The Real Origins of the “Miracle on the Han River”


  • “Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  Proverbs 14:34
  • “the land was distributed in strict accordance with the Lord’s commands to Moses.” Joshua 14:5
  • “If you want to live securely in the land, follow my decrees and obey my regulations.” Lev. 25:18

In the 1950s, Korea went through a devastating war that completely leveled many of its cities and left the country in ruins. But in the decades since then it has transformed so dramatically that many people have called its changes “The Miracle on the Han River”. Why did this happen? There are many reasons and we will review some of them here.  While doing this, it is wise to remember Marcus Aurelius  principle:
“We are too much accustomed to attribute to a single cause that which is the product of several, and the majority of our controversies come from that.”

Below I will summarize some of the major factors that Korea’s founders who led the transformation and researchers have identified as crucial factors.

The next couple pictures show a little of what Korea was like in the 1950s and how it has changed over the years.

I personally saw quite a bit of development in the 23 years I was there. For example, when I first came in 1992, there wasn’t much greenery in major cities. The only trees near me in the 2nd largest city of Busan where I had gone to teach English language skills and Bible as a missionary were in someone’s garden on the 3rd floor of an apartment building.  But over the years, the city planners became wiser and began planting trees everywhere and building quite a few parks which significantly reduced pollution problems, cleaning and sanitation improved, education improved in some quite impressive ways, medical care improved dramatically and more. Over the years Korea has experienced such explosive growth in its economy, technology and other areas that people have come to call it “The Miracle on the Han River”.

Far more importantly for Christians, the percentage of Christians in Korea in the last century has gone from  1% to ~30% (Note: I lived in Korea for ~23 years and many I talked with who said they have no religion still did actually believe in God. Some of them believed in the God of the Bible and some also agreed with various truths of the Bible, but they said they have no religion because they were not official church members or regularly attending church.  There’s a similar problem with research on atheists in other places too, since surprisingly only ~23 percent of European Christians say they believe in God, but 27 percent of Americans who claim to be atheists/agnostics say this.) Dr. Sean Kim says:

“Since its introduction in the late 19th century, Protestantism has not only transformed the religious landscape: it has exerted a profound impact on Korean politics, society, and culture. With 8.6 million believers, approximately 20 percent of the South Korean population in 2005 is Protestant, the highest in Asia.1 The city of Seoul boasts some of the largest Christian congregations in the world, and South Korea is second only to the United States in the number of missionaries dispatched abroad.“2

Korea has climbed to top international rankings in the world or close to it in dozens of areas areas including spiritual faith/action,  economic success, technological innovation, very high grades for its students and others. Here are some areas it has had impressive achievements several areas:


  • Korea has 5 of the 20 largest churches in the world (The Yoido church has close to 1 million members according to a friend of mine who attends that church. I have visited it personally.  The pastor said in an interview that the secret of his church was following Bible principles and principles from 2 books of Ellen White “Gospel Workers” and “Christian Service”. )
  • Korea’s Christian population has grown very fast. “In 1900, only 1% of the country’s population was Christian, but largely through the efforts of missionaries and churches, Christianity has grown rapidly in South Korea over the past century. In 2010, roughly three-in-ten South Koreans were Christian, including members of the world’s largest Pentecostal church, Yoido Full Gospel Church, in Seoul.” 6 facts about South Korea’s growing Christian population 
  • Korea is one of the top missionary sending countries in the world
  • First country to send a creation science missionary, Kwang Ho Jun(formerly with the NIH), to another country (Indonesia)


Biblical values lead people to care about the health of everyone as equal to their own and Christians have pioneered health care development around the world for generations.

  • Korea with the help of Christians from several denominations has developed one of the best and most economic economic systems in the world, one which is quite a bit better than American or most European health care systems while at the same time being quite economical. A long time worker in the medical field talks about this here:

Many scientists have shown that belief in God has a major impact on improving economics at individual, societal and national levels and that has happened for Korea too.


In the past, Korea’s education was based on a lot of rote memory. But in the last couple decades, Korea has made some major changes to emphasize creativity and critical thinking in education much more and has had some tremendous success, and now hosts conferences to show other nations how it did that.


In addition, Korea ranks #1 or close to it in quite a number of other areas as well. America has high rankings in some areas for sure, and so do some other countries. But Korea has some extremely impressive achievements, especially considering its small size.

While Korea has had some amazing achievements, not all is utopia. Korea does have some serious challenges and problems such as a high stress and suicide rate for high school students due to the enormous pressure to pass incredibly hard tests (check out these English tests that many native speakers of English would find very difficult or fail to pass:, some serious problems with corruption, some serious problems with pollution in some places, issues with trafficking as all countries have and others. But overall, Korea’s achievements are very impressive.

Many have called this achievement the “Miracle on the Han River”. How did a small nation of only ~50,000,000 people and one devastated by war accomplish so much in only a few decades? What is responsible for this “Miracle on the Han River” in Korea as it is called?  What principles make nations great? What makes them fall?

