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 81.55, Sejong the Great is the most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 59 different languages on wikipedia.
Sejong the Great (세종대왕, Korean pronunciation: [se̞(ː)dzo̞ŋ de̞waŋ]; 15 May 1397 – 8 April 1450) was the fourth ruler of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea. He was the third son of King Taejong and Queen Wongyeong, and was designated as Crown Prince after his older brother, Grand Prince Yangnyeong, was stripped of his title. He ascended to the throne in 1418, but during the first four years of his reign, Taejong governed as regent and executed Sejong's father-in-law, Shim On, and his close associates. Sejong reinforced Korean Confucian and Neo-Confucian policies, and enacted major legal amendments (공법; 貢法). He personally created and promulgated the Korean alphabet Hangul, encouraged advancements of science and technology, and introduced measures to stimulate economic growth. He dispatched military campaigns to the north and instituted the Samin 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. He is regarded as one of the greatest kings in the history of Korea. After his father's death, he governed as the sole monarch from 1422 to 1450, although after 1439 he became increasingly ill, and starting from 1442, his son, Crown Prince Yi Hyang (the future King Munjong), acted as regent.
With an HPI of 80.66, Park Chung-hee is the 2nd most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 82 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 a military leader in the South Korean army, and was the second-highest ranking officer in the army. He first 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, the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, he was elected president in 1963, ushering in the Third Republic. Seeking to bring South Korea into the developed world, Park began a series of economic policies that brought rapid economic growth and industrialization to the nation, which eventually became known as the Miracle on the Han River. South Korea possessed one of the fastest growing national economies during the 1960s and 1970s. According to the Gapminder Foundation, extreme poverty was reduced from 66.9 percent in 1961 to 11.2 percent in 1979, making one of the fastest and largest reductions in poverty in human history. This growth also encompassed declines in child mortality and increases in life expectancy. From 1961 to 1979 child mortality declined by 64%, the third-fastest decrease in child mortality of any country with over 10 million inhabitants during the same period.Under his government, South Korea saw the development of chaebol, family companies supported by the state similar to the Japanese zaibatsu. These companies include Hyundai, LG, and Samsung. However, the economic development of South Korea came at great sacrifice to the working class: the government did not recognise a minimum wage or weekly leave and imposed free work periods for its own benefit, and twelve-hour workdays were the norm. In addition, trade unions and industrial action were prohibited. Despite that, the fact that people who were in poverty were able to work stable jobs was welcomed by the vast majority of South Koreans.Although popular during the 1960s, Park's popularity started to plateau by the 1970s, with closer than expected victories during the 1971 South Korean presidential election and the subsequent legislative elections. Following this, in 1972, Park declared martial law and amended the constitution into a highly authoritarian document, called the Yushin Constitution, ushering in the Fourth Republic. During this time, political opposition and dissent was constantly repressed and Park had complete control of the military, and much control over the media and expressions of art. Park was assassinated on 26 October 1979 by his close friend Kim Jae-gyu, the director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, at a safe house in Seoul following the student uprising later known as the Bu-Ma Democratic Protests. Cha Ji-chul, chief of the Presidential Security Service, was also fatally shot by Kim. Kim and his accomplices were tortured, convicted and executed for the assassination. Whether the assassination was spontaneous or premeditated is something that remains unclear today. Economic growth continued after Park's death and after considerable political turmoil in the wake of his assassination and the military Coup d'état of December Twelfth, the country eventually democratized. Later presidents included Kim Dae-jung, a pro-democracy chief opponent of Park who was kidnapped, arrested, and sentenced to death by the Park administration, and Park Geun-hye, Park's eldest daughter who was the first female president of South Korea and was impeached, removed from office, and later sentenced to 27 years in prison as a result of an influence-peddling scandal.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 the Miracle on the Han River, which reshaped and modernized South Korea, others criticize his authoritarian way of ruling the country (especially after 1971) and for prioritizing economic growth and contrived social order at the expense of civil liberties. According to a 2019 poll by Gallup Korea, 49% of older Koreans (aged 60+) see Park as the greatest president, while only 5% of young Koreans (aged 15-18) see Park as the greatest president, making him the second most popular Korean president as well as one of the most controversial.
