The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary South Korean Politicians of all time. This list of famous South Korean Politicians is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of South Korean Politicians.
With an HPI of 76.30, Sejong the Great is the most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 60 different languages on wikipedia.
Sejong of Joseon (15 May 1397 – 8 April 1450), personal name Yi Do (Korean: 이도; Hanja: 李祹), widely known as Sejong the Great (Korean: 세종대왕; Hanja: 世宗大王), was the fourth ruler of the Joseon dynasty of Korea. Initially titled Grand Prince Chungnyeong (Korean: 충녕대군; Hanja: 忠寧大君), he was born as the third son of King Taejong and Queen Wongyeong. In 1418, he was designated as heir after his eldest brother, Crown Prince Yi Je, was stripped of his status. Today, King Sejong is regarded as one of the greatest leaders in Korean history. Despite ascending to the throne after his father's voluntary abdication in 1418, Sejong was a mere figurehead while Taejong continued to hold the real power and govern the country up till his death in 1422. Sejong was the sole monarch for the next 28 years, although after 1439 he became increasingly ill, and starting from 1442, his eldest son, Crown Prince Yi Hyang (the future King Munjong), acted as regent. Sejong reinforced Korean Confucian and Neo-Confucian policies, and enacted major legal amendments (공법, 貢法). He personally created and promulgated the Korean alphabet (today known as hangul), encouraged advancements in science and technology, and introduced measures to stimulate economic growth. He dispatched military campaigns to the north and instituted the Samin Jeongchaek ("Peasants Relocation Policy"; 사민정책, 徙民政策) to attract new settlers to the region. To the south, he helped subjugate Japanese pirates, during the Ōei Invasion.
With an HPI of 76.02, Park Chung-hee is the 2nd most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 83 different languages.
Park Chung-hee (Korean: 박정희, IPA: [pʰak̚ t͡ɕʌŋ hi]; 14 November 1917 – 26 October 1979) was a South Korean politician and army general who served as the leader of South Korea from 1961 until his assassination in 1979; ruling as an unelected military strongman from 1961 to 1963, then as the third President of South Korea from 1963 to 1979. Before his presidency, he was the second-highest ranking officer in the South Korean army and came to power after leading a military coup in 1961, which brought an end to the interim government of the Second Republic. After serving for two years as chairman of the military junta, he was elected president in 1963, ushering in the Third Republic. During his rule, Park began a series of economic reforms that eventually led to rapid economic growth and industrialization, now known as the Miracle on the Han River, giving South Korea one of the fastest growing national economies during the 1960s and 1970s, albeit with costs to economic inequality and labor rights. This era also saw the formation of chaebols, family companies supported by the state similar to the Japanese zaibatsu, with prominent examples including Hyundai, LG, and Samsung that remain dominant and influential in the country today. Although popular during the 1960s, Park's popularity started to plateau by the 1970s, with closer than expected victories during the 1971 presidential election and the subsequent legislative elections. In 1972, Park declared martial law and introduced the highly authoritarian Yushin Constitution, ushering in the Fourth Republic. Political opposition and dissent was now constantly repressed and Park had complete control of the military, and much control over the media and expressions of art. In 1979, Park was assassinated by close friend Kim Jae-gyu, director of the KCIA, following the Bu-Ma student demonstrations. Whether the assassination was spontaneous or premeditated is something that remains unclear to this day. Economic growth continued in spite of the 1979 coup d'état and considerable political turmoil in the wake of his assassination. The country eventually democratized in 1987. Generally regarded as an authoritarian dictator, Park is a controversial figure in modern South Korean political discourse and among the South Korean populace in general, making a detached evaluation of his tenure difficult. While some credit him for sustaining economic growth, which reshaped and modernized South Korea, others criticize his authoritarian way of ruling the country (especially after 1971) and for prioritizing economic growth and social order at the expense of civil liberties and human rights. A Gallup Korea poll in October 2021 showed Park, Kim Dae-jung (an old opponent of Park that he tried to have executed), and Roh Moo-hyun as the most highly rated presidents of South Korean history in terms of leaving a positive legacy, especially among right-wing conservatives and the elderly. Park's eldest daughter Park Geun-hye later served as the 11th president of South Korea from 2013 until she was impeached and convicted of various corruption charges in 2017.
With an HPI of 74.19, Jeongjo of Joseon is the 3rd most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 32 different languages.
Jeongjo of Joseon (28 October 1752 – 18 August 1800), personal name Yi San (Korean: 이산; Hanja: 李祘), sometimes called Jeongjo the Great (Korean: 정조대왕; Hanja: 正祖大王), was the 22nd monarch of the Joseon dynasty of Korea. After succeeding his grandfather, King Yeongjo, he made various attempts to reform and improve the nation.
With an HPI of 74.05, Moon Jae-in is the 4th most famous South Korean Politician. Her biography has been translated into 90 different languages.
