Stunning Photographs Document Korea’s Rapid Modernization

The following set of photos were uploaded on popular postings website Ilbe, by a netizen who reflects upon a Seoul that once was. They show how Korea’s landscape was still very much a poor one in the years following the Korean War, while also serving as an interesting comparison to those pictures we brought to you of pre-war Seoul.

It is also worth noting that the series was posted one day after presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye re-iterated her father’s coup d’etat “was the best choice in an unavoidable situation.” Many in Korea, especially those of the older generation, still hail President Park Chung-hee‘s rapid economic developement policies as having brought Korea from rags to riches. Perhaps were these photos uploaded to remind fellow younger (Ilbe-user) voters who the obvious choice is this autumn?

From Ilbe:

The following pictures with this [small] size are of Cheonggyecheon [stream that passes through Seoul]. You will find pictures of Seoul after scrolling halfway down. These pictures came to light thanks to a Japanese photographer who donated the films. I have been collecting these pictures whilst posting some of them on DC Inside; now here I am, posting these on Ilbe too. ke

My father used to wash his ragged clothes here ㅠㅠ

While some peopled pooped upstream, the downstream residents washed their hands [with the same water]. ‘ㅅ’ duh duh ;;

This block with a straight road was a relatively richer neighbourhood. They even have electricity going through this neighbourhood. ke

These kids would sometimes found their playmates the next day suffocated to death from briquette gas along with their neighbours.ㅠㅠ

That row of laundry shows the housewife’s sense of balance.

Ooooh! The hot lady in a nice green dress!

Cows were meant to be ridden and raised by children. Well, I am not sure it really is a cow. The owner lived in Cheonggyecheon and raise a cow duh duh duh duh; maybe that is not a cow but a fucking huge straw bag. Wow ke ke ke ke

How old might these kids be? ;;

An umbrella shop [with sign written in red] duh duh duh..

She is making hand-made umbrellas with recycled fabrics. It seems like with one kick, that bicycle would break in half. ;;

Bored, unemployed ajossis..

Inside of a house.. There also seems to be a Bible.
In any case, looks like he’s an engraver.

There used to only be a few toilets where everybody would stand in queues.
I guess they are waiting for corns to be cooked in the picture?

The following pictures are of Seoul.
They are not as old as the previous ones.

I am not sure what part of Seoul this is.


Cheonggyecheon, again. Are they making paper??



Hey that’s my land! [Back in the days] Once you claimed ownership of a land and built a house in Samseong-dong, Gangnam, you would have become rich.

Seoul city hall

Oooh! Hey, come on out, Kim Du-han! This is Seoul station.

This is Yeouido ke ke ke ke The building at the far back of this picture is the National Assembly ke ke The evil stock exchange market was yet to be seen. ke

This is the Jangchung Gymnasium. Rumour has it the gymnasium was built by a Filipino company; that’s not true. It was designed and built by a Korean, Kim Jeong-su.

-Unknown year-

I guess it is below Namsan, looking down to Seoul Station.

Oooo, nice butt. ke

White underwear and jeans seem like a uniform around this market.

Wonder what this boy selling corn might be doing these days..

Is this possibly dog-meat?
What a sight ke ke ke ke

Her beautiful clothing seems to reflect her economic status.

A bus going to Oryu-dong? Can I meet an Oryu-dong middle school student by getting on that bus?
Look at that electric lines, it looks like some sort of an electric fence. duh duh

That Miwang [writing in red on brown building] is probably today’s Miwon [company name]. There used to be a lot of companies with ‘Mi-something’ names, selling seasonings. ke

And finally, present day:

Ok I have to go drink a beer with my dad now.

Oh, he just said no, saying that he is full. ;ㅅ;

My last challenge then is to make this one of the best articles on Ilbe.

Comments from Ilbe:


Back then, Seoul pretty much looked like Pyongyang.


Come unification, we’ll go back to those times. ^^


Wow, these are amazing photos.


It feels like watching a cartoon depicting the 70s and 80s. It would have been hard to get coloured photos of that time, thanks!


Thank you for sharing these photos.


Do you want me to believe that those nice pictures are that old? It seems fabricated, so I’ll vote it down.


They are just pictures, yet these remind me that how hard our parents and grandparents generations worked to build this nation. ke ke ke ke thanks!


Mr President Park, thank you very much.


As you all might imagine, what would’ve happened if one of our ancestors bought some plots of land in Seoul..?


Hail to the great President Park Chung-hee!!


Nothing would have changed very much without Park Chung-hee


Ooooh, I’ve heard about that time before, but fuck, Korea was freaking poor. It’s impressive.


Thank those people who worked so hard to let us all sit and enjoy the internet, laughing at Ilbe articles.


Wow, that lady in a green dress is a time-traveller.


