Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
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Visual History of the World
First Empires
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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Contemporary World

1945 to the present

After World War II, a new world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the developing nations of the Third World.

The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.



China, Japan, and Korea

SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states -
China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia


Following victory in the civil war, the communists under Mao Zedong took power in China in 1949. In the years that followed, the most populous country on Earth underwent a dramatic transformation. After World War II, Japan transformed itself to become the world's second largest economy, although it has suffered from recession since 1990. Korea broke up into a Communist dictatorship in the North and a republic in the South, which became democratic in 1987.



The Korean Peninsula has been divided since 1948. The Communist dictatorship in the North has increasingly been isolated, while the republic in the South held its first elections in 1987.


After the 1945 defeat of Japan which had occupied Korea since 1910Korea was occupied by the Soviets in the north and by the Americans in the south. In February 1946, Kim II Sung, formed a government along Soviet lines in the north, and on September 9,1948, he proclaimed the People's Democratic Republic.

When the Soviet troops withdrew, Korean troops from the North invaded the South in June 1950, beginning the Korean War.

Under a UN mandate, 2, 3 US and allied troops repelled the North Korean attack, but China intervened on the side of the North.

2 US artillery fires on attacking North Korean troops to cover their retreat, April 27, 1951

3 US Marines bearing the flags of Korea,
the US and the UN, 1950

The armistice signed on July 27,1953, ended a conflict that cost millions of lives.

Politically, North Korea aligned with the Soviet Union and China.

1 state doctrine of self-sufficiency was proclaimed in 1955 by the Communist regime with a cult of personality centered on 4 Kim.

Since 1989, the dictatorship has sealed the country off from the world, although it is suspected that the populace faces massive human rights abuses and starvation.

In 1997 Kim II Sung's son, 5 Kim Jong II, took power.

1 Kim II Sung, who developed the doctrine of self-sufficiency, raising economic autarky to national policy, 1966

4 The "great leader" of North Korea: Kim II Sung, July 1976

5 The "much loved leader": Kim II Sung's son,
Kim Jong II, in 1988 during a meeting with
members of the Korean People's Army

Due to the continuation of its nuclear program since 2001 despite international protests, North Korea has become a concern for East Asian security, which is now being addressed through the Six-Party Talks with both Koreas, China, Japan, the United States, and Russia.

In 1948, South Korea established an authoritarian regime aligned with the West.

The president of this First Republic, 6 Syngman Rhee, was deposed in April 1960.

In August the Democratic party took over the government and established the Second Republic, which was replaced by a military government in 1961. General Park Chung established the Third Republic in December 1963.

Continuing animosity between North and South Korea decreased after 1971. Various forms of military regimes followed after the assassination of General Park in
October 1979. In October 1987 a new constitution introduced democratic reforms, although President Roh Tae Woo continued to counter the protests with authoritarian methods. It was only in 1997 with the election of Kim Dae Jung that democratic conditions were established and national reconciliation between North and South Korea was pursued.

These policies were continued by 7 Roh Moo Hyun, who has been president since February 2003.

6 Syngman Rhee awards a military order of merit to US General Douglas MacArthur in Seoul, October 5, 1950

7 The president of South Korea,
Roh Moo Hyun, during a press conference
in Seoul on June 23, 2004



Kim Dae Jung

Kim Dae Jung has been an activist of the Democratic party since 1956. He stood as an opposition candidate to President Park in 1971 and had to flee to Japan in 1972. The following year he was abducted and taken back to South Korea.

In 1976 he demanded the reinstatement of basic rights, and for this he was sentenced to five years in prison and in 1980 sentenced to death; after international protests, the government withdrew the sentence.

From 1987, Kim led the democratic opposition, and he won the presidential elections in 1997. In 2000 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Kim Dae Jung, who supported the
dialogue between the two Korean states,
March 9, 2000





In Japan after 1945, the US occupation forces installed democratic structures that proved to be robust. Through rapid economic expansion, Japan became the world's second largest economy.


After US forces secured Japan's capitulation on September 2,1945, following the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the American occupation forces oversaw the rapid installation of a civilian democratic government in Japan.

In January 1946, 9 Emperor Hirohito renounced his "divine" birthright, and on November 3, Japan established a parliamentary democracy under a new constitution.

9 The emperor of Japan, Hirohito,
and his wife during a walk through
the Japanese countryside, 1964

Democratic political parties and worker's syndicates were established, and various coalition governments were formed. In April 1952 Japan was officially returned to full sovereignty. Administrations were often only briefly in office, but on the whole the new system proved to be stable and effective.

In November 1955 the Liberal and Japan Democratic parties united as the Liberal Democratic party, which has been the 10 majority party ever since, ruling the country in shifting coalitions.

However, corruption scandals and financial dealings among its own members continue to cause difficulties. The socialists, with their various groupings, form the perennial opposition, but are nevertheless .ten included in the government i a result of the coalition-style government. In foreign policy, relations with neighboring states have been shaped to some extent by Japan's imperial legacy, its conduct during World War II, and the way these topics are taught in Japanese schools; these are particularly sensitive issues for China and Korea. With the end of the Cold War and the growth of economic interdependence in the 1990s, regional relations have improved somewhat.

After the rapid reconstruction of the country with US financial assistance, Japan experienced a massive market-oriented 8 modernization and industrialization drive.

This led to the rejection of many 12 traditional society structures and therefore did not go uncriticized.

10 Toshiki Kaifu, left, paints a lucky token on the day of the election, which he won on February 18, 1990

8 Tradition and modern technology:Three Japanese women wearing traditional kimonos and using mobile phones, 1999

12 View over a stone bridge
of the Emperor's Palace in the
Japanese capital Tokyo, 1994

The 1990s have seen the rise in the political influence of conservative religious groups.

Japan developed into one of the 11 leading Asian nations and competed successfully with the Western nations on the world market, but it has experienced a drawn-out recession since 1990 and has been affected by the vicissitudes of the global economy.

It also suffers financially from earthquakes.

After the 1989 death of Hirohito, whose role prior to 1945 is not yet subject to a national consensus, his son 14 Akihito took office as constitutional monarch without religious legitimization.

Since 1992, economic problems in Japan have shaken the postwar political consensus, resulting in rapidly changing governments. Prime Minister 13 Junichiro Koizumi, in office since 2001, has attempted to revive the economy by introducing financial and structural reforms.

11 Business buildings in the Japanese capital Tokyo with billboards, December, 2004

14 Japanese Emperor Akihito during the inaugural meeting of the newly elected Japanese parliament on January 21, 2005

13 Japanese Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi gives a
speech in Yokosuka on
March 21, 2005


see also: United Nations member states -
China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia



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