Korea was a largely agriculture society until industrialization really started to kick in the 1960s. Land was traditionally owned by the king and granted to his subjects. Although some land was passed down by families from one generation to the next, land use patterns often varied greatly from place to place and were defined by murky legalities. The Japanese introduced standardized land ownerships laws. Farmers that could not prove ownership, even though their families occupied the land for generations, often lost it. may moved to the cities.

The technology of rice cultivation was brought to the northern parts of the Korean peninsula from China, probably late in the second millennium B.C., but rice became a staple of the Korean diet only in the Silla period (57 B.C.- A.D. 1392). The early settlers of Korea were predominantly agricultural, and their level of development was such that they built reservoirs and irrigation facilities. Rice farming in Japan is believed to have been introduced from Korea. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]

During the Koryo and Choson Period (936-1910) there were four rather distinct social strata: 1) the scholar-officials, collectively referred to as the yangban, who were often landowners; 2) the chungin (literally "middle people"), technicians and administrators subordinate to the yangban; 3) the commoners or sangmin, a large group composed of farmers, craftsmen, and merchants; and 4) the ch'ommin (literally despised people)," at the bottom of society. To ensure stability, the government devised a system of personal tallies in order to identify people according to their status. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

Peasants or farmers ranked higher than merchants because they worked the land, but the life of the peasantry was almost always difficult during the dynasty, and became more so later on. Most peasants were tenants, were required to give up at least half their crop to landlords as tax, and were subject to various additional exactions.

World's ‘Oldest’ Rice: 15,000-Year-Old Grains Found in Korea?

In 2003, South Korean researchers said they had found 15,000-year-old burnt rice grains at a site in South Korea, claiming it was evidence of the world's oldest rice and challenging the idea that rice was first cultivated in China. However, the evidence remains controversial in the academic community.

AFP reported: “South Korean archaeologists said they had found the world's oldest known domesticated rice, pushing back by thousands of years the recorded origins of Asia's staple food. Radioactive dating of the 59 burnt grains of rice found in central South Korea has pushed back the date for the earliest known cultivation of the plant to somewhere between 14,000 and 15,000 years ago, they said. “This discovery challenges the accepted view about where rice originated and how it evolved," said Professor Lee Yung-Jo of Chungbuk National University in Cheongju. [Source: AFP, October 22, 2003 \=] \=\

Dr David Whitehouse of the BBC wrote: Lee and Woo Jong-yoon of Chungbuk National University in South Korea found the ancient grains during excavations in the village of Sorori in the Chungbuk Province... DNA analysis shows the early rice sample to be different from the modern intensively farmed varieties, thereby offering scientists the opportunity to study the evolution of one of the world's principal food sources. The region in central Korea where the grains were found is one of the most important sites for understanding the development of Stone Age man in Asia. [Source: Dr David Whitehouse, BBC, October 21, 2003]

Carbonized rice grains, which were found near the Yellow River and Yangtze River in China and were considered to be the world's oldest rice, were dated between 10,500 and 11,000 years ago. Lee told AFP: “It suggests that rice may have also evolved in areas which are far north from there." Sorori is located between 36 and 37 degrees of latitude north. According to Lee, the excavations were made between 1997 and 1998 and again in 2001. \=\

Doubts About the 15,000-Year-Old Rice Found in Korea

Some researchers refuted the claim about the about the 15,000-year-old rice found in Korea In “The emergence of rice agriculture in Korea: archaeobotanical perspectives” an article published in “Special Issue: The Archaeobotany of Asian Rice.", Sung-Mo Ahn, wrote: “Argument for the earliest evidence of domesticated rice at the Sorori site, 15,000 years ago, is invalid. The evidence for rice cultivation in the Neolithic (Chulmun) is still insufficient although rice remains have been reported from a few late Neolithic sites in central-western Korea which dated to about 3000 B.C.. The existence of rice agriculture in the Bronze Age (Early and Middle Mumun: c.1300?~?300 B.C.), on the other hand, is demonstrated by the high percentage and/or frequency of rice remains among crops recovered from various sites, as well as through the numerous findings of paddy fields.

