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The Shrimp that Became a Tiger

Transformation Theory and Korea’s Rise After the Asian Crisis


Bernhard Seliger

South Korea underwent a dramatic change in the last one and a half decades, from being considered a «tiger in trouble» in the wake of the Asian crisis to a showcase of economic development. The judgment of 1998 was itself a complete reversal of the previous enthusiastic reviews of world record-high growth for several decades, from the 1960s to the 1990s. Korea, once considered a shrimp between two mighty whales, Japan and China, veritably made a jump to become a tiger. And, after the steep decline of 1998, this tiger again showed its claws. This book deals not with the causes of the crisis in retrospect, but rather with the implications for the development of a new economic model in South Korea. It argues that the crisis and the following institutional change can best be understood by applying the theory of economic transformation.


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189 Chapter 11: Cognitive Models and Self- Perceptions and the Role of Korea’s History 11.1 History wars in East Asia and the self-perception of Koreans “Postage stamp disputes” and the “Wiki war”, demonstrators who cut off their own fingers, a Ministry of Education which by decree antedates the Bronze Age by 1,000 years – in East Asia, a fierce debate is going on about a subject, which elsewhere is usually met with an indifferent shrug, namely the ‘correct’ portrayal of history. Emotions can run high not only with regard to the recent historical experiences of World War II (which is emotionally charged elsewhere, too) and the previous period of the Japanese expansion, but also with regard to the exis- tence of a Northeast Asian kingdom which was extinguished several thousand years ago.179 A correct understanding of history as the basis for good governence in the present and the future, and the basis for good relations between states, is by no means a new idea, and is upheld in the (neo-) Confucian heritage of Northeast Asia. However, only recently have disputes arisen simultaneously among all Northeast Asian states: Japan, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, South Korea and North Korea. Nevertheless, the three disputes over the interpretation of history that had prevailed since World War II have faded into the background. One reason is that they were oriented along the ideological frontline of the Cold War (Japan, South Korea and Taiwan against the People’s Republic of China and North Korea) and...

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