Reading List and Discussion Questions on President Park's Impeachment in South Korea

May 1, 2018

Corruption is a perennial and universal issue that plagues societies around the world. As Carnegie Council Centennial Chair Michael Ignatieff has written, "No society, developed or developing, northern or southern, escapes the problem of corruption. Every political system, democratic or non-democratic, struggles to maintain the integrity of its institutions." Successful examples of rooting out corruption in a peaceful way should be studied and lessons from these stories should be shared. The impeachment of former Korean President Park Guen-hye is such an example.

Six weeks is all the time it took for President Park Geun-hye to be impeached and only a few months more before being ousted from the Blue House and charged with bribery and abuse of presidential power. On October 24, 2016, news broke of an inappropriate relationship between President Park and her unofficial aide Choi Soon-sil. President Park apologized on October 25 but was seen as aloof and insincere—sparking the first candlelight protest outside the Blue House. By December 3, the public outcry had culminated into such a deafening roar that the South Korean National Assembly could no longer ignore the issue, and a bill was introduced to impeach her. In one week's time, the National Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor (234 yeas, 56 nays) to oust the first female president in Korean history. By March 10, 2017, less than three months later, the Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment in a unanimous 8-0 decision. The speed with which the Korean government responded to the public's demands may be seen as a triumph of liberal democracy and accountability and the exercise of the legitimate power of the people to influence their appointed government.

President Park's rapid removal from office must be best understood within the context of her family history and personal alliances. This project overviews the complex history of the Park family, their connections to alleged cult leaders, and how these played a significant role in her impeachment. It examines the role of the Sewol Ferry Disaster, which took place on April 16, 2014, within the context of the public's dwindling trust in President Park's administration. Finally, the project analyzes the various ethical, historical, familial, economic, legal, political, and cultural factors that led to the president's impeachment.

Week 1: At a Glance

BBC News. (2017). "South Korea's presidential scandal." Available at:

Fendos, J. (2017). "The History of a Scandal: How South Korea's President Was Impeached." The Diplomat. Available at:

Park, J. (2017). "Timeline: South Korea's impeached President Park Geun-hye." Reuters, edited by R. Birsel and M. Perry. Available at:

Other Sources:
Cha, V. and S. Tiezzi. (2016). "Victor Cha on Political Crisis in South Korea." Center for Strategic & International Studies. Available at:

Yonhap News Agency. "Ousted leader Park gets 24 years in prison." Available at: http://english.

Questions to Consider:

  • What happened and who was involved?
  • What made this scandal special, compared to other scandals in South Korean politics?

Week 2: South Korean Politics since WW2

Ellington, L. and T. Ferrarini. H. (2017). "Why Do Some Nations Prosper? The Case of North and South Korea." Foreign Policy Research Institute. Available at:

Lakey, G. (2009). "South Koreans win mass campaign for democracy, 1986-87." Global Nonviolent Action Database. Available at:

Lim, Y. (2015). "South Korea's Unhealthy Democracy: Regionalism." The McGill International Review. Available at:

Robertson, J. (2013). "Middlepowerism & Continuity in South Korean Foreign Policy." The Diplomat. Available at:

Work, C. (2018). "Park, Lee and the Plight of Korean Presidents." The Diplomat. Available at:

Other Sources:
Armstrong, C. and E. Vogel. (2011). "The Park Chung Hee Era: The Transformation of South Korea." The Korea Society, directed by P. Stuehmke. Available at:

Shin, M. and D. Steinberg. (2005). "From Entourage to Ideology? Tensions in South Korean Political Parties in Transition." East-West Center. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • What have South Korean politics looked like since liberation from Japan?
  • What role did South Korean leaders play in the countries economic rise? How might that affect how South Koreans view them?