Many scholars and scientists have proposed all sorts of reasons. But the best research is showing that time after time, the biggest cause of why nations rise or fall is how closely they follow Bible principles, especially in the area of equitable land rights/economic justice for all, human rights and equality , wise health principles,  education, environmental care,  work ethic, mutual volunteering and various areas like these. These reasons and others have also been crucial for Korea as well. The simple answer is given in the Bible:

Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people. ” Proverbs 14:34

Many nations have followed God’s principles and experienced dramatic development, just as God promised.

Dr. Woodberry, Dr. Fagan and many others have done research showing that Christians and Protestant missionaries are responsible for more democracy, freedom, educational advances, medical improvements, printing, etc. than all other forces combined. Dr. Montgomery has shown that nations and esp. their human rights, crumble and fall in time whenever any nation discards the principles of God (see a summary of their research and others and how Judeo-Christianity pioneered all major human rights here).

Dr. Loren Cunningham has traveled all over the lecture and explains how the foundation of nations from Norway to South Korea was based very strongly on the Bible and people learning and following its principles.

The Book that Transforms Nations

When people truly follow God, they are far more likely to consider the needs of everyone else to be equal to their own and this principle of equality helps these countries avoid a literal river of evils that come from greed, poverty and inequality.  This is particularly true in the area of economics (at all levels of society from individual to government).

God talks about economic policies for people and nations esp. in the Old Testament and then says:

“If you want to live securely in the land, follow my decrees and obey my regulations.” Leviticus 25:18 (Jer. 12:14-17 say that nations that don’t follow the principles God gave to Israel will be uprooted)

Korea has followed Bible economics at the national level more than almost any other nation in modern history and this has been crucial in driving its incredible growth. Dr. Luis Bush says:

“Biblical values permeated government policy and have produced the engine that has driven transformational development of Korea,…particularly in regards to its economic development. This phenomenal development of South Korea is often called the ‘Miracle on the Han River’”.

One of the most crucial reasons for the development of many nations is following biblical land rights or something close to it. Research from many scientists has shown that fairly distributing land rights so that anyone can own their own land cheaply and live independently is a crucial factor in national development. This explains why God emphasized it so many times and so strongly in the Bible.

Below we will look at some of the factors that enabled Korea to experience its miraculous development and how the Bible was powerfully connected to its rise.  Briefly we will look at an incredible Christian revival in the early 1900s that influenced people to confess sins and wrongs to each other which repaired relationships and built trust in society and influenced them to treat the rights and needs of everyone as equals as well as many Christians working for economic justice, gender justice, social justice, political justice and more.

Genuine justice and equality are crucial foundations for any stable, secure and thriving society…and something that just doesn’t happen without belief in God and certainty of eternal life. Why? People who think this life is the only life they will ever have logically realize that they better get all they can out of this short life they do have, because they aren’t going to have any more.   There are sometimes a few people who don’t have confidence in eternal life who will sacrifice for others admirably, usually due to religious influence in the culture. But time after time throughout history, evidence shows that you just can’t get large numbers of altruistic people in a population that is not grounded in belief in God, confidence in eternal life and especially principles that the Bible taught.

Dr. E. O. Wilson was a Harvard biologist. He wrote that sometimes people who are selfish, proud, greedy, etc.  will sometimes win. But he concluded from study of the history of science and the world that at the level of the group,

“A group of altruists will beat a society of selfish individuals every time.”

We will look at the work of Dr. Bom Mo Chung, professor emeritus at Seoul National University who led many educational efforts for many decades of Korean history and lists 6 basic reasons why Korea’s economy sky rocketed.[1]  

Many would add the Korean language as an 8th crucial reason Korea was able to develop since it is the simplest, most efficient and consistent language in the world to learn to read and saves enormous amounts of time for Koreans. This incredible alphabet was invented by King Sejong (probably with monks/scholars helping him) and has won the Alphabet Olympics 3 times.  Unfortunately, the elite in Korea opposed it for a long time because they didn’t want an empowered and well educated population. It was largely missionaries using it in schools to educate the lower classes that finally brought it to prominence.

Another major factor that has helped Korea is the influence of the SDA church and a doctor named Lee Sang Gu, heavily emphasizing healthy living and “well being”. This could produce the first nation with an average age of 90 in the near future according to some scientists. There are others as well.

Here are some more detailed explanations of the factors that helped Korea develop , many of them based directly on following Biblical principles in some way. You can follow the links to read more details.

