Korea: Background Sketch
Murray J. Leaf
South Korea's recent economic growth, like that of Taiwan and Singapore, is a challenge to the idea that development requires pluralism.
Land and People:
South Korea occupies about 45 percent of the Korean peninsula. Its land area is 98,955 square kilometers, and its population is about 38 million. The population density is thus about 384 per square kilometer. Most of the terrain consists of low but steep mountains. Densities of farm population per hectare of arable land are higher than Indonesia, Taiwan, or Japan. Just 22 percent of the area is arable. Of this, about two-thirds is under paddy and the remainder under upland crops. Following paddy with a winter crop, such as rape, is most prevalent in the southeast, especially the Naktong River valley of North Kyongsang province and South Kyongsang province. Soils are generally acidic, and wet rice farming requires large annual fertilizer and organic inputs to maintain production.
Of the non-arable land, 67 percent is classed as forest, but only about 30 percent of this has more than very small trees. Three fourths of the forest is owned privately, the rest is owned by national and provincial governments. Forests are now managed informally by village groups to supply fuel for heating and cooking. Forests also supply wild nuts, mushrooms, arrowroot, medicinal herbs, and vegetables.
Koreans, North and South, see the present political division of the peninsula as temporary and consider reunification necessary and inevitable. The idea of Korea as a national and ethnic entity goes back to the Koryo dynasty (918-1392 A.D.), which emerged out of struggles between three tribal/regional kingdoms. The dynasty established a national civil administration based on examination along the lines of the T'ang administration in China and supported the development of Buddhism by giving grants of land to monasteries and accepting monks as advisors at court. Analogous to historically related changes in Japan at about the same time, ruling families or clans of the tribal kingdoms solidified into a national aristocracy who supplied the military and administrative leadership, and the Buddhist monks. The rest of the population were ranked as either commoners (peasants, merchants, and craftsmen) or "outcastes," cho'onmin, consisting of slaves, bondsmen, criminals (sometimes whole villages). Families of the different classes are described as living in geographically distinct areas and in distinct types of households.
The Koryo dynasty was weakened when a military coup in 1170 began a period of aristocratic conflict and peasant rebellions. It declined further when the collapse of the T'ang dynasty allowed Mongol encroachment. In 1259 the northern part of the country was incorporated into the Mongol empire. The southern part became a tributary state, and the Koryo royal line was integrated with the Mongol ruling family through the intermarriage of Koryo kings and Mongol princesses.
Koryo regained its autonomy when the rising Chinese Ming Dynasty (1366-1644) cut off Mongol control. At that point, two aristocratic factions developed: one favoring continuing ties to the Mongols, the other favoring Ming. "The issue was resolved in 1388 when the pro-Ming group, led by General Yi Song-gye, seized control of the government. In 1390 and 1391 he destroyed all land registers, confiscated all private estates, and instituted a new landholding system. The economic backbone of leading Koryo families was effectively broken." The succeeding Yi dynasty (1392-1910) established a new system of land tenure. There was no private ownership; all land was state land. Individuals merely held it and paid rent, according to their position in the state. The basic rent to the king was, initially, 10 percent of the crop and a fixed annual rent (in grain) depending on the grade of the land. If there was an intermediary, this rent was still due to the king; the intermediary would collect much more from the actual farmer, usually well over 50 percent. The actual farmers (peasants) were made liable for the tax in groups of five within villages; if one person (family) of the group did not pay, the others would have to make it up. At the same time, farmers and their lands were registered by village, forbidden to leave their village, and required to carry a plaque showing the registration at all times.
The Yi bureaucracy was formally divided into the yangban (literally two-class) system -- civil and military. The civil was ranked higher, to quell the military adventurism that had characterized the preceding period. The military class could contain commoners. Confucian learning was given greater emphasis and Buddhism less -- in part probably to reduce the power of the monasteries. Only persons of the aristocratic class had the right to sit for the examinations to qualify for the national administration. But at the same time, unlike the comparable samurai under the Shogun system in Japan, the yangban remained able to own land. Yangban status could linger with a family for generations after the last actual person in that family had served in office.
Office-holders were allocated land according to rank, in what is called the "status-land" system. There were eighteen ranks in the central government service, and shares in land ranged around 2 to 3 hectares. More was not required since the land was only for subsistence, and not to maintain troops. Local government was also staffed with yangbans, who were also paid with allocations of land in their areas, but unlike the central staff they were not regularly rotated between posts to prevent connecting their offices to local interests. Landholding tenure for all officers was for life only, except that if an officer-holder died and left a widow and children, they would be able to retain the land until the children were grown or the woman remarried. The rent was a fixed 50 percent of the crop, and the yangban was not liable for the ordinary tax paid to the king. Peasants who actually farmed the land and paid the rent had a right to remain without possibility of being dispossessed. The system has obvious ambiguities that invite private expropriation. It was intended to be supervised by the state, and for that reason was confined to the area around the capital, Seoul. Supervision was complicated, however, by the fact that there was not actually a blanket prohibition on other types of superior owners apart from the king and office-holding yangbans, particularly in remote areas. There was a class of "military land" consisting of estates carried over from the preceding kingdoms, and land could simply be acquired with or without benefit of law and farmed with tenants, bondsmen, or slaves, so long as the king's share was paid. Repeated reforms aimed at breaking up estates of yangbans and reducing excessive rents show that the system continuously eroded and had to be restored.
In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi attacked Korea as part of his effort to consolidate power in Japan in what would become the Tokugawa Shogunate. The war lasted until 1597. Manchu invasions followed in 1627 and 1637, and the Yi dynasty became a vassal state of the Ch'ing (Manchu) dynasty in China, beginning a policy of isolation, with limited openings only to Japan, that would be maintained until the mid-19th century. Then, the Yi dynasty was ended by substantially the same forces that brought down the Ch'ing dynasty itself: the rise of Western power, including Japanese power after the Meiji reformation, and the inability to reconcile Confucianism and the privileges it defined for the administrative class with the need for modern government to incorporate scientific and technological expertise. In Korea, this was compounded by the persistent inability of the ruling class to control its factionalism and pursue something like national interests.
