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Chun Doo-hwan
Korean politician and army general

Chun Doo-hwan

Chun Doo-hwan
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Korean politician and army general
Is Politician
From South Korea
Field Politics
Gender male
Birth 18 January 1931, Hapcheon County
Age 91 years
Chun Doo-hwan
The details (from wikipedia)


Chun Doo-hwan (Korean pronunciation: [tɕʌnduhwan] born 18 January 1931) is a former South Korean army general who served as the leader of South Korea from 1979 to 1988, ruling as an unelected leader from December 1979 to September 1980, and the fifth President of South Korea from 1980 to 1988. Chun was sentenced to death in 1996 for his role in the Gwangju Massacre, but later pardoned by President Kim Young-sam with the advice of then President-elect Kim Dae-jung, whom Chun's administration had sentenced to death some 20 years earlier.

Early life and education

Chun was born on 18 January 1931 in Yulgok-myeon, a poor farming town in Hapcheon, South Gyeongsang province, during the Imperial Japanese rule of Korea. Chun Doo-hwan was the fourth son out of ten children to Chun Sang-woo and Kim Jeong-mun. Chun's oldest two brothers, Yeol-hwan and Kyuu-gon, died in an accident when he was an infant. Chun grew up knowing his remaining older brother Ki-hwan and his younger brother Kyeong-hwan.

Around 1936, Chun's family moved to Daegu, where he began attending Horan Elementary School. Chun's father had had run-ins with the Japanese police in the past, and in the winter of 1939 he murdered a police captain. Their family immediately fled to Jilin, China, where they stayed in hiding for two years before returning. When Chun finally started attending elementary school again, he was 2–3 years behind his original classmates.

In 1947, Chun began attending Daegu Vocational Middle School, located nearly 25 km from his home. Chun moved on to Daegu Vocational High School.

Military career

After graduating from high school in 1951, Chun gained entry into the Korea Military Academy (KMA). While there, he made several key friends among the students who would later play instrumental roles in helping Chun to seize control of the country. He graduated in February 1955 with a Bachelor of Science degree and a commission as a second lieutenant in the 11th class of the KMA. He later trained in the United States, specializing in guerilla tactics and psychological warfare, and married Rhee Soon-ja, the daughter of the KMA's commandant at the time of his attendance, in 1958.

Chun, then a captain, led a demonstration at the KMA to show support for the May 16 coup led by Park Chung-hee. Chun was subsequently made Secretary to the Commander of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, placing him directly under Park. Chun was quickly promoted to Major in 1962, while continuing to make powerful friends and acquaintances. As a major, Chun was the Deputy Chief of Operations for the Special Warfare Command's battle headquarters, and later worked for the Supreme Council for Reconstruction again as the Chief Civil Affairs Officer. In 1963, Chun was given a position in the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) as Personnel Director. By 1969, he was Senior Advisor to the Army Chief of Staff.

In 1970, holding the rank of Colonel, Chun became the commander of the 29th Regiment, 9th Infantry Division (Republic of Korea), and participated in the Vietnam War. Upon returning to Korea in 1971, he was given command of the 1st Special Forces Brigade (Airborne) and later promoted to Brigadier General. In 1976 he worked as the Deputy Chief of the Presidential Security Service and was promoted to the rank of Major General during his time there. In 1978 he became the commanding officer of the 1st Infantry Division.

Finally, in 1979, he was appointed commander of Security Command, his highest position yet.

Rise to power


Chun formed Hanahoe as a secret military club shortly after his promotion to general officer. It was predominantly composed of his fellow graduates from the 11th class of the Korea Military Academy, as well as other friends and supporters. The membership to this secret club was predominately restricted to officers from the Gyeongsang Provinces with just a token membership reserved for a Cholla Provinces' officer. This secret organization's existence within a highly regimented and rigid hierarchical organization of the army was only possible because it was under the patronage of then President Park Chung-hee.