“The overview of the phases of Korean transformational development begins with the Korean Revival of 1907 and sets the stage of revival again in 2007 for the fullness of God’s intent that South Korea should not only be blessed but be a blessing to the nations. Although the Korean Revival of 1907 took place in Pyang Yang, the capital of North Korea, the nation of North Korea was found on an atheistic ideology. This case study shows that the most important criteria for going from poverty to blessing [as South Korea did] is faith in the true and living God. The Bible says: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”  Psalm 33:12

The revival had ~8 phases.
Phase One: The Korean Revival of 1907
Phase Two: Realization of Crisis
Phase Three: Revelation from God to His servant
Phase Four: Repentance
Phase Five: Renewal
Phase Six: Reproduction of leaders and transformational leadership for every sphere of society
Phase Seven: Realignment of all things to God’s way.
Phase Eight: Restoration, Transformation and Glocalization

This revival in time had the effect of transforming the entire nation as well as the government. Dr. Bush writes  that:

“Biblical values permeate government policy and have produced the engine that has driven transformational development of Korea as this paper seeks to demonstrate, particularly in regards to its economic development. This phenomenal development of South Korea is often called the “Miracle on the Han River” which is a primary subject of Part II of this presentation as it relates to the developmental phases of the transformation of Korea….”

Many economists agree that following Bible economics was a crucial reason why Korea was able to develop so incredibly and quickly (more on that below).

See more details on the spiritual foundation that underlies the “Miracle on the Han River” here:
Transformation: from Poor to Blessed A Korean Case Study

There are some admirable moral principles in both Confucianism (like respect for family) and Buddhism (like pacifism) which have long existed in Korea. But Christianity has much higher moral standards and values in major areas.

“…By the 1880s,…progressive Koreans sought to modernize the country and pressed for the entry of foreign missionaries to help with medicine and education. Some saw Christianity as the religious or ideological basis of Western society, believing the nation would benefit from a spiritual renewal of the people…”

These contributed to Korea becoming much stronger after its acceptance.


The Bible has 1000s of verses on the concepts of justice, equal rights for all, opposing corruption, etc. And these are crucial to making nations stronger since as the Bible says, “Righteousness makes nations great. But sin is a disgrace to all people.” Prov. 14:34

The acceptance of Christianity, promoted a much higher sense of justice and equality for all among Koreans in areas such as social justice,  educational equality, gender justice, economic justice, political justice, health justice and more.

“the first Korean Christians understood that the church was for all people. In a society stratified by ancestry and segregated by gender, early Christian communities included women and people of different ranks, and those from outcast groups.”

“While winning many converts, Christian missionaries made significant contributions towards the modernization of the country. Concepts of equality, human rights and freedom, and the participation of both men and women in religious activities were all new to Joseon.”

Wikipedia summarizes some of how the Bible influenced Korean struggles for human rights and democracy.

“The Christian concept of individual worth has found expression in a lengthy struggle for human rights and democracy in Korea. In recent years, this struggle has taken the form of Minjung theology. Minjung theology is based on the “image of God” concept expressed in Genesis 1:26–27, but also incorporates the traditional Korean feeling of han, a word that has no exact English translation, but that denotes a sense of inconsolable pain and utter helplessness. Minjung theology depicts commoners in Korean history as the rightful masters of their own destiny. Two of the country’s best known political leaders, Kim Young-sam, a Presbyterian, and Kim Dae-jung, a Roman Catholic, subscribe to Minjung theology.[44] Both men spent decades opposing military governments in South Korea and were frequently imprisoned as a result, and both also served terms as President of the Republic after democracy was restored in 1988.

One manifestation of Minjung theology in the final years of the Park Chung-hee regime (1961–1979) was the rise of several Christian social missions, such as the Catholic Farmers Movement and the Protestant Urban Industrial Mission, which campaigned for better wages and working conditions for laborers. The military government imprisoned many of their leaders because it considered the movement a threat to social stability, and their struggle coincided with a period of unrest which culminated in the assassination of President Park on 26 October 1979.[45]

Many Korean Christians believe that their values have had a positive effect on various social relationships. Traditional Korean society was hierarchically arranged according to Confucian principles under the semi-divine emperor. Women had no social rights,[46] children were totally subservient to their parents,[47]and individuals had no rights except as defined by the overall social system. This structure was challenged by the Christian teaching that all human beings are created in the image of God and thus that every one of them is equal and has essential worth.[48] According to Kim Han-sik, this concept also supported the idea of property being owned by individuals rather than by families (or by the heads of families).

Christians regarded the emperor as a mere man who was as much under God’s authority as were his subjects,[49] and Christian values favored the social emancipation of women and children.[46][47] The church permitted the remarriage of widows (as taught by the apostle Paul, not traditionally allowed in East Asian societies),[citation needed] prohibited concubinage and polygamy, and forbade cruelty to or desertion of wives.[citation needed] Christian parents were taught to regard their children as gifts from God, and were required to educate them.[50] Arranged child marriages and the neglect of daughters (who were often regarded as less desirable than sons in Asian culture) were prohibited.
44 Michael Lee, ‘Korean Churches Pursue Social and Political Justice’, in Brian Heavy (Ed.), AccentIII, 3 Auckland, May 1988, pp. 19–20.

Again, Korea did have other moral religious influences that made some contributions. It’s interesting for example that Korea was in advance of many nations in giving parental leave.