Yangban factions were groups of families forming alliances to gain power at court and advantage in the countryside, down to the village level. They could interfere with royal decisions, and their interests were often opposed to those of commoners. For example, they opposed various fiscal reforms including tax based on actual yield rather a fixed amount based on a theoretical yield. They did not protect the guarantee of security for tenants. They resisted the use of the Korean vernacular when a Korean syllabary was developed. As David Steinberg puts it: "Official Korea in this dynasty was essentially a yangban enclave, and this group..., or whatever faction of it was in power at the time, severely curtailed the theoretically absolute power of the monarch. Relatively small at first, this group began to expand rapidly some centuries later, until it constituted more than 20 percent of the population." 
After the Sino-Japanese war, the Treaty of Shimonoseki placed the Yi monarchy under Japanese hegemony. This was followed by the Japanese government dictating a series of administrative and military reforms, paralleling Japan's own Meiji restoration. These included the introduction of a Western styled cabinet government fundamentally similar to that of Japan itself (based on a German model), elimination of the Confucian civil service examinations, and abolition of slavery. The Japanese victory in the subsequent Russo-Japanese war allowed the Japanese to establish a protectorate, and the 1905 Taft-Katsura agreement paved the way for annexation.
In 1910, Korea was formally incorporated into the Japanese Empire. The Japanese Cabinet established a Bureau of Colonial Affairs with authority over Korean problems and a Resident-General was sent to Korea. On August 22, 1910, under a Treaty of Annexation, "Japan acquired complete sovereignty over Korea and assumed responsibility for its entire government and administration... Henceforth Koreans were to be subject to Japanese rulers and to Japanese law". The administration was under military command, but the staff were largely civilian.
The Japanese policy was to build up the Korean economy with capital investments, but obliterate its cultural and organizational autonomy. The Japanese administration had far more Japanese per capita and attempted to exercise far more detailed control of Korean life than in other colonial systems. In the 1940s, the Japanese had 704,000 civilians and 179,000 military personnel in Korea." They developed substantial hydroelectric facilities together with the industry that relied on them. These were important to the developing Japanese war effort. Korean annual economic growth between 1911 and 1938 averaged 3.5 percent, compared to 3.4 percent in Japan. In that same period, manufacturing rose by 10 percent per year (from an infinitesimal base). In contrast to many colonial powers, Japan did not import primary products for processing from Korea but instead established processing facilities in the colony.
They also took over and reorganized agriculture: "massive amounts of the best Korean arable land were alienated to the Japanese, who were encouraged to emigrate to Korea. Korea was important as a rice exporting region to make up part of the deficit that the main islands suffered. The Japanese invested in agricultural science, and built a system of agricultural extension support into their reformed local government, which was retained and ultimately provided and important support for Korea's agricultural growth. But ... Korean consumption actually declined, since about half of rice production was exported to Japan and this was only partly replaced by coarser grains, such as barley and millet." 
In 1908, the Japanese had formed the Oriental Development Company on the model of the British East India Company to encourage investment and emigration. The company bought untitled, crown, and military land, gaining control ultimately of about 154,000 hectares and 300,000 tenant farmers. At its height it owned about 20 percent of Korea's arable land. This accumulation was greatly facilitated by an extensive eight year land survey that began in 1910. The survey forced registration of all land, assigning rights of ownership to individuals for the first time, and also for the first time showed exactly how much land was actually available. Under this procedure, if a farmer was paying rent to a yangban the yangban was taken as the owner. If the farmer could establish he was not paying rent, he could be taken as the owner. But if the farmer was paying rent directly to the king, and said so, the land was taken as "crown land" and the Japanese Government, as successor to the monarchy, became the owner directly. The Japanese also nationalized more than 4 million hectares of village and grave forests and turned them over to Japanese companies..
"By 1930, 75% of farmers were in debt, and three-quarters of that debt was to Japanese financial institutions. Tenancy and partial tenancy became the norm; some 12 million people (2.3 million families) were tenants, paying exorbitant rents. There was migration out of rural areas; in 1925, 2.8 percent of such migrants went to Manchuria and Siberia, 19.9 percent to Japan, and 46.4 percent to Korean urban areas, where living standards were also low." Koreans were pressed to work in Japanese war industry. From 1937, they were encouraged to enlist in the Japanese military. From 1942, they were conscripted.
About eight secondary schools with modern curricula and one college had been built in Korea by Western Missionaries (mainly American and British) in the last decade of the Yi dynasty. But the Japanese built the first modern school system on any scale, primarily for their own immigrants but also for Koreans. In 1919 42,767 Japanese children were attending 379 schools in Korea. At the same time, 84,8306 Korean children attended 498 public and 33 private schools. In 1945, there were 1,366,024 Koreans in primary schools and 83,514 in secondary schools. By 1978, the number of primary students had increase 2.27 times, and the number of secondary students nearly 20 times. The Japanese contribution, however, is remembered with bitterness because of the role of the schools in Japan's program to "obliterate Korean History, Language , and even personal names in an effort to integrate Korea culturally in the ... Empire." The Japanese Government banned use of Korean in schools in 1938.
The colonial administration used the yangban for its own ends, and some could benefit from the occupation. In the early years, the Japanese created seventy-six Korean peers to reward cooperation. One third to one quarter of the student body of Keijo Imperial University was open to Koreans; other Koreans who had money were educated in Japan, and ambitious but poor commoners went into the Japanese army.
