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.[a]
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.