National Museum Of Korean Contemporary History

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Permanent Exhibition

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Exhibition Hall 4 Korea's Advancement, a Leap to the World(1987~)

Fourth exhibit, entitled Korea’s Advancement, a Leap to the World, covers the period of 1987 to present.

Through economic growth and democratization the foundations of what was to come next were laid. In a period generally characterized by deepening globalization, South Korea has become increasingly confident on the world stage. At the same time, the issue of peaceful unification has remained a major concern.

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    The continued activities of democracy activists, who had coalesced around the Citizens Movement for a Democratic Constitution, combined with a general movement in society for democracy. The ruling group thus had no choice but to accept their demands, and with the Declaration of 29th June, democratic elections were instituted. Following this, an amended constitution drawn up with bipartisan support was put to the electorate and approved by an overwhelming margin. With this, voters were given the chance to elect their own president for the first time since 1971 - it had been 16 years. People power had ended authoritarian rule, and the 1987 Democratic Struggle became the first step toward the establishment of a political system that reflected the will of the people.
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    Constitutional amendments confirmed by the referendum included a directly-elected presidency. Thus, elections were held in December 1987. Attempts were made to unify opposition parties around a single candidate for the presidency. But in the election it was Roh Tae-woo, candidate for the ruling party, who won, presenting himself as a ‘normal person’ and ‘the candidate of stability’. Following the institution of direct presidential elections, new laws were put in place and old laws amended, including the Political Relations Act, the National Assembly Relations Act, and the Regional Autonomy Act, to expand the avenues of political participation for the citizen.
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    As political freedoms were claimed, there were growing calls for the expansion of basic rights. Moves were made to expand worker protections and freedom of the press, while a Constitutional court was set up to protect the basic rights granted by the constitution. Public hearings were held to root out corruption, while Hana Hwae (The Group of One) – a powerful secret organization inside the military – was dissolved, and a financial reform that required that bank accounts be registered under the actual names of account holders was introduced. A properly democratic system has emerged, the powers of the National Assembly have been enhanced, and with the introduction of open elections and expanded powers for regional governments, more opportunities have opened up for civic engagement in the political process. The growing popularity of Social Networking Services (SNS) has also directly affected how the people participated in the political process.
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    South Korea’s relations with the outside world also underwent changed dramatically in the late 1980s as the Cold War ended. Through a policy of Nordpolitik, beginning with Hungary, relations with socialist countries were normalized. South Korea also became an aid donor, having been an aid recipient, beginning with the provision of funds to the UN. At around the same time, it began to participate in peacekeeping missions in areas of conflict. The country has taken a leading role in forging consensus within international institutions on a variety of issues including nuclear security.
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    Sports have historically given confidence and raised the profile of the country worldwide. In 1936, the triumph of Son Gi-jeong in the marathon at the Berlin Olympics awakened national pride even amidst the sadness of having lost national independence. At the London Olympics in 1948, Korea participated as an independent state for the first time. The 1988 Seoul Olympics was an opportunity for South Korea, a country that had suffered the tragedy of the Korean War, to demonstrate its powers of determination. South Korea co-hosted the World Cup with Japan in 2002. The country was able to show the world just how far it had developed, not only by reaching the semi-finals but also with the enthusiasm of fans.
    With the hosting of World Athletics Championships in Daegu in 2011, and plans to host the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in 2018, South Korea will become only the fifth country in the world to have hosted all four major sports competitions.
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    Since the early 1990s, Korean TV shows have become increasingly popular in Asia. The so-called ‘Korean Wave’, interest in Korean mass culture, has also now spread to other parts of the world, including Europe and Latin America.
    The Korean Wave has gained momentum and spread quickly through the internet and SNSs. Interest in a wide range of things Korean, including the Korean alphabet and Korean products, continues to become more widespread. Dynamism, joy and harmony, basic sentiments that undergird Korean culture, came to be expressed through new mediums imported from the West, creating new kinds of culture that people from all over the world can appreciate. As a result, Korean Wave is contributing to global cultural diversity.
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    The shared efforts and sacrifices of the people, government and corporations were needed to overcome the economic crisis of the late 1990s known as the Asian Financial Crisis. The movement to donate gold to pay off foreign loans was symbolically powerful.
    Corporate restructuring enabled economic modernization, but it also led to new problems, including worsening social inequality and unemployment resulting from greater flexibility in the labour market.
    While overcoming the crisis, Information Technology became a key engine of growth. The IT industry continues to break records, often being ‘the first and the best’ and leading the way worldwide. There has also been much change in the world of leisure and in the enjoyment of culture. With the growth of the IT industry and the development of design technologies, e-sports and other leisure activities that utilize digital photography have become popular. There are also an increasing number of works, including novels, films and TV series that have been created with direct audience participation via the internet.
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    Today, there are 7 million Koreans living overseas in 170 different countries. In the early 20th century, Koreans left the country for Hawaii in order to escape Japanese colonial exploitation and poverty. In the mid-20th century, state-led migration and settlement led to increasing middle class emigration. Koreans living overseas, with particular ingenuity, have lived model lives and created roots. At the same time, with the growing pace of globalization, national borders are becoming less meaningful, while national bonds are becoming more important. Koreans living abroad are a face of the nation abroad as well as a bridge for country to reach out to the outside world. Working with Koreans living overseas will become a powerful force in the development of the national community.
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    As of 2014, there were 1.75 million foreign nationals living in South Korea. Since the late 1980s, the number of foreign migrant workers and marriages to foreign migrants has increased markedly, resulting in the gradual emergence of a multicultural society. Ethnic nationalism has been a key element of Korean identity for long time, but with the advent of a multicultural society, values of mutual understanding and cooperation have rapidly begun to emerge.
    Immigrants to South Korea, while maintaining their own cultural identities, need to make efforts to adapt to Korean society.
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    Since the late 1980s, North and South Korea have begun to see one another as partners rather than as antagonists. Beginning with the 7th July Declaration of 1988, and culminating in two summits between the leaders of the two Koreas in the 2000s, many efforts have been made to create a cooperative relationship between the two sides. Such efforts have resulted in the creation of a tourist resort at Mount Geumgang, an Industrial Zone in the North Korean city of Gaeseong, and many exchanges between civic organizations. But the North Korean nuclear issue, the Battles of Yeonpyeong and the sinking of the Cheonan mean that conflict between the two Koreas remains a reality.
    Since division, relations between the two Koreas have been characterized by conflict and tension, exchange and cooperation, but also the pain of families separated. In the sphere of inter-Korean cooperation, sports have had a positive influence, and valuable experiences have also been had. Peaceful unification will be a hugely progressive step for the future of the Korean peninsula.