The colonial period ended with the surrender of Japan in 1945, followed immediately by the de facto division along the 38th parallel. South Korea came under the same Allied area command that had responsibility for Japan and the Philippines. But Japan was a surrendered belligerent and Korea was a liberated colony. As a result, while the United States had a legal mandate to reorganize the Japanese political and economic system and remove those features that had lent themselves to the rise of totalitarianism and militarism, its mandate for Korea was only to restore it promptly to independence. Thus Korea passed into the post war period with a governmental structure much more like that of war-time Japan than the governmental structure of Japan itself.
Steinberg sums up: "The legacy of the Japanese colonial period remains vibrant today. Korean laws and administrative regulations are largely holdovers from the Japanese (who in many cases adapted them from the Germans.) Japanese modern farming, irrigation and, agricultural research services formed the basis on which Korea was able to expand and modernize its rural sector. Japanese industry, taken over at the end of the war by Korean entrepreneurs who had held relatively junior positions in those firms, sometimes became major Korean corporations. In 1945, the Japanese left behind in Korea substantial corporate assets. The leading 2,000 firms were worth some $4.6 billion. Sixty-eight percent of these firms were owned by Japanese; 27 percent were under joint Japanese-Korean control, but with the Japanese predominant; and only 5 percent were completely Korean-owned. Educated Koreans over fifty speak Japanese, having been schooled at least through primary level in that language. In contrast, the North Korean leadership claims legitimacy partly on the basis of its anti-Japanese activities."
Important Japanese institutions that carried over into post-war Korea included "the Bank of Chosen [Korea], the system of secondary school education, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the secret police, the Agricultural Bank, and the complex of experimental farms and agricultural extension service facilities at Suweon...."
Since Independence, South Korean political and social life have been dominated by three interrelated conflicts: the struggle with the North for military superiority and moral/political legitimacy, the struggle of some yangban to reestablish a class hegemony and dominate the government (which other yangban have opposed), and the continuing formation of factions within Korea that reflect opposed policies toward the strategic position of Korea between Japan and China and, beyond them, the United States and Russia.
The First Republic of Korea was established on August 15, 1948, with Syngman Rhee as president. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea was instituted on September 9, 1948. Both claimed to be the government for all of Korea. United States troops were withdrawn in June of 1949. North Korea attacked in June of 1950.
One of the main initiatives of the American Military Government had been land reform. Military Government Ordinance Number 9 set the annual rent limit at 1/3 of previous levels. All land owned by the Japanese was vested in the government-owned New Korea Company for redistribution pending approval of a scheme by provisional Korean government. Attempts to approve legislation in 1947 and 1948 failed to pass the Legislative Assembly. So "In March 1948 United States Military Government Ordinance No. 173 dissolved the New Korea Company and transferred the lands to the newly established National Land Administration to be distributed to former tenants under a two-hectare ...limit, at a price of 150% of one year's production to be paid over a fifteen-year period. While the land was being paid for, the new owner could not sell it. Over 90 percent of those lands, amounting to 606,518 acres, were so disposed of."
The land reform act of 1950 which followed was "to distribute the remaining Japanese holdings and to break up the large, private Korean landholdings that were being established." Although the Korean War intervened during implementation, it probably assured success "because it made it difficult for landowners to consolidate their opposition and gave strength to the proprietary claims of those former tenants who stayed on their land while it was being fought over and because implementation greatly served domestic propaganda purposes." The government was to purchase all holdings in excess of three hectares and all land not being farmed by the owner himself. Absentee ownership became illegal. About 30 percent of all arable land was ultimately redistributed by the time the process was completed in 1957. Observers agree that the land reform was a major reason why governments until the 1960's could rely on rural complaisance even though rural people remained poor. Land reform eliminated the yangban as the dominant rural landholding class.
The war caused enormous physical destruction. North Korea lost "over 11 percent of its population; in the South there was massive dislocation and death."... "In Seoul, 80 percent of the industry, public utilities, and transport and three-quarters of office buildings and half the dwellings were destroyed.. Gross national product...fell by 16 percent, agricultural production declined by one-quarter, and the meager standard of living deteriorated."
Rhee had refused any agreement to end the Korean War that left Korea divided, and South Korea was not a signatory to the truce of July 27, 1953. Rhee finally agreed to a cease fire only on condition that the United States sign a bilateral defence treaty with the South and greatly expand the Republic's military capability.
For Rhee's entire term, the government failed to agree on a constitutional form. Rhee came to office under a constitution with a strong presidential chief executive. The opposition-dominated National Assembly wanted to replace the president with a parliamentary cabinet. Rhee forced through amendments calling for popular election of the president and then a lifetime presidential term. Elections and legislative politics were notoriously corrupt and civil liberties increasingly disregarded. Finally, widespread civil unrest after the 1960 elections led to his resignation.
Steinberg describes economic policies of Rhee period as "a poor record of growth, a virtual absence of economic planning, an intense effort to manipulate the foreign aid program on which Korea relied, rapid inflation, and unrealistic multiple exchange rates that diverted entrepreneurial talents from production and exports, ... toward speculation." United States aid in this period provided more than 1/3 the national budget. Rhee deliberately avoided stimulating agriculture, which he feared might strengthen his political opposition. Rather, his policies were to keep producer prices low--often below the costs of production. U.S.PL-480 food assistance was used to bridge the gap for the urban population Farmers accordingly produced only for subsistence. Nevertheless some government agencies did begin planning efforts that later bore fruit, including the Ministry of Reconstruction and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
The Second Republic was a nine-month interlude that saw more than 2,000 demonstrations with 900,000 participants. The government returned to a parliamentary system, but conflicting power-blocs would not compromise. "The press was free, often given to license and irresponsibility, even blackmail. The hope that had initiated this period gradually deteriorated into dismay."