With an HPI of 80.47, Syngman Rhee is the 3rd most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 76 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 with 92.7% of the vote, beating Kim Gu. 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 Cho Byeong-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 79.22, Moon Jae-in is the 4th most famous South Korean Politician. Her biography has been translated into 85 different languages.
Moon Jae-in (Korean: 문재인; Hanja: 文在寅; Korean pronunciation: [mun.dʑɛ.in]; born 24 January 1953) is a South Korean politician and former civil rights lawyer who served as the 12th President of South Korea from 2017 to 2022.Prior to his presidency, he served as senior secretary for civil affairs as well as chief of staff to Roh Moo-hyun, member of the 19th National Assembly, and leader of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK). 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 2002 South Korean presidential election campaign manager for his longtime mentor Roh Moo-hyun in his successful bid. He served in Roh's administration in various official capacities. In 2012, Moon was a candidate for the Democratic United Party in the 2012 South Korean presidential election, in which he lost narrowly to Park Geun-hye; Park was aided in this election by domestic intelligence services.In the 2017 South Korean presidential election, Moon was elected president as the DPK 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. 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 78.76, Kim Dae-jung is the 5th most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 79 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 76.94, Chun Doo-hwan is the 6th most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 56 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.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 would eventually usurp power for himself after orchestrating the 12 December 1979 military coup in the aftermath of the assassination of president Park Chung-hee, who was himself another military dictator 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", and then established the highly authoritarian Fifth Republic of Korea on 3 March 1981. Chun would eventually concede for 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, 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 led to the deaths of thousands of citizens, but was, along with Roh who was sentenced to 17 years, pardoned the following year by President Kim Young-sam, on the advice of then-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 76.51, Jeongjo of Joseon is the 7th most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 29 different languages.
Jeongjo of Joseon (28 October 1752 – 18 August 1800), born Yi San (Hangul: 이산, Hanja: 李祘), sometimes called Jeongjo the Great (Hangul: 정조대왕, Hanja: 正祖大王), was the 22nd ruler 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 76.47, Yeongjo of Joseon is the 8th most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 27 different languages.
Yeongjo of Joseon (31 October 1694 – 22 April 1776, reigned 16 October 1724 – 22 April 1776) was the 21st king of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. He was the second son of King Sukjong. His mother was Royal Noble Consort Suk of the Choe clan. Before ascending to power, he held the title of Prince Yeoning. In 1720, a few months after the accession of his older brother, King Gyeongjong as the 20th King, Yeoning became the Crown Prince (wangseje, 왕세제). This induced a large controversy between political factions. Nevertheless, four years later, at the death of Gyeongjong, Yeongjo ascended the throne. Yeongjo's reign lasted nearly 52 years and was marked by his persistent efforts to reform the taxation system of Joseon, rule by Confucian ethics, minimize and reconcile the factional fighting under his "Magnificent Harmony" Policy (Tangpyeong, 蕩平, 탕평). His reign was also marked by the highly controversial execution of his son, Prince Sado, in 1762. In spite of the controversy, Yeongjo's reign has earned a positive reputation in Korean history due to his sincere efforts to rule by Confucian virtue.
With an HPI of 76.47, Gojong of Korea is the 9th most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 39 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).
With an HPI of 76.46, Sukjong of Joseon is the 10th most famous South Korean Politician. His biography has been translated into 27 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.
Pantheon has 107 people classified as politicians born between 333 BC and 1983. Of these 107, 24 (22.43%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living politicians include Moon Jae-in, Chun Doo-hwan, and Park Geun-hye. The most famous deceased politicians include Sejong the Great, Park Chung-hee, and Syngman Rhee. As of October 2020, 18 new politicians have been added to Pantheon including U of Goryeo, Hyeonjong of Goryeo, and Mokjong of Goryeo.
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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.