“In 1426, Sejong the Great enacted a law that granted government nobi women 100 days of maternity leave after childbirth, which, in 1430, was lengthened by one month before childbirth. In 1434, Sejong also granted the husbands 30 days of paternity leave.” (Yi, Pae-yong (2008). Women in Korean History 한국 역사 속의 여성들. Ewha Womans University Press. p. 267.)

But Christian missionaries and passionate Korean Christians worked hard to improve justice for all levels of society more than had ever been done before. They improve justice in many areas such as these:

In a status conscience society,  Christians advocated the concept that all were equal. This led missionaries and Korean Christians to establish schools that educated all levels of society, not just the aristocratic “yangban” as well as women in Korea who had never really had the opportunity to be educated much in past worldviews. Many of the top schools in Korea were started by Christians (and this is also true in America).

Many churches worked hard to promote economic justice and every family having their own land (more on that below)

Justice and equality was heavily promoted by both Christians and the worked to reduce corruption in government as well.

Christianity was also profoundly important in improving women’s rights in Korea.

“…In traditional Korea, male missionaries were prohibited from conversing with Korean women and from gaining access to the anbang, a private room for women in a Korean home. Because of this taboo, the missionary wives initiated women’s ministry and Korean female evangelists, or “Bible women,” played an important role in the early spread of Protestantism. In fact, most of them were wives who had been neglected by their husbands in the patriarchal society of Korea. Nevertheless, they served as role models for modern women through their witness and Christian teaching, which included the principle of equality and the rights of women.

One of the most renowned “Bible women” was Kim Gang (Dorcas; 1848-?) who later testified that “the day that Jesus Christ was preached in Korea began the emancipation of women from the bondage of thousands of years.” She first heard the name of Jesus at the age of 50 and she was baptized and received into full church membership in 1899. She remembered the day of her baptism as “the happiest of my life.” She explained that until then in Confucian society as a woman she had never been called by her name, only by that of her father, husband, or son, but when “freedom had come to me, … I received a name, ‘Dorcas’ that means ‘deer.’” Living up to her name, Dorcas was given a preaching circuit of 1,450 miles of mountainous territory. As she walked it, she was sometimes verbally attacked, refused food by local people, and once imprisoned. Despite the opposition, Dorcas continued to evangelize Korea.”

Christians were heavily involved in Korean independence movements.  Many times I heard Korean Christians tell me that they had enormous respect for Christians or even that they became Christians because Christians had sacrificed and worked so hard to help Korea become free from the Japanese colonizers.

On 1 March 1919, an assembly of 33 religious and professional leaders, known as the “March 1 Movement”, passed a Declaration of independence. Although organized by leaders of the Chondogyo religion, 15 of the 33 signatories were Protestants,[40] including figures such as Gil Seon-ju. Whittaker, Colin (1988). Korea Miracle. Eastbourne, Sussex: Kingsway. ISBN 0-86065-522-9. p. 63

It seems that slavery existed in S. Korea for over 1500 years (and still is legal in N. Korea).  There had been movements and laws against it before Christians arrived in some cases, but they had not completely eradicated it. When Christian came to Korea, they of course opposed the practice of slavery as well, and contributed to its ending.

Estimates are that the around one-third of Koreans were in slavery in the 17th century, and yangbans (the nobility) still held household slaves in the late 19th century. (James B. Palais, “A Search for Korean Uniqueness,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 55, no. 2 (1995): 414-418).

Many slaves were freed on a large scale in 956 by the Goryeo dynasty and also at the beginning of the Joseon dynasty, state slavery was ended ~1800 and private slavery was ended in 1886.

But Christians and their anti-slavery movements around the world certainly had an influence on helping Korea eradicate slavery near the end of the 1800s.

Koreans have a profound sense that every person has basic needs in health that society needs to ensure.  When I lived there I taught/assisted quite a few doctors with editing their academic work.  When we talked about societal problems, it was surprising to see what almost all these elite professionals thought about social issues.  They mostly thought that of course the government or the wealthy should ensure the basic needs of everyone in society.  They supported instituting a public health care system way back in the late 1980s so that everyone could have decent health care. It is not without challenges, but it is very fast and efficient, very clean and very high quality.

My brother had a heart tumor that threatened his life, but was able to get surgery done on it by a doctor trained at the Mayo clinic in the exact specialty he needed. It cost him ~$4,000.  Many people fly to Korea for medical tourism because it’s so good.

This is an insightful article on this topic, by a Korean health care professional who works in the US and compares the two systems.


Dr. Bush has written about how there was a powerful spiritual revival in Korea and then eventually biblical principles became so influential that South Korea’s government started following many of its principles:

“Biblical values permeated government policy and have produced the engine that has driven transformational development of Korea,…particularly in regards to its economic development. This phenomenal development of South Korea is often called the ‘Miracle on the Han River’”.[2]

How in the world did a modern nation follow Bible economics? There are at least 15 major Bible economic principles, but Korea did follow some of the most important ones more than many other nations have and these were crucial to success.
A) Korea focused policies on trying to help every family own their own land as easily and cheaply as possible (the Bible repeatedly says that this is a foundation of security, ending poverty and peace in 1 Kings 4:25, Deut. 15:4-5, Leviticus 25:18-19, etc.)

