” South Korea. The tyranny of Excellence in 100 questions »
By Juliette Morillot
Editions Tallandier, 416 pages, €19.90
“Do Koreans really eat dog? » Answer, yes. “Did they invent the printing press? » Yes and no. “What is the recipe for the Korean economic miracle? » Hard work… Through a hundred similar questions, which is the principle of this collection, Juliette Morillot’s book reveals the history of South Korea and analyzes the keys to its recent economic success.
Today, South Korea is fashionable. The influence of this small country of 50 million inhabitants is based on its K-pop singers, its cinema which is now triumphing at Cannes or its television series, such as Squid Game, seen around the world. It also relies on the commercial success of its manufacturers of electronics (Samsung or LG) or cars (Hyundai, Kia).
The weight of family conglomerates
Yet in the 1960s, South Korea was among the poorest countries in the world. In three generations, first under the impetus of an iron-fisted leader, Park Chung-hee, then by having made a turn towards democracy, the country has built family conglomerates which set out to conquer global markets. South Korea has become one of the digital pioneer countries, and has risen to 10th place in the world in terms of GDP.
With a detailed knowledge of Korean society and its history, Juliette Morillot details the springs of this transformation. Journalist and teacher, she is already the author, in the same collection, with Dorian Malovic (journalist of the daily The cross), of a book devoted to North Korea (1).
In this new work devoted to South Korea, she relates how the country won its independence in 1945, after forty years of Japanese occupation which had a profound impact on Korean society. Then how Korea emerged divided from one of the deadliest wars of the 20th centuryand century.
She paints the portrait of a society that is not kind to individuals, where work and obedience are central values. It also shows the refinement, the complexity of a culture that has been nourished by multiple influences. And the incredible dynamism of a country that has transformed itself to become one of the most robotic in the world: “Robots welcome you at the airport, bring you your meal at the restaurant and a bathrobe at midnight at the hotel”writes for example Juliette Morillot.
She describes the city of the future, Songdo, a digital city where all objects are connected, “from the door that opens by voice recognition to the refrigerator that warns about the expiration date of yoghurts”. She also tells how Korea, which used to be very homogeneous, has become a country of immigration which welcomes more and more foreigners from Sri Lanka, Indonesia or Pakistan, making it an increasingly multicultural society.