Shrimp to Whale

South Korea from the Forgotten War to K-Pop

May 2022 9781787387041 280pp


South Korea has the most remarkable of histories. Born from the ashes of colonialism, partition and a devastating war, back in the 1950s there were real doubts about its survival as an independent state. Yet South Korea did survive, and first became known globally for the export of cheap toys, shoes and clothing. Today, South Korea is a boisterous democracy, a vibrant market economy, a tech powerhouse, and home to the coolest of cultures. In just seventy years, this society has grown from a shrimp into a whale.

What explains this extraordinary transformation? For some, it was ordinary South Koreans who fought to change their country, and still strive to continue shaping it. For others, it was all down to forward-looking political and business leaders, who had the vision that their country would one day be different. Whichever version you prefer, it’s clear that, at its core, South Korea’s is the story of a people who dreamt big, and saw their dreams coming true.

This is the history of South Korea, from its millennia-old roots, through its foundation as a nation-state and economic development under dictatorship, to its present as a rich, free and cool country on the world stage.


Ramon Pacheco Pardo is Professor of International Relations at King’s College London, and KF-VUB Korea Chair at the Brussels School of Governance. He has lived twice in South Korea, and remains a regular visitor there for both work and leisure. He regularly teaches and provides media commentary about the country.

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