On the morning of 16 April 2014, as the MV Sewol was traveling its usual route, from Incheon, South Korea to Jeju, South Korea, the ferry capsized, killing 304 of the 476 passengers onboard - most of whom were high school students on a class field trip. As the boat was sinking, Captain Lee Joon-seok and his crew told passengers to stay seated, while they fled the scene and were among the first to be rescued by the Korean Coast Guard.
Since the Jung Hee Park regime seized power in South Korea through a military coup in 1962, the government’s economic policy had grown more pro-market and anti-union. Because of its large economic success (in terms of large economic measures like GDP) the public sentiment toward his economic policy was supportive enough to sustain it. Many people adhered to Park’s political narrative of a “growth-first ideology” at the cost of sacrificing labor rights.
The massive South Korean nonviolent campaign against the tradition of authoritarian regimes happened only seven years after the notorious Kwangju Massacre of 1980—governmental mass violence that was intended to shut down completely the movements for social justice.
From 1980 to 1983 the government tried to “cleanse” the society of activists, purging or arresting thousands of public officials, politicians, professors, teachers, pastors, journalists, and students. Activists not arrested went quiet or continued their activities in low profile or secretive ways.