Assassination of Park Chung-hee

On 26 October 1979, South Korean President Park Chung-hee was assassinated by Kim Jae-kyu, Director of the KCIA, while at a dinner party. Secretly, Kim had invited General Jeong Seung-hwa, Army Chief of Staff, and Kim Jeong-seop, Vice-Deputy Director of the KCIA, to dinner in another room that night as well. Although Jeong Seung-hwa was neither present during nor involved in the shooting of the President, his involvement later proved crucial. In the chaos that followed, Kim Jae-kyu was not arrested for many hours, as details of the incident were initially unclear.

After some confusion over the constitutional procedures for presidential succession, Prime Minister Choi Kyu-ha finally ascended to the position of Acting President. Soon after, Jeong named Chun's Security Command to head up the investigation into the mysterious assassination. Chun immediately ordered his subordinates to draw up plans for the creation of an all-powerful "Joint Investigation Headquarters."

On 27 October, Chun called for a meeting in his commander's office. Invited were four key individuals now responsible for all intelligence collection nationwide: KCIA Deputy Chief of Foreign Affairs, KCIA Deputy Chief of Domestic Affairs, Attorney General, and Chief of the National Police. Chun had each person searched at the door on his way in, before having them seated and informing them of the President's death. Chun declared the KCIA held full responsibility for the President's assassination, and its organization was therefore under investigation for the crime. Chun stated that the KCIA would no longer be allowed to exercise its own budget:

For the KCIA "to continue exercising full discretion of their budget is unacceptable. Therefore, they are only allowed to execute their duties upon receiving authorization from the Joint Investigation Headquarters."

— Chun Doo-hwan, Security Command and Joint Investigation Headquarters commander, 27 October 1979

Jeon subsequently ordered all intelligence reports to now be sent to his office at 8:00 am and 5:00 pm every day, so he could decide what information to give higher command. In one move, Chun had taken control of the entire nation's intelligence organizations. Chun then put the KCIA Deputy Chief of Foreign Affairs in charge of running the day-to-day business of the KCIA.

Major Park Jun-kwang, working under Chun at the time, later commented:

"In front of the most powerful organizations under the Park Chung-hee presidency, it surprised me how easily [Chun] gained control over them and how skillfully he took advantage of the circumstances. In an instant he seemed to have grown into a giant."

— Park Jun-kwang, assigned to Security Command and Joint Investigation Headquarters

During the investigation and concerned for the welfare of President Park's family, Chun personally gave money (US$500,000) from Park's slush fund to Park Geun-hye, who was 27 at the time. He was reprimanded for this by General Jeong.

12 December coup d’état

In the following month Chun, along with Roh Tae-woo, Yu Hak-seong, Heo Sam-su, and others from the 11th graduating class of the KMA, continued taking advantage of the fragile political situation to grow Hanahoe's strength, courting key commanders and subverting the nation's intelligence gathering organizations.

On 12 December 1979, Chun ordered the arrest of Army Chief of Staff Jeong Seung-hwa on charges of conspiring with Kim Jae-kyu to assassinate the President. This order was made without authorization from President Choi. On the night of Jeong's capture, 29th Regiment, 9th Division, along with the 1st and 3rd Airborne Brigades, invaded downtown Seoul to support the 30th and 33rd Security Group loyal to Chun, then a series of conflicts broke out in the capital. Jang Tae-wan, commander of the Capital Garrison Command and Jeong Byeong Ju, commander of the special forces, were also arrested by the rebel troops. Major Kim Oh-rang, Aide-de-camp of General Jeong Byeong-ju, was killed during the gun-fight. By the next morning, the Ministry of Defense and Army HQ were all occupied, and Chun was in firm control of the military. For all intents and purposes, he was now the de facto leader of the country.

In early 1980, Chun was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General, and he took up the position of Acting Director of the KCIA. On 14 April, Chun was officially installed as Director of the KCIA.

Gwangju Democratization Movement and military intervention

On 17 May 1980, Chun expanded martial law to the entire country, due to rumors of North Korean infiltration into South Korea. To enforce the martial law, troops were dispatched to various parts of the nation. The KCIA manipulated these rumors under the command of Chun. General John A. Wickham (US Armed Forces in Korea) reported that Chun's pessimistic assessment of the domestic situation and his stress on the North Korean threat only seemed to be a pretext for a move into the Blue House (the Korean presidential residence). The expanded martial law closed universities, banned political activities and further curtailed the press. The event of 17 May meant the beginning of another military dictatorship.