The Third Republic began on May 16, 1961, when a military coup deposed the elected government, dissolved the National Assembly, and established the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction headed by Major General Park Chung Hee. Park quickly became de facto head of state. The military government set a program to replace themselves with a civilian government, founded the Democratic Republican Party in which most of the military officers were later to run as civilians, and laid the bases for an increasingly totalitarian administration. These included a large scale administrative reorganization including local government. They also established the Korean Central Intelligence Agency as a comprehensive secret police organization for both internal and external surveillance.
In 1962, the government adopted its first five year plan. It called for "unbalanced" growth with heavy emphasis on electric power, agriculture, and "social overhead capital." Private industry would carry it out. Park encouraged the formation of industrial conglomerates, called chaebol, on the pattern of the pre-1945 Japanese zaibatsu, with the difference that banking stayed with the government Bank of Korea. The government then controlled the chaebol by providing or denying subsidized credit. Growth in the first plan period exceeded targets in all areas except agriculture. 1962 saw an upturn in Korean economic growth that continued to accelerate. In the late 1960's an important area of growth was in fertilizer production, for which there was a ready internal market.
In 1963, Park was narrowly elected president of the new civilian government.
In the elections of 1971, the opposition won 89 seats to 113 for government. The election showed the government's rural support had eroded. At the same time, PL 480 had been changed from a grant to a loan program. Paying for the grain to make up Korea's production deficit was a serious financial drain. The government responded with a substantial increase in rural investment and with saemaul undong, as will be described in the next three chapters.
On Oct 17, 1972 the Fourth Republic was begun when Park (following Marcos' example in the Philippines) declared a national emergency and martial law "which essentially gave him unlimited power." Park's new (Yushin) constitution was ratified in Nov 1972 in national referendum. Under it, the president, elected indirectly by secret ballot without debate by a "National Council for Unification" had unlimited tenure and substantially unlimited power. Steinberg characterizes it as "The most centralized, autocratic, and dictatorial regime in Korean history."
In the mid-1970's, partly in response to improved relations between the U.S. and China and the prospect of reduced U.S. military support, the government under president Park's direction began a costly program to develop heavy, chemical, and defence industries for internal use and for export. The program "required extensive borrowing from abroad, and it created excess industrial capacity that could not be gainfully used at that time. Financial institutions were saddled with debts at impossibly low interest rates... for which there was little or no economic return. Excessive inflation returned, and by March 1979, the Korean government and the president personally recognized the need for a painful economic stabilization program... In October, however, before this program could be implemented, Park was assassinated, causing further economic dislocation and necessitating major structural adjustment in the economy, for the subsidies to heavy industry and agriculture could not be sustained." 
After Park's death, Choi Kyu Ha became interim president and efforts began again to liberalize the constitution. These were cut short, and the Fifth Republic initiated, on December 12, 1979, by a coup carried out by General Chun Doo Hwan. On May 18, 1979, demonstrations begun by students grew into what came to be known as the Kwangju rebellion. It was put down by special forces troops, with a death toll perhaps as high as 2000 (opposition figure). "The Kwangju rebellion seriously impaired any sense of legitimacy that the Chun regime might have hoped to have. The United States was severely damaged by it as well, for the popular impression was that all Korean forces were ... under U.S. leadership. Although [actually]... the special forces and certain other troops were excluded...." Subsequently, anti-US sentiment and resistance to government continued to rise, as students and labor unions joined forces.
Despite these difficulties, in 1984 Korea's overall balance of trade shifted from negative to neutral. It went positive in 1986. The balance with Japan has remained consistently negative, however, because of Korea's continuing reliance on Japanese parts to use in assembled goods exported to third countries. Its trade balance with the US has been positive since 1982.
Continuing large-scale opposition led Chun on June 10th, 1987, to designate Roh Tae Woo as his successor. Then, "In a move that stunned much of the government ...as well as the opposition, Roh announced on June 29 that the government would agree to the direct election of the president and that political liberalization would take place, with stringent laws terminated, political prisoners released, and the political rights of [opposition leader] Kim Dae Jung restored. Two days later President Chun endorsed this plan."
In this election, the opposition split their vote and Roh won with 36 percent of the ballots. The Sixth Republic began on February 25 1988, with Roh Tae Woo as President. The Government had 125 seats and opposition 174 seats. It is too soon to see where it is leading, but outside observers are hopeful. "Forces in Korean society have gained the strength to move Korea from merely exercising the trappings and forms of democracy to allowing some of the content associated with it. As Korean society changes, more stress on plural values and institutions, less hierarchy, and broader representation are likely."
In the Republic of Korea, as in pre-1945 Japan, local government and police are both under the Ministry of Home Affairs. The country is administratively divided into nine provinces (do) and two special cities, Seoul and Pusan. Eight of the nine provinces date back to the Yi dynasty. The ninth, Chejudo Island, was created after 1945.
Provinces are subdivided into counties (kun) and cities (si). Kun and si are parallel units. Counties (kun) in turn are divided into towns (up) and townships (myong), which are also parallel. The difference depends on population. myong are smaller and more rural. Both can contain agricultural lands and both have the same basic administrative offices including police, agricultural services, and market facilities. The townships (myong) in turn are groupings of villages (ri or li). Cities are divided into communities or wards (ku) which are subdivided into blocks (dong).
Villages (ri) are of three types: natural, administrative, and legal. The natural village is a distinct cluster of households. Because of the constraints of the topography, these are generally irregular and variable in size and shape, being placed wherever sites can be found in a convenient relation to the householders fields. Organizationally, they are of two major types: single clan villages and multi-clan villages. In the former case the villagers all have a commonly accepted hierarchy of family relationships based on descent, and in the latter case they do not.
The administrative ri and the legal ri both go back to the Local Government Law (also translated as Local Autonomy Law) of 1949. The administrative village is a grouping natural villages with a number of officially recognized village chiefs equal to the number of natural ris that make it up, although the natural ris themselves are not officially recognized units.
The legal village is cadastral, defined with the intention of facilitating development. It consists of an exclusive set of lands owned by a set of persons in a village. But because people own widely scattered plots which need not all be by one cluster of houses, delineations were complicated and irregular, and the units have not proved useful. Legal ris have no heads.
