First and Second Republics
1. Bureaucratic Culture and Public Personnel Administration
Bureaucratic culture, shaped and consolidated over many years, exerts great influence on the actual practice and outcomes of hiring government employees. The two major elements of the traditional bureaucratic culture in Korea that have exerted lasting impact on all areas of public personnel administration are authoritarianism and factionalism (Kang et al.
, 2007: 83). The Confucian emphasis throughout Korean society on paternalistic familism, the tradition of discrimination by social status, and the idea of bureaucratic rule have all contributed to making authoritarianism an integral feature of Korean society and culture (Kim, 1981: 215-516; Baek, 1989: 627-628; Kang et al
., 2007: 83).
These elements of traditional bureaucratic culture still held sway during the eras of the First and Second Republics. Government employees were regarded more as instructors and leaders above citizens than as civil servants. They were expected to cultivate ethical virtues befitting leaders rather than fulfill their accountability and responsibility to citizens (Lee, 1989; Kang et al.
, 2007: 83). Paternalistic authoritarianism was evident in how those in managerial positions conducted their duties and was supported by a Confucian culture that encouraged deference to officials. Officials in managerial positions saw hiring government workers as a matter of enhancing their stature and power by providing patronage, and thus often selected their personal friends and acquaintances, especially those related by blood or sharing the same school ties (Kim et al.
, 1999: 517-519).
The prominent characteristics of public personnel administration during this period were favoritism and the spoils system. The paternalistic familism characteristic of Confucian societies formed an indispensable part of the bureaucratic culture under the First and Second Republics, and consequently shaped the values pursued in the practice and outcomes of hiring. It was this familistic emphasis that fostered the prevalence of a hiring practice based on blood, regional, or school ties. The Confucian tradition of learning and civil service, moreover, boosted the social stature and authority of bureaucrats (Jeon, 1992: 711).
Rhee Syngman’s Cabinet, assembled amid the extreme political turmoil that followed the ceasefire of the Korean War, was made up of strong supporters of Rhee and his uncompromising anti-communist stance (Kim et al.
, 1999: 517-518). The original list of nominees to Rhee’s Cabinet omitted major political and social leaders, including revolutionaries who led Korea’s independence movement, patriotic heroes, and other notables who had garnered much respect and admiration from the public (Kim et al.
, 1999: 518). Rhee’s Cabinet, in other words, set the mold for the spoils system that would characterize the Korean bureaucracy in the decades that followed.
Although the Government Employees Act (GEA) of 1949 required political neutrality in bureaucrats, that ideal remained in name only under Liberal Party rule. Government employees during this period continued to side with the governing party and serve as agents of fraudulent elections, while also using their powers to benefit their friends and supporters (Ahn, 1981: 18).
2. Overview and Characteristics of the Hiring System
(1) First Republic
1) Merit system and the special screening policy for contributors to the independence movement
Chapter 2 of the GEA (Law 44), passed in 1949 shortly after Korea regained its sovereignty, makes stipulations regarding government hiring and civil service examinations. Article 5 states that government employees be appointed on the basis of their performance on civil service examinations and/or other types of screening. The examination system, according to the GEA, was meant to embody the principle of equal opportunity,
which was necessary to realize the merit system. The law, however, also allowed for the special screening of candidates who had contributed to the nation’s independence movement.
2) Civil service ranks, and examinations and the minimum level of education required
Government employees were divided into five groups according to their pay grades. A certain minimum level of education was required as part of the qualifications of candidates seeking to take the Higher Civil Service Examination (HCSE), until the requirement was finally repealed in 1972. Educational background mattered likewise in the screening of candidates for positions at Grade 3 by the Higher Civil Service Examination Committee (HCSEC),
and also in appointing Grade 4 officials.
3) HCSEs and general civil service examinations
The Ordinance of Higher Civil Service Examinations went into effect on August 23, 1949. The tradition of providing special examinations for bureaucrats in higher positions dates back to 958 CE during the reign of King Gwangjong of the Goryeo Dynasty (Byeon, 1996: 161), and continued as a vital part of the state examination system throughout the Joseon Era. The HCSEs were used to select officials for two different branches of the government: the administration and the judiciary. The former was again divided into four parts (i.e., public administration, finance, foreign affairs, and education). The latter subsequently became the Judicial Examination in its own right.