Many townsfolk were growing unhappy with the military presence in their cities, and on 18 May, the citizens of Gwangju organized into what became known as the Gwangju Democratization Movement. Chun ordered it to be immediately suppressed, sending in crack military troops with tanks and helicopter gunships to retake City Hall and ordered the troops to exercise full force. This led to a bloody massacre over the next two days, ultimately leading to the collapse of the Gwangju Democratization Movement and the deaths of several hundred Gwangju activists. Because of this remarkable "accomplishment" he was called "The Butcher of Gwangju" by many people, especially among the students.

Path to the Presidency

In June 1980, Chun ordered the National Assembly to be dissolved. He subsequently created the Special Committee for National Security Measures (SCNSM), a Junta-like organization, and installed himself as a member. On 17 July, he resigned his position as KCIA Director, and then held only the position of committee member.

On 5 August, with full control of the military he was self-promoted to four star General and on 22 August he was discharged from active duty to the Army reserves.

Samchung Re-education Camp

Beginning in August 1980, citizens were subjected to organized violence under the name of social cleansing, which aimed at the elimination of social ills, such as violence, smuggling, drugs and deceptions. They were arrested without proper warrants and given ex parte rankings. Some 42,000 victims, were enrolled in the Samchung Re-education Camp for "purificatory education". More than 60,000 people were arrested in six months between August 1980 and January 1981, including many innocent citizens. They faced violence and hard labour in the Re-education Camp.

Fifth Republic

President Chun, and his wife, Rhee Soon-ja, prepare to depart after their visit to Washington D.C. in 1981.

President of South Korea (1980–1988)

In August 1980, Choi, who had long since become little more than a figurehead, announced that he would be resigning the presidency. On 27 August, the National Conference for Unification, the nation's electoral college gathered in Jang Choong Gymnasium numbering 2525 in all, and out of 2525, 2524 voted Yes with 1 vote counted as invalid, thus with a tally of 99.99% in favor (it was widely speculated at that time that 1 invalid vote was purposely rigged as to differentiate dictator Chun with that of the Communist North Korea's Kim Il Sung, who was claiming 100% in North Korea's elections) elected Chun as Choi's successor in a rubber-stamp election; he was the only candidate. He was officially inaugurated into office on 1 September 1980 as the 5th President of South Korea and started the era of the Fifth Republic, which became infamous for its brutal suppression of democracy movements and all the fallouts that ensued with dictator Chun's nepotism & cronyism that was the hallmark of the Fifth Republic.

On 17 October, he abolished all political parties —including Park's Democratic Republican Party, which had essentially ruled the country as a one-party state since the imposition of the Yushin Constitution. In January 1981, Chun formed his own party, the Democratic Justice Party; however, for all intents and purposes, it was Park's Democratic Republican Party under another name. Soon afterward, a new constitution was enacted that, while far less authoritarian than Park's Yusin Constitution, still gave fairly broad powers to the president. He was then re-elected president in another rubber-stamp electorate elections later that January.

Missile memorandum

In 1980, in the face of increased tension with the U.S. over his military takeover, President Chun issued a memorandum stating that his country will not develop missiles with a range longer than 180 km or capable of carrying greater than a 453 kg warhead. After receiving this promise, the Reagan administration decided to fully recognize Chun's military government.

In the late 1990s, South Korea and the U.S. held talks on the issue and, rather than scrap the memorandum completely, they came to an agreement allowing missiles up to 300 km in range and capability to carry up to a 500 kg warhead. This compromise came into effect in 2001 under the name Missile Technology Control Regime.

From 1981 to 1988

President Chun Doo-hwan, attending a 1985 military briefing

After his election in 1981, Chun completely rejected the presidency of Park, even going so far as to strike all references to Park's 1961 military coup from the constitution. Chun announced that he would be restoring justice to the government to remove the fraud and corruption of Park's tenure.