In the Yi dynasty, the hierarchy was simpler and the natural ri was a functional unit of government. Do governors and kun chiefs were appointed from the central civil service. Governors were rotated every 360 days, and kun heads every 1800 days. The latter were assisted by a staff, also yangban, but of a local and not central service. The myong was a subdivision of the kun and the lowest appointed officer was at the myong level. His function was primarily liaison; he had no decision-making power. Parallel to him was a myong chief who was elected from the myong itself, and below him a similarly elected ri or dong chief in each natural ri or dong. Ri and dong chiefs were selected by consensus of household heads, and managed the village commons, or common properties. These commons were of two types: material and social. Material common property included such things as water works, communal land, and forests. Social common property included village ceremonies and five set forms of collective action. These were the ke, dong ture, (ordinary) ture, pumasi and hyongyaku. Ke, the only form that still survives, was simply a group of people who agree to obtain some consumption good and share it. It was consumption oriented and purely voluntary. Dong ture, by contrast, was a compulsory levee of labor and money (rice) on each household in the ri for maintaining collective productive works, such as village weirs, wells, and the like. Each household (except those with widows and small children only) would be require to provide one adult male and a certain amount of money for a set amount of time. Labor went into the work, and the money was used to feed the workers and to provide compensation for the households of the poor who would not benefit from the work as much as the wealthy. Ordinary ture and pumasi were labor pooling arrangements, where a group of farmers (stereotypically) would agree to pool their labor for operations that are best done in groups, and again money would be used to compensate those who might have less land for the extra work they would have done for those who had more. The difference between the two arrangements was that pumasi was seasonal or task-specific, and ture was for a year or several years. Finally, hyongyaku was an obligation on the wealthy people of the village, stereotypically yangban, to maintain a school, a famine reserve, and other such things that ordinary people could not normally contribute to. The ri chief would initiate and coordinate such activities, and resolve disputes; the myong chief was primarily concerned with coordinating collective works involving more than one ri and with settling disputes between ris --on the location and size of weirs and the like.
In the Japanese period, Japanese largely replaced Koreans in the appointive hierarchy, although Japanese-trained Koreans did eventually move upward, particularly in the military and police. By a series of changes, local administration came to be focussed on the myong. In 1931, myongs were classified into myong (more rural) or yu (same as up; more urban). Both were provided with elective bodies, who tended to be largely Korean balancing the largely Japanese appointive administrative staffs and somewhat compensating for the elimination of the formerly elective myong chief. At the same time, however, the ri and dong were eliminated as autonomous juridical units, and the common material properties they formerly had controlled were legally transferred to the myong or up. This necessarily also removed the legal or state recognition of the material basis of the common social properties that had been used to maintain them--although the local community's use-rights continued to be recognized and they continued to appoint their respective chiefs and maintain their properties informally. At the same time, the colonial government introduced the rather vaguer concept of "village works," maul fuei, to cover much the same area as don ture-- namely local labor conscription to maintain public properties, but in this case not village properties so much as government properties near villages, like portions of highways.
In 1946 the American Military Government issued an order making the ku head and ri head elective, but this lapsed under the Rhee administration. The Local Government Act of 1949 established elective councils for each level of government, but this too was without effect. Officials down to the myong level continue to be central government appointees.
The current organization dates from the "Temporary" local government act of 1961, which made "local" government still more remote from natural communities. The Act integrated up and myong as subdivisions of kun, and the kun became the lowest autonomous governmental level. Since under the Japanese reforms of 1931, the material common properties formerly owned by dongs and ris had been absorbed by ups and myongs, these same properties were now vested with the even more remote kun head.
Prior to 1945, villages normally contained both peasant and yangban families. Large yangban landholdings were common. Yangban landlords, although often wholly or partly resident in the cities, would leave relatives or managers in the village who would also serve as village heads or as senior councilors to such heads. Land reform largely resulted in the former large landowners leaving the villages, as did many of the poorest families. The larger landowners left because they lost their land; the poorest because they were unable to buy it and the cities offered relatively greater opportunities. The major beneficiaries of the redistribution were middle-class peasants, who remained in the countryside. Since government reforms did not recognize the natural village officially, they had no direct bearing on the relative power of yangban at the village level in these changing circumstances. Generally, village leadership since land reform has depended mainly on seniority in the clan system. It is most rigid in single clan villages, and most flexible in multi-clan villages.
Agricultural Support Organizations.
There was no organized governmental support for agriculture under the Yi dynasty, apart from some concern with irrigation works after the 17th century. The Japanese administration attempted to build a modern agro-industrial system using large-scale and heavily capitalized farms in Korea which they could not build in Japan because of the fragmented holdings and greater limitations on the use of central power. The agricultural program was concentrated in the south, as industrial development was concentrated in the north, but it was mainly in the hands of immigrant Japanese. The large farms were broken up in the land reform, but the infrastructure and support system largely remained in place.
The modern agricultural support system has four recognized "pillars," which developed and fell into place slowly and with many false starts in the period since independence. These are the system of local government (under the Home Ministry), the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (under the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries), the Rural Development Authority (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries), and Saemaul Undong (Home Ministry).