“Rice appears to have been introduced from the Liaodong region, China, while so called ‘southern diffusion route’ that the beginning of rice cultivation was first stimulated by influences from Southeast Asia or South China is no more valid. Charred rice remains recovered from the Bronze Age dwellings consist of dehusked clean grains and weedy seeds are very rare among samples containing rice grains, which could be related with the harvesting and processing methods of rice."

Land Reforms in the Early Chosun Period

The Koryo Dynasty had suffered from a number of internal problems; Yi and his followers implemented drastic reforms to place the new dynasty on firmer ground. One of these problems revolved around the deterioration of land administration, a basic issue in a predominantly agrarian society. Contrary to the law specifying public (governmental) ownership of land, powerful clans and Buddhist temples had acquired a sizable proportion of farmland. By exacting a disproportionate share of crops in the form of rents, the "landlords" were causing economic destitution and social discontent among the peasants. By illicitly removing the farms from tax rolls, these clans and temples reduced the government's income, thus straining the treasury. Yi had sided with reformists even before he took power, hence it was natural for him to rectify past inequities after ascending to the throne. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990*]

The reform of the land system, however, had direct repercussions on the practice of Buddhism, because Buddhist temples and monks had been among those exacerbating the land problem. The economic influence of the temples was eliminated when they lost vast lands. The rectification went beyond economic reform, however, because the dominant forces in the new dynasty were devout Confucianists who regarded Buddhism as a false creed. The fact that Buddhist monks had wielded a strong influence in politics, the economy, and society during the latter part of the Koryo Dynasty — and that many of them had been corrupted by power and money — strengthened the opposition to Buddhism. Accordingly, the new dynasty launched a sweeping attack on Buddhism and its institutions, an attack that had profound and enduring effects on the character of civilization on the peninsula.

Many of the outstanding temples were permitted to remain intact; indeed, a few Chosun monarchs were devout Buddhists. Nevertheless, Buddhism exerted little influence over the religious life of Korea under the Chosun Dynasty; nor did any organized religion replace it. Although many people adhered to shamanism, geomancy, fortunetelling, and superstitions, Korea effectively became a secular society.

On Land by Chong Tojon

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “By the end of the Koryo dynasty, arable land had come to be concentrated in the hands of wealthy families and powerful Buddhist temples, leading to a situation in which many people were forced to become tenants or to cease farming altogether.Land reform was one of the first priorities of Chosun founder Yi Songgye (1335-1408; later known as King Taejo), and as a result, in 1390, even before the official proclamation of the new dynasty, he had the old land records burned and proceeded to revamp Korea’s land ownership system. [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ^^^ ]

Describing the rationale for the reforms, Chong Tojon (1337- 1398), a Neo-Confucian scholar-official close to King Taejo, wrote: “In ancient times, all the land belonged to the state, and the state then granted land to the people; thus, all the land that the people cultivated had been given them by the state. There was no one who did not receive land, and there was no one who did not cultivate land. Therefore, there was no excessive differentiation between the rich and the poor and between the strong and the weak. Because all the produce from the land went to the state, the state was prosperous. [Source: translated by Yongho Ch’oe, “Sourcebook of Korean Civilization”, edited by Peter H. Lee, vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 576-578.

“But as the land system began to disintegrate, powerful individuals acquired more and land. While the land of the rich extended far and wide, the poor had no land even to stand on. The poor thus were forced to lease land from the rich to till. Even though they worked hard and diligently all year round, they still did not have enough to eat. The rich, however, did not cultivate their land and remained idle. Instead, they hired men to work their land and collected more than half of the yield. The government took no measures to alleviate the plight of the poor and did nothing to bring benefit to the state. Thus, both the people and the state became increasingly poor. It was this situation that gave rise to the theories of limited land and equal land. These theories are, however, no more than makeshift measures. The best land policy is for the state to grant land to the people to cultivate. …

“According to the land system of the Koryo dynasty, there were lands for royal descendants, government officials in active service, merit subjects, graduates of the civil service examinations, soldiers, and non.active officials. They maintained their living by collecting rent from these lands. The people who worked the land were allowed to reclaim new land for their ownership, and the government did not intervene. Those who commanded considerable manpower extensively reclaimed new lands; those who were weak and lacked manpower were obliged to submit to the powerful in order to lease land from them. After cultivation, the harvest was divided, half going to the landowner and half to the tillers. This was how there came to be two consumers for every tiller. The rich thus became richer and the poor poorer until the poor became unable to support themselves and were eventually forced to abandon their land and become vagabonds. It was these people who turned to petty occupations and, in extreme cases, even became thieves and bandits. Alas, how can one describe the evil effects of all this? …