South Korean nuclear weapons program

Chun's government did not have the considerable political influence enjoyed by Park Chung-hee's administration. His government could not ignore American influence, and he ended South Korea's nuclear weapons program claiming USA as a friendly Christian country already in possession of the same. During this time, Chun was worried about the state of South Korean-American relations, which had greatly deteriorated towards the end of Park Chung-hee's long authoritarian presidency. Chun needed to be recognized by the United States to legitimize his government.

Political reforms

After his inauguration, Chun clamped down on out-of-school tutoring and banned individual teaching or tutoring. In September 1980, Chun repealed "guilt by association" laws. In 1981, Chun enacted "Care and Custody" legislation; Chun believed that criminals who finish their prison time for a repeat offense should not be immediately returned to society. During the winter of 1984, before declaring a moratorium on the Korean economy, Chun visited Japan, where he requested a loan for $6 billion. With the military coup taking power and crushing the democratization movements country-wide, the citizens' political demands were being ignored, and in this way the 3S Policy (Sex, Screen, Sports) was passed. Based on right-way Japanese activist Sejima Ryuzo's proposal, Chun tried to appeal to the citizens in order to ensure the success of the 1988 Seoul Olympics preparations. Chun rapidly enacted various measures to this end, forming a pro baseball and pro soccer team, starting the broadcast of color TV throughout the nation as a whole, lessening censorship on sexually suggestive dramas and movies, making school uniforms voluntary, and so forth. In 1981, Chun held a large-scale festival called "Korean Breeze", but it was largely ignored by the population.

1983 North Korean assassination attempt

In 1983, Chun was the target of a failed assassination attempt by North Korean agents during a visit to Rangoon, Burma. The North Korean bombing killed 17 of Chun's entourage, including cabinet ministers. Four Burmese government officials were also killed in the attack.

Foreign policy

Chun's presidency occurred during the Cold War, and his foreign policies were based around combating communism not only from North Korea, but also from the Soviet Union and Communist China.

The United States put pressure on the South Korean government to abandon its plans to develop nuclear weapons.

Japanese newspapers widely reported that Chun was the de facto leader of the country months before he made any move to become President.

In 1982, Chun announced the “Korean People Harmony Democracy Reunification Program”, but due to repeated rejections from North Korea the program was unable to get off the ground.

Also from 1986 to 1988, he and President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines established talks between the two countries for strengthening Philippine-South Korean economic, social and cultural friendship.

End of Fifth Republic

Noh Shin-yeong

From the start of his presidency, Chun began grooming Noh Shin-yeong as his eventual successor. In 1980, while working as ambassador to the Geneva Representation Bureau, Noh Shin-yeong was recalled and made Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 1982, he was installed as the Director of the Security Planning Bureau, and in 1985, he was named Prime Minister.

When that became widely known, those supporting Chun's regime were highly critical of his choice of successor. His supporters, mostly those with heavy military backgrounds, believed that the proper way to groom a successor was by military duties, not political positions. Chun was eventually persuaded to reverse his position and ceased pushing for Noh Shin-yeong to succeed him.

On the Road to democratization

The 1981 constitution restricted the president to a single seven-year term. Unlike his predecessors, Chun did not attempt to amend the document to run again in 1987. However, he consistently resisted pleas to open up the regime.

On 13 April 1987, Chun made a "Defense of the Constitution" speech. He declared that the DJP candidate for president would be one of his military supporters, and his successor would be chosen in an indirect election similar to the one that elected Chun seven years earlier. That announcement enraged the democratization community and, in concert with several scandals from the Chun government that year, demonstrators began their movement again, starting with a speech at the Anglican Cathedral of Seoul.

Two months later, he declared Roh Tae-woo as the Democratic Justice Party's candidate for president, which, by all accounts, effectively handed Roh the presidency. The announcement triggered the June Democracy Movement, a series of large pro-democracy rallies across the country. In hopes of gaining control over a situation that was rapidly getting out of hand, Roh made a speech promising a much more democratic constitution and the first direct presidential elections in 30 years. On 10 July 1987, Chun resigned as head of the Democratic Justice Party, remaining its Honorary Chairman but giving official political party control for the upcoming election to Roh.

1987 presidential election

Chun finished out his term on 25 February 1988. In the 16 December 1987 Presidential Election, Roh won the election, the first honest national elections of any sort held in the country in two decades, after Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung split the popular vote.