The Rhee administration, at American urging, initiated a wide range of agricultural support/rural development organizations, including 4-H, Community Development, and Cooperatives, but these were generally failures for the usual reasons associated with authoritarian administrations. The 4-H organization, for example, was treated by Rhee "as the youth wing of his Liberal party....But the Korean 4-H leaders rarely strayed from their offices, the members were not asked to do much beyond rallying for political sloganeering and to denounce Rhee's enemies, and thus ruralites..treated the movement indifferently...." Community Development, notable as the first rural program to use resident village level workers (who were mostly college graduates), was focused directly on enhancing local development capabilities. But the villages initially selected were exceptionally favored by infrastructure (roads and markets) and were generally one-clan villages. The workers and resources devoted to them were unrealistically rich. So the program quite naturally failed to reproduce its initial success when the government attempted to replicate it with the more usual level of resources on a kun-wide basis rather than village by village. Cooperatives were corrupt, and the act which established them did not allow them to offer credit. Lending was reserved exclusively to the Farmers' Bank, and nothing compelled the two organizations to cooperate. Extension, in Korea called "guidance" (which more accurately reflects its top-down, directive character), was reestablished in 1957 after the military government had shut down the Japanese system. It was "seen more favorably by farmers because it was in fact apolitical, but for that same reason was treated indifferently by the central government".
The reorganizations of 1961 and 1962 resolved many problems within and among the various agricultural support organizations, but at the same time made them even more wholly responsible to the central government and more remote from local communities. Cooperatives were merged with the Farmers Bank as the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation. The NACF provided a full range of functions including lending, advising, purchasing, storing and selling of products, and joint purchase of chemicals, equipments and other supplies. At the same time, the organizational level was moved up from the up or myong level to the si or kun. The primary cooperatives, formerly at the ri level, were moved to the myong. NACF now supplies about 95 percent of all rural credit, at subsidized rates which are lower for activities to which the government assigns higher priorities. It also administers the government food-grain procurement program under the Grain Management Fund, which was established in 1960 to buy rice and barley at legislatively mandated and usually relatively high farm prices and redistribute it at lower subsidized prices to urban markets.
The president of the NACF is appointed by the President of the Republic, under guidance of Minister of Agriculture, and the organization follows the government hierarchy. The President of NACF is assisted by both an elected assembly and an administrative board on which sit representative of the Ministries of Agriculture-Forestry and Finance and of the Bank of Korea. Parallel organizations exist at each level down to kun. The rules of the myong level primary cooperatives are determined by the government and not by the membership.
Other new laws consolidated and coordinated the other previously established programs under the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. In 1961, president Park announced the National Reconstruction Movement, and it was apparently in this connection that the Community Development program was transferred from the Ministry of Construction in the same year. In 1962, the Rural Development Act brought in the extension functions, which had been administered outside the general government, and the integrated organization and program was labeled the Rural Development Agency. New do Agriculture Promotion Bureaus consolidated the functions of the do Agriculture Bureau, various sorts of agriculture and forestry laboratories, and do Community Development. City or kun Rural Consulting Centres consolidated the consulting programmes on farming and life improvement, Community Development, sericulture, and livestock farming. Coordination with other offices of local government was assured by links at the top between the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Home Affairs, while coordination with the NACF was assured because the NACF was itself under the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. In this way, a single administrative system for rural development was realized. In 1963, the dong and ri Standardization Programme which had been under the Ministry of Interior was also transferred to the Rural Development Agency and expanded to operate as a holistic Rural Consulting Program.
In 1969 the Rural Development Agency introduced the use of Resident Consultants. In this program, units of 2 to 3 dongs and ris grouped together and designated a person to serve as a resident consultant to work in collaboration with the itinerant consultant of the kun unit. These resident consultants were trained at a 7 week specialists' course organized at the national level and sent to 317 districts, one for each district, in order to introduce modern farm management, improve the agricultural structure, rural life and environment, and assist the district's residents to organize themselves so that they would be able to formulate and implement their own local social development plans. Unquestionably, the rural support structure and "guidance system" which all of these changes created was effective at developing sound technical advice (within the context of central government policy) and getting it to farms throughout Korea. Nevertheless, the outlook at the end of the 1960's was not good.
Although agricultural productivity rose in the 1960's, particularly after 1963, it was not enough to keep pace with demand. Grain imports were 12 percent of domestic production in late 1960s and rose to more than 20 percent in the early 1970s. President Chun repeatedly called for self-sufficiency in food-grains. Increasing demand reflected increased urban populations, but since these populations were largely made up of migrants from rural areas, there was less labor available on the farms to do the work. After the mid-1960's the farm population began to decline in absolute as well as relative terms. Agricultural growth had been only about 2/3 of industrial growth in the first plan, and in the second plan period had been only 1/5. The gap between urban and farm incomes had widened. A further shift of people to cities was foreseen, worsening both urban living conditions and rural labor problems and increasing the production gap still further. The government recognized that the unbalanced growth plans had left too little support for agriculture, and concluded that it had to invest much more. The third five year plan (1972-76) emphasized balanced growth, but up to that point the record did not provide a great deal of assurance that simply increasing spending was going to solve the problems.
This is the setting into which saemaul undong was introduced.
Saemaul Undong, or "New Community Movement":
The exact motivation of the start of Saemaul Undong is disputed. It is accepted that from October 1970 to June 1971 the Government distributed 335 bags of surplus cement at its own expense to each of Korea's approximately 33,000 mauls (villages--same as natural ri). Prior to the delivery, the government had the myong chiefs inform ri chiefs it would be coming. The government directed that the cement should be used for improvement of economic infrastructure, without further instructions. On delivery the cement was simply unloaded from a truck and left. Afterwards, the myong chiefs, at the regular meetings, asked the ri chiefs if it had arrived. There was, apparently, no mention of "saemaul undong" in that connection, although according to official accounts president Park had announced or proposed the inception of the movement at a provincial governors meeting the previous April. Responses were roughly of three types:
(1) Economic infrastructure development, as was directed...under the existing traditional leadership and labor mobilization;
(2) Welfare environmental development, such as drinking water well, public laundry, and drainage building...; and
(3) Not for particular projects. Cements were sold out to outsiders and village people spent the money for drinking and feasts among them.
