Why are Koreans so obsessed with education?




Exactly three years to the day after the end of the colonial rule of Japan, on August 15, 1948, the government of the Republic of Korea was inaugurated. Tens of thousands of spectators attended the founding ceremony of the government and followed the great, epoch-making event closely.

That day, the first President of Korea, Rhee Syngman, officially proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of Korea and promised to build a new country of peace and democracy. That was the beginning of the first republic and also marked the end of the three-year rule of the US military in Korea. The area south of the 38th parallel became the territory of the Republic of Korea.

The establishment of the Republic of Korea marked the beginning of a new era. Although the country was divided into two parts, people had great hope in this new era. Here is former independence fighter Jang Byeong-ha:

We finally had a legitimate government of our own. We were overwhelmed. We also had the expectation that Dr. Syngman Rhee would fulfill his responsibilities as president well. Emotions tumbled, people promised to work hard to build a strong, prosperous country. We had high hopes of building a prosperous country.

At that time the people hoped for a united and prosperous country. But the different ideologies that had spread across the peninsula since independence led the southern and northern parts of Korea in different directions as early as 1948.

On December 28, 1945, news of the decisions of a three-party conference of the Allies in Moscow reached the Korean peninsula. The foreign ministers of America, Russia and England had agreed that Korea should be under the trusteeship of four protecting powers for up to five years until Korea achieved its independence. History professor Park Chan-seung of Hanyang University in Seoul explains this trusteeship as follows.

During the Second World War, the United States had developed a protection plan for the Korean peninsula. That was what President Roosevelt proposed at the time. The decision on the trusteeship was made at the meeting of foreign ministers in Moscow in December 1945. The Soviet Union wanted to shorten the duration of the patronage at the time, and the three powers then agreed on a duration of five years for the trusteeship. However, they had never agreed on specific decisions on how this trusteeship should be carried out.

This news threw the whole peninsula into an uproar. For the Koreans, who have only just got rid of the Japanese occupation, protectorate was another form of colonial rule. There were no ideological differences in the resistance to the trusteeship. First, local government officials declared their opposition to the decision and prompted the population to hold protests across the country.

But with the new year 1946 the situation changed. Out of the blue, the left camp in South Korea agreed to the trusteeship. This unexpected situation led the country into chaos again. This went so far that the ceremony to celebrate the independence movement of March 1st, the first since independence, was carried out separately by left and right.

The confrontation between the right and left grew worse over time. During the March 1st celebrations in 1947, violence broke out between the two sides, killing 16. Meanwhile, the joint Soviet-American commission for the establishment of a transitional government broke up, and the Koreans' hopes were gone. History professor Park Chan-seung explains more about this.

The only way for the two Koreas to establish a joint government and prevent division was for the joint commission to succeed and for American and Soviet forces to agree to form a unified Korean government. The commission held two meetings in Seoul in 1946 and 1947, but the two sides agreed not on how the trusteeship should be carried out, but rather on which social and political groups in Korea should be allowed to discuss the trusteeship to participate. The rift resulted from the Soviet Union's selfish plan to set up a pro-Soviet government on the Korean peninsula while the US had the same idea of ​​enforcing an America-friendly administration. For this reason, the work of the joint commission was doomed to failure.

While South Korea was embroiled in ideological conflict, a groundbreaking change also occurred in North Korea. Kim Il-sung, who had come to Pyongyang in a Soviet army uniform in September 1945, quickly built up his own power base. Professor Lim Hyeong-jin from the Humanities Faculty at Kyung Hee University in Seoul tells us more about it.

North Korea was ready for Kim Il-sung. In September 1946, one year after the liberation, he founded a people's committee that served as the basis for the North Korean variation of a socialist regime. After the land reform of 1946, land was given away free of charge to farmers who hadn't previously owned one. So it was only natural for people to welcome Kim Il-sung. His regime already laid the material foundations for a socialist country. While Syngman Rhee was preparing to come to power in South Korea, Kim Il-sung was already purposefully and thoroughly taking power in North Korea.

It was becoming increasingly clear that the Korean peninsula would soon be divided. When the joint commission was in the process of being dissolved, the US passed matters on the Korean peninsula to the UN, and an inter-Korean referendum was scheduled for February 1948. But North Korea refused entry to the country for UN inspectors to watch the vote. South Korea then passed an electoral law for parliamentary representatives in March of the same year.

On May 10, 1948, South Korea held its own parliamentary elections, the first democratic parliamentary election. 198 representatives were elected for the National Assembly. Here is Hanyang University history professor Park Chan-seung again.

The elections on May 10, 1948 were the first parliamentary elections in Korean history. Other countries suffered many setbacks before general elections became commonplace, but Korea did not face such difficulties, elections were held without any gender or class distinction from the start. This type of implementation had been planned by the Provisional Government since 1919. At that time, the Provisional Government had ordered that parliamentary elections should be held in the event of independence. And so it finally happened in 1948.

The government was founded immediately after the elections. The National Assembly elected Rhee Syngman as its first speaker on May 31 and promulgated the constitution. Rhee was elected first President of Korea in an indirect election on July 20, and the era of the Republic of Korea had finally dawned on August 15, 1948.

The establishment of the Republic of Korea was remarkable in many ways, but most importantly, the first free and democratic election was a popular one. It was the will and the expression of the people to have their own government. Despite resistance and opposition from some political factions, most Koreans favored the formation of a legitimate government.

With the support of the people, the government set about resolving some pressing social and economic issues as soon as it was inaugurated.

The first task of the government was land reform. At that time about seventy percent of the total population was made up of farmers, more than half of whom worked as tenants. Land affairs had to be settled quickly for the country's economic development. The new government began reforming immediately after its inauguration in September 1948. As expected, there were large protests from the landowners, but the government continued with its plan. The land reform law was promulgated in June 1949 and enforced in March of the following year. To do this, the government bought land from the landowners and sold it on to the farmers. Thanks to these reforms, countless farmers got their own piece of land.

Another ambitious government project was educational reform. It started with the construction of new schools. Between 1945 and 1952, almost twice as many primary schools were built as before 1945. In December 1949, the Education Act was revised and six years of free primary schools were made mandatory for all citizens.

The government firmly believed that education was the only way to overcome the humiliations suffered by the people during Japanese colonial rule; it also seemed like the most profitable and safest investment in the future. The Koreans saw that schools should produce young intellectuals in order to erase the traces of the Japanese imperial school system.

On October 3, 1949, the ceremony for the founding of the state of Korea took place on Mani Mountain on Ganghwa Island. This event was particularly significant because it showed that Korea had finally found its way back to the old lore that began with dangun and gojoseon and that the Japanese imperial government had tried to eradicate; in addition, Korea found its own national feeling back.

In response to the establishment of an independent government in South Korea on August 15, 1948, North Korea proclaimed the Democratic People's Republic of Korea the following September. A country that represented a people, a nation for more than a thousand years was divided into two parts, each ruled by a different ideology. From now on, the two Koreas should each go their own way until there was no turning back. The dream of a united country was over, but south of the 38th parallel, new hopes and expectations grew since the inauguration of the new government.

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