“His Majesty King Taejo had personally witnessed the evil effects of this chaotic land situation while he was still a private person and was determined to abolish the private land system as one of his future missions. He believed that all the land in the country should revert to the state and should then be given to the people based on careful account, in order to revive the rectified land system of ancient times. But the old families and the powerful lineage groups, realizing that His Majesty’s plan would work against their interests, slandered and obstructed the plan with all the power at their command. Because of their obstructions, the people were unable to gain the benefits of this reform. It was indeed lamentable! His Majesty, however, together with two or three like.minded ministers, investigated the laws of the former dynasties, deliberated about what would be good for the present situation, and surveyed and measured all the land in the country in terms of kyol.1 [His Majesty then instituted the land reform in the year 1390.] He established court land, military provision land for state use, and office land for civil and military officials. Also, off.duty military men residing in the capital as guards for the royal court, widows remaining faithful to their deceased husbands, government workers in the local magistracies, postal station workers, and river ferry workers, as well as commoners and artisans performing public duties, have all been granted land. Although the distribution of land to the people may not have reached the standard set by the ancient sages, the new land law has restored equity and balance. Compared to the evil system of the former dynasty, the new land reform has brought infinite improvement.”

Land Reform

After World War II, the Americans redistributed land held by colonial Japan. In 1949, the South Korean government introduced land reform. People with titles to large landholdings were forced to hand most of their land over to the people who actually tilled it.

Land reform was carried out by United States and South Korean authorities between 1945 and 1950. The institution of private property was retained, but the American occupation authorities confiscated and redistributed all land held by the Japanese colonial government, Japanese companies, and individual Japanese colonists. The Korean government carried out a reform whereby Koreans with large landholdings were obliged to divest most of their land. A new class of independent, family proprietors was created. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

Until the Korean War, tenant farming was widespread in South Korea. The Land Reform Act of June 1949 was interrupted by Korean War (1950-53) and not fully implemented until after it was over. It limited arable land ownership to three hectares (7.4 acres) per household. All the land not absorbed by this directive was purchased by the government to be distributed among farmers who had little or no land. In the late 1980s, farms averaged 0.5–1 hectare (1.2–2.5 acres) in size. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

The land reform law of 1949 had a leveling effect on Korean society. Under this law, nearly 1 million sharecroppers, or approximately 40 percent of total farm households, became small landowners. The reform also brought about the decline of the landlord class that had formed the backbone of traditional Korean society for centuries. Because big business and industrial groups did not emerge until the late 1950s and early 1960s, almost everyone in society was placed on an equal footing.*

Saemaul Movement

The Saemaul ("the New Community") Movement, initiated in 1972 under Park Chung Hee played a major role in raising productivity and modernizing villages and farming practices. Saemaul was a dominant theme of the Park government in the 1970s and continuing in the 1980s. Schoolbooks were smothered in Saemaul sentiments and every South Korean was expected to sing the "Saemaul Song" with religious devotion every morning. One-and-a-half-minute propaganda films shown before feature films at theaters featured the song as well as Park standing before he Korean flag while the national anthem was played. Yes it had its propaganda elements but it also was embraced with great enthusiasm by rural South Koreans and largely successful in bringing higher agricultural yields and electricity and improving infrastructure, irrigation, communications, and transportation.: [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

The Saemaul Movement aimed to raise the standard of living in rural South Korea. It was instituted with great fanfare by Park in the fall of 1971. The movement was envisioned as a highly organized, intensively administered campaign to improve the "environment" quality of rural life through projects undertaken by the villagers themselves with government assistance. The bureaucracy, particularly at the regional and local levels, was mobilized on a massive scale to ensure that the program would be carried through to completion in all 36,000 villages. The initial emphasis was on improving village roads and bridges and replacing thatch with tile or composition roofs. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990*]

