Demystifying the Park Chung-Hee Myth: Land Reform in the Evolution of Korea?s Developmental State

Jong-Sung You

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    The developmental state literature emphasises the importance of state autonomy and capacity, with a particular focus on a Weberian type of meritocratic bureaucracy. Existing studies of South Korea's economic development generally credit Park Chung-hee for establishing such a state. This article questions this assessment with careful process tracing of the development of a meritocratic bureaucracy in the country. The findings suggest that the contrast between the predatory Rhee regime (1948-1960) and the developmental Park regime (1961-1979) has been exaggerated. Meritocracy in South Korea's bureaucratic recruitment and promotion systems developed gradually over several decades, including during Rhee's regime as well as the short democratic episode (1960-1961). What then explains the evolution of a developmental state in Korea? This article suggests that land reform contributed to not only creating social structural conditions favourable to state autonomy but also promoting the development of a meritocratic bureaucracy by propelling rapid expansion of education and by mitigating the extent of political clientelism.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)535-556
    JournalJournal of Contemporary Asia
    Volume47
    Issue number4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2017

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