South Korea Table of Contents
Student activism has a long and honorable history in Korea. Students in Choson Dynasty secondary schools often became involved in the intense factional struggles of the scholarofficial class. Students played a major role in Korea's independence movement, particularly the March 1, 1919, countrywide demonstrations that were harshly suppressed by the Japanese military police. Students protested against the Rhee and Park regimes during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Observers noted, however, that while student activists in the past generally embraced liberal and democratic values, the new generation of militants in the 1980s were far more radical. Most participants have adopted some version of the minjung ideology that was heavily influenced by Marxism, Western "dependence theory," and Christian "liberation theology," but was also animated by strong feelings of popular nationalism and xenophobia.
The most militant university students, perhaps about 5 percent of the total enrollment at Seoul National University and comparable figures at other institutions in the capital during the late 1980s, were organized into small circles or cells rarely containing more than fifty members. Police estimated that there were seventy-two such organizations of varying orientation (see Political Extremism and Political Violence , ch. 4).
Data as of June 1990