Today marks 60 years since Park Chung-hee’s coup installed military rule in South Korea. His regime is credited with bringing the country rapid economic growth — but its industrial success was built on the massacre of labor activists and the systematic suppression of workers’ basic rights.
Max Balhorn is a PhD student at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, where he is researching South Korean environmental history in the postwar era.
In 1980s South Korea, hundreds of protesters were maimed and blinded by tear gas grenades fired by police. But the demand to stop the state’s use of tear gas soon itself became the focus of protests — a fight against police brutality which rallied millions of South Koreans behind the pro-democracy movement.
Bong Joon Ho’s film Parasite has been hailed for highlighting the class divides that split South Korean society. But its portrayal of working-class life also demonstrates a deeper ill of capitalism — the way in which the constant hunt for a job undermines our basic human dignity.