Is that really Seoul? I live in Sambang-dong, Gimhae; it’s isolated area, even for a Gimhae standard. I was shocked when I first went Seomyeon, Busan; but Seoul is way more intense. I wonder whether it is the same Korea I live in. I was a sixth grader the last time I went to Seoul. The tallest building in my town is about 10-storeys high, although there are mostly 3-storey buildings. It’s a fucking isolated countryside.


Aren’t there pictures of Cheongdam-dong? I heard that here too used to be rice paddies… keke. Whenever I see these kinds of pictures, I can’t help but admire the dramatic changes.


Being a country man, my dream is to live in the Seoul National Capital Area with my love and live happily fucking ever after.. Living in a crowded city would be fun, wouldn’t it? The more people living around you, the more human touch you get!


Those bastards who criticize Park Chung-hee must really love living the way they do today. It’d be nice to ship them off to an isolated region of Africa.


That certainly is what Park Won-soon wants Seoul to be. He already is raising rice in front of Saewoon Plaza Jongno. He certainly is a crazy bastard, though there already were rice paddies in the area.


If you’d like to share photos, then you should’ve shared the related information too. Those Cheonggyecheon photos are basically all from the same area, to be specific, it’s near Wangshimni. Those hills and white buildings are of Hanyang University. The tallest one is the Hanyang University hospital. And the pictures were taken by a Japanese or American, either way, he/she was a gaedok.

And the picture of an elevated road was taken looking at the road from Jongno 1-ga to Euljiro 1-ga, i.e. Samilo, therefore looking toward Myeong-dong.

Finally, the picture with white sheets dotted around Cheonggyecheon does not show people ‘making paper’, but ‘dying fabric’. Back in those days, many people used to dye fabric; the stream was as dirty as one of Chinky streams, although it isn’t so much different from today’s Cheonggyecheon.

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  • lonetrey

    Very interesting, but i wish they would’ve made a time-lapse photo series of an exact location so that we could see the economical changes throughout the years and decades.

  • Chucky3176

    I can’t believe Mokdong area was just a bunch of empty fields in that picture. It’s one of the older parts of Seoul! And Gangnam in 1987 was bunch of rice fields. The colored pictures really brings those pictures to life. I bet if you showed these pictures to Americans in the US and say this is the picture of South Korea today, they’ll believe you. When Lee Myung Bak (known as the “bulldozer” who rammed his ideals through) was the mayor of Seoul in 2006, he redeveloped the Chongyechon area into a tourist attraction, his leftist opponents opposed him and there were violent riots. Now that area is an inseparable part of Seoul, attracting millions of visitors per year. Also during that period he revamped the bus system. That too was opposed vehemently by all the people who were against change. Whatever someone does to bring change for the better, there have been stiff violent opposition from people who are against progress.

  • lamster

    Koreans didn’t build that, the federal reserve did. exchangeable currency called the U.S. dollar and global capitalism built modern South Korea. All mirage structures constructed to deceive and manipulate the idiot masses comes with a dependency factor. That dependency or rather “price” is your slavery to banking cartels known as “Globalization” Capitalism.

    • Wang that!

      you jelly much?

    • Wang that!

      with your logic, the same can be said for everywhere else humans use currency.

    • Stories of butts

      And? It seemed to work out for S. Korea in the end.

  • Yu Bumsuk

    I never cease to be fascinated by these kind of photos. It seems like my teenage students with their smart phones and hand mirrors come from another planet.

    I remember when I first came to Korea and saw the slogan “Dynamic Korea”. How ridiculous, I thought. Everything looks the same – what’s dynamic about this? Spend any time learning about Korea’s history, however, and you soon see that it’s as dynamic as anywhere on Earth.

  • Kamlakar Mhatre

    Congratulation Korea. Keep it up.
    Best wishesh to all Koreans.

  • Paul

    Good job!

  • chucky3176

    Jim O’neill on 11 bric countries:

    “South Korea: The model for everyone that should aspired to be”

    Editorial here:

    • Reiss

      In the present there isn’t a country to follow that model as there also isn’t a country who could burn their moneys overseas. Even Germany still haven’t coped with such a problem 20 years after unification… But that man from Goldman Sachs (the company which whenever is present in the press they write about their mistakes) doesn’t know that probably…

  • 참을 수 없는 존재의 가벼움

    By the way, I guess this website’operator who upload various content in translation invariably at 6:00 a.m. each day have a excellant command of the Korean language.

  • zst3250

    nice pics.

  • Jeffli

    I cant help noticing……. no trees?

    • Danny

      A lot of trees were probably ‘destroyed’ during the war, or just chopped down probably due to the lack of appreciation for trees.
      “A lot” of deforestation took place in Korea to supply wood for Japan during the occupation too.
      This ‘no trees’ situation lead to the formation of the national holiday called ‘arbor day’, where people planted trees. My parents’ schools participated in this when they were young, and planted trees around their neighbourhoods. Nowadays there are trees everywhere.

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