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Former President Chun Doo-hwan and his witty tongue

Posted November. 27, 2015 10:34,   


During the Fifth Republic era in Korea, the headline of the primetime news aired at 9 p.m. everyday was mainly about the then president of the country, Chun Doo-hwan. Rising to power through a military coup, Chun had an authoritative air about him, with his sharp barking voice and his stern, rigid face. Those who had a chance to meet him in person, however, say that while the former president was certainly outspoken, he also told funny stories with a great sense of humor.

On April 22, 1994, for the first time since the end of his presidential term, Chun visited his alma mater, Daegu Industry High School, and gave a speech in front of young students who would have been friends with his grandchildren. It may have been their enthused welcome that emboldened the former president. Despite the public nature of the occasion, Chun shared personal stories about his high school years including his habit of stealing apples from the neighborhood. He also told an episode in which his alumni visited the temple he was once staying at, saying how good it was to have meat and drink alcohol with his friends around the temple. It was frowned upon by some audience, but most students found it utterly amusing.

On Thursday, Chun visited the funeral home of the late President Kim Young-sam to pay his condolences, and oddly enough, he talked about how he stopped drinking and smoking without sharing his thoughts on and his relationship with the deceased. “I didn’t know how to smoke in the first place. I drank a lot while I was serving the military, but I don’t think I knew the true savor of alcohol.” The former president fielded awkward questions with entirely irrelevant answers, shifting the subject at his choosing. While not incumbent, he still was a president.

Many of the former presidents in Korea have passed away. While their records were in a clear contrast between approval and denunciation when they were alive, their achievements tend to be put in a more positive light after death. Chun committed some indelible errors such as the Coup d`état of December 12, the armed suppression on May 18 Democratization Movement, and possession of massive slush funds, while achieving the highest level of economic growth rate in history of Korea. Among the many records and remarks he made, what will be remembered after his death?