SEOUL, South Korea — Former South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan died at age 90 on Sunday, the presidential Blue House said, ending a political career that would dominate the past three decades of South Korean history.
Chun was the father of the late dictator Chun Doo-hwan, who led South Korea from 1975 to 1987, more than five years after his father. The younger Chun’s hold on power — and, less politically, on South Korea’s imperial past — was decisive in shaping South Korea’s rapidly modernizing society and economy.
“With tears in my eyes, I think about what a terrible loss this is for the republic,” current President Park Geun-hye said at a special memorial ceremony held at the presidential Blue House on Sunday night.
“Despite the past history of mistrust between myself and Dr. Chun, I deeply sympathize with his family because at some point we lost not only individual father figures but also the whole families of the past leaders.”
He was arrested after his father’s death, in 1999, and served a seven-year sentence on corruption charges. After he retired in 2004, he ended up at home, taking up acupuncture as his hobby.
Born Chun Chung-il in 1927 in the traditional palace of his grandfather, King Sejong, in South Chungcheong province, Chun became an officer in the South Korean army and served in the Korean War, in which his kingdom, the South Korean kingdom of Gyeongsangnam, was part of the Unification Army of the United Nations Command.
It is the only war in which the Korean Peninsula has known Korean leaders of different ethnic groups. A great division developed and worsened the war between Japan and China, and leaders from both sides went on to occupy the South Korean kingdom.
When the Republic of Korea was formed in 1948, Chun became part of the minority North Korean ruling class in Seoul. He had been living there since the last days of the Japanese occupation. He stayed in touch with those living in North Korea during the war and formed a political party that later became a key force in South Korean politics, the conservative Grand National Party.
By 1967, he became a member of parliament. Two years later, he became the incumbent leader of the ruling party, the country’s first major political leader with no South Korean roots.
When he took office in February 1979, he rode a wave of popularity to an election victory. But he opposed the highly unpopular constitutional amendments that ceded significant power to the National Assembly in 1989, which also undermined his authority.