The momentum was maintained and increased in subsequent years as the Saemaul Movement evolved into a major ideological campaign aimed at the psychological mobilization of the entire country in support of "nation building." During the first two or three years, emphasis continued to be on improving the village environment, but later focus was shifted toward projects designed to raise agricultural productivity and farm income.*

As local government officials were jolted out of their traditional lethargy by the continuing insistence of higher authorities that essential services be delivered to farmers, the farmers began to have ready access to agricultural extension services, rural credit, and market information. The result of improved services and increased resource allocation was that farmers became more confident of their ability to improve the village environment through their own cooperative efforts and became more convinced of the usefulness of outside official help. As a result of the Saemaul Movement, about 85 percent of villages had electricity, and about 60 percent of farm households had television sets by the late 1970s. Some 85 percent of rural children continued from free, obligatory primary schooling to middle school, and over 50 percent of these middle school pupils were entering high schools. Many farmers also acquired modern amenities that had been available only to city dwellers just a decade earlier, such as sewing machines, radios, irons, and wall clocks.

The Archives of Saemaul Undong was placed on UNESCO Memory of World Register in 2013. According to UNESCO: The movement laid the foundation for Korea to grow into a major economy from one of the world's poorest countries. Saemaul Undong marked the first step in this remarkable journey. The experience of the Korean people in this process is a valuable asset for humankind. Between 1970 and 2011, some 53,000 public officials and village leaders from 129 nations visited Korea to learn about Saemaul Undong.

According to the South Korean government: “Korea today is one of the world's highly developed countries as well as a benchmarking model for many developing nations as it achieved rapid economic growth, much thanks to the Saemaul Undong Movement. This helped the country to step out from the list of the world’s poorest to a major player in the world economy in the present day. Laying a significant foundation, the world has also acknowledged this remarkable journey, introducing the process as a valuable asset for humankind to learn. The archives include presidential speeches, government papers, village documents, letters, manuals, photographs and video clips related to the movement conducted from 1970 to 1979. The Saemaul Movement has been emulated by countries in Asia and Africa. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization visitkorea.or.kr ]

Saemaul Movement in a Korean Village

On life in a Korean village, Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “The most revolutionary influence in the life of Kongnam-ni in the 1970s was the success of the government's Saemaul (or "New Community") Movement. The Saemaul Movement was President Park Chung-hee's response to the criticism that his administration was paying too much attention to industrialization at the expense of the farm sector, which was continuing to languish in poverty. The Saemaul Movement therefore was a national push to improve living standards at the village level. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

“Under the slogan "Diligence, Self-Help, and Cooperation" the government targeted many areas at once. For example, after having developed a national cement industry in the 1960s, the Park administration was able to give 300 bags of cement to each of more than 35,000 villages on the condition that it be used for community purposes such as irrigation, sanitation, and construction of buildings for common use.

“To improve transportation the government built more than 65,000 small bridges to make weather roads out of the tracks that flooded like the one leading from Poksu to Taejon. The layers of rice straw that thatched millions of Korean farmhouses were economically replaced with roofs made of cement tiles that did not rot in the rainy season, house innumerable rats and insects, and require laborious re-thatching every autumn. The movement also augmented the nation's rudimentary public health program by assigning government-paid doctors to small towns and villages, building health centers in places like Kongnam-ni, extending health education classes to villagers, and increasing the number of family planning and communicable disease control workers. Since much of the countryside was afflicted by waterborne diseases such as typhoid and cholera, the government pushed the construction of safe water supplies.

Agriculture Improvements and Training Brought by Saemaul Movement

Clark wrote: “The Saemaul Movement funded the digging of new wells that were away from the polluted water tables of the villages themselves and ran pipes to communal faucets and, eventually, into individual homes. Partly as a public health measure but mostly to boost production, the government invested in the production of two kinds of farm chemicals: pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer. Though the pesticides created pollution problems of their own, they cut down on the crop losses that were due to insects and rodents. The fertilizer, which was distributed at subsidized rates through the National Agricultural Cooperative system, replaced the manure that had been used through the 1960s and enabled farmers to continue growing two crops a year safely in many fields without completely depleting the nutrients in the soil. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

“The country's industrial development also spun off new products that proved essential for rising living standards in the countryside. The new plastics industry made vinyl sheeting available to farmers to use in two ways. They spread the vinyl on fields to hold in moisture and control pests while the plants themselves grew up through holes punched in the plastic, and they built greenhouses to grow high-profit vegetables during the colder weeks of early spring and late autumn.