B) It limited land ownership to 3 hectares maximum, which prevented the wealthy monopolizing land and kept prices low.

C) It banned charging interest on loans to the poor.

As research below shows, equitably distributed land is the key factor that enables nations to thrive and grow.

If you ask Koreans what was the key to their nation’s incredible rise, most will point to the government sponsored Saeumaul (New Community) Movement.  But if you look at the historical documentation and research, it becomes clear that the Saemaul movement was directly inspired by a movement that came long before it, the Canaan Farm Movement(가나안농군학교,,

This Canaan Farm Movement was led by a Christian named Kim Yong Gi.  And he based his ideas on ~20 Bible based principles with a foundation of Bible economics  and aiming to make sure that every family had their own land and home (land rights for every family is something that God repeatedly emphasized in the Bible countless times as a right). This is a chart of some of the principles that he taught and followed in addition to strongly advocating that every family have their own land.

President Park Chung Hee was the one who led the Saemaul Movement, but he said that it was Kim Yong Gi’s work inspired the nation and led it forward.

“This home and this farm, have carried out a revolution to advance our nation.”[3]

So what did he do?  Kim Yong Gi followed many Bible and scientific principles and strongly emphasized that most families should own some land or a farm. He also taught many people a great deal about spiritual life, health, farm science, supporting each other in a community, diligence/work ethics and other things.

It’s interesting to learn a little more of Kim Yong Gi’s life. As a young man, he was angry at the exploitation and abuses of the Japanese who had colonized his country, much like the Romans colonized Israel (the Japanese exploited Koreans economically, tried to ban them from using their language and culture and also forced many Korean women into sex slavery. See the documentary “Behind Forgotten Eyes” for more on this). He got a bright idea into his head. He decided to go to China and work hard to become the emperor of China. Then he could use their army to destroy the Japanese. He began putting his plan into action.  But in time a Chinese pastor heard of his plan and told him that China had almost never been fully unified in its history even by a Chinese leader and that he has a foreigner had almost no chance of succeeding in that direction. He should go home and make his own country strong by following God’s principles.

Kim Yong Gi came back to Korea, read the Bible and realized that many of the prophets lived on the land and emphasized land ownership.  He also realized that a nation that could not provide its own food could never really be independent.  So despite some people’s criticism, he decided to become a farmer and try to revolutionize Korea that way.

He started by buying, selling and  transforming several pieces of land, making them very productive and also making quite a nice profit as well. In 1 case, he borrowed 400 won and bought 3,000 pyung of land for 90 won. Then he planted sweet potatoes which are highly nutritious along with fruit trees. The farm flourished. He eventually sold the land for 1,200 won, 10 times what he paid for it. He did this repeatedly. He then began to teach other farmers how to do this, strongly advocating land ownership for each family:

“One thousand pyung of farm land per family is necessary and 600 pyung (1/2 an acre) including a lot for stock raising and a building site is necessary.” [4]

He also taught many other Bible principles regarding family, community, integrity, diligence, as well as agricultural/scientific principles combined with thrift/simple living/rejection of pride as foundations for his life work.

“He was a pioneer in waste land cultivation, and strove to demonstrate through his work that life as a farmer can be fulfilling and productive. His mission was to induce dynamic spiritual, inspirational, and economic change in rural areas of South Korea. He is considered one of the founding fathers of the New Community Movement, the foundation of South Korea’s modernization.” [5]

After he demonstrated successes like this several times, he began giving lectures and started the Canaan Farm movement in the 1940s training more and more people. Eventually Kim Yong Gi started the Christian Canaan Farm movement that led to the Saemaul/New Village/Community movement(새마을운동).

The success of the movement was noticed by Korean government leaders. The Canaan Farmer Movement ideas were brought directly into the government Saemaul/New Community movement and its Farmer Training Institute. Kim Yong Gi was a leading lecturer in those government programs. The lectures included
1) education on agricultural knowledge,
2) training in community cooperation,
3) setting up the new villages,
4) education on spiritual principles, democracy, ethics, esp. in connection to agriculture
5) Frequent lectures by people who had experienced success with these principles and
6) group discussions about development and improvement of daily life.[6]

In the 1950s, the government also banned owning more than 3 hectares (~7.5 acres) so that all farmers could easily afford to buy and own land. They took land from wealthy land owners and made land cheaply available to all farmers. They could buy it for ~150% of 1 year’s crop value and no interest was charged. This transformed Korea.

“With time and appropriate methodologies and cultivated values in the family not only did the Canaan Farm School Property being to develop but as others were trained, little by little Korea’s ‘wasteland was transformed into a fertile land.’”  [7]

A scholar said that this sharing of land was one of the biggest reasons why poverty reduced in Korea:

“By redistributing rights to the most important rural asset, East Asia’s postwar land reforms did much to reduce poverty in the countryside. At the same time, the land reforms helped to set the stage for the rapid industrialization that one day would be hailed as ‘the East Asian miracle’ (World Bank 1993).”