Moon Jae-in (Korean pronunciation: [mun.dʑɛ.in]; Korean: 문재인; born 24 January 1953) is a South Korean former politician, civil servant and lawyer who served as the 12th president of South Korea between 2017 and 2022. Prior to his presidency, he served as Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs and Chief of Staff to President Roh Moo-hyun, Member of the National Assembly, and Leader of the Democratic Party of Korea. Born to North Korean refugees of House of Moon in Hamhung, Moon was raised in poverty in the southern port city of Busan. He excelled in school and studied law at Kyung Hee University. He became a lawyer and later involved in human rights activism with Roh Moo-hyun. He was imprisoned for organizing a protest against the Yushin Constitution. As a result of his work in human rights law, Moon was chosen to be the campaign manager for his longtime mentor Roh Moo-hyun in his successful bid for the 2002 presidential election. He served in Roh's administration in various official capacities. In 2012, Moon was a candidate for the Democratic United Party in the 2012 presidential election, in which he lost narrowly to Park Geun-hye in which Park was aided by the National Intelligence Service (NIS).During the 2017 presidential election, Moon was elected president as the Democratic Party of Korea candidate following the impeachment of Park Geun-hye and her subsequent removal. As president, Moon has achieved international attention for his meetings with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un at inter-Korean summits in April, May, and September 2018, making him the third South Korean president to meet their North Korean counterpart. On June 30, 2019, he met with both Kim and Donald Trump, then-president of the United States, at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Moon favors the Sunshine Policy, a peaceful Korean reunification. On economic policy, he favors reform of chaebols (conglomerates), has raised the minimum wage by more than 16 percent, and lowered the maximum workweek from 68 to 52 hours. During the COVID-19 pandemic in South Korea, Moon has received praise domestically and internationally, and helped his party win a historic victory in the 2020 South Korean legislative election.
With an HPI of 73.18, Syngman Rhee is the 5th most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 77 different languages.
Syngman Rhee (Korean: 이승만, pronounced [i.sɯŋ.man]; 26 March 1875 – 19 July 1965) was a South Korean politician who served as the first president of South Korea from 1948 to 1960. Rhee was also the first and last president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea from 1919 to his impeachment in 1925 and from 1947 to 1948. As President of South Korea, Rhee's government was characterised by authoritarianism, limited economic development, and in the late 1950s growing political instability and public opposition. Authoritarianism continued in South Korea after Rhee's resignation until 1988, except for a few short breaks. Born in Hwanghae Province, Joseon, Rhee attended an American Methodist school, where he converted to Christianity. He became involved in anti-Japanese activities after the 1894–95 First Sino-Japanese War and was imprisoned in 1899. Released in 1904, he moved to the United States, where he obtained degrees from American universities and met President Theodore Roosevelt. After a brief 1910–12 return to Korea, he moved to Hawaii in 1913. From 1918 to 1924, he was promoted to several high positions in some Korean provisional governments and served as a representative of these to Western powers. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1939. In 1945, he was returned to US-controlled Korea by the US military, and on 20 July 1948 he was elected President of the Republic of Korea by the National Assembly. Rhee adopted a hardline anti-communist and pro-American stance as president. Early on in his presidency, his government put down a communist uprising on Jeju Island, and the Mungyeong and Bodo League massacres were committed against suspected communist sympathisers, leaving at least 100,000 people dead. Rhee was president during the outbreak of the Korean War (1950–1953), in which North Korea invaded South Korea. He refused to sign the armistice agreement that ended the war, wishing to have the peninsula reunited by force.After the fighting ended, the country remained at a low level economically, lagging behind North Korea, and was heavily reliant on U.S. aid. After being re-elected in 1956, the constitution was modified to remove the two-term restriction, despite protests from the opposition. He was elected uncontested in March 1960, after his opponent Chough Pyung-ok died before voting day. After Rhee's ally Lee Ki-poong won the corresponding vice-presidential election by a wide margin, the opposition rejected the result as rigged, which triggered protests. These escalated into the student-led April Revolution when police shot demonstrators in Masan, which forced Rhee to resign on 26 April and ultimately led to the establishment of the Second Republic of Korea. On 28 April, as protesters converged on the presidential palace, the CIA covertly flew him out to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he spent the rest of his life in exile. He died of a stroke in 1965.
With an HPI of 72.54, Kim Dae-jung is the 6th most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 80 different languages.
Kim Dae-jung (Korean: 김대중; Hanja: 金大中; Korean pronunciation: [kim.dɛ.dʑuŋ]; 6 January 1924 – 18 August 2009), was a South Korean politician and activist who served as the eighth president of South Korea from 1998 to 2003. He was a 2000 Nobel Peace Prize recipient for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea and Japan. He is also the only Korean to have won the Nobel Prize to date. He was sometimes referred to as "the Nelson Mandela of Asia". Kim was the first opposition candidate to win the presidency.
With an HPI of 72.45, Yeongjo of Joseon is the 7th most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 29 different languages.