“Another type of industrial product was the small gasoline engine that was adapted for use as a "mechanical ox," a gas tractor that could be hooked up to a plow, or hitched to a wagon, or connected to a pump, performing a variety of tasks more cheaply and efficiently than animal power. The mechanization process also led to the spread of more sophisticated machines to harvest and thresh the grain crops. One machine even took trays of new rice seedlings and transplanted them in wet rice paddies row by row, ending the ordeal of having the villagers line up in water up to their calves and bend over to push the seedlings into the mud one by one. But the most important agricultural innovation of all was the development of a new kind of high-yield rice that dramatically increased the country's annual grain output and enabled the growing population to retain rice as its staple food. Increased production meant rising farm income without a rise in prices in the market. The new rice strain was accompanied by increased efficiency as Saemaul Movement workers showed farmers how to share resources through coordinated planning and cooperative work.

“The government set up training institutes and cycled thousands of farmers through classes on organization and leadership. The central training institute in Suwon started training in 1972 with 150 village leaders from across the country and by 1988 was training more than 20,000 a year. Koreans regard the Saemaul Movement as a great success. The cooperative elements of the movement were translated into urban projects as well. Though critics complained that the training institutes were dispensing a kind of government propaganda that limited the vision of Korea's future to one industrial-style model, the exposure of professors, businessmen, judges, and religious leaders to the cooperative ethic of the Saemaul Movement seems to have contributed something to an evident national determination to work together to overcome long odds. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

“Without the government-led development of community spirit, one wonders, for example, if Korea's spectacular success in reforestation would have been possible. On a daily basis one notices improvements in community consideration: respect for people ahead in a line for tickets or taxis, an end to spitting on the sidewalk, less shoving, less littering, and slightly better driving. High in the mountains of central Korea, the economic modernization of South Korea and the Saemaul Movement brought revolutionary changes to Kongnam-ni. The roads that fork in the center of the hamlet were paved, and more than a few households own private cars, a thing that could not have been imagined in the 1970s.

Agriculture in South Korea in the 1980s

At the start of the economic boom in 1963, the majority of South Koreans were farmers. Sixty-three percent of the population lived in rural areas. In the next twenty-five years, South Korea grew from a predominantly rural, agricultural nation into an urban, newly industrialized country and the agricultural workforce shrunk to only 21 percent in 1989. Government officials expected that urbanization and industrialization would further reduce the number of agricultural workers to well under 20 percent by 2000. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

South Korea's agriculture had many inherent problems. South Korea is a mountainous country with only 22 percent arable land and less rainfall than most other neighboring rice-growing countries. A major land reform in the late 1940s and early 1950s spread ownership of land to the rural peasantry. Individual holdings, however, were too small (averaging one hectare, which made cultivation inefficient and discouraged mechanization) or too spread out to provide families with much chance to produce a significant quantity of food. The enormous growth of urban areas led to a rapid decrease of available farmland, while at the same time population increases and bigger incomes meant that the demand for food greatly outstripped supply. The result of these developments was that by the late 1980s roughly half of South Korea's needs, mainly wheat and animal feed corn, was imported.*

Compared with the industrial and service sectors, agriculture remained the most sluggish sector of the economy. In 1988 the contribution of agriculture to overall GDP was only about 10.8 percent, down from approximately 12.3 percent the previous year. Most economists agreed that the country's rural areas had gained more than they had contributed in the course of industrialization. Still, the growth of agricultural output, which averaged 3.4 percent per year between 1945 and 1974, 6.8 percent annually during the 1974-79 period, and 5.6 percent between 1980 and 1986, was credible. The gains were even more impressive because they added to a traditionally high level of productivity. On the other hand, the overall growth of the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector was only 0.6 percent in 1987 as compared with the manufacturing sector, which grew 16 percent during 1986 and 1987. During the first half of 1989, the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries sector grew 5.9 percent, as opposed to manufacturing's 2.9 percent.*