Two links between land reform and industrial growth were particularly important.  First, farmers’ improved economic security meant that they could afford to send their children to school, providing a skilled workforce for industry (Shin, 1998). Second,…the reforms brought about a more egalitarian order.  Economist Dani Rodrik (1995, pp. 92-93) concludes that…land reform was one of the keys – arguably the key – to East Asia’s economic ‘miracle.’” [8]

Other researchers have talked about how Korea and Taiwan’s economies sky rocketed while the Philippines has had a lot of poverty.  They showed that it was basically due to 3 reasons:

  1. Korea and Taiwan shared land fairly which greatly reduces corruption and made it very hard to concentrate wealth. The rich in the Philippines prevented this.
  2. The war in Korea broke the power of the rich. In Taiwan, General Chiang Kai Shek had a strong army as well as a strong commitment to land justice. So it was easier in those countries to overcome the resistance of the wealthy and make fair land laws. But in the Philippines, the rich stopped the fair laws on land justice.
  3. American leaders and the military strongly supported land justice in Korea and Taiwan because of nearby communist threats (North Korea and China respectively). But they didn’t do that in the Philippines.

This research basically shows that there is a strong causal mechanism  of “inequality→higher corruption→lower growth”. This confirms many other studies on this (such as You and Khagram (2005) and Easterly (2007)).[9]

The next  5 factors are from Dr. Bom Mo Chung, professor at Seoul National University, one of Korea’s most elite universities.

Korea had a strong leader, Park Chung Hee. He was determined to liberate Korea from poverty. He traveled around Korea to learn about problems. He talked to many experts to find solutions and he used government power and resources to educate people about those solutions.

Without social trust between people and a belief that there will be a stable future, people will not work diligently and economies cannot grow well. So morality and stability are crucial.

Korea’s Confucian background and later the influence of many missionaries gave Korea an incredibly high desire for good education. Education is essential at all stages of development.

Some men were not able to go to high school when Korea was poorer. The military gave them chances for education and training and gaining discipline and organizational skills.

There were some ambitious businessmen who built conglomerates, such as Samsung, Hyundai, SK and LG. These were crucial in producing numerous products for exports. These helped speed up Korea’s economic rise and development in many sectors of the economy.

If a nation can develop an alphabet that is easy to learn, efficient to use and consistent in its rules, that will save large amounts of time in communication as well as accuracy, especially when you consider that millions of people are using it daily.  They will be able to use that time to produce much more progress for society, to make families and churches stronger and aid improvements in many areas.  This is what the brilliant invention of Hangeul has done for Korea.  It is so efficient and easy to learn that it has won the Alphabet Olympics not one, not two, but three times (and shut down the whole Olympics since no other alphabet can compete). Wikipedia and other sources summarize some of the history of how it developed[10] and it is quite interesting.

Koreans had used Chinese systems like idu, hyuangchal, gugyeol and gakpil for hundreds of year as a writing system. But they were very hard for busy commoners to learn and the Chinese characters didn’t convey some aspects of Korean language well. So King Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, along with the Hall of Worthies, a group of scholars who assisted him, worked hard to invent and refine a new and uniquely Korean alphabet. It was completed around January, 1444, and explained in 1446 in a the Hunmin Jeongeum (“The Proper Sounds for the Education of the People”). The Hunmin Jeong-eum Haerye (“Hunmin Jeong-eum Explanation and Examples”) which was discovered in 1940 explains how the consonant letters were designed according to articulatory phonetics and the vowel letters according to the principles of yin and yang and vowel harmony. Hangul was designed so that even a commoner could learn to read and write; the Haerye says “A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.” [11]

Yeonsangun was the paranoid tenth king and he forbade the study or use of Hangul and banned Hangul documents in 1504. King Jungjong abolished the Ministry of Eonmun (a governmental institution related to Hangul research) in 1506.

The National Institute of Korean Language says:

“The ruling class used the Chinese writings as a method to maintain their power…Only persons belonging to the ruling class were allowed to learn Chinese writing and take a test for selecting officials, which was the entrance to the higher society and the chance to [grab] political power and/or economical benefits.”[11]

As scholars agree, it was largely unused until Christian missionaries came along in the 1800s and found it very useful and began to use it as the basis of education in their schools, which is why it is popular now.

From the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s, Christian missionaries came to Korea. They had to decide between using the prestigious Chinese characters or the King Segong’s alphabet for the commoners. They wisely chose Hangul.