Week 3: Chaebol Influence and Corruption

BBC News. (2017). "Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong jailed for corruption." Available at:

BBC News. (2018). "Samsung scandal: Who is Lee Jae-yong?" Available at:

Lee, H. (2017). "Chaebol reform set to take off again in South Korea." Eorum. Available at:

Pae, P. (2018). "South Korea's Chaebol." Bloomberg. Available at:

Park, H., G. Shin, and S. Suh. (2016). "Advantages and Shortcomings of Korean Chaebols." International Business & Economics Research Journal: Vol. 15: No. 3. Available at:

Other Sources:
Doral, M. and M. Patrono. (2010). "Chaebol and Korea's Industrial Finance." Journal of Global Initiatives: Policy, Pedagogy, Perspective: Vol. 5: No. 2, Article 7. Available at:

Premack, R. (2017). "South Korea's Conglomerates." Sage Business Researcher. Available at:

Taylor, A. (2014). "CEO's daughter loses job after 'nut rage' incident on Korean Air flight." The Washington Post. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • What role do chaebol play in South Korean society and politics?
  • What are the ethical implications of chaebol involvement in politics? Specifically, how does the chaebol structure affect accountability in Korean society?
  • How have reform attempts faired?

Week 4: Park's Administration Pre-Impeachment

Associated Press. (2016). "South Korean election setback deals severe blow to President Park Geun-hye's economic reform agenda." South China Morning Post. Available at:

Brazinsky, G. (2013). "Park Geun-hye Takes the Reins." The Diplomat. Available at:

Kai, J. (2016). "3 Stages of Park Geun-hye's China Diplomacy." The Diplomat. Available at:

Kang, J. (2014). "Blue House links questioned as scandal grows." Korean JoongAng Daily. Available at:

McDonnell, J. (2014). "Park Geun-Hye's Troubled Year." The Diplomat. Available at:

Panda, A. (2015). "Park Geun-hye's Visit to Washington: Major Takeaways." The Diplomat. Available at: 

Other Sources:
The Economist Intelligence Unit. (2014). "South Korean court bans pro-North Korea party." Available at:

Minton, M. and J. Park. (2014). "Korea's Foreign Policy Initiatives under Park Geun-hye." The Korea Society. Available at:

Snyder, S. (2016). "South Korean Identity Under Park Geun-hye: Crosscurrents & Choppy Waters." Korea Economic Institute of America. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • What were the characteristics of Park's administration that lead to her impeachment?
  • Impeachment aside, what were some defining characteristics of her administration?
  • What did South Korean foreign policy look like under the Park administration?

Week 5: The Park and Choi Families

Choi, Y. (2016). "[Interview] Park Geun-hye believed in Choi Tae-min after he predicted her father's death." Hankyoreh. Available at:

The Korea Herald. (2016). "Mystery of Park's heavy reliance on Choi." Available at:

Tharoor, I. (2016). "South Korea's president is hardly the only leader to turn to mystics and shamans." The Washington Post. Available at:

Yi, W. (2016). "Is Park Geun-hye a cultist?" The Korea Times. Available at:

Other Sources:
The Economist. (2015). "Manual drive."; Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • How did Park Chung-hee's legacy affect his daughter's political career?
  • What was Park's relationship with Choi Tae-min and Choi Soon-sil?

Week 6: The Sewol Ferry Tragedy

Al Jazeera. (2016). "South Korea parliament probes Park's 'missing hours.'" Available at:

Borowiec, S. (2014). "The South Korean Ferry Tragedy Has Exposed a Bitter Political Divide." TIME. Available at:

Griffiths, J. and S. Han. (2017). "Park impeachment: Bittersweet victory for families of Sewol ferry victims." CNN. Available at:

Kim, A. (2017). "Sewol Ferry Tragedy And Park Geun-hye's Impeachment." Harvard International Review. Available at:

Other Sources:
Hancocks, P., M. Pearson, and C. Shoichet. (2014). "South Korean shipwreck survivors: Passengers told 'don't move' as ship sank" CNN. Available at:

Wong, T. (2017). "Film points finger at South Korean government for Sewol disaster." BBC News. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • What was the Sewol Ferry Tragedy and what impact did it have on South Korean society?