4) No system for open hiring other than civil service examinations
Lee and Park (1969) conclude that the Korean Republic, in its early years, maintained the system of recruiting, selecting, and appointing government employees inherited from the Japanese colonial regime because it lacked a good understanding of the merit system as the principle of modern public personnel administration. There was therefore no system for open recruitment and hiring other than the higher or general civil service examinations. Not only were these tests incapable of attracting a sufficient number of capable candidates to civil service, but appointments also tended to be made in a secretive manner. Prior to the 1960s, different departments recruited candidates confidentially without even announcing official job posts (Kang et al.
, 2007: 273-274). This practice appears to reflect the paternalistic familism, nepotism, favoritism, and lack of understanding of modern public personnel administration that were prevalent in the Korean bureaucracy at the time. The lower classes who were deprived of any chances for receiving higher education and who made up the majority of the Korean population then were thus fundamentally barred from entering civil service (Lee and Park, et al.
, 1969: 440-442). Table 2-2 shows that the civil service examinations conducted during this period largely involved constructive answer questions focused on candidates’ achievements and knowledge of law, and that they were used to select only very limited numbers of candidates (Lee and Park, et al.
, 1969: 442).
The 12 HCSEs in the area of public administration conducted between 1949 and 1960 resulted in the selection of 265 individuals only, or 22 a year on average. The rest of the administrators were hired via “nominal” screening processes
(Lee and Park, et al.
, 1969: 442).
<Table 2-2> Comparison of Outcomes of the HCSEs and Other Forms of Higher Screening (by HCSEC)
Sources: Ministry of Government Administration (MGA), Lee and Park (1969: 442).
(2) Open Recruitment Policy and Tests in the Second Republic
Open recruitment, including public tests, became a major part of the system in August 1960 when the Democratic Party came to power (Lee and Park, et al.
, 1969: 440). The resolve to achieve a “responsible government” and the growing emphasis on political accountability in the aftermath of the April 19 Revolution naturally discouraged the confidential manner in which government workers were hired until then (Lee and Park, et al.
, 1969: 443). The GEA, amended after the Second Republic came to power,
divided government employees according to their pay grades, i.e., Grade 1, Grades 2-A and B, Grades 3-A and B, Grades 4-A and B, and Grades 5-A and B. The ranking and division of government employees thus became more specific.
A notable change that took place in the Second Republic era was the introduction of open recruitment tests (Lee and Park, et al.
, 1969: 444). These tests were first implemented in January 1961 to select agents for the Ministry of Construction,
and were soon expanded in scope to apply to the selection of Grade 5 government employees, with the ordinance for their hiring amended as of April 15, 1961 (Park, 1969: 444). The Korean government began to make efforts to mitigate the impartiality of the test questions, adopting, instead, more objective measures that increased the fairness of tests and the number of individuals who passed them.
<Table 2-3> Number of Government Employees Hired per Year and Yearly Increase Rates
||No. of government employees
||Increase rate (%)
||No. of government employees
||Increase rate (%)
Source: Reorganization of a table that originally appeared in Lee and Park et al.
Articles 19 and 20 of the GEA state that civil service examinations be open to all citizens with equivalent qualifications, that they be held at a time and in a location that guaranteed easy access, and that the details of the examinations be publicly announced in advance.
A Cabinet minister could request, via the Prime Minister, that the HCSEC screen candidates for Grade 3 positions. Such a candidate was required (i) to have graduated from a professional school or an equivalent institution recognized by the Minister of Culture and Education and to have worked in civil service for three years or longer; (ii) to have worked at Grade 4 of civil service for five years or longer at the time of the nomination; or (iii) to have the academic background, technical knowledge, and/or experience required for the position (see Article 14 of the GEA).
This is the expression used by Park (1969). Although the law provided for screening in the form of an open and competitive test, the majority of the appointments were made based on favoritism.
Law 721, partially amended as of September 18, 1961.
2,066 people had passed the tests as of December 30, 1960.
: Korea Institute of Public Administration. 2008. Korean Public Administration, 1948-2008, Edited by Korea Institute of Public Administration. Pajubookcity: Bobmunsa.