College of Liberal Arts
BA in History
The 1980s in South Korea were defined by political factionalism and constant protest. The brief ecstasy afforded by the assassination of the dictatorial president Park Chung Hee in 1979 gave way to disillusionment with the policies of his successor, Chun Doo Hwan. Throughout Chun’s term, he sought to subvert popular perceptions of his authoritarian illegitimacy he earned through the bloody military coup with which he obtained power. Chun hoped to justify his presidency within the contexts of 1) the 1987 presidential election, wherein the country would witness its first peaceful transfer of power in the post-war era, and 2) the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which were to be hosted by South Korea for the first time in the country’s history. Chun attempted to use these two events to both threaten and placate his opposition throughout the decade. In my examination of this period, I will dissect Chun’s addresses to the nation in order to understand how he unsuccessfully sought to divert the blame for social division and unrest to pro-democracy demonstrators throughout the decade. I will also illustrate that, through the demonstrators’ unyielding tenacity in the face of Chun’s policies of suppression, aided by the pressures of international attention ahead of the Olympics, Chun’s dissidents successfully achieved democratic concessions from his administration ahead of the 1987 election.