“As early as the 1780s, portions of the Gospels appeared in Hangul; doctrinal books such as the “Jugyo Yoji” (주교요지) appeared in the 1790s…John Ross, a Scottish Presbyterian missionary based in Shenyang, completed his translation of the Bible into Korean in 1887[34] and Protestant leaders began a mass-circulation effort. In addition, they established the first modern educational institutions in Korea.[35] The Methodist Paichai School for boys was founded in 1885, and the Methodist Ewha School for girls (later to become Ewha Womans University) followed in 1886. These, and similar schools established soon afterwards, helped the expansion of Protestantism among the common people, and Protestants surpassed Catholics as the largest Christian group in Korea. Female literacy rose sharply, since women had previously been excluded from the educational system.[36]

The Gabo Reformists’ movement in 1894-6 helped some as well, but it was Christian missionaries who were one of the very biggest factors in popularizing Hangul and it has been quite a significant factor in Korea’s development. [13]

If people are dead, they can’t contribute anything to a society. If they are sick a lot, they will contribute much less.

For a long time, Korea  was very poor and had one of the highest death rates in the world due largely to its high rate of smoking, extremely high rate of alcohol use, lack of exercise and a diet that had many unhealthy aspects.

But Adventists had for many years been promoting a much healthier diet called Newstart. One of its leaders was Dr. Sang Lee who became well known by media especially during and after the 1988 Olympic games. The Korean Joongang Daily Newspaper writes a little about how he and the Adventist church influenced major changes in Korea:

“One of the first was the “New Start” movement led by Dr. Sang Lee, a medical doctor and a member of the Adventist Church, during the 1990s. Sang compared eating meat to taking poison, and said that it could result in cancer and other terminal diseases. The challenges and rewards of being vegetarian in Korea.”

The Korean Times writes:

Lee, popularly known as the “Endorphin Doctor,” will give a lecture on “Your Genes and Health” starting at 9: 30 a.m. A frequent speaker on major networks, Lee is a prolific writer. He virtually introduced the word hormone endorphin (or the happy hormone) to the Korean TV viewers through his lectures.The “Endorphin Doctor” is associated with NEWSTART Center, a non-profit and faith-based organization that seeks to promote a healthy lifestyle based on the NEWSTART principle. The name NEWSTART is the initials for Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Sunlight, Temperance, Air, Rest and Trust in God…Lee’s NEWSTART Center traces its roots to Weimar Institute in California where he was once a faculty member, teaching nutrition.

The efforts of Dr. Sang Lee and Adventists and scientists learning from them and integrating them into government policies and publishing them in science journals and news media, as well as Korea having such a vibrant Christianity (which is known to increase longevity) has been a major factor in Korea’s stunning increase in longevity in a very short period of time. And soon Korea may have the highest longevity in the world. Nature Magazine reports:

“Life expectancy set to hit 90 in South KoreaBy 2030, nation’s girls can expect to live to 91, says statistical analysis….by 2030: there is a nearly 60% chance that their life expectancy at birth will exceed 90 years by that time, the team calculates. Girls born in the country that year can expect to live, on average, to nearly 91, and boys to 84, the highest in the world for both sexes.”


Many people claim that capitalism makes nations develop. That’s not true.  It is giving glory to an economic system based on greed and the destruction of Bible economics and taking away credit from the true causes of national development (see here and here).

Despite many popular claims, many economists have shown that no country has every developed by free trade. South Korea did not. Britain did not. No country in Europe did. And America most definitely did not. America in fact fought a war and one of the purposes of that war was to end the exploitative free trade of the British which was causing massive exploitation and economic hardship in America, just as it had in every other one of Britain’s colonies. This documentary quotes various American pioneers who were against it (and in congressional records, leading politicians showed how free trade was very harmful to America’s industries with many citations).

Free trade mostly does one thing. It allows corporations to move their factories at will to places where they can pay the lowest wages. This guts the middle class and causes a race to the bottom in wages, with people who have been forced off their land desperate to get work at any salary, even slave wages.  The NAFTA free trade agreements of the 1990s caused the closure of ~77,000 factories in the USA and the loss of ~3,000,000 jobs according to Dr. Noam Chomsky***.   This may explain why God said it was OK to charge interest to foreigners (such as an import tax would do), but not Israelis in Deuteronomy 23:20.  This would prevent corporations moving their factories to the places of lowest possible salary and promote and emphasize local businesses much more than international corporations.

This documentary is a very insightful one showing how many early American leaders and leading figures were very strongly opposed to capitalism and free trade because it was the system by which the British exploited their colonies. Thus it was called “The British System”.  In contrast, America protected its markets for most of its early history and so did Korea and other nations that developed as well.

1932, A True History of the United States

Ha Joon Chang is professor of economics at Cambridge and author of “Economics A User’ Guide” and writes:

“Almost all of today’s rich countries used tariff protection and subsidies to develop their industries. Interestingly, Britain and the USA, the two countries that are supposed to have reached the summit of the world economy through their free-market, free-trade policy, are actually the ones that had most aggressively used protection and subsidies.
“Kicking Away the Ladder”, post-autistic economics review, issue no. 15, 1 September 2002, article 3

He repeats this fact in other writings as well.

“Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the historical fact is that the rich countries did not develop on the basis of the policies and the institutions that they now recommend to, and often force upon, the developing countries. Unfortunately, this fact is little known these days because the ‘official historians’ of capitalism have been very successful in re-writing its history.”
“What is Wrong with the ‘Official History of Capitalism’?”, in Edward Fullbrook (ed.), A Guide to What’s Wrong with Economics (2004), p. 280


“Britain and the US are not the homes of free trade; in fact, for a long time they were the most protectionist countries in the world. Not all countries have succeeded through protection and subsidies, but few have done so without them. For developing countries, free trade has a rarely been a matter of choice; it was often an imposition from outside, sometimes even through military power. Most of them did very poorly under free trade; they did much better when they used protection and subsidies. The best-performing economies have been those that opened up their economies selectively and gradually. Neo-liberal free-trade free-market policy claims to sacrifice equity for growth, but in fact it achieves neither; growth has slowed down in the past two and a half decades when markets were freed and borders opened.” Prologue, p. 17


“As South Korea shows, active participation in international trade does not require free trade. Indeed, had South Korea pursued free trade and not promoted infant industries, it would not have become a major trading nation. It would still be exporting raw materials (e.g., tungsten ore, fish, seaweed) or low-technology, low-price products (e.g., textiles, garments, wigs made with human hair) that used to be its main export items in the 1960s.
Ch. 3, More trade, fewer ideologies, p. 82

12) PEACE 
Last, but definitely not least is peace. Korea is one of the few nations in world history that as they say has never fought a war of aggression against other nations at any time in its history. There were wars of defense and wars within Korea at certain times, but Korean historians say that Korea did not engage in any significant invasions of other countries to enslave or dominate them.

This is a huge benefit to any country that follows this path in several ways.

A) First, who pays for wars? Middle class and poor taxpayers, in both money and more tragically in blood. Who profits? The military-industrial complex and corporations that build the military machines.  Why is it that they make billions of profits in every war from the blood of citizens? In what other industry can you find a situation where one group pays all the costs and takes all the risks while another group risks nothing, pays nothing and yet reaps all the profits? It is for this reason that America’s founders made very serious warnings against endless wars.

B) Second,  avoiding war is 60 times cheaper than fighting it.

C) Third, Non-violent protest is also far more effective in the long run. When activists become violent, it gives the military industrial complex and corporations an excuse to portray them as criminals or even terrorists and use their weapons. This is exactly what profiteers from violence and war want. The more violence, the more they profit.

Dr. Chenoweth points out that it can take as little as 3.5% of the people in a nation to cause major change, something we saw recently in South Korea where ~2% of the people protested for weeks and it caused the removal of the president.
The success of nonviolent civil resistance: Erica Chenoweth at TEDxBoulder

D) Last, many researchers and documentary makers as well as US generals, congressmen and presidents have agreed that war is not very often for the official purpose that it is claimed to be for.  News organizations are also fairly easily manipulated to blow the trumpet of patriotic support for war while minimizing and sanitizing the greed, abuse, suffering and death that happens to innocent people, especially those on the other side. John Pilger brilliantly exposes this problem in this documentary:

The War You Don’t See

The 4 start US general Smedley Butler realized that war was mostly done to profit corporations and wrote a small book about this and why we should avoid nearly all wars.

War Is A Racket, by Major General Smedley Butler, 1935 –

What is the main reason for all this development in Korea? Again, it’s quite simple. The Bible gives the reason in one verse.

“Godliness makes a nation great,but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Proverbs 14:34  (NLT)

In some nations there has been some development by trial and error, using science with many false starts and detours due to the ignorance of people, the time it takes to do solid science and eliminate all the errors as well as the interference of corruption, pride and greed. But the rise and fall of the Korean nation and nations throughout history is directly related to how many of God’s laws the population follows.  That is the record of history.


[1] Formal Education and Development of Korea and Development of Korea.pdf

[2] Transformation: from Poor to Blessed A Korean Case Study, Luis Bush,, p.2

[3] Ibid. p.8.

[4] The Education and Development of Korea, Kim Yong Gi, and Development of Korea.pdf, p. 254-259.


[6] The Education and Development of Korea, The Origins of New Village Movement (NVM), and Development of Korea.pdf, p. 164-5.

[7] Page 94, The Unique Canaan Farm of Korea

[8] Land Reform and Sustainable Development, Land Reform and Sustainable Development, James K. Boyce, Peter Rosset, Elizabeth A. Stanton,,p.4

[9] Inequality and Corruption: The Role of Land Reform in Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines


[11] Hunmin Jeongeum Haerye, postface of Jeong Inji, p. 27a, translation from Gari K. Ledyard, The Korean Language Reform of 1446, p. 258


[13] “Missionary Contributions toward the Revaluation of Han’geul in Late 19th Century Korea”. International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 192: 57–74. doi:10.1515/ijsl.2008.035.

Christian justice fighters–Yoo Gwan Soon,