Later life

In February 1988, having stepped down from the presidency at the conclusion of his term, Chun was named Chairman of the National Statesman Committee and so wielded considerable influence in the nation's politics. In that year, the Democratic Justice Party lost most of its seats in National Assembly elections to opposition parties, paving the way for the so-called "Fifth Republic Hearings." The National Assembly explored the events of the Gwangju Democratization Movement and where responsibility should lay for the resulting massacre. On 11 November 1988, Chun apologized to the nation in a public address, pledging to give his money and belongings back to the country. Chun resigned from both the National Statesman Committee and the Democratic Justice Party.

At this time, Chun decided to live for several years in Baekdamsa, a Buddhist temple in the Gangwon-do province, in order to pay penance for his actions. On 30 December 1990, Chun left Baekdamsa and returned home.

Kim Young-sam

After Kim Young-sam's inauguration as President in 1993, Kim declared that Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo had stolen 400 billion won (nearly $370 million) from the South Korean people, and he would conduct internal investigations to prove this. There have been allegations that Kim proceeded to draw attention away from his own corruption.

Investigations into Chun and Roh

On 16 November 1995, the citizens’ cries were growing louder about the 12 December 1979 military coup and the bloody 5–18 Gwangju Democratization Movement incident, so Kim Young-sam announced the beginning of a movement to enact retroactive legislation, naming the bill Special Act on 5–18 Democratization Movement. As soon as the Constitutional Court declared Chun's actions as unconstitutional, the prosecutors began a reinvestigation. On 3 December 1995, Chun and 16 others were arrested on charges of conspiracy and insurrection. At the same time, an investigation into the corruption of their presidencies was begun.

In March 1996, their public trial began. On 26 August, the Seoul District Court issued a death sentence. On 16 December 1996, the Seoul High Court issued a sentence of life imprisonment and a fine in the amount of ₩220 billion. On 17 April 1997, the judgement was finalized in the Supreme Court. Chun was officially convicted of: Leading an Insurrection, Conspiracy to Commit Insurrection, Taking Part in an Insurrection, Illegal Troop Movement Orders, Dereliction of Duty During Martial Law, Murder of Superior Officers, Attempted Murder of Superior Officers, Murder of Subordinate Troops, Leading a Rebellion, Conspiracy to Commit Rebellion, Taking Part in a Rebellion, Murder for the Purpose of Rebellion, as well as assorted crimes relating to bribery.

After his sentence was finalized, Chun began serving his prison sentence. On 22 December 1997, Chun's life imprisonment sentence was commuted by President Kim Young-sam, on the advice of incoming President Kim Dae-jung. Chun was still required to pay his massive fine, but at that point he had only paid ₩53.3 billion, not quite a fourth of the total fine amount. Chun made a relatively famous quote, saying, "I have only ₩290,000 to my name." The remaining ₩167.2 billion was never collected.

Revocation of Related Military Awards

According to the "May 18th Special Legislation," all medals awarded for the military intervention during the Gwangju Democratization Movement were revoked and ordered to be returned to the government. There are still 9 medals that have not been returned to the government.

Confiscation of artworks

Because of Chun's unpaid fines amounting to ₩167.2 billion, a team of 90 prosecutors, tax collectors and other investigators raided multiple locations simultaneously in July 2013, including Chun's residence and his family members' homes and offices. Television footage showed them hauling away paintings, porcelain and expensive artifacts. Among the properties searched were two warehouses owned by publisher Chun Jae-kook, Chun's eldest son, which contained more than 350 pieces of art by famous Korean artists, some estimated to be worth ₩1 billion.

The National Assembly passed a bill called the Chun Doo-hwan Act, extending the statute of limitations on confiscating assets from public officials who have failed to pay fines. Under the old law, prosecutors had only until October 2013, but the new law extends the statute of limitations on Chun's case until 2020 and allows prosecutors to collect from his family members as well if it's proven that any of their properties originated from Mr. Chun's illegal funds.


Foreign honour

  •  Malaysia : Honorary Recipient of the Order of the Crown of the Realm (1981)
  •  Thailand: Collar of Order of the Rajamitrabhorn, (1981)

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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