Bucheon, South Korea, is a city where the modern arts such as comics and screen music have developed under the municipal slogan "Special City of Culture." The city is home to the Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the finest orchestras in Korea, and hosts the annual Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN) under the themes of "Love," "Fantasy," and "Adventure." Bucheon is also widely recognized as a cartoon city where cartoons, comics and animated films make up a large part of the cultural fabric of the city.
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Bucheon is located halfway between Seoul, the capital, and Incheon Metropolitan City. It is bordered by Seoul to the east and north; Siheung and Gwangmyeong in Gyeonggi-do Province to the south; and Incheon to the west. Adjacent to the Hangang River flowing through the center of Korea, the Bucheon area is presumed to have been inhabited since prehistoric times, and has functioned as the periphery of the capital since the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Bucheon was a particularly busy center of trade and cultural exchange during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) due to its location between Seoul and Incheon, then the gateway to the country.
The name Bucheon first appeared during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945). Following its forced annexation of Korea, Japan abolished concessions in 1914 and divided the country into administrative units called "bu." Incheon-bu included the former Japanese settlement area and part of Daso-myeon. The rest of Incheon was combined with Bupyeong-gun and was called Bucheon-gun (county). This was the first time that the name "Bucheon" was used. The county covered a vast area including 15 townships in former parts of Incheon-bu as well as Bupyeong-gun, and archipelagoes in Ganghwa county and Namyang county. The current city of Bucheon is comprised of three of the original fifteen townships of Bucheon county: Gyenam-myeon, Ojeong-myeon and Sorae-myeon.
Korea launched its first five-year economic development plan in the early 1960s. This gave rise to rapid industrialization and urbanization and the population of big cities such as Seoul and Busan exploded. In 1973, administrative districts across the country were completely reorganized, resulting in adjustment of the boundaries of the Seoul Metropolitan Area to ensure rational development of the capital, check rampant expansion of urban areas, and prevent excessive population concentration. At this time Bucheon county was abolished and one of the townships was promoted to the city of Bucheon.
The urbanization of Bucheon took place at great speed when development of the Jung-dong housing site was launched in the 1990s as part of plans to create new towns in the capital area. The huge housing project covered an area of about 5.45 ㎢ across six districts of Bucheon. It was estimated that Bucheon would see an inflow of 170,000 new residents when the project was completed. But by 1995, the population of the six neighborhoods concerned actually stood at 260,000, accounting for more than 30 percent of the total population of Bucheon.
On July 4, 2016, the city of Bucheon reorganized its three-level administrative system composed of city (si), district (gu), and neighborhood (dong) was streamlined into two-levels, the city and neighborhood. In other words, all matters previously handled by the district offices is now handled by local neighborhood offices.
In the process of Bucheon's rapid growth as an industrial city it encountered the issues commonly faced by many satellite towns of Seoul, the most conspicuous being the new residents' lack of ownership of the city. A significant proportion of the new residents were migrant workers from rural areas; others were people who had been pushed out of Seoul for various reasons. They saw Bucheon as a temporary home and intended to leave sooner or later. This mentality was widespread among the residents and there seemed to be no way to change the situation for the better. However, things began to improve slowly through voluntary social movements. Towards the end of the 1980s, civil movements began to develop in various fields such as education, culture, welfare and the environment. An increasing number of people started to consider the city as their permanent residence. Civil organizations in Bucheon have succeeded in various campaigns such as the battle against construction of an incineration facility and against cigarette vending machines, and a movement to recycle leftovers as animal feed. These campaigns have become nationwide models. The number of NGOs registered in Bucheon exceeded 200 in 1999. Since then, Bucheon has been called the Mecca of the Korean civil movements or Korea's leading city of civil advocacy.
Korea began full implementation of local autonomy in 1995. Two years later the Asian financial crisis hit the country. In the aftermath, Bucheon acutely felt the limitations of growth based on industrialization or real estate development and thus sought a paradigm shift for sustainable development. In 1998, the city came up with a new vision of Bucheon as a cultural city of the 21st century and a development strategy focused on the environment and culture.
The 2025 long-term development plan established by the city of Bucheon aims at achieving sustainable development on the strength of culture and creativity rather than manufacturing. Though an industrial city with a large population of urban migrants, Bucheon began to focus on the creative power of literature to empower people to dream, even in the midst of poverty and adversity, and transform their lives, rather than the conventional literary tradition. The city built consensus on the importance of fostering its own unique cultural industry and traditions, and became the first local government in Korea to establish a cultural foundation, serving as a role model for cultural activities at the local level. Bucheon also implemented library policies so advanced that the city soon came to be called the "city of libraries," and provided strong support for the Bucheon Municipal Choir and the Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra, recognized as one of three major orchestras of Korea.
Bucheon has a rich literary tradition. Numerous works by writers hailing from Bucheon are introduced in school textbooks, the city's streets are named after writers, and literary monuments are scattered throughout the city, all attesting to a civic culture that treasures literature. Bucheon is also home to acclaimed writers who have portrayed in their works the major events and changes in Korea's modern history. Treasuring these traditions, the city has supported the activities of literary organizations and various literary festivals. At the same time it has endeavored to nurture the cartoon and movie industries to achieve balanced development between pure literature and the culture industry, with the objective of realizing both creation and consumption of literature and in the process fostering the development of creative industries. Thanks to these efforts, many creative talents in the movie and cartoon industries have flocked to the city and Bucheon is now home ground for one-third of the nation's cartoon and print comics artists.
The administrative and urban development policies of Bucheon are the highest rated among Korean cities. The city of Bucheon won the gold prize in the 2015 Green Apple Awards, one of the world's four most prominent environment awards, as well as the Dasan Mokmin Grand Prize in 2015, the presidential award in the Republic of Korea City Grand Prize in 2011, and the grand prize in the national cultural industry cluster evaluation carried out by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 2003 and 2004. The city was also recognized as a "model for regional innovation" by the Balanced National Development Committee in 2003, and an exemplary case of culture industry development in 2004 by the Samsung Economic Research Institute. Since 2014 the city has continued to receive the top grade in the evaluation of measures to prevent corruption of public institutions carried out by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, raising the standing of Bucheon as a "city of integrity."