Some of the villages that had used the cement returned to the government in the following year with a request for more -- plus reinforcing rods. Later official accounts describe the initial distribution a pre-conceived experiment to test peoples' responses. The alternative view, which is consistent with more facts, is that the surplus was unexpected and the government gave it to the villages only in preference to other forms of disposal. Whether or not the connection between the distribution and the previous announcement or proposal of saemaul undong was made then or later is uncertain. (President Park's quoted statement is only that rural life could be improved, and that governors and concerned officers should study how to do it.) In any case the reaction caught them by surprise. According to those that were there, what was created was indeed a "movement."
Two things happened at the central level in response to the requests for more cement. First, after asking local officers to check and receiving back a count that about half the villages had indeed used the cement (not worrying about how), 16,600 of the first group of villages were designated as having shown "self-help spirit" and were told they would receive 600 sacks of cement and a ton of reinforcing rods in 1972, which they did. When it was delivered, the myong chiefs told the village representatives that more would follow in the next year as well, for villages that made good use of it. Again, this was an entirely oral and informal procedure, and no one said in advance what such use had to be. This was not the way the government usually worked.
The second thing that happened, to quote the official account, was that:
"The Saemaul Undong Central Consultative Council was organized under the chairmanship of the Minister of Home Affairs, with the vice-ministers of all the concerned ministries and agencies as its members. Similar organizations were established at each successive level, i.e., province, county, township, and village. Saemaul Leader's Training Institute was opened in this year. At the same time, a strong political support was given to Saemaul Movement by President Park Chung Hee who "made a special announcement in October 1972 that "Saemaul projects should receive the highest priority of all the projects of the government.""
The result, it seems, was a kind of development fever. The local officials were suddenly pressed from above and below to help things happen without only the barest guidelines on just what those things should be. Villagers, at last, could identify their own needs, and equally importantly they did not have to bother with things they did not want. It seems that what got the most local support were just those kinds of small projects that a few people can undertake and that produce a substantial benefit for everyone, injuring none -- like a common laundry area, improved sanitation, or better well. Such things, precisely because they produce diffuse benefits for all, are the most difficult to raise money for in ordinary circumstances in a poor community, but the easiest to find political support for. Very often, they are things which affect most closely the work women normally do. And finally, such things need not require the power or influence which a local notable might have with those higher up. They are a natural vehicle for new leaders with energy and initiative to assert themselves.
It is clear from the official documents of the time that the first three years, at least, were formative. The government was running hard to keep up and understand what was happening, but did not have full control. In 1972, a national Saemaul Leaders Training Institute was opened -- to instill the spirit of "diligence, self-help, and cooperation," under the personal leadership of a charismatic former high school principle well known as an advocate of the moral value of rural life. The curriculum was necessarily unsettled, but concentrated on case studies and group discussion, which he led personally. In 1973, Saemaul offices were established in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Commerce and Industry, and Education. In the same year, National Reconstruction Movement of 1961 was officially dissolved. In effect, the saemaul undong was seen as having succeeded it as a more effective way to mobilize the same official organizations, and the less "top down" approach of the saemaul undong was widely recognized as what had made the difference in effectiveness.
Also in 1973, it was determined to expand the program back to all villages in Korea. To do this villages were classified as 1) underdeveloped (also called basic) (total number 18,415), 2) developing (also self-help) (total number 13,943), and 3) developed (total number 2,307). Note that the latter two numbers add up to 16,000-- which is to say about the same number that received cement in the second round. That is, the "underdeveloped" villages were those that had not yet done anything or asked for more; the others were those that had. For the first, it would be the responsibility of the Ministry of Home Affairs, alone (in the person of the myong chief), to stimulate some effort to make the kind of improvements in the general "living environment" that the first villages had undertaken. Once villages did this, they were deemed to have saemaul leaders, whoever they might be and however they might have arisen, and such leaders were then encouraged to organize and go to the other ministries for further projects, focussing mainly on infrastructure for the "self-help" villages and income generating projects for the "developed". At the same time, because of the change in national plan priorities, much higher levels of subsidy were available for these programs, and the saemaul coordinating committees continued to stimulate and compete with the other government agencies with whom they had overlapping areas of concern, such as the RDA, just as they encouraged villages to compete with each other in making improvements.
In 1975, partly in response to the oil crisis, saemaul undong under president Chun put increased stress on regimentation to meet targets set by the national government, such as vigorously pressing farmers to grow more high yielding rice and double cropping (which led to a 1.4 percent drop in rice production in 1979 followed by a 34 percent drop in 1980, greatly reducing farmers willingness to respond to such urging).
In 1976 a 378-page book of formal application guidelines was published by the Saemaul Undong Central Consultative Council. This required "detailed" statements of objectives, quantitative targets, work schedules, statements of methods of implementation, statements of local support , statements of how supervision and evaluation would be carried out, statements of how the benefits would be divided, and so on. Concurrently, the government began placing much greater emphasis on saemaul training as propaganda to mobilize internal support, and began its continuing program of advertising the movement internationally as a symbol of its development effectiveness. The original founder-teacher of the training program had left, and the curriculum had become fixed and bureaucratized. It is not possible to know whether the naive paternalistic tone that now runs through the institute's case studies (repeatedly suggesting that before saemaul undong village poverty reflected only mental and moral inertia and lack of a "self-help spirit") was there from the beginning or reflects the inclusion from 1974 of the "social elite" and government workers in the program, but is difficult to see it as useful to very many actual village leaders. Thus 1976 seems to mark the end of saemaul undong as a true popular movement and its institutionalization as an administrative program. But the program still retained distinct marks from its irregular birth and continued to be an important vehicle for rural development.
The saemaul undong occupied the gap which had been created by the withdrawal of the agricultural support system upward from the village level. In effect, it connected the concerned agencies back to the village level through the mechanism it provided for recognizing both the natural village and the new leadership within it, and it backed this recognition with very substantial subsidies.