Week 7: South Korean Civil Society

Caryl, C. (2017). "South Korea shows the world how democracy is done." The Washington Post. Available at:

Kim, Y. (2017). "Park Geun-hye's Impeachment, Through the Eyes of a Korean Millennial." The Diplomat. Available at:

Park, M. (2005). "Organizing Dissent against Authoritarianism: The South Korean Student Movement in the 1980s." Korea Journal: Vol. 45, No. 3. Available at:

Premack, R. (2016). "Koreans Have Mastered the Art of the Protest." Foreign Policy. Available at:

Other Sources:
Moon, K., P. Park, and M. Whelan-Wuest. (2016). "Youth & politics in East Asia." The Brookings Institution. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • What role has civil society (the press, activists, community groups) played historically and in Park's impeachment?

Week 8: South Korean Constitutional Law and Human Rights in South Korea

Amnesty International. (2017). "South Korea: 8-Point Human Rights Agenda for Presidential Candidates." Available at:

Freedom House. (2018). "Freedom in the World 2018: South Korea." Available at:

Human Rights Watch. (2018). "World Report 2018: South Korea." Available at:

Lim, H. (2017). "A Closer Look at the Korean Constitutional Court's Ruling on Park Geun-hye's Impeachment." Yale Journal of International Law. Available at:

Other Sources:
"The Constitution of the Republic of Korea." (1987). Articles 65 and 111-113. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • What reputation does South Korea have among human rights groups?
  • What does the Korean Constitution say about impeachment proceedings?

Week 9: South Korea in the Aftermath of Park's Departure

The Economist. (2017). "Moon Jae-in easily wins South Korea's presidential election." The Economist. Available at:

Fendos, J. (2017). "Will Park Geun-hye be pardoned?" The Diplomat. Available at:

Lee, J. and S. Lee. (2017). "With new sheriff in town, South Korea big businesses duck for cover." Reuters. Available at:

Other Sources:
Associated Press. (2016). "Who is South Korea's interim leader PM Hwang Kyo-ahn." South China Morning Post. Available at:

Schweitzer, S. (2017). "3 Things to Watch for in South Korea's Presidential Election." Foreign Policy. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • Who served as Park's replacement?
  • What was the election process?
  • To what extent has Moon Jae-in's presidency been influenced by the impeachment?

Week 10: The Impeachment's Broader Impact

Birtles, B. (2017). "Why China is thrilled about South Korean leader Park Geun-hye's downfall." ABC News. Available at:

Garia, N. (2017). "North Korea On South Korea Scandal: Pyongyang Reacts To Park Geun-Hye's Impeachment." International Business Times. Available at:

Parameswaran, P. (2017). "Interview: Thomas Byrne on the Future of the US-ROK Alliance." The Diplomat. Available at:

Steger, I. (2017). "The legacy Park Geun-Hye leaves behind in Korea's 30-year democracy is a more authoritarian state." Quartz. Available at:

Other Sources:
The Japan Times. (2017). "Park's downfall muddles Japan's options on 'comfort women' agreement, North Korea." Available at:

Snyder, S. and D. Stewart. (2017). "Instability on the Korean Peninsula and the Trump Administation." Carnegie Council. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • What was the response from North Korea and the regional powers?
  • What was the geopolitical impact on democracies?

Week 10.5: South Korea Today

Choe, S.. (2018). "Park Geun-hye, South Korea's Ousted President, Gets 24 Years in Prison." The New York Times. Available at:

Kang, H. (2018). "Lee Myung-bak: Between Justice and Political Retribution in South Korea." The Diplomat. Available at:

Min, B. (2018). "What Park's sentence means for South Korea's economy." East Asia Forum. Available at:

Other Sources:
Ahn, S. and D. Son. (2018). "The Impact of Lee Myung-bak's Alleged Corruption on South Korea's Security." The Diplomat. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • What can we say about former President Lee Myung-bak's recent arrest, having studied Park's impeachment?
  • What is the significance of Park’s prison sentence?