalomaniac) the villages were troubled. Thanks to Parks massive reforms, underhanded business dealings, the extra-ordinary efforts of the common working man and woman, and plain dumb luck, Korea started to boom. With a modern boom comes urbanization, and the death of villages. Though there are still tens of thousands of ‘new villages’ spread across Korea, the inhabitants are almost all ‘silver citizens’. Korea is now one of the most urbanized countries in the world, and men who still make a living on the farm find it almost impossible to attract a Korean wife. 52% of rural weddings in South Gyeongsang province last year were Korean/S.E Asian weddings. Rural men are finding it easier to acquire a foreign wife who is willing to farm than a modern, urban Korean girl. The fate of the Korean countryside is in question.