South Korean national identity is rooted in the struggle for democracy against military authoritarian government.

The dawning of democracy began in the southwestern city of Gwangju in 1980. From May 18 to 27, protests against martial law became the pivotal crucible of a grassroots campaign to overturn a despotic regime and assert civilian rule. Hundreds of civilians were brutally massacred, beaten and tortured by the military, rendering Gwangju into a potent symbol of people power that inspired similar subsequent movements around Asia. The crackdown mobilized ordinary citizens and ignited civil society, a collective recoiling from the savage violence perpetrated by Gen. Chun Doo-hwan that eventually pushed the military back into the barracks and ushered in civilian rule in the 1990s.

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