National Museum Of Korean Contemporary History

Special Exhibition

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Special Exhibition

People in Numbers: Korean Contemporary History from the Perspective of Population

National Museum of Korean Contemporary History 3rd Floor Exhibition Hall

Aug. 20th, 2021(Fri) - Nov. 21st, 2021(Sun)

  • Price : Free
  • Hours :10:00 – 18:00
    Opening hours will be extended to nine o’clock in the evening on Wednesdays. (Last admission is one hour before the closing time.)
  • For additional inquiries call : +82-02-3703-9200

Opening the Exhibition



The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History launches its second special exhibition for 2021, "People in Numbers: Korean Contemporary History from the Perspective of Population."

It is hard to believe that Korea, where one of the biggest concerns up until the early 1970s was a soaring population and social problems it entailed, is now grappling with a population decline and the aging demographics. Academic research and policy measures to tackle population issues are still a matter of keen public interest as they were in the past. What takes top priority, however, should be to ensure that all members of our community enjoy happiness and wellness in their own places.

The special exhibition "People in Numbers: Korean Contemporary History from the Perspective of Population" takes a closer look into the numbers and what they tell us about people. It will offer a precious opportunity to look back and ruminate on different population issues that arose in each period in the modern history of Korea and to draw lessons before we can map out our own future.
People 100
Statistics on population issues are usually complicated and hard to make of. With this video representing Korea as a village of 100 people, however, demographics become much easier and more enjoyable. What kind of village and villagers would they look like? Would they look mostly the same as we are now? The 100-villager model provides us with a simplified, easy-to-grasp statistics and helps us compare Korea's demographic trend with that of the rest of the world.
"Give Birth Thoughtlessly and You Will be Forever Poor": Population Explosion
The population spike in the late 1950s brought home the importance of family planning. At first, the private sector took the initiative focusing on education and counselling. In the 1960s, international organizations and foreign institutions began to provide support to family planning. The Planned Parenthood Federation of Korea (currently Korea Population, Health and Welfare Association) was set up in 1961, a year before the government began to mount a strict family planning campaign as part of its effort to achieve modernization and economic growth.
  • 2-1Just in 10 Minutes: National Census The first nationwide census in Korea was conducted in 1949, a year after the Republic of Korea established its own government. Since 1960, "General Population Census" has been performed every 5 years, representing our presence in figures. Thanks to the census, we can look into the life stories of so many different people from these numbers here today. It always takes only 10 minutes a person to take the survey, but the way it is carried out has changed over time, with more advanced tallying devices and survey forms and better-quality gifts for respondents. The evolution of census in itself offers many interesting stories about Korean life.
  • 2-2Seoul is Packed. The total fertility rate of Korea in 1960, standing at 6, was one of the highest among the least developed countries. (Total fertility rate refers to the average number of children a hypothetical cohort of women would have at the end of their reproductive period.) At that time, Korea's annual population growth rate was 3%, and the population would have doubled in 23 years if the trend had continued. The dire demographic projections were compounded by the mass migration from the countryside into urban areas, particularly into the capital, Seoul.
  • 2-3Crossing Borders The Korean government began to officially promote emigration in 1961. The earliest recorded emigration backed by the government was a group of 92 farmers into Brazil in 1962. Much more people had to leave Korea for several different countries as dictated by the government.
    Some Koreans, however, were sent overseas even before that. Hard on the heels of the Korean War, war orphans and the "mixed-blood" children began to be exported abroad for adoption from 1954 onwards. The subject of this "baby export" shifted to children of single mothers. It is estimated that no fewer than 200,000 children were adopted into families overseas. It is an unprecedented scale outflow when compared with the total number of births during the same period. While the adoption from abroad did have an element of humanitarian relief for war orphans, its dark side laid bare the deep-rooted obsession with the so-called 'pure, legitimate blood' and the poor human rights record in Korea.
"Make no distinction between sons and daughters. Give birth and Raise Well Just Two Children": Sex Ratio Imbalance
Family planning started in the 1960s, but only in the 1970s did it begin to see tangible results. The most noticeable impact of the policy was a sharp fall in birthrate and population growth rate until the early 1990s, but it came with side effects. Traditional preference for sons, when combined with the family planning scheme, fueled the indiscriminate abortion of female fetuses, leading to a staggering sex ratio imbalance.
  • 3-1"Floral Shoe for Men, Pearl for Women": The House of Birth Control "Floral Shoe for Men, Pearl for Women." What sounds like a campaign slogan is in fact an advertising copy for contraceptives. Kotsin(Floral Shoe) was the name of a male birth control device, and Jinjoo(Pearl) was the trademark of a female contraceptive pill. The phrase was posted on both sides of the training halls in "The House of Birth Control," a place for birth control education and contraceptive procedures set up in every county and city around the country by the Planned Parenthood Federation of Korea.
  • 3-2Are Girls born in 1990(White Horse in Chinese Zodiac) Condemned to Have Cruel Fate? The growing sex ratio imbalance began to raise the alarm in Korean society in the 1980s. There were too few female babies for too many male infants. The problem was exacerbated as people generally expected to have fewer children than in the past and the preference for sons persisted. The imbalance peaked in the mid-1990s and continued well into the early 2000s.
  • 3-3Birthrate and Population Policy (by the courtesy of Korea Population, Health and Welfare Association) Times change, as do values and ideas. The changes, in turn, affect birthrate and demographics in general. Ultimately, family planning and population policy need to keep up with them. The tone and expressions found in family planning slogans in each period bore out changing trends, while illustrations and photos presented alongside help us imagine how people at that time lived and what they dreamed of. Here, you can not only take a look at actual slogans and posters of the past, but also create your own posters.
Cafe 100: The Age of Centenarians, and of Lifelong Singles
At Cafe 100, we share our stories about staying single for life, delaying marriage, aging society, low birthrate, and a growing number of foreign residents now standing at 2.2 million, etc. What kind of future will our individual choices as a whole eventually create? You are most welcome to share your thoughts and ideas.

Epilogue. It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.

Behind the apparently lifeless figures in demographics are vivid life stories of real people. They say it takes a whole village to raise a child. Life is not just about birth and death, but more importantly about building relationships. That is all the more reason for us to put our heads together to tackle population issues and to plan our future. We hope that this special exhibition "People in Numbers: Korean Contemporary History from the Perspective of Population" have offered you a chance to learn how Korea's demographics have reached where they are now, and to brace yourself up for whatever future that lies ahead of us.
Primary exhibition materials
1.Slogan: “Give Birth Thoughtlessly and You Will be Forever Poor” 2.Punched Card System 3.The National Population and Housing Census Table 4.Incubator 5.Promotional Poster for Family Planning 6.Newspaper Article: “Sterilization Surgeries Popular for the Preferential Treatment for Apartment Residency” 7.Family Planning Tutorial 8.Happy Home First Issue 9.Family Planning Calculator and Perfect Contraceptive Dial 10.Ultrasound Diagnostic Equipment 11.Housing Lottery with Promoting Family Planning 12.What If a Man Could Also Conceive? Would You Still Have As Many As You Want? 13.One Child Per Family Enough to Overcrowd the Whole Nation 14.How to Raise Together and Support Each Other