386 Generation

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Which generation do you belong to? This can be a common question that is easily solved by your birth year, for example, if you were born between 1949 and 1968 you will be a Baby Boomer, and between 1981 and 1995 you will be a Millennial. Finding content on the internet about the characteristics of each generation is common too, there are even Tik Tok videos that show how a particular generation would react to a specific situation. However, we do not know about generational categorization in other geographic areas such as South Korea. In this blog, we will talk about 386 Generation in Korea; first, about who they are and why they are called like that, second, about their importance and impact, and finally about some celebrities belonging to this generation.

Taken from Harry Cunningham. (2019, January 9). Bucheon Station, Bucheon, South Korea [Photography]. Unsplash.

This is the generation of Koreans who were born in the 1960s, studied at university during the 1980s, and were politically active during the 1990s, i.e. in their thirties. In fact, this is where its name comes from (3 for thirties, 8 for 1980 and 6 for 1960). Although this is also connected to a technological milestone of the nineties, the launching of the CPU and Intel 386 model in 1997.¹ Today, they come to be referred to as 586 Generation, as they are now in their fifties; however, the first term coined and it is commonly used. ²

The members of this generation experienced a revolutionary youth and they actively participated in several  moments of the democratization of Korea, so this nation changed drastically in those years. The participation in the political changes began with the first democratic election in 1987, and later with the presidential elections of Kim Sam Young (1993 -1998) and Kim Dae Jung (1998 – 2003); in fact, both were targeted in the 80s for being part of the opposition wing. The latter was even accused of being behind the Gwangju Uprising and he was in jail for a while. In addition, the 386 Generation was the first one that did not face widespread poverty in the years following the Korean War. However, they witnessed the economic crisis in 1997.  

On the other hand, Professor Andrei Lankov points out that this generation perceived the war as a distant event compared to their parents, and poverty was not a situation they have to live through, so the search for a non-dictatorial form of government was key for them, and economic growth was not the only important thing in the country. However, something to note is that the vision of this generation has changed over the years and so have they. When searching for information on this issues, it is possible to find texts such as the one written by Lankov in 2008 when he mentioned the fiasco of this generation with the presidential elections that left the center-right candidate Lee Myung Bak as the winner. Thus, the problems that occurred during Roh Moo Hyun’s government (2003 -2008) ended up leading their children to prefer the right-wing option as their grandparents.

Taken from Mathew Schwartz. (2019, Octubre 5). [Photo]. Unsplash.

According to Jeong Seung Hoo, this generation has been the most politically active in Korea, leading the leftist opinion³, and even having a reserved attitude towards the USA,in contrast to their predecessors, who were grateful to this nation without having a critical position. In addition, this author refers to how filmmakers of this generation have used some of their own thematic trends, such as American anti-imperialism, the division of the two Koreas, democratization, and human rights. 

In fact, in the film industry there are several members of this generation, such as  Park Chan-wook or Bong Joon-ho, of whom many know their films Old Boy and Parasite, but few know that they belong to this generation. Likewise, there are others that have shined and film and literature that are part of this generation, they are: Hong Sang Soo ( 1960), film director and screenwriter, Kim Ki Duk  (1960), film director, and Kim Young Ha (1968), writer.

We have already mentioned two film products widely known by the world, other recommendations that were created by members of this generation are for example  Kim Young Ha’s novel I have the right to destroy myself from 1996 influenced by various emotions of the end of the century, another title well known is Black Flower published in 2003, this story is related to migration to Mexico of more than 1000 Koreans in 1905. Also, there are interesting movies such as Nobody’s Daughter Haewon from 2013 and Pietá from 2020 both by Kim Ki Duk. An interesting activity would be to read and watch this content looking for topics and influences that can be shared. 

This blog is just an introduction to the 386 Generation, to generate curiosity and encourage you to look for more information. If you liked it, do not forget to comment so in future blogs we will talk more about the 386 stars!

Written by: Andrea Ramirez 

Reviewed by: Luisa Quintero


¹자동등록방지를 위해 보안절차를 거치고 있습니다. (n.d.). https://www.koreanlii.or.kr/w/index.php/386_Generation?ckattempt=1 

²Kang Hyun-kyung. (2020, May 20). ‘Generation 586’ in cinema. The Korea Times. https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/opinion/2020/02/137_283343.html

³Jeong, S.-hoon. (2016). A Generational Spectrum of Global Korean Auteurs: Political Matrix and Ethical Potential. The Global Auteur: The Politics of Authorship in 21st Century Cinema, Eds. Seung-Hoon Jeong and Jeremi Szaniawski (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016), 361-77.

Lankov Andrei. (2008, February 5). Fiasco of 386 Generation. The Korea Times. https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/special/2008/04/180_18529.html

Yoo Ji Hye. (2014, June 2). Korea’s 386 generation is powerful but conflicted. Korea Joongang Daily. https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/2014/06/02/politics/Koreas-386-generation-is-powerful-but-conflicted/2990070.html 

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