Yeongjo of Joseon (31 October 1694 – 22 April 1776), personal name Yi Geum (Korean: 이금, Hanja: 李昑), was the 21st monarch of the Joseon dynasty of Korea. He was the second son of King Sukjong, by his concubine Royal Noble Consort Suk of the Haeju Choe clan. Before ascending to power, he was known as Prince Yeoning (Korean: 연잉군, Hanja: 延礽君). His life was characterized by political infighting and resentment due to his biological mother's low-born origins. In 1720, a few months after the accession of his older half-brother, Yi Yun (posthumously called King Gyeongjong), as the 20th King, Yeoning became the Crown Prince. This induced a large controversy between the political factions. Nevertheless, four years later, at the death of Gyeongjong, he ascended to the throne. Yeongjo's reign lasted nearly 52 years and was marked by his persistent efforts to reform the taxation system and minimize and reconcile the factional fighting under his Tangpyeong policy ("Magnificent Harmony"; 蕩平, 탕평). His reign was also marked by the highly controversial execution of his only son, Crown Prince Sado, in 1762. In spite of this controversy, Yeongjo's reign has earned a positive reputation in Korean history due to his sincere efforts to rule by Confucian ethics.
With an HPI of 72.16, Chun Doo-hwan is the 8th most famous South Korean Politician. Her biography has been translated into 57 different languages.
Chun Doo-hwan (Korean: 전두환; Hanja: 全斗煥; Korean pronunciation: [tɕʌnduɦwɐn] or [tɕʌn] [tuɦwɐn]; 18 January 1931 – 23 November 2021) was a South Korean army general and military dictator who ruled as a military strongman from 1979 to 1980 and officially as the fifth president of South Korea from 1980 to 1988. Prior to his appointment as President, he was the country's de facto leader from December 1979 to September 1980, ruling as unelected military dictator with civilian president Choi Kyu-hah largely as a figurehead.Chun usurped power after orchestrating the 12 December 1979 military coup in the aftermath of the assassination of president Park Chung-hee, another military dictator that had been ruling since 1962. He cemented his military dictatorship in the 17 May 1980 military coup in which he declared martial law and subsequently set up a concentration camp for "purificatory education". He then established the highly authoritarian Fifth Republic of Korea on 3 March 1981. Chun would eventually concede to democratic elections as a result of the June Struggle of 1987, but was succeeded by his ally Roh Tae-woo who had been elected in the resulting December 1987 presidential election. Roh Tae-woo, a close friend of Chun, would continue many of his policies during his own rule into the 1990s.In 1996, Chun was sentenced to death for his role in the Gwangju Massacre which had led to the deaths of thousands of citizens. Chun was pardoned the following year, along with Roh Tae-woo who had been sentenced to 17 years, by President Kim Young-sam, on the advice of the incoming President-elect Kim Dae-jung whom Chun's administration had sentenced to death some 20 years earlier. Both Chun and Roh were fined $203 million and $248 million respectively, amounts that were embezzled through corruption during their regimes, which were mostly never paid.In his final years, Chun was criticized for his unapologetic stance and the lack of remorse for his actions as a dictator and his wider regime. Chun died on 23 November 2021 at the age of 90 after a relapse of myeloma.
With an HPI of 71.67, Sukjong of Joseon is the 9th most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 31 different languages.
Sukjong of Joseon (7 October 1661 – 12 July 1720) was the 19th King of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, ruling from 1674 until 1720. A skilled legislator, he caused multiple changes in political power throughout his reign, by switching among the Namin (Southerners), Seoin (Westerners), Soron and Noron political factions.
With an HPI of 69.96, Gojong of Korea is the 10th most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 42 different languages.
Gojong (Korean: 고종; Hanja: 高宗; RR: Gojong; MR: Kojong; 8 September 1852 – 21 January 1919) was the monarch of Korea from 1864 to 1907. He reigned as the last King of Joseon from 1864 to 1897, and as the first Emperor of Korea from 1897 until his forced abdication in 1907. He is known posthumously as the Emperor Gwangmu (Korean: 광무제; Hanja: 光武帝; RR: Gwangmuje; MR: Kwangmuje). He was instrumental in the forced signing of the Treaty of Ganghwa (1876), this unequal treaty would eventually pave the way for Japanese annexation of Korea. In 1895, his wife Queen Min was assassinated by Japanese agents, strengthening the king's antipathy towards the Japanese. Gojong declared Korea an empire in 1897, which ended the country's historic subordination to the Qing dynasty. His slow pace in issuing reforms led to conflict with the Independence Club, but he saw more success when carrying out the Gwangmu Reform along military, economic and educational lines. Later, Gojong was subjected to several assassination and abdication attempts; eventually forced to abdicate, he was confined in a palace from where he tried unsuccessfully several times to seek refuge outside of Korea but eventually died in the Deoksugung Palace. There was suspicion that he was poisoned by Japanese officials.
Pantheon has 107 people classified as politicians born between 333 BC and 1996. Of these 107, 34 (31.78%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living politicians include Moon Jae-in, Park Geun-hye, and Ri Chun-hee. The most famous deceased politicians include Sejong the Great, Park Chung-hee, and Jeongjo of Joseon. As of April 2022, 20 new politicians have been added to Pantheon including Chun Doo-hwan, Queen Munjeong, and Ye Wanyong.
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Which Politicians were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Politicians since 1700.