Agricultural Crisis of the Late 1980s

Agricultural labor costs rose as young people left rural areas for urban jobs, and farm work mainly was done by women and old men. Farmers' relative earnings improved during the 1970s, but fell in the 1980s. The gap between incomes of urbanites and people in rural areas widened considerably in the late 1980s. In 1988 the average income of people in gun (counties) amounted to 79.1 percent of that of people in cities, as compared with 84.7 percent in 1985. South Korean farming households earned about US$12,000 in 1988, up 24.4 percent from 1987. In comparison, the average income for an urban family in 1989 was about US$15,000. Nonfarm income in 1989 comprised 39.5 percent of average farm household earnings, as compared with more than 50 percent in Japan and approximately 70 percent in Taiwan. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

Farm families accumulated debts averaging about US$4,620 per household in 1988 and had average assets of about US$66,057. The purchase of modern farm machinery as well as of many new consumer goods contributed to higher debts. The 35 percent rise in assets between 1987 and 1988 mainly was because of a 41 percent increase in the price of land. Budgetary pressures from the government on agricultural price supports also reduced farm income.*

There was increased rental of farmland in the 1980s. The percentage of rented farmland among total farmland rose from 21 percent in 1980 to 30.5 percent in 1985. The percentage of farm households renting some of their land among total farm households expanded rapidly from 37.1 percent in 1980 to 64.7 percent in 1985. Nonfarmer ownership of tenant farmland also increased to 63 percent in 1985.*

The farmers who rented land were mainly the small-landed farmers adversely affected by Seoul's agricultural open-door policy of the 1980s. Under this policy, the government sought cheap cereal prices by increasing cheap imports and promoted large-scale farming where crops could be produced more cheaply and efficiently. In the early 1970s, a farm family could meet almost 100 percent of household expenses by farming 0.5 to 1 hectare, but by 1985 such small plots of land only met 59.8 percent of expenses. Many farmers had to rent extra land to augment their incomes.*

Poor prospects on the farm depleted farm villages as the young left and the old died. Parents sent their children to the towns and cities for a better education. Young farmers who could not find wives also left for the cities.*

The government initiated various programs to improve rural conditions. The most extensive of these was the New Community Movement (Saemaul undong, known as the Saemaul Movement). Its goal was to mobilize villagers in their own service. At first Saemaul projects were aimed at improving household living conditions. Later, projects were directed more to the village as a whole and included the construction of roads, bridges, irrigation ditches, and common compost plots. Next, the program focused on more economic concerns — group farming, common seed beds, livestock production, forestation, and even joint marketing and factories. Better health and sanitation as well as beautification of the environment also became program goals. The government provided the materials and small amounts of money to the villagers, who supplied the labor. In the early 1980s, President Chun removed control over the Saemaul Movement from the Ministry of Home Affairs and left most decisionmaking to the Saemaul leaders and bureaucrats, headed by the president's younger brother, Chon Kyong-hwan. The Saemaul Movement initially was quite successful but deteriorated in the early 1980s. Chon Kyong-hwan, arrested on a variety of corruption charges in 1988, was accused of large-scale extortion and embezzlement while he was chairman of the movement between 1981 and 1987.*

South Korea, a high-cost agricultural producer, prohibited unrestricted beef and rice imports and severely limited many other agricultural imports. Foreign trading partners such as the United States pressured South Korea to open up the agricultural market, but Seoul said that its farmers would be hurt badly by the importation of inexpensive beef, rice, tobacco, and other products. In April 1989, Seoul released a list of 243 agricultural products scheduled for import liberalization by 199l, but the list did not include beef. In the late 1980s, many farmers, were already deeply in debt, told by the government that they might have to compete in the world market and took to the streets to protest against foreign demands and to demand further protection from the government.*

In the late 1980s, farmers gained political strength through the increased activities of various farm associations and the formation of new organizations, such as the National Association of Farmers (Chon'guk-nongmin hyophoe) established in 1987. The Korean Catholic Farmers Association and Protestant Farmers Association became active in 1987. These and other independent farm groups applied strong pressure on the government to alleviate their problems. Rural residents made up less than one quarter of South Korea's voters, but they elected almost half of the National Assembly; thus, they exercised virtual veto power over farming legislation.*

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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