"The government had early abandoned the uneconomic village level cooperatives, consolidating them at the myong, so saemaul moved direct government intervention back into the villages. The program was placed under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs and in the early 1980s was headed by President Chun's younger brother (who was in 1988 charged with corruption).... By 1986, $9.3 billion had been spent on it since its inception; of this amount, $5.5 billion came from the government, the remainder from the villagers. ... [The] saemaul movement appointed leaders, who were often young and vigorous and were not part of the traditional village elite pattern. It set goals for material accomplishments; attempted to stress moral regeneration, loyalty to the state, and obedience to authority; acted as a type of local tax agency; and allocated labor requirements by family. There was scarcely a village that lacked an action plan, in military, flip-chart form, indicating the annual objectives for village improvement.
[From the distribution of cement] the program expanded to include the elimination of grass roofs and the construction of bridges and culverts, village access roads, and latrines; it has also improved farm production and animal husbandry. It implemented what may be the most extensive and effective national reforestation program in the world... It is later stages, it sponsored the mass building (with subsidized loans totalling $747 million) of 306,000 improved units of new, Western-style housing of dubious aesthetic qualities. It was broadened to include a rural factory movement of more than seven hundred plants. For the most part, that factory movement failed, but the saemaul movements in the early 1980's were expanded to include urban factories, schools, and workplaces."
" ...villages have had more opportunity to control their destinies under the saemaul movement than at any point in Korean history. The saemaul movement, by providing status to young, non-traditional leadership, has been one of the most effective means of destroying the traditional yangban-oriented social system...."
Yet this is still not the whole picture. Supporting all of this were substantial, indeed unsustainable, state investments that greatly increased the incentives for market oriented initiatives at the farm level.
During the 1970's the government raised the price of paddy from below world market prices to more than double them, while protecting the market against imports. But by 1984 the program for rice and barley had accumulated a deficit of $1.7 billion. Subsidies for fertilizer added another $700 million. Further subsidies included the operation of uneconomic village-level bus routes. Structural adjustment policies had been implemented in the early 1980s, and subsidization dropped while inflation reduced the protection rate. However with the presidential election of 1987, the government again promised to increase produce subsidies for rice by 17 percent, to answer opposition cries for improved rural living conditions.
Concurrently, an extensive highway building program had ended rural isolation and provided market access. In 1958 Korea had only 503 miles of paved roads. In 1985 there were 12,445 miles. Electricity reached virtually every village, and television, refrigerators, and telephones had become common. Sixty-eight percent of all households had piped water.
Korea's development has benefitted from its comparatively small size, geopolitical position, highly educated population, and thorough administration, but each of these has also created problems. It has received substantial development assistance and private investments (mainly from the United States and Japan, respectively) that have closed what otherwise would have been disastrous gaps between imports and exports and between internal expenditures and receipts. It has been able, in about the last twenty years, to show vigorous agricultural growth. Korea's agricultural development makes the case that an authoritarian government can use its international position to buy internal support or at least reduce opposition to manageable levels, and it can improve rural living. It shows such a government can do more with inducements than threats. But it does not make a case that such government are more efficient than those that promote more genuine local control and concentrate more on guaranteeing individuals freedom to decide their own productive priorities on the basis of resource prices closer to sustainable world market levels, any more than it shows that the lack of progress in Korean agriculture prior to the mid 1960's was due to lack of a work ethic or spirit of self-help, rather than clear negative incentives from inappropriate policies and programs.
Saemaul undong received a favorable response from rural people. The attractiveness of the subsidies were clearly essential to this response, since fundamentally it evolved into a program for using subsidies effectively. But it is certainly also relevant that saemaul undong contrasted sharply with the much less effective National Reconstruction Movement that preceeded it in being one of the few programs where resources were made available outside of the established system of control, where new leadership channels were encouraged, where villages had a wide range of options in specifically what to do, where it was actually possible to exercise a local veto on programs that were not wanted, and where local people could select projects, particularly local infrastructure projects, that were seen as providing general benefits for all rather than benefits for some while injuring others. In effect, at least in its formative stage, saemaul undong allowed villagers to choose projects to fit their social circumstances and avoid those which did not.
 Apart from the cited sources, I am deeply indebted to Toshohiro Yogo of the UNCRD for written narratives describing Korean local government and land reform, and for reading previous versions of this sketch and providing extensive substantive comments and information on virtually all the points of the argument.
 The 1972 constitution was not offered as entirely new, but rather took the form of a series of centralizing changes to the governmental structure set out in the constitution of 1948, since that was the basis of United Nations' recognition. According, much of the previous organization, including the Legislative Assembly, was retained. The National Council was simply added to it. The Council, consisting of 2,359 persons, was elected on a supposedly non-party and non-partisan basis, and actually consisted in Park supporters. Park was Chairman of the Council, and also was the only candidate on the presidential ballot. The function of the Council was to deliberate on issues referred to it by the president, and to elect one-third of the 219 members of the Legislative Assembly, from a slate provided by Park. Vreeland op. cit. p. 149-150.
 These high prices are paid only for high-yielding varieties, in order to increase overall production, even though urban buyers prefer and would pay more for local varieties. AID Project Evaluation Report no. 52, p. 13.
 Ohama, Yutaka and Chul-Woo Lee. "Country Report: Korea" Theme A: Analysis of Policy Responses. Discussion paper for Workshop of Training and Research Project on Local Social Development, United Nations Centre for Regional Development. December 5-10, 1990.p.6.
 The 1976 program in the training program in Saemaul Undong Training Institute at Suwon offered a 103 hour course for village saemaul leaders and a 59 hour course for "Social leaders".The course was no longer limited to actual leaders but included the "social elite", businessmen, and politicians. Of the former, the breakdown of subjects and hours devoted to each were 47 hours for cultivation of saemaul spirit and national security and economy, 27 hours for project planning, 14 hours for case studies (all rural), 18 hours field trips, and 18 for group discussion. In the 59 hour course, the subjects were the same but project planning was eliminated.