Top: The Mansu Hill Grand Monument statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in North Korea. Source: Wikipedia at https://tinyurl.com/ycg4xlhy.
Bottom: Seoul at night. Source: Flickr at https://tinyurl.com/y9oqr36s. Photo by lroderick7.
This module is designed for a standard high school world history course, although it could also be used in an AP world history, contemporary issues, or economics course. It primarily addresses Tennessee state social studies standard W.85—"Analyze the causes and effects of an increased role of South and East Asian countries in the global economy.” This module also aligns with several other Tennessee standards and advanced placement world history standards. However, the content and pedagogical strategies for the module are applicable for any high school teachers whose curricula include the development of East Asian states in the post-World War II era.
Estimated module length: Approximately three fifty-minute or two ninety-minute classes.
South Korea (The Republic of Korea) and North Korea (The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) provide the clearest and most compelling example for students to understand the stark contrasts between a largely free market economy and democratic nation, and that of a command economy dominated by Communists. Japan’s colonial occupation of the Korean peninsula for nearly four decades laid the foundation for industrialization, but it also failed to produce meaningful economic or political gains for the Korean people. Foreign rivalries also fueled the war that divided the peninsula and established two different ideologies for North and South. South Korea experienced widespread government corruption and limited growth from the end of the 1950–1953 Korean Conflict until the early 1960s, despite massive U.S. aid. The South then experienced a military coup and decades of political suppression but increasing economic freedom before it became the success story of recent decades. North Korea had numerous economic advantages over the South in the early postwar days. Its embrace of Communism and a strict command economy, however, produced an unsustainable model. In 2017, South Korea’s GDP (adjusted for purchasing power parity) ranked fourteenth in the world. North Korea’s regime leaves the majority of its people in poverty and darkness.
Recognize the conditions and events leading to the split and war between North Korea and South Korea.
Analyze economic and demographic data to illustrate the contrasting Korean economies over time.
Compare the political and economic systems of South Korea, differentiating among the Rhee regime, the Park regime, and subsequent governments.
Explain the rationales behind North Korea’s policies of self-reliance (Juche) and militarization, as well as the resulting standard of living.
Create a summary document illustrating the political and economic contrasts between North Korea and South Korea.
Students should have a basic understanding of the contrasts between democratic and Communist political systems, as well as the contrasts between market and command economies. Basic background knowledge about the U.S.–USSR Cold War rivalry, especially in Asia, and the concepts of containment and proxy wars is also helpful. Students are not expected to have basic knowledge of the Korean peninsula’s history.
Perceptions of Korea and an overview of Korea’s modern history
Estimated time: thirty minutes
Although most students will have a limited background in Korean history, both North Korea and South Korea play many roles in the popular American consciousness. To establish the relevance of the topic, lead a brainstorming activity and a short diagnostic assessment with the students, situating Korea in East Asian geography and history, as well as drawing out popular concepts of Korea that are sharply contrasting between North and South.
Write “Korea” in the middle of the board or display workspace. Ask students to volunteer the first things that come to their minds when they think of Korea. Record the responses around the board in a randomized pattern. After gathering a good list with, I hope, at least some items representing both Koreas, ask students to categorize the items into those that fit with South Korea and those that fit with North Korea. Briefly discuss why the students mentioned these concepts and why they associate these with each of the Koreas.
Students’ responses on South Korea will often include consumer product brands like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Kia, popular culture references (such as professional video gaming leagues and the K-pop music genre), the 2018 Winter Olympics, and high-technology references like high internet speed. Typically, students have less knowledge of North Korea, although recent events could include nuclear weapons, Kim Jong-un, references to escalating tensions with President Donald Trump and the United States, Communism, famine, poverty, and lack of political freedom.
Author’s comments on student reactions
The students, after a short warmup, were enthusiastic and helped fill the board with items for both North and South Korea. There was nothing too far out of the expected range of responses, and the students did well at explaining why their perceptions fit either North, South, or both. My one surprise was that students did not mention any major South Korean consumer product companies (after some prompting, I was able to elicit “Samsung” from a German exchange student in the second section). Despite the students’ familiarity with major companies, the general assumption was that the electronics and automobile manufactures were Japanese rather than South Korean when I asked them. The students had clearly discussed the oppressive regime in North Korea in a previous government course, but they indicated they had little to no formal coverage of South Korea.
Display a blank map of East Asia. Have students place the following nations on the map and draw the